Jane Austen Tour Autumn 2014

The Mulholland family of Bellaghy, present with Dr Hillan a Jane Austen tour like no other.

Please note, dates for the tour are yet to be confirmed but the suggested itinerary is below.  More details will follow and we will keep you up to date as information comes through.


Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight – May, Lou and Cass – were Jane Austen’s nieces, daughters of her brother, Edward Austen Knight. Jane knew the girls well, reading and sewing with them as they grew up, and they were often the subjects of her wise and witty letters.

The Knight sisters went on to lead lives that bore a remarkable resemblance to the plots of their aunt’s famous novels. Handsome noblemen, dashing officers and penurious clergymen sought their hands in marriage and, like Austen’s heroines, May, Lou and Cass experienced the pains of blighted love, the joy of patience rewarded and the sorrow of losing their childhood home.

Yet, even Jane Austen could not have imagined that her genteel nieces would find themselves in Ireland, a land riven with famine and land wars, or that the following generations, direct descendants of her brother Edward Knight’s youngest daughter Cassandra, would be so much a part of Ireland and its concerns that they would take an active part in the shaping of its future.

Drawing on diaries, manuscripts and letters, Sophia Hillan’s 2011 book, May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland told for the first time the story of the Knight sisters and their extraordinary journey from the ordered world of Regency England to the turbulent upheaval of nineteenth-century Ireland. Now, with the aid of previously unseen manuscripts and letters, Cassandra’s descendants in Ireland, the Mulholland family of Bellaghy, present with Dr Hillan a Jane Austen tour like no other. Sophia is also a former student and colleague of Seamus Heaney, and enjoyed the privilege of his friendship for many years.
The driver-guide for this tour is Richard Mulholland, direct descendant of Edward Austen Knight, whose youngest daughter Cassandra married Lord George Hill in 1834. They lived first in Dublin and then in Donegal where Lord George managed a large estate, building a mill, harbour and hotel in an effort to bring prosperity to the region. Five years after Cassandra’s death, he married her sister Louisa who had come to help him with his four young children. In time, Louisa’s unmarried sister Marianne also joined the household. Lord George and Cassandra are buried together in Letterkenny and Louisa and Marianne are buried side by side near Ramelton. For the first time, our tour takes in these important locations in Donegal, as well as the houses where their descendants still live.


Dr Sophia Hillan was born in Belfast, and educated at Queen’s University. While working at Dublin’s Carysfort College, under the direction of her former university tutor Seamus Heaney, she began her doctoral studies, and was awarded a Research Fellowship at Queen’s University’s Institute of Irish Studies. She went on to become its first woman Assistant, Acting and Associate Director, and first Academic Director of its International Summer School in Irish Studies. She has published widely on Irish literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the work of Seamus Heaney, and lectures on nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish literature throughout Ireland, where in October 2013 she addressed the inaugural meeting of the Jane Austen Society of Ireland; the United States, where she was Lenna Visiting Professor at St Bonaventure University, Olean, NY, and Britain, where she was a speaker at the 2012 Oxford Literary Festival. As a writer of fiction, her work appeared in the first Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories, and has been broadcast by BBC’s Radio 4. Her most recent non-fictional work is May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland. (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2011) and her novel, The Friday Tree, was published by Ward River Press (Dublin) in February 2014.



DAY 1 
11am Meet at Jurys Hotel Belfast and drive west Ballyscullion Park, home of Richard and Rosalind Mulholland is our first stop. Here we will be treated to a Regency luncheon, with many dishes from the period, served a la française. Richard will give a talk afterwards about the history of the family and area, followed by a tour of the gardens and ruins of the Earl Bishop of Derry’s 18C palace.

Ballyscullion Park
We then drive to Letterkenny, Co Donegal and visit Gortlee House, the first Donegal home of Lord George Hill and Cassandra Knight followed by a visit to Conwal Parish Church in the centre of the town, where they are both buried.
Thence to Ramelton on the River Lennon, where we check into our B&B accommodation and have time to explore this fascinating historic town before dinner.

Leaving our B&Bs at 9.30am, we visit Ballyarr House, built by Lord George for his family, and where he lived with his second wife, Louisa Knight. They were joined later by the third Knight sister, Marianne. Nearby, high on a hill, is Tully graveyard, where these two sisters are buried.

Ballyarr House
We head further west past Mount Errigal to Gweedore, where Lord George bought several thousand acres of land in the 1830s and planned to farm according to modern practices to create wealth in this impoverished rural area. We visit Bunbeg where Lord George built the harbour, reputedly the smallest in Europe, a grain store and a mill. Our guides here include members of the Boyd family from Bunbeg whose knowledge of the area’s history includes memories of a family member who was boatman to guests at Lord George’s Gweedore Hotel.

Bunbeg and Mount Errigal
Lunch is at the former Gweedore Hotel, now renamed An Chuirt, first built by Lord George to encourage discerning Victorian travellers to visit this wild and beautiful area. We will be shown the 19th Century visitors’ book with many illustrious signatories, including Marianne herself.
In the afternoon we visit Derrybeg Chapel, Father McFadden’s Church in Bunbeg, dramatically situated in a deep and dangerous gorge. This was the scene of a famous murder during the Land Wars, and a devastating flash flood. Returning to Ramelton we drive through beautiful mountain scenery with a visit to Rathmullan and the convalescent home for working women set up by Lord George and Cassandra’s youngest daughter Cassandra Hill.

DAY 3 
Leaving Ramelton at 9am, we return across the border to Bellaghy Bawn. This medieval fortified farmhouse has had a chequered past, witnessing many of the violent upheavals of Irish history, from the Plantation of Ulster and the Irish Rebellion to the more recent Troubles. Now reinvented as a centre for history and poetry, the Bawn houses a collection of Seamus Heaney’s manuscripts and possessions and the area around it abounds with the names recurring in the poetry. Dr Hillan, who was first his student and later his colleague, will give a short talk about the poet.

Bellaghy Bawn
We then head for Strangford in Co Down, catching a glimpse of Isle O’Valla, the home of Somerset and Norah Ward, Lord George and Cassandra’s eldest daughter. We have lunch at Castle Ward, the home of the Viscounts Bangor, now in the hands of the National Trust. Those who wish may take a tour of the house. This is followed by a short visit to the church in Ballyculter where the Ward family are buried, before taking the ferry across Strangford Lough at The Narrows to the Ards Peninsular.

Castle Ward
Our tour culminates at Ballywalter Park, home of Richard’s cousins, Lord and Lady Dunleath. His and Richard’s great-grandmother Norah Ward, Lord George’s granddaughter, married Henry Mulholland, 2nd Lord Dunleath in 1881. We will have a tour of the house and coffee in the conservatory.

Ballywalter Park
We return to Belfast by 6.00pm.

The price of this tour is £380 or €460 per person, and includes

• minibus transport and services of the driver-guide.
• fully guided tour by Dr Sophia Hillan.
• 2 nights accommodation in first rate B&Bs.
• all meals – 3 lunches, 2 dinners.
• Admission charges, tours and ferry cost.

NB Numbers are restricted to 15 so early booking is recommended.

For information about tours and visits, contact Richard and Rosalind Mulholland
028 7938 6235 07729 856504 info@ballyscullionpark.com www.ballyscullionpark.com