The Roe Valley Scenic Drive from Limavady will take you to Dungiven, the name translates as ‘Fort of the Skins’. The first sign of modern habitation here dates to around 678 AD when a monastic settlement was founded in the 'glen of skins' by St. Nechtan. There was also an ecclesiastical gathering here in 590 AD attended by St Columba and other saints including Canice who lived locally, the site is marked by a standing stone.
From the 12th century the land between here, the Foyle and the Bann became known as O’Cahan’s Land they ruled it until the late 1500s. Dermont O’Cahan, an Irish Prince, founded an Augustinian Priory at Dungiven in 1100 AD which became renown for learning and had connections to monastic settlements in Ireland, England and France.
The priory chancel which was added in the 1300s contains one of the best examples of a carved tomb of this period in Ulster, it is said to be the burial tomb of Gall O’Cahan who died in 1385. The tomb has an lattice of stonework overlooking a lying soldier in battle dress with a sword, on the front six soldiers are standing in a row, dressed as gallowglasses who were Scottish warriors. The work has been restored on several occasions and modern thought is that it dates more towards the 15th century.
The monastic settlement survived until the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII in the mid 1500s. By the late 1500s the priory had become a fortified stronghold of the O'Cahans against the English. In 1602 the O’Cahans laid down their arms and the site became an English garrison. As the Plantation of Ulster by James Ist began, Sir Edward Doddington arrived in the Roe and by 1611 had built a substantial two story house and other buildings on the site, he restored the church and created what was effectively a fortified settlement.
He was responsible for a lot of building during the plantation both locally and in Limavady, Coleraine and Derry, and is reputed to have contributed to the design of the walls of Coleraine and Derry. During the plantation, County Coleraine (now Londonderry) was divided into twelve sections and shared out between twelve London Livery Companies, this section was drawn by the Skinners Company in 1613 and they named it Pellipar, which is latin for Skinner.
The house that Doddington lived in became known as Skinner’s Hall. The estate had seventy three townlands, the main areas were Dungiven, Claudy, Banagher and Ballinascreen. Edward Doddington was the undertaker for the Skinners Company and leased Pellipar Estate. He died in 1618, his widow remarried Sir Francis Cooke and they built a new bawn in Dungiven on the site of an older ruin believed to have been a castle of the O'Cahans. On her death in 1679 the lease passed to her nephen Edward Carey and he built a new manor house.
The Dungiven Castle we see today rose from the ruins of this building after it was acquired by Robert Ogilby in 1794. He began to restore the old castle but died in 1839 before he could complete it. Part of a bawn wall belonging to Lady Cooke’s Castle can still be seen. Another interesting location at the old priory is the 'Wart Well', the hedges leading into it are hung with rags, tied by those coming to seek a cure for wart's. The bullaun stone has a deep hollow for collecting water but would have originally been used for grinding grain. A very interesting native of Dungiven who led an interesting and varied life was John Mitchel (Irish Activist, Solicitor, Journalist and Politician). He was born at the Manse, Cammish in 1815, his father, also John, was a Presbyterian minister who had come over from Scotland.
His early years were spent in Cammish before his father moved to Newry 1st Presbyterian Church and Drumalane House. Here in Newry at classical school he met his lifelong friend John Martin, another activist.
After attaining a degree from Trinity College, he steered away from the ministry to work in a bank and then the offices of John Quinn, Solicitors. He married Jane Verner at Drumcree Church in 1837 and they had four children John, James, Henrietta and William. (James would later be the father of John Pulroy Mitchel who became the Mayor of New York from 1914 to 1917). He settled with his family at Banbridge where he practiced law. He was a member of the Literary Society and began contributing articles and letters to several publications including The Times. He became politically active and joined the Repeal Association and began contributing to 'The Nation' (Young Ireland Party), in 1845 he gave up his career job and joined the staff of the publication and moved to Dublin.
His views were seen as radical at the time and covered controversial subjects such as the famine, he blamed the potato for crop failure but the English for the famine. His main focus though was the injustices existing in Ireland under English rule and his opposition to English rule here.
He resigned from 'The Nation' in 1847 feeling that a stronger policy should be exercised against the Government. In 1848 along with Thomas Reilly and John Martin, the first edition of 'The United Irishman' appeared. This was a strong voice in opposition to and criticism of, English rule and corruption. The attitude, energy and response in many ways rekindled the mantle of the 1798 United Irishman movement but with a more radical agenda. The paper called for resistance, withholding of rents, direct action and absolute support for tenants rights. Eventually Mitchel was arrested and the paper suppressed after sixteen issues, he was charged with sedition which became a felony under the newer Treason Felony Act 1848. This act had been brought in quickly in the same period and specifically targeted to quell free speech in the press and at public meetings. Unlike the sedition charge which carried a light sentence, the new Act brought transportation for life.
The government wanted him and many others out of Ireland and the only avenue was to convict and transport them away for life. Mitchel was convicted and sentenced to hard labour, first in Bermuda and later to 'Van Dieman’s Land' (Tasmania) where he shared a cottage with John Martin. Here he adopted a more radical attitude and total opposition to English rule which he expressed in the 'Jail Journal'.
He escaped in 1853 and went to America where he established ‘The Citizen’ this serialized his 'Jail Journal', it also supported the slave trade and the confederacy. He resigned from the 'The Citizen' and launched the 'Southern Citizen' which was stronger in promoting the value of slavery and the cause of the confederacy, he likened the Union States of the north to Britain, both unjust unions which exploited the working classes. One of his comments regarding Abraham Lincoln was '"...he was an ignoramus and a bore; not an apostle at all; no grand reformer, not so much as an abolitionist, except by accident – a man of very small account in every way. During the civil war two of his sons were killed and another seriously wounded. After the war he continued to express in print advocacy for the southern cause and was jailed for five months. His release was helped by the Fenian Brotherhood in America to whom he became a financial aide in France. In 1874 he returned to Ireland and stood as an MP for Tipperary, he won the seat but it was declared invalid by the government because he was an undischarged felon. On the second by-election, he contested the seat again and won once more, this time by an increased margin, but before a challenge was made on the constitution he suddenly died on March 20th 1875, aged 60.
He was buried alongside his father and mother in the Old Presbyterian (Unitarian then Covenanters) at High St, Newry. His father left the 1st Presbyterian Church and became a Unitarian in 1829. On the grave an epitaph reads ' After 27 years spent in exile for the sake of Ireland he returned with honour to die among his own people and here rests with his father and mother'