Charles Stewart Parnell & Letterkenny

Charles Stewart Parnell & Letterkenny

Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891), land reform campaigner, champion of Home Rule, ‘uncrowned King of Ireland’ and also a descendant of Letterkenny! Best known as one of the most important figures in Irish history, it is not as well known that he was actually descended from the Stewart family of Gortlee, who acquired the land, then on the outskirts of the town of Letterkenny, in the seventeenth century at the end of the Williamite Wars.

Originally from Scotland, Charles Stewart was born in 1670 and served in the army of King William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. For his gallantry in this decisive battle, Charles Stewart obtained land at Gortlee from the king. In 1695 he married Isabella Weare and he died in 1722. Their only child, Robert Stewart was born at Gortlee in 1701 and he married first Margaret Stuart in 1723 and then secondly, Martha Ewing in 1727 having five children – Margaret (b. 1725), Charles (1729 – 1800), Robert (1732 – 1787), John (1735 – 1795) and Alexander (1761 – 1785), all born at Gortlee. The eldest son, Charles Stewart, moved to America in 1750 when he was 21 years old and later served with distinction under George Washington in the American War of Independence, becoming Commissary General and a Representative in the U.S. Congress.

None of these children appear to have had any interest in the Gortlee estate however and so upon Robert Stewart’s death around 1770, the Stewart family sold the estate to John Ramsay. Later owners of the estate include William Boyd, Thomas Patterson and James Cochranewith the current owners being the Robinson family.

The connection to Parnell comes through the brother of the original grantee of the estate at Gortlee. Robert Stewart was born about 1674 and, like his brother Charles, was also an officer in King William and Mary’s army but he was too young to participate in the Battle of the Boyne. Robert had a son, also called Robert Stewart, who was born about 1700. Not much is known about him only that he had a son, Charles Stewart, born in 1726. He was a sea-faring man and after marrying Sarah Ford, they left Belfast for Philadelphia, where he died in 1780. Their youngest son, Charles Stewart was born in 1778 and he married Delia Tudor in 1813. This Charles Stewart rose in prominence to become an Admiral in the United States Navy winning fame in American history during the war against the British in 1812. In 1841, he was even considered as a possible candidate for the Presidency of the United States. He died in 1869, aged 91.

His daughter Delia Tudor Stewart was born in 1816 and married John Henry Parnell, an English gentleman who visited the United States in 1834. Their son, Charles Stewart Parnell, was born in Avondale, County Wicklow in 1846, and naturally had the surname of his father but shared the same first names as his great, great, great granduncle from Gortlee.