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The folowing information is extracted from the article in the Donegal Annual, No. 34, 1982, pg. 22-33:

The DilIs Of Fanad By Sam Fleming

The earliest Dill ancestors recorded in the voluminous family pedigree, embracing over four hundred and fifty names, were John Dill of Tullynadall, Fanad, Co. Donegal, who married Miss Jordan in the year 1635, and David Dill of Dill's Byre, Glenalla, who married Catherine Sheridan of Drogheda in 1640. Tradition tells us that when the town of Drogheda was besieged, Catherine escaped and fled to the north on horse-back with her servant maid. Tradition also informs us that she was a famous and courageous horsewoman who rode with the hunt that killed what was said to be the last wolf in Ireland.

Apparently Dill's Byre was the family seat of the earliest Dill families. Some years ago I went on several occasions to a little country public house in Glenalla, and made myself agreeable to the natives of the district, ostensibly to induce them to talk about the traditions and legends of the Dill families. Eventually when a number of people became interested in my quest, I was introduced to an old man who pointed out to me the ruins of what was once the first family seat of the ancient Dill families of Fanad.

The ancient homestead was situated to the right and high above the avenue that leads to the beautiful house presently occupied by Mr. Franklin of Glenalla. A long, winding carriageway margined with rhododendrons and trees, leads to the ruins of the house once known as Dill's Byre. The character of the place is that of sequestered shade but distant views are a prominent feature of the garden above the ruins, where an ancient stone summer seat still stands. The rising ground above the garden slopes up to an agreeable wooded countryside, and to a truly picturesque and interesting landscape.

Tradition tells us that the estate was extensive, covering a large district of countryside around Glenalla. But quite a large part of the region woo barren and unproductive and consequently a considerable number of David Dill's livestock perished each year, presumably from the lack of proper sustenance, until eventually disheartened and discouraged he disposed of the property and moved to a farm at Aughedreenagh which is situated in a district between Portsalon and Rosnakill. Old James McClure who lived outside the town of Kerrykeel, some twenty years ago, often spoke of hearing his grandfather any that livestock of the Dill brothers–David and John–covered a mile of the road when they moved to Aughadreenagh. Tradition informs us that prosperity attended the Dills from the time they settled on their new farm, and we are also informed that they soon became men of influence and note in the neighbourhood.

It is recorded that John Dill's grandson, also named John, acquired Springfield estate from James Patton around the year 1730. Sometime later John invited his brother Mark to share the estate with him, and we are told the brothers lived at Springfield with their families until they died. Springfield is described as a large and valuable farm, consisting of about three hundred acres of arable and mountain land, exceedingly fertile, resting on a limestone bed, and producing crops of every kind in great abundance. The house is described es a fine old mansion, its walls three feet thick, and so grouted as to stand for ages. The apartments were large and capacious and the grounds are tastefully and artistically laid out.

After the Dills settled in Springfield a better authenticated and more erudite history of the family began to emerge. The Rev. James Reid Dill, who was born at Springfield in the year 1814, wrote a comprehensive and detailed history of the early Dill families, entitled The Dill Worthies. And John Dill of Sussex, England-a reared barrister–complied an up-to-date history around the year 1975. The pedigree or family tree complied by John Dill of Sussex covers many pages, and extensive areas of detail, which refer mainly to those members of the Dill family who are related, either through old John Dill who was born in 1723 or his brother old Mark Dill who was bom in the year 1741.

A shortened version, however, containing some fifty-one names of members of the Dill family–including fourteeen with the Christian name John–whose lineal descent derives through Old John Dill only is for convenience, an easy reference shown on a abridged pedigree, and includes, Inter alla, the following seventy-elght conferred accolades, degrees, and/or appellations:

Two baronets, two Knights, and M.P. and cabinet minister, a Privy Councillor, eleven clergymen including two doctors of divinity and moderators–in Ireland and Scotland–three professors of divinity medical and Greek, a field marshal chief of the General Staff, a Pro-Chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast, Governor of Manchester University, Headmaster of Manchester Grammer School, a Fellow, Dean and Tutor of Corpus Christi College Oxford, a Classical Scholar, eight medical doctors, a Queen's Counsellor–barrister at law, a doctor of philosophy, a cathedral dean, twelve M.A.s and B.A.s, L.R.A.M. A.L.G.S.M., an A.D.E., an E.S.B., an army colonel, a major, a captain an R.A.F. flight lieutenant and five authors.

Field Marshal Sir John Dill was perhaps one of the greatest men of his day and age. He was at one and the same time, a general, a statesman and a philologist. He was equally fitted to excel in everything, and has given proofs that he would have surpassed almost all other men of his time, in any subject to which he devoted the energies of his extraordinary mind, as the following testimony will show:

Field Marshal Sir John Dill (1882 - 1944): Chief of the Imperial General Staff and senior British military representative on the combined Chiefs of Staff Committee in Washington during World War Two. He was the proposed supreme Military Governor of a United Ireland (both North and South) during the war–to counteract possible German infiltration prior to an attack on the United Kingdom. He died in Washington U.S.A. and was afforded a state military funeral and buried in Arlington National Cemetery – the Valhalla hitherto reserved exclusively for American warriors.

An equestrian statue of him, was unveiled by President Truman. In September 1973 a stained glass window to the memory of Sir John was unveiled in the Royal Memorial Chapel, Sandhurst, where Sir John had in earlier years been Commandant. Honours and accolades include: Distinguished Service Order, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Battle, Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, Doctor of i Laws in Williamsburg University, U.S.A., Croix de Guerre (Belgium), eight times mentioned in despatches, Freeman of Cheltenham, Distinguished Service Medal of the United States of America.

The Rev. James Reid Dill who was born at Springfield in the year 1814, was probably the first of the name to write a history of the early Dill families. He was educated at Ramelton Grammar School, and entered Glasgow University in 1829 when he was only fifteen years of age. He was licensed to preach in the summer of 1834, and received a call from the congregation of Dromore, Co. Tyrone in 1835, when he was only twenty-one years of age.

A paragraph from his Autobiography reads and I quote:

"The Parish was a moral and spiritual desert, overgrown with vice and ungodliness. My predecessor, The Rev. S. was suspended for immorality. Intemperance provailed to an awful extent. Money was plenty, the farming classes were rich, and many of them having their lands in perpetuity were independent. There was much feasting and drunkness; in winter especially, it was a common thing to have large parties of friends and neighbours. After dinner cards and the bottle. The usual accompaniment were introduced; the glass went round until many were intoxicated, whilst the young people in another room spent the night dancing.

Although The Rev. Reid Dill's book, The Dill Worthies, is a comprehensive history of the early Dill families, it could not be described as a masterpiece. Mr. Dill always felt that his powers of expression were never really adequate to write a history of his famous family, and he tried Unsuccessfully several times to persuade more experienced writers to undertake the work. In the Preface to his book The Dill Worthies he writes and I quote:

"As many of our own Worthies had their biographers, it occurred to me to request Professor Witherow of Magee College who wields the pen of an able, learned, and ready writer, to make out a sketch of The Dill Worthies. I regret to say he declined. On receiving Doctor Witherow's declinature, I applied to my friend and relative, Rev. William Russell of Second Strabane, soliciting him to undertake the thing, but he insisted that I was the right person to do so, adding that as I was almost the last survivor of my generation, and as I knew more of the history of the family than any other, I should without delay set about it, and thus perserve records and incidents which otherwise would die with me.

The centre theme is of course the group of Dill dignitaries who shone at the end of the last century. As a whole the work lacks unity, but a virile individual note rings through it, and there is a strong expression of clannishness and family pride in almost every page. In the year 1840 there were ten members of the Dill family in the ministry of the Synod of Ulster, which was then said to be made up of ministers, elders, and Dills.

The Rev. Francis Dill, a son of old Mark Dill of Springfield was Presbyterian minister of Ray Church, Manorcunningham, during the Society of United Irishmen's insurrection around the year 1798. Shortly after receiving a call to Ray he was arrested on suspicion of being a member of the illegal Society of United Irishmen, and he was further charged with being concerned in a conspiracy to murder Dr. Hamilton, Rector of Clondevaddock, who was also a strict and severe magistrate. He was tried by court martial and narrowly escaped execution. When the death sentence was about to be passed, a witness who was a member of his congregation, arrived at the court martial and testified that Mr. Dill was in his house ministering to a dying woman at the time of Dr. Hamilton's murder. Mr. Dill had a providental escape for very few men were acquitted at a court martial in those days.

Dr. Hamilton's rectory was situated near Springfield estate in Fanad, where he was said to be a tyrannical, almost despotic magistrate, especially in so far as the United Irishmen were concerned. When news reached him that the rebels were closing in to besiege the rectory he stole away in the darkness of the night to Derry City where he hoped to get additional reinforcement to protect himself and his family. When on his return journey however he soon discovered that the ferryman had been accosted by the rebels, and ordered not to take him across to Fortstewart. He now began to realize that he had been stealthily shadowed since he left his house at Clondevaddock. Shaking with anxiety and terror, he fumed his steps towards the rectory outside Manorcunningham, where he was given sanctuary for the night by his friend Rev. John Waller.

After supper when Mr. Waller and his family were in the sitting room with their guest, they heard a noise about the door, and on looking out from behind the curtains discovered that the house was surrounded by a mob of rebels, who after repeated knocking and hammering at the door, ordered Dr. Hamilton to come outside. When the order was not complied with, shouts of "Come on out, Hamilton" came from all around the house. After a brief and tense interval a shot was fired through the sitting-room window instantly killing Archdeacon Waller's daughter where she sat on the settee beside Dr. Hamilton. Furious because they had missed their target, and instead, unwittingly killed a young lady, who was a great favourite in the neighbourhood, the frenzied mob broke down the hall doors, and dragged Dr. Hamilton out to the doorsteps, where he was barbarously and cruelly piked to death.

Sometime after the double murder at Manor Rectory a soldier called at Springfield, and asked to see young John Dill, stating that he had something to communicate to him. After they had walked half way down the avenue the soldier raised his gun and fired point blank at young John, providentially inflicting what was said to be only a superficial wound. The Dill family were furious and indignant at the unwarranted outrage, and demanded an immediate investigation, but the inquiry was soon abandoned when the authorities discovered that the soldier's commanding officer had connived to help his escape to a foreign country. It was said and generally believed that Dr. Hamilton's widow, distracted by the cruel and savage murder of her husband, and suspecting John Dill to be one of the conspirators, had bribed the soldier to assassinate him.

In consequence of the alleged complicity of the Dills with the United Irishmen, perhaps it would not be out of place here to write a short chronological summary regarding the origin and aims of the Society.

The Society of United irishmen was founded in 1791 at Belfast, by Theobald Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell-and Samuel Nelson, in order to join together all classes and creeds of Irishmen to obtain parliamentary reform. At first the society aimed at accomplishing a desirable object by legitimate methods, but before very long both its character and its aspirations became entirely changed. Around the year 1795 the Society was making rapid progress. The Protestants who hated the Catholic more than the landlord became Orangemen and those who hated the landlord more than the Catholic became United Irishmen. But as the latter organisation grew in numbers, they became extreme in their objects and aims. Many of them, thinking that a more parliamentary reform would not satisfy the political aspirations of the country, aimed at establishing an independent Irish Republic. Russell, Tone and several of their companions went one day in 1795 to the top of McArt's Fort on Cave Hill, Belfast, and there with uplifted hands swore never to rest until Ireland had regained her freedom. The United Irishmen were joined by not only Presbyterians and Roman Catholics but even by Episcopalians, who although they had no religious grievances, were ready for rebellion on account of high rents and landlord tyranny. To this denomination belonged Monroe, Tandy, Russell, Tone, Jackson and most of the other leaders.

Government alarm had now reached a critical point. They passed an Insurrection Act, and an Act of Indemnity, by which measures, magistrates were enabled to exercise almost despotic authority and to escape the consequences of inflicting illegal punishments. Military officers were put into the Commission of the Peace, and a regular reign of terror provailed. Many innocent men were imprisoned or tortured or put to death. But probably the most illustrious victim of tyranny at this period was the Rev. James Porter. Mr. Porter was a native of Ballindrait, County Donegal. He studied at Glasgow in the year 1787 and was ordained Minister of Greyabbey. He was an accomplished scholar, a persuasive orator, and a witty, humorous and sarcastic writer. Unfortunately he was inclined to propagate his political rather than his religous principles. His letters entitled "Billy Bluff" and "Squire Firebrand" first published in the Northern Star newspaper around 1796 present a true picture of the relations prevailing in Ulster between landlord and tenant, and are full of withering sarcasm directed against Lord Londonderry, who never forgave the insult, and who had soon the opportunity of obtaining his revenge. Mr. Porter never joined the United Irishmen, or committed any crime worthy of death or imprisonment But an informer, probably bribed, falsely swore that he was present when the mail from Belfast to Saintfield was captured by the insurgents. The boy in charge of the bags failed to identify the accused; yet on the unsupported evidence of a perjured renegade, paid for swearing away his life, Mr. Porter was condemned by a military tribunal, and sentenced to be hanged.

His afflicted wife, aware that Lord Londonderry had powers to prevent executions, obtained an interview with his lordship's daughter, who had often in happier days attended her husband's scientific lectures. One of these ladies, then in delicate health, and soon to be numbered with the dead, tried with tears to persuade her father to grant Mr. Porter a reprieve. But all was in vain. The wound inflicted by "Billy Bluff" was too deep to be healed by the tears of a dying daughter. Lord Londonderry refused her request and permitted a clergyman of his own Church to be punished by death for a crime of which he was innocent. The young lady greatly distressed, conveyed the sad news to Mrs. Porter and the afflicted wife to her condemned husband, who observed "Then my dear, I shall sleep at home tonight".

A scaffold was erected on rising ground midway between the Manse and the Presbyterian Church and there on the second of July, 1798, James Porter paid the penalty for a crime he never committed in order that the private spleen of a petty tyrant might be gratified. Although Mr. Porter was the only clergyman who suffered capital punishment during the United Irishmen's insurrection, the Rev. Francis Dill of Manorcunningham–but for the grace of God–might have been the second. The Rev. Francis Dill was later transferred to Co. Down where he was the Minister in Clough Presbyterian Church until he died. (cf.DA, 1969,pp.1-15).

Professor Samuel Marcus Dill was born at Donaghmore, Co. Donegal, in the year 1811. He received his primary education at Raphoe Royal School, where he had Isacc Butt as a school fellow. He graduated at Glasgow University and studied theology in the College of Belfast. He received an excellent education both at school and college and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Letterkenny on the 6th November, 1833. He eventually received a call from the congregation of Magherally in the Presbytery of Dromore, Co. Down, to which he was ordained in 1835. He was the first of the name to be called to the Moderator's Chair which he filled with great distinction. When Magee College, Londonderry, was opened, Professor Dill was unanimously elected to fill the chair of theology, and to be the first President. He was the author of a book entitled Evangelical Witness and before he died at the early age of fifty-eight years he was collecting material for two further literary works. One of these was A History of Irish Presbyteranism and the other was A Commentary on the Gospel of St Mark.

Doctor John Dill must have been one of the most remarkable men in the Dill family. I understand he was born at Springfield during the latter part of the eighteenth century, but I have no information regarding the date of birth. Sometime however after he finished his primary education young John became the ploughman at Springfield, probably when he was around eighteen, but he soon realized that being a farmer, even an extensive farmer, was not a very high position in the scale of human attainment.

Yet in spite of all this demanding work young John Dill found time to study Latin and his parents were therefore not in the least surprised when one evening he informed them that he intended to study for the medical profession and become a doctor. His parents wasted no time and eventually arrangements were completed, and young John went to London to reside with Dr. Bennet, a friend of the Dill family, who was prepared to help him through university. With the tenacity of one whom hard manual work, and intense study had already made old only half way through his youth, the young man of eighteen obstinately set out on his new project and stuck to it until he won through. He became a medical doctor. Sometime after he became qualified he obtained an appointment as surgeon on a ship, and after making a number of trips to the Far East he married a wealthy lady and settled in Brighton, England.


Rev. James Reid Dill, Autobiography of a Country Parson. Belfast. 1888. 206 pp.

Do., The Dill Worthies, Belfast. 1888. 110 pp.

Nancy Kinghan, O.B.E., "The Pattons and Dills of Springfield", in Donegal Annual, 1974, pp. 33-40. Also: Together We Stood.

Rev. W. T. Latimer, B.A., A History of Irish Presbyterianism. John Dill, barrister-at-law, London, whose personal letters to this writer provided valuable information on this family, on which he is an acknowledged authority. Acknowledgement is also due to Arthur I. Spears, B.E., of Lifford for furnishing typescript facilities, which are appreciated.