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Pocket Guide: Ballindrait Cavanacor Gallery Hotels

County Donegal may be best known for its dramatic coastline and beautiful countryside, but it’s not all rugged cliffs, beaches and woodlands. There are plenty of attractions steeped in their own rich history and there are also lots of galleries to attract art lovers - sometimes you are lucky and the two are found in one.

That is certainly the case at Cavanacor House in Lifford. Probably the finest surviving example of a plantation property in Donegal, the house is actually the ancestral home of the 11th President of the United States of America. In its grounds you’ll find a superb gallery which serves as an exhibition space for emerging and established national and international artists.

Lifford, which borders County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, is the administrative centre of County Donegal and has its fair share of comfortable and affordable places to stay.

Hotels Close to the Gallery

Since being established in 1999, Cavanacor Gallery has built up an enviable reputation and provides a real investment in contemporary art. It holds about six exhibitions a year and there is always a range of exclusive, limited edition prints on sale. It is only open on selected days, though, so it is always best to call ahead to avoid disappointment.

To date, the gallery has shown work from leading Irish artists such as Hughie O’Donoghue, Felim Egan, Deborah Brown, Neil Shawcross, Sean Fingleton, Eamon O’Kane, Carolyn Mulholland, Brian Ballard, Diarmuid Delargy and Michael Cullen. Huib Fens, Reinout Van Der Burgh, Svend Bruun, Klaus Diersen, Anita Taylor, April Kinser and Arno Kramer are among the international names to have exhibited at Cavanacor.

A House Full of History

Cavanacor House is located less than a mile outside Lifford, on the road to Letterkenny. It is one of the earliest plantation houses in the county and has been continuously occupied since the 17th Century.

In the 1690s Magdalene Tasker, who was born at Cavanacor, married Captain Robert Bruce Pollock and they and their children emigrated to America, settling in Somerset County in Maryland. The family shortened their name to Polk and Magdalene’s great-great-great-grandson, James Knox Polk, born in 1795, became US president, holding office from 1845 until his death in 1849.

The current owners, artists Eddie and Joanna Kane, have developed it as a thriving artistic centre where pottery, sculpture and painting workshops are held. The house, which has a tea room and a craft shop, enjoys a commanding view over the river Deele and is surrounded by parkland and woodland walks.

Nearby Lifford is best known for its 18th century Old Courthouse, now home to an excellent heritage centre which, with the clever use of technology, re-enacts several bona fide trials.

Where to Stay

As one of Donegal’s larger towns, Lifford has a number of hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts but, if you want to search further afield, Letterkenny provides plenty of alternatives. The twin towns of Ballybofey and Stranorlar, on either side of the river Finn, are also worth checking out.