All things bright and beautiful

The Rectory in Fahan, Co Donegal, has – naturally enough – housed a long list of Church of Ireland clergymen since it was built in 1822. But for a time in the 1850s it was also home to the woman who penned some of the most popular Anglican hymns we have today.

All Things Bright and Beautiful is perhaps Cecil Frances Alexander’s greatest hit. But the Christmas carol Once in Royal St David’s City is a close second. Altogether, Fanny, as she was known, wrote more than 400 hymns during her lifetime as well as many poems and translations, drawing admiration from the likes of Mark Twain and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

She married Derry clergyman William Alexander in 1850 and they settled at The Rectory, a fine, solid, no-nonsense Georgian house. Her husband rose through the ecclesiastical ranks to become Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and then Archbishop of Armagh.

Fanny continued to write verse until her death in 1895, channelling the proceeds from her best-known book, Hymns for Little Children, into funding charitable institutions, including one for Fallen Women, the Diocesan Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, and other local causes. Six of her hymns still feature in the Anglican hymnal today.

The current owners of The Rectory, the Dorrian family, bought the property in 1975. They had five children and the youngest, Paddy, was two years old when they moved in.

Paddy now lives in London where he runs a busy legal practice. “Sperrin Law, like the mountains,” he says. He remembers The Rectory as being a fantastic place for a family to grow up.

The house runs to 539sqm set out on two storeys over basement. The ground floor has 11ft high ceilings and many original period features such as marble fireplaces, crisp cornicework and ceiling roses, sash windows and shutters.

To the front are the bright and spacious drawing and sitting rooms. An inner hall leads to the dining room while the large kitchen was added by the Dorrians and has country style units and that essential, the Aga. All the necessary working rooms for civilised country living are also provided, including a utility room and wet room.

The first floor and return comprise six spacious bedrooms, two with en suite showers, as well as a family bathroom.

The Rectory has more than enough storage to cope with family clutter, including a generous basement. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, says Paddy, “My dad put a bumper car and wee electric cars in the basement and we would drive them around and around.” But recently, the space was renovated and now features a pool room, gym and a number of store rooms as well as a guest WC.

One of the more curious original features that comes with the house is a wooden cross inscribed with the name of ‘EM Fisher’. Paddy believes Mr Fisher was an admiral who lived at the house at some stage. “It says in the deeds of the house that this cross has to stay within the boundaries of the grounds,” says Paddy. “It’s a beautiful thing. If you put it on your kitchen table, it would be the length of it.”

The grounds at The Rectory run to 4.15 acres of lawns, mature trees and two pretty duck ponds. A whitewashed, two-storey stone building and another single-storey building could both be, subject to planning permission, renovated or converted into use as accommodation or an office.

The property sits next to a ruined church and graveyard that contain an early Christian slab known as St Mura’s cross. The spot is thought to be the site of a monastery founded by St Colmcille of which St Mura was the first abbot. The gable end of a later church still stands there.

“We were sent around with strimmers when we were kids,” says Paddy, “to tidy up the graveyard. There’s the ruins of the church too. It is the loveliest thing.”

Lovely too are the views to Lough Swilly and the surrounding countryside. The village of Fahan is a short walk away, while the nearest town is Buncrana, about 7km northwards, offering a number of schools, shops and restaurants, including the popular Drift Inn.

The Rectory is within a half hour’s commute of the larger towns of both Letterkenny and Derry across the border.

“The Rectory is magnificent,” says selling agent Mary Rainey of Sherry FitzGerald Rainey. “It’s been maintained over the years – often these old period properties are beginning to crumble, but this is immaculate.”

The Dorrians are of an age to downsize now, and The Rectory has come to market with a price tag of €1.2m, ready for another chapter in its history.

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Rainey (074) 912 2211

Viewing: Strictly by appointment

Size: 539sqm.

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