Salthill House was built for the agent at the Conyngham estate near the small village of Mountcharles in rural County Donegal. Straddling the brow of a low wooded ridge, about a mile from the main residence, The Hall, Salthill faces south, with superb views over parkland and meadow to Donegal Bay. Beyond the bay is an unrivalled panoply of majestic mountains, from Barnesmore in the East to Clogher Hill and the Petigo plateau, the majestic Ben Bulben range, the mystical mountain of Knocknarea, the Ox Mountains of Sligo and, on a clear day, Nephin, the Nephin Beg range and the mountains of Achill in the far Southwest.
The architect Thomas Ivory may have been responsible for the design, although it is unclear if his plans ever came to fruition, since he provided drawings for a house named Seapoint (alias Salthill) in about 1770. The present house clearly dates from that period, gable ended and of two stories over a high basement. The five-bay facade has a shallow single-bay breakfront while the round-headed cut-stone door case, with matching sidelights, is echoed by a round-headed window in the pediment above. The interior was reordered in about 1820, when the current staircase was installed, but otherwise the house retains its essential late-eighteenth century character, and much of its original joinery and glazing bars.
Over the centuries the occupants have changed with some regularity. Originally built as the residence for Hugh Montgomery, Esq., who was presumably the land agent, the lease on 'Tawnyfallon, otherwise Salthill' was renewed to Francis Montgomery by Henry, first Marquess Conyngham in 1824. Subsequently Salt Hill was the home of Leonard Cornwall in 1838 and of Robert Russell from 1857 to 1881. More recently, the house was the home of John and Nancy McCaffrey until the early 80s, when it was purchased by Lynn Temple of Magees, the manufacturers and promoters of Donegal Tweed, and his wife Elisabeth.
During the last thirty years Elizabeth has re-created the walled garden, which is sheltered by the house and yards, slowly and patiently. She complimented the original gravel paths with hedges and grass paths to provide additional structure, and concentrated on plants that thrive in this northernly environment. The result is an authentic country house walled garden, skilfully planted with a combination of perennials and shrubs, interspersed with vegetables, herbs and fruit trees. Outside the walls Elizabeth has planted a new area of woodland to the East, where the maturing trees are interspersed with mown paths, while the gravel avenue, curved sweep and yards are skilfully raked into swirling curvilinear patterns that recall the abstract la Tène ornamentation that influenced Irish early Christian art.
The surrounding region, which is easily accessible from Donegal town, is one of spectacular natural beauty with mountains, lakes, steep river valleys and rocky promontories that project southwards into the sea. Due west, beyond the busy fishing port of Killybegs and the village of Carrick, stands majestic Slieve League, where the tallest sea cliffs in Europe plunge for nearly two thousand feet into the clear waters of Donegal Bay.