‘I’m sure John Gwyn would be pleased’

1986& The old Gwyns Institution in Brooke Park prior to its demolition.
1986& The old Gwyns Institution in Brooke Park prior to its demolition.

Around 30 descendents of the man who bequeathed his fortune to build Derry’s first orphanage have arrived in the city to visit the newly redeveloped site at Brooke Park tomorrow.

Robin Gwyn told the ‘Journal’ that his ancestor John Gwyn would be very proud that the site is still being developed for the community- something he pioneered in the city with the construction of Gwyn’s Institute for orphaned boys.

View from the top of the park with the new play park and Gwyn's Pavillion cafe below.

View from the top of the park with the new play park and Gwyn's Pavillion cafe below.

In an unparralled act of generosity, the local merchant, who came from Muff, stipulated in his will that the facility was to look after destitute children regardless of whether they were Church of Ireland (as he was), Catholic or Presbyterian.

Robin, who is coming from his home in New Zealand, said they were looking forward to seeing the new glass Gwyn’s Pavilion and play area, located in the heart of the park.

Brooke Park is expected to reopen to the general public in the Autumn following a £5.5m regeneration project.

Speaking about the visit of Mr Gwyn’s descendents, historian Robin Gwyn told the Journal: “We have family coming from France, Ireland, England, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.

“I heard about the Gwyn’s connection wih Derry when I was young. My mother was a historian, as I am, she was telling me about the Siege, and the Gwyn family can be traced back to the Siege. I didn’t really realise about the Foundation and John’s efforts until later, when I read the Irish gentry publications.”

Mr Gwyn said he was impressed by the “great care” his ancestor took “to encompass the whole community”.

“What he did was really advanced and he spelt it out with great care,” Robin said.

In his will, John Gwyn outlined his final wish to help “as many male children of the poor or lowest class of society resident in and belonging to the city of Londonderry and the precincts around the same, as hereafter described, as the said funds will feed, clothe, and educate, orphans or such children as have lost one of their parents always to be preferred”.

Robin Gwyn first arrived in Derry on a thundery day in 1985 during the Troubles and saw the husk of the former Gwyn’s Institute.

“The building that confronted me was surrounded by barbed wire with its roof blown off. It was later destroyed, but I am simply delighted and all my family is delighted that a sense of community has re-emerged. It is really good to see a positive change.

“The area itself is a lovely area with a beautiful view across the city centre and it is a great asset to the community. I’m sure John Gwyn would be pleased it is being used for the community good. That was his entire driving force all his life. He started with nothing, and his mother and he moved to Derry having gotten hold of £50. In his will be left £40,000 - a massive sum by today’s standards. Every penny he ever made went into that orphanage.”

The orphanage was constructed in 1839 using the £40,000 left by Gwyn, who was himself orphaned at an early age.

Mayor Hilary McClintock will meet with John Gwyn’s ancestors on Saturday.