The people of Buncrana awoke to the news on Wednesday morning that one of its oldest buildings was burnt to the ground overnight in what was one of the most destructive arsonist attacks in the town’s history.
The Swilly hotel, constructed in 1867 on a prominent headland in the town of Buncrana was built to coincide with the establishment of the Londonderry Lough Swilly Railway Company.
It was the first hotel built in Donegal and it commanded breath taking views of the Lough Swilly.
Given it’s prominent position and close proximity to Derry it enjoyed a number of high profile guests throughout it’s history.
Queen Victoria stayed at the hotel in the 1870’s. King Edward the 7th and his wife Alexandria visited the hotel in 1903. George the 5th visited the hotel in 1911.
During the 1st World War the entire British North Atlantic fleet was stationed in the Lough Swilly and the commander stayed in the Swilly hotel where he had a commanding view of his fleet of ships. His staff were able to communicate with the ships by flag from the tower built as part of the hotel.
The hotel was a true asset to Buncrana having had the first salt water swimming pool and spa in the North West. The hotel functioned with no running water or electricity as these were not available at the time. The rate card showed a rate for the fire to be lit in each room and even a rate for fresh water to be brought to each room for guests to wash.
Unfortunately the hotel closed in the 1980’s and went into a state of disrepair.
It was then purchased in 1991 by local businessman Brian Flanagan and converted into a furniture showroom operating successfully for 13 years.
In 2004 Flanagans of Buncrana decided to relocate to a new location within the town of Buncrana and as a result the Swilly Hotel began to deteriorate.
Planning permission had been sought to redevelop the site into town houses and a grant of planning was approved by Buncrana Town Council. However this was appealed by local residents to An Bord Pleanala and this resulted in the Bord overturning the local authorities’ decision. Planning was attempted a second time and this was also appealed by locals to An Bord Pleanala. However this time the Bord upheld Buncrana Town Council’s decision to grant permission. Unfortunately the planning took too long to achieve and the building boom was over by the time the decision came through.
The building became the victim of numerous vandalism attacks since 2004.
Former owner Brian Flanagan of Flanagans Furniture stated “It was inevitable that the building would have to be demolished. However it is a real shame that it has to happen this way. My concern is for what will be built in it’s place.”