Prehen Wood on the outskirts of Derry, all that is left of the ancient forest that once cloaked the area, is a protected woodlands habitat with waymarked trails commanding glorious views of the city, the River Foyle, and surrounding areas.
Prehen House, regarded as one of the North West’s most significant heirlooms, is a splendid early Georgian manor house designed by Michael Priestley and completed in 1740, surrounded by the remnants of a large estate first occupied by the Prehen family a hundred years earlier. (Photo by Kenneth Allen)
In 1738 the heiress of Prehen House, Honoria Tomkins, married Andrew Knox, MP of Donegal, and their union begat a colourful dynasty.
“Half-Hanged Mc Naughten”
A popular local lagend recounts that in 1761 Andrew Knox kindly took in a debtor called John Mc Naughten; Knox’s 15-year-old daughter Mary Ann fell in love with the man despite his age and agreed to marry him secretly. Andrew found out, and realising that the groom’s motive was to get his hands on her considerable dowry to feed his gambling habit, tried to spirit the girl away to Dublin, but Mc Naughten caught up with the party, and instigated a shootout during which he killed Mary Ann. Convicted of murder, Mc Naughten was taken to the gallows, but the hangman’s rope broke, presenting him with the opportunity to escape. Mc Naughten declined, saying that he wished not to be remembered as a half-hanged man. Unfortunately for him, death proved no escape from the nickname.
Other members of the Knox family became prominent military officers and clergymen. Baron George Carl Otto Louis Von Scheffler Knox’s German connections led to the estate’s seizure as enemy property during WWI, while Dylwith Knox was instrumental in breaking the Enigma Codes during WWII.
The house was purchased c.1980 by a wealthy American writer and Knox descendant, whose eldest son, a war photographer killed in Moscow during the Russian Constitutional Crisis of 1993, gave his name to the prestigious Rory Peck Award for news camaramen who risk their lives in the course of duty.
Prehen House is open to the public most afternoons from March to October; tours of the sumptuous interior are highly recommended. The restored Coach House is available for holiday rental.