Jane Austen’s Family Heritage in Northern Ireland & Donegal with author Sophia Hillan

Special Group Tours

Glenveagh National ParkDestination:

Dublin, Donegal and Northern Ireland


Jane’s Nieces in Dublin, Donegal, Belfast & County Down: Explore Stately Homes, Parks, Gardens, heritage areas for Hand-Made Lace, Knits, Linens and Tweeds

Join Tour Leaders Richard Mulholland, descendant of the Austen family, and Dr. Sophia Hillan, author of May, Lou & Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland, on this special adventure into the cultural landscapes of Donegal and Northern Ireland.

Fans of Jane Austen might not immediately think of Ireland as a destination associated with her life or novels but all the elements are here, waiting for you to discover. Using the real life paths of three of Jane Austen’s beloved nieces, delve into the fascinating history of this area. ‘Meet’ three of Edward Austen Knight’s children, Marianne (May,) Cassandra (Cass) and Louisa (Lou.) See family homes, places connected to their husbands and children; explore lace, linen, knitting and tweed crafts, visit stately homes, a national park, lovely coastal villages, romantic country estates with sumptuous interiors, meander breathtaking countryside, local parish churches, picturesque harbours; see Belfast and iconic Giant’s Causeway. Uncover what life was like in early 19th Century, both ‘upstairs and downstairs.’

As a special treat, your tour includes a private “Regency style” luncheon at Ballyscullion Park hosted by our driver/guide Richard, Jane Austen’s seven times grand-nephew, and his wife Rosalind.


June 8th – June 14th, 2014 (7 days / 6 nights)

Tentative Itinerary:

Oft imitated, never duplicated! This itinerary is an original SGT itinerary written in conjunction with Sophia Hillan & Rosalind Mulholland; property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT/Hillan/Mulholland.

This tour begins and ends in Dublin.

DAY 1 — Sunday    


We depart our central Dublin meeting point at approximately 9am, lingering a bit to get acquainted. Lord George Hill and his bride Cassandra (Austen) Knight began their married life in Dublin – thus an ideal place for us to begin our touring adventure! On a Dublin panoramic tour, see iconic sites, places ‘off the beaten track,’ discovering their connections to the Austen family. Enjoy a first taste of local lore and Irish history – all brought to life, here and throughout our touring experience, by your specialist tour leader and driver/guide.

Making our way north, our first destination is the lace making gallery in Carrickmacross. Carrickmacross Handmade Lace has a long and rich tradition, having originated in the early 1820s. By special arrangement, we’ll enjoy a demonstration of the craftworks, still all meticulously hand-made. Learn a bit of the history of lace making, stitchery being one of the few options for women needing to earn their own money in the Georgian era.

This afternoon, a rare bit of motorway driving will help speed our way to Donegal, our base for the next few days. En-route, we’ll stop in Omagh, the county seat of County Tyrone. This area has a rich literary heritage boasting connections to Brian Friel, Benedict Kiely, Alice Milligan and W.F. Marshall.

OVERNIGHT: Letterkenny area, Donegal. PROPERTY: Castle Grove Hotel or similar; Subject to availability, our accommodation in Donegal is a 4 star Georgian country estate featuring gardens designed by ‘Capability’ Brown and a rich local history. Dinner, bed and breakfast included

DAY 2 — Monday                       


County Donegal is delightful – miles of sandy coastlines, nature reserves of mountains, raised boglands, lakes and woodlands, a unique musical tradition and home to a large Irish speaking community. It was in the relative ‘wilderness’ that Jane Austen’s nieces May, Lou and Cass settled, worlds away from the ordered and mannerly society of their childhood homes in Hampshire and Kent. Donegal is where they lived, raised their families and where they are now buried. Today and tomorrow we will explore a variety of Austen family homes, businesses and we will pay our respects at their graves. Our touring path will take us via the lovely Glenveagh National Park and the coastal resort villages of Bunbeg and Derrybeg.

OVERNIGHT: Donegal, as above; Dinner, bed and breakfast included.

Day 3 — Tuesday


Today continue explorations around Donegal, Austen family related sites and general highlights. Delve into the local knitting heritage, in which the Austen ladies were involved for a time, visiting local craft centres.

Kennedy’s of Ardara has been in operation for over a century, the heart of the community and a perfect place to see the best of hand-made knits. Kilcar is full of local hand-weavers creating tweeds. Famed ‘Donegal Tweed’ is made sourced from all local materials. Sheep thrive in local bogs and indigenous plants such as blackberries, fuchsia, and moss provide dyes. These trades are very much a family tradition, the art passed down through the generations. A wonderful opportunity to mingle with the locals!

OVERNIGHT: Donegal, as above; Dinner, bed and breakfast included.

DAY 4 — Wednesday

Northern Ireland / Belfast

Today we make our way east, across the border into The North, visiting more special places!  Upperlands is the oldest linen village in Ireland. Clarks, a family run business, has been manufacturing fine linen here for over 260 years. Interestingly, the son of a local linen bleacher, Charles Thomson, became one of America’s Founding Fathers and penned the first draft of the Declaration of Independence! By special arrangement, current Clarks owner Bruce Clark will share some local lore and personal histories of the Clark and Thomson families with our little group.

Our next place of interest is the setting for what is sure to be a very lovely and memorable dining experience! Ballyscullion Park is a beautiful historic house set in rolling parkland with breathtaking views over the Antrim hills. Here, by special invitation, enjoy a Regency style luncheon with the Mulholland family, descendents of the Austen family via Cassandra Knight. After our meal in the elegant reception rooms, perhaps some leisure time for a stroll around the wonderful gardens. The local village here was also home to Nobel prize winning poet Seamus Heaney.

Visit Ballywalter Park, another fantastic stately home, by special arrangement. Current home of Lord and Lady Dunleath, first cousins to our friends at Ballyscullion Park. This estate came into the Mulholland family over 150 years ago thanks to the family’s business interests in the cotton and linen trades. Discover the home’s direct connection to the Austen family.

We will arrive into Belfast, our overnight location, this evening. Lunch is included today in lieu of dinner so you can have the evening free to explore Belfast as you wish.

Belfast is full of top quality restaurants, gastro pubs, and offers visitors a thriving music scene, from traditional local pubs to larger venues at The Waterfront and Odyssey Arena. Those interested in theatre may enjoy a night out at The Lyric.

OVERNIGHT: Belfast; PROPERTY: Malone Lodge or similar; bed and breakfast, Regency lunch included

DAY 5 — Thursday


A full day in Belfast, a city of fine Victorian architecture, restored docklands and the famed murals. On a literary theme, Belfast inspired “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” The entire day is yours to do as you choose independently. Perhaps you’ll choose some shopping at Victoria Square, exploring the world class art galleries or possibly a visit to Titanic Belfast Experience, a stellar 6-floor interactive museum. Another option is a tour inside the Parliament Buildings, seeing the Debating Chamber and historic Library, the very rooms where some Austen family members helped create laws. (Tickets are free but must be pre-booked, subject to availability, so please advise SGT in advance if you want this tour.)

OVERNIGHT: Belfast, as above; Bed and breakfast

DAY 6 — Friday


Touring via the scenic coastline to Giant’s Causeway. Formed over 60 million years ago, the bizarre regularity of its 37,000 basalt columns has made it the subject of numerous legends such as Finn McCool. Also see Old Bushmills Distillery, where they’ve been producing whiskey since 1608.

OVERNIGHT: Belfast, as above; Bed and breakfast

DAY 7 — Saturday

Strangford / Dublin

We’ve even more beautiful estates, regal homes and scenic countryside for our final touring day together! Hillsborough Castle, the family seat of the Downshires, once the home of Cass’s husband Lord George Hill, is now the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We’ll visit this impressive 18th-century mansion, built in the 1770s. See the State Drawing Room, Dining Rooms featuring fine furniture and silver from HMS Nelson. Within the extensive gardens are wonderful roses, lakes and Europe’s largest rhododendron bush.

Later today, towards the coast around the town of Strangford, explore Castle Ward. Once home to Jane Austen’s grand-niece Norah, this 18th century treasure house eccentrically features classical and Gothic architecture. The 820-acre gardens offer stunning vistas and a picturesque farmyard.

This afternoon, we must head south for Dublin. Our route should take us near the Monasterboice Tower and High Crosses, historic ruins of an early Christian settlement situated north of Drogheda. Lots of interesting opportunities to break up our drive! Arrive back into Dublin by 18:00.

Perhaps choose an optional evening Literary Dublin pub walk? James Joyce’s Bloomsday festivities are likely to be beginning this weekend too, as Monday is the day. What an exciting time to be in Dublin! 

OVERNIGHT: Accommodation is separate tonight, available for a supplemental fee. SGT recommends staying on in Dublin for Bloomsday, an annual celebration of James Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses.

Supplementary Trip Option:

SGT recommends spending time in Dublin pre and/or post tour. Dublin is a great city, small enough to be easily walked. Discover this city of writers, of talkers, of churches, pubs, music and of Georgian architecture. See inside Dublin Castle, The Book of Kells, Writers Museum, Guinness Factory, stroll the alleyways of Tollbar, the banks of The Liffey and enjoy magnificent shopping on Grafton Street. Dublin’s Hop-on/Hop-off bus is a fun way to see the city’s iconic sites if you choose. Please discuss options with us, SGT is happy to assist with Dublin accommodation, tours and tickets as you wish.

Please note: All attraction opening times are correct at time of printing this website. While we will do our utmost to include all of the properties mentioned as central visits, we reserve the right to change an attraction should it become impossible to deliver a planned visit due to unforeseen changes in opening days or times.


Richard Mulholland, descendant of the Austen family, and Dr. Sophia Hillan, author of May, Lou & Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland

“Belfast writer and academic Dr Sophia Hillan, formerly associate director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University, has researched the life and times of May, Lou and Cass, their relationship with their famous aunt, how they came to reside in Donegal and, most interestingly, the way their lives came to uncannily resonate with the plots & themes of Austen’s fiction…” Read Joanne Savage’s full article here.

BUY YOUR COPY of “May, Lou & Cass” here.


$2,999 USD per person; $3,499 USD single rate

The services of driver/guide and special Tour Leader for 7 touring days,accommodation for 6 nights while on the tour including full breakfast daily, 1 ‘Regency style’ lunch and 3 dinners. Your price also includes entrance fees to listed attractions, transportation and all taxes and tips other than those you may wish to offer your guides.

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