Anne Speers your hostess – who is she?

I was born and brought up here on a small mixed farm exactly where Finn Valley Cottages are now located. It was typical of farming in Ireland at that time, where many farms had a mix of cattle, sheep, pigs and hens. My father kept pigs, chickens and cattle and I adored helping him with the daily livestock and other farm chores. I really enjoyed feeding the pigs and going up the fields with my father to count the sheep and cattle. 

In my childhood I vaguely remember hen houses in the fields and all livestock was free range. I was very much an outdoor person and loved helping on the farm. I wanted to carry buckets of water from an early age and frequently remember spilling the water down the inside of my welly boots as even the small milking buckets were really too big for me to carry! I hear you ask what is a “milking bucket”. It was a small metal bucket which the milk went into when hand milking. We had a quiet white cow who allowed me to milk her, but insisted on kicking the workman when he tried to milk her. She was also happy to let my father milk her and he held her tail during milking. That was a skill that was too advanced for me and so I had her tail occasionally swiping right around my head as I squeezed the strands of milk out. My mother was not happy when I came back into the house with my hair and clothes smelling of cows! Like the workmen, I had a pair of dungarees to go over my clothes but I did not wear a hat or a cap. 

When I was about six years old I got the best birthday present ever. I was told my present was outside and I still remember the joy when I found a brown and white calf with a tiny greetings label around its neck and standing in a warm and cosy pen made with straw bales in the barn. It was a sad day when I said goodbye to my precious grown-up calf 18 months later as it made its way to market in a very large cattle lorry.

I loved going places with my father and I was very occasionally allowed to go to the cattle market and the pig market in Strabane. The cattle market was on the site of where the library and Alley Theatre now stand and the pig market was in what is now Dock Street car park. Dock Street was where the canal came all the way into the centre of Strabane. A  hundred  years ago it was possible to get on  a canal boat in Strabane and go to Derry/ Londonderry and then board a ship to emigrate to America.

I was a very practical child and was lucky enough to get a donkey. The only item of harness that I initially possessed was a bit – the remainder of the bridle was made from rope. There was no saddle – instead I had an empty meal sack – a jute sack that the pig meal had been in. This was a great way to achieve good balance when learning to ride. When I progressed to a pony the donkey followed the pony over the jumps. A major thrill was to become the very proud owner of a real saddle with stirrups. 

Growing up on the farm was a mix of hard work and fun, but it was not much fun when I had to do my school work. My Mother was Principal at Tullywhisker Primary School and so homework took a great priority.

I have an older brother, Hall, who was far more studious in his approach to life. I was the naughty outdoor child and he was the reliable young man who always “did as he was told” – especially where homework and study was involved. Today he is a Bishop in the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Mahajanga in Madagascar – (having retired some years ago from being a rector in a London parish – he remains a workaholic, instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement!) 

When my father became unwell in the late 1960s I ran the farm and at the same time attended Loughry Agricultural College to study for an HND in Poultry Production 

My first ‘proper’ job after college was as a lecturer in Poultry production at Plumpton Agricultural College in Sussex. Quite a change in cultures from rural Ireland to southern England! After a few years there I moved to Harper Adams College in Shropshire to their poultry department for another few years, before returning to Plumpton as the new Head of the Poultry Department there. Teaching was not my real love as it was so restrictive. I completed a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA), part time ,at what was then Brighton Polytechnic (now Sussex University). I joined a commercial poultry/food firm Daylay, near Newark in Nottinghamshire as technical manager on the agricultural team. This was much more interesting and I eventually moved to North Yorkshire as their area manager in charge of a group of poultry farms and their associated 90+ staff.  During all of this time I continued to manage the family farm from afar. 

After 10 years in industry I returned home to Ireland in 2000, to start my own business from scratch. Since returning home I have done poultry consultancy, and farm quality inspections for the industry both in Ireland and the UK. 

In 2012 as part of a farm diversification scheme, I began to develop redundant barns on the family farm to create Finn Valley Cottages, and as they say the rest is history! 

One of my goals in life was to marry a farmer, but instead I married David, who is a Church of Ireland Parish Priest in Taughboyne in Donegal. You may see him around at the cottages when you visit. He is interested in churches and history so he can help you to trace your family roots in the area or take you on a guided tour of churches – including Derry Cathedral where he might play your favourite hymn on the organ. 

Finn Valley Cottages is my retirement project!. I have been very privileged to meet some very interesting people and I thoroughly enjoy meeting the guests. 

My interests are horse riding,  golf and fishing. My favourite golf courses are Narin and Portnoo, Murvagh, Rosapenna, Portsalon , Cruit Island and Royal Portrush as well as being  Lady Captain 2020 in Newtownstewart 

My favourite fishing is on the Mourne, the Owenkillew , the upper parts of the Finn and the Derg.

A person riding a horse

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A person riding a horse

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A person riding a horse in a field

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Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander

Who is this lady? Have you heard about her? You will no doubt have heard of and probably sung ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘There is a Green Hill far away’ and ‘Once in Royal David’s City’.  Mrs Alexander wrote these hymns and has some interesting local connections!

She was born in Dublin in 1818 to Major John and Mrs Elizabeth Humphreys. Her father was invalided out of the Royal Marines following the Napoleonic wars and became the agent for the Marquis of Abercorn. The family moved in 1833 to Milltown House just outside Strabane.

Cecil Frances wrote her only work of prose ‘The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals’ which ran to 5 editions. A year later she wrote ‘Hymns for Little Children’ for which she is best known and intended to explain Church Catechism to children. It included the 3 hymns mentioned above.


On 15th October 1850 Cecil Frances married the Reverend William Alexander and took an active role in parish life.

Points of and places of interest linked to Cecil Alexander:

  • Milltown House Strabane
  • Strabane Parish church – demolished and replaced by Christ Church
  • St Bestius Church Termonamonagan , Killeter near Castlederg
  • Derg Lodge in townland of Aghyaran  5 miles from Castlederg
  • 1855 William was appointed as rector of the parish of Upper Fahan  on the shores of Loch Swilly
  • 1860 appointed Rector of Camus-iuxta-Mourne, or Strabane – the rectory overlooked the weir on the Mourne at Sion Mills.
  • 1867 William became the Bishop of Derry and the family moved into the Bishop’s palace on Bishop Street Within, close to the cathedral. This is now the Masonic Hall.
  • 14th October 1895 Cecil France died aged 77. There was an astonishing display of affection and mourning across Ireland and especially in Derry. She was buried in Londonderry City Cemeteries. Today the Music Room in the grounds of the cathedral is named in the memory of Cecil Frances and on Carrigans Lane off Bishop Street Without, a number of alms cottages completed in 1901. Were named the Alexander Memorial Cottages in her name. The are now in private ownership
  • A blue plaque commemorates her life in the Bishop’s Palace, now Freemasons Hall in Bishop Street.
  • 1986 William was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and primate of All Ireland.
  • He resigned  in 1911 and retired to Torquay where he died in September 1911.

Stained glass window in memory of Cecil Frances Alexander, in St Columb’s CathedralDerry, Northern Ireland. Dedicated on 20th March 1913

The LH window – depicts  Once in Royal David’s City

Middle: There is Green Hill Far Away

The RH window :  The Golden Gates are lifted up

The Grainan Of Aileach

The Grianán of Aileach  is a hill top fort located on the western edge of a small group of hills. Situated on Greenan Mountain at Inishowen, County Donegal in Ireland that lie between the upper reaches of Lough Swilley and Lough Foyle. A short drive of about 25 minutes from Finn Valley Cottages.


Grianan at sunset

Although the hill not very high (244metres), the summit dominates the neighbouring counties of Londonderry, (Derry), Donegal and Tyrone. Located at the edge of the Inishowen peninsula, it is 11.25 kilometres (7 mi) northwest of the ecclesiastical site of Derry. The views from the carpark and from the fort are spectacular. A wheelchair friendly path links the car park to the fort.

It is believed that the currently existing hillfort was built by Northern Ui Neill around the sixth or seventh century AD, but the first settlement, also a fortress, was most probably created around the 1st century.


The round fort is built largely without mortar. The interior has three terraces which are linked by steps. The wall is about 4.5 metres (15 ft) thick and 5 metres (16 ft) high, with two long passages within it. Originally, there would have been wooden structures were built against the terraces to provide accommodation.  Just outside it are the remains of a well and a tumulus. The outline of Bronze Age or Iron Age ramparts can be seen below the fort. Legend states that the giants of Inishowen are lying sleeping but when the sacred sword is removed they will spring to life reclaiming their ancient lands.

It has been identified as the seat of the Kingdom of Ailech and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. There is much legend and historical material related to the Grianán of Aileach. The Irish Annals record its destruction in 1101. The main monument on the hill is a stone cashel, restored in the nineteenth century, but probably built in the eighth century CE. The summit’s use as an area of settlement may go back much further. A tumulus at the Grianán may date back to the Neolithic age. A covered well was found near the cashel in the early nineteenth century.


Slow Adventure

A brand new adventure concept favouring slow, immersive experiences that engage with remote, wild and nature-rich places was revealed yesterday at an exclusive launch event in the Walled City Brewery in Derry.

Slow adv launch Aug 17

From Left to Right (Front Row) – Anne Speers from Finn Valley Cottages, Mabel Campbell from Bradkeel Social Farm, Councillor Maolíosa McHugh, Martin Bradley from Landscape & Countryside Tours and Connor Donnelly from the Beech Hill House Country Hotel. From Left to Right (Back Row) – Rosemary Sweeney from Inish Adventures, James Huey from the Walled City Brewery, Stephen Gillespie Strategic Director at Derry City and Strabane District Council, William McElhinney, Pauline Lusby from Derry Equestrian, Maria McDermott from Visit Derry and Kimberly Madden-Treanor from the White Horse Hotel.

Butterlope foraging

A couple enjoying a foraging walk with Butterlope Farm in Plumbridge as part of one of the new slow adventure packages.

Aptly named, ‘slow adventure’ fosters an engagement with nature and provides an opportunity to not only partake in an activity but also to learn aspects of the local area such as the produce, wildlife and environment.

Over ten new visitor packages have been put together by thirteen local tourism businesses from the Derry and Strabane area and are now available to experience. Each package has been carefully crafted to make your introduction with slow adventure as memorable as possible. You can now walk through the Glenga Valley in the heart of the Sperrins foraging for food along the way, bake your own bread the traditional way in the farmhouse kitchen of Bradkeel Social Farm, see how artisan cheese is produced or have a go at traditional fishing on the River Foyle and cook your catch on a wild camp fire. Other packages include interactive cooking demonstrations with local hand-picked ingredients, Irish walking tours, horse riding in the Faughan Valley as well as deer stalking, bird shooting and salmon fishing in Strabane.

Visitors to the Derry and Strabane area can experience these new slow adventure packages over the weekend of Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24thSeptember as Derry City and Strabane District Council host the first ever ‘Slow Adventure Weekend’.

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Maolíosa McHugh “The council are delighted to bring this new adventure concept to Northern Ireland and more specifically to Derry, Strabane and the surrounding rural areas. We are the first and only area in Northern Ireland to offer slow adventure experiences and believe it is an amazing way to journey through the breath-taking landscapes and engage with the wilderness and nature”.

At the launch, James Huey from the Walled City Brewery, one of the local tourism businesses offering a slow adventure package commented, “There is something very special about participating in a slow adventure. It’s not just about taking part in an activity, the crux of a slow adventure is to give people the chance to really get away from it all and create memorable experiences”.

This new concept has been introduced to Northern Ireland as part of a transnational programme to promote slow adventures in Scotland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Slow Adventure in the Northern Territories, or SAINT Programme, is a three year programme with support from The Northern Periphery and Arctic 2014-2020. The Northern Irish project partner, Derry City and Strabane District Council, has been working with local tourism businesses since September 2015 to create the new slow adventure packages using their learnings from the other destinations across the world also involved in the programme.

Visit to see what’s on offer during this year’s Slow Adventure Weekend and throughout the year to start planning your next adventure!

Fly fishing holidays for salmon, wild brown trout and sea trout on the Rivers Mourne and Finn

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Fly fishing for salmon in Ireland at Paddy’s Stream on the River Mourne

Package 1

One weeks accommodation in Derg Cottage with 1 or 2 Anglers sharing. One guide for the duration of your stay. Airport Collection by your guide. 7 days small 4×4 hire (Toyota Rav 4 or similar)

Total price               £2808
Per person if sharing £1404    

Package 2

One weeks accommodation in the Finn or Strule Cottage, Up to 3 anglers not sharing. One Guide the duration of your stay. Airport collection by your guide. 7 days Large 4×4 hire (Toyota Hilux or similar)
Total Price £3600
Per Person £1200

Package 3

One weeks accommodation in the Finn or Strule Cottage. 4 or 5 anglers sharing. 2 guides for the duration of your stay Airport collection by your guides. 7 days hire of 2 Small 4×4 for 4 guests. For 5 guests, 1 small 4×4 and 1 large 4×4

Total price for 4 £5502        
Total price for 5 £5934        
Per person for 4 £1375.50     
Per person for 5 £1186.80

Package 4

One weeks accommodation in the Finn or Strule Cottage. 6 anglers sharing. 2 guides for the duration of your stay. Airport collection by your guides. 7 days hire of 2 large 4×4

Total price £6366
Per person £1061    

To arrange booking email us at:   or

Slow adventure – inspiring connections with the outdoors. A chance to explore and engage with wild, open and natural places. To journey through breath-taking landscapes at a slower, immersive pace. Creating memories through meaningful experiences as you invest time in a place, in its traditions and community. Surrendering to the natural forces of the environment as you reflect, reconnect and become closer to nature.

Slow adventure brings together people who enjoy sharing their sense of place with visitors by sharing traditional skills, local knowledge, storytelling and spending time together in nature. Each slow adventure has been crafted to offer unique experiences by working with carefully selected people and businesses.

Slow Adventure forms part of the Slow Adventure in Northern Territories Project which is co-financed by the European Union’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme.

Salmon fishing in Ireland


The salmon fishing can be very good from the end of May onwards, with the peak months being June and July, but can fish well from March until the end of September. The River Finn is a spate river and there is fantastic fishing shortly after heavy rain – which is a frequent occurrence in Ireland!!


The Mourne is not a spate river but like many other Irish rivers, it fishes best as the water fines down, but because of its size it usually fishes well for 3 or 4 days after the flood waters have receded. The Grilse will often press on unless the water is really low.

Click here for more information about fishing holidays at Finn Valley Cottages.

Birth of Finn Valley Cottages

In 2010 I was struggling to make the small farm viable. I had worked in England until 2000 and was very keen to return home to Ireland – a decision that I have never regretted.

The farm had been a traditional small mixed farm. In my childhood, we had a few dairy cows, beef suckler cattle, laying hens, pigs and sheep. It was typical of the many small farms throughout Ireland. The barn that has become Finn Valley Cottages was redundant as it no longer was suitable for modern farming methods as it was inaccessible to machinery.

Finn Valley

The old barn was fast becoming dilapidated with the roof falling in at the lower end and people starting to vandalise it. I had to make the decision – to demolish or develop and I’m more of a developer than a demolisher! So I developed the site!

Finn Valley Cottages

My ambition was 3-fold – to tidy up the site, to make the farm viable and to set up a business for my retirement. Under a Rural development program farm diversification scheme I applied for planning permission. 2 years later, having jumped through many bureaucratic hoops, I eventually obtained planning permission.

In 2012 I started with two cottages. I had been very keen to retain the features of the original barn hence the external appearance and the set of barn steps in the same position as the steps where I had off run up following my father to the barn door. The French doors are where the old doors were. The upstairs windows remind me of the loft doors through which, as a child, I had pushed bales of hay and straw out to my father who lifted them into the hay racks to feed the cattle. The sitting room of Foyle 100 years ago was the stable for the working horses and Finn was the byre for the cows at milking time.

As the business developed I added a games room located where are the sheep dip pens had been. Many a day I have got soaking wet as I walked through the sheep which were being dipped to protect them from flies and maggots. Dipping involved putting sheep into and through a large bath of water so that their fleece gets penetrated with sheep dip fluid. The workmen had waterproof leggings but no such thing existed for children. I was very keen on all aspects of farming and as a child had been very happy “to help” with outdoor jobs at every possible opportunity.

The final addition was Strule Cottage set up to meet the demand for guests with reduced mobility but who wish to maintain their independence. I had imagined the greatest demand coming from older people but how wrong I was. There is a strong demand from young people through most unfortunate circumstances require facilities which can easily cope with a wheelchair.

It was officially opened by Arlene Foster who is now First Minister in Northern Ireland, but in those days was Minister for Tourism. Ironically, as it was an agricultural diversification project, Mrs Foster was to be accompanied by the Minister of Agriculture Michelle O’Neill who is now deputy First Minister. And so Finn Valley Cottages became established!

Visit Derry

Dominating the North-western landscapes of Ireland, astride the flowing waters of the Foyle, is a 6th Century city that today resonates to the sounds of the 21st Century.

Among the happiest of those sounds is the multi-lingual chatter of more international visitors than ever – from conference delegates and backpackers to cruise passengers and tourists of all kinds – who are discovering the delights of a compact city which is unlike any other.

Having been placed by Lonely Planet as the fourth best city to visit in 2013 by a panel of travel experts and awarded the first ever UK city of Culture for 2013 Derry is most certainly the place to be! Londonderry, Derry, Doire or even ‘Legenderry’ as it has been recently renamed, is a centre of culture and creativity.This vibrant destination offers a unique combination of rich heritage and a buzzing social scene – Derry was named as ‘Friendliest Destination in Northern Ireland’ so you will be guaranteed the warmest of welcomes! Over the past few years the city has unveiled to all-comers the creative vibrancy and generosity of spirit that has always been apparent to those who knew her best. It’s a city famous for its confident modern outlook as it is for the timeless quality of its craic. Derry was named as runner up in the prestigious ‘Restaurant Association of Ireland’s 2015 ‘Foodie Town Awards’ so you can be sure to enjoy the very best of locally sourced produce including ‘from pier to plate’ seafood caught locally in neighboring Co. Donegal. Derry was named the “Best Halloween Destination in the World” by the readers of USA Today newspaper beating off stiff competition from Salem, Massachuttes and even Dracula’s home town of Transylvania!

Long an undiscovered gem, Derry~Londonderry stands today in the midst of a compelling transformation. It is a city emerging from a long and colourful history to showcase its brilliance to the world, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis of conflict. Here in our City you can expect many a smile of greeting from people who are noted worldwide for their friendly hospitality. Meander through the bustling streets of the only completely Walled City in Ireland and the British Isles and listen to the echoes of 1450 years of history. Stroll along its 17th century walls which are over 400 years old, and marvel at the ever-changing skyline of a city which is constant only in the warmth of its welcome.

Stroll across the gleaming new Peace Bridge which curves majestically across the River Foyle leading to the spectacular new development at Ebrington. Gateway to Ireland’s Northwest, our city is pulsing with life, resonant with centuries of heritage and passion, yet fresh as an Atlantic breeze. This is a joyful regional centre filled with celebration and inspiration, as manifested in the number and quality of our festivals and special events throughout the year.