Lives Remembered

David Gilliland: Lawyer and dendrologist excelled at everything he did

PEOPLE travelled from all over Ireland to pay tribute to lawyer and tree expert David Gilliland.

The memorial at his family home over St Patrick’s weekend was fitting for a man who, despite his learning and knowledge, never stood on formality.

A former High Sheriff of Derry, David was a member of one of city’s best-known families and became one of its most successful lawyers.

His family home, Brook Hall and estate, is also intertwined with the fabric of his home city.

Tracing its origins back to the Plantation of Ulster, Brook Hall was used by the Duke of Berwick as the headquarters to the army of King James during the 1689 Siege of Derry.

The late David Gilliland's home, Brook Hall, has been witness to significant events in Irish history

However, it was David’s passion for trees which gave the estate on the banks of the Foyle global fame in more recent years.

Frank Gilliland, a former Royal Navy commander, created an arboretum at Brook Hall in the 1930s, stocking it with rare trees from around the world.

When David inherited the house and estate, he continued the tradition and moved it onto a new level.

The result of his labours was described by the head gardener at Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens in Co Wicklow, Seamus O’Brien, as “the most significant tree collection in Ireland”.

Following early education in England, David Gilliland read law at Trinity College in Dublin and qualified as a solicitor in 1955.

He returned to Derry to work at first with Gilliland, Todd and Mark Solicitors before acquiring the long-established firm Caldwell and Robinson.

His son, Philip, is the firm’s managing partner.

David was one of those people who excelled at whatever he turned his hand to, be it the law, gardening or business.

He also served as a governor of Ulster Television and was the station’s representative on the Independent Television Authority.

However, it was his comfortable personality which most endeared him to his Derry neighbours.

Despite his unionist background, David was entirely at ease in nationalist Derry. His popularity among his fellow citizens was evident at the memorial held in his honour among his beloved trees at Brook Hall.

His grandson David said the family was keen to mark his life in a way that was fitting to him.

“People from all over Ireland who knew him through the different aspects of his life came along and talked about him and reminisced about how they knew him,” he said.

In a moving ceremony which epitomised David, the family planted two trees, one to his memory and another to the memory of his chief gardener, Harry Doherty.

“Harry started with us when he was just 16 and he worked with us and with my grandfather until he was into his 80s," David junior said.

"The two of them worked together to develop the trees. Harry died about eight years ago but we had always wanted to remember him."

David Gilliland died on February 4 at the age of 86.

He is survived by the children of his first marriage to Patricia Wilson, Philip (solicitor), John (former Ulster Farmers’ Union president), Anne and Gail.

He is also survived by his second wife, the writer and novelist Jennifer Johnston, and his stepchildren Malachi, Lucy, Patrick and Sarah.

Seamus McKinney

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Lives Remembered