Friday, 8 December 2017

On this day 8th December One of the Orphan Girls who went from Ballyshannon to Australia died

Mary Allingham died on 8th December 1917
On this day 8th December 1917, one hundred years ago, Mary Allingham who had been an orphan in Ballyshannon workhouse died in Australia. Mary Allingham aged 16 was an inmate of Ballyshannon workhouse and her address on the emigration records was given as Billig, Fermanagh which most probably was Belleek, County Fermanagh. The workhouse at Ballyshannon served a wide area, including parts of Fermanagh and Leitrim, and so Mary Allingham would have entered the workhouse at Ballyshannon. Her parents were Robert Allingham and Fanny Marshall (both dead) and by religion were Church of Ireland. She was one of 19 girls who were shipped to Australia from Ballyshannon workhouse at the height of the Famine in 1848.
Mary Allingham in Sydney

The first mention of Mary is in the Bench of Magistrates Cases for Wollombi, a rural area to the north of Sydney.  On 28th July 1849 the Police Magistrate wrote
to Francis Merewether, Immigration Agent, referring him to the enclosed
affidavit relating to the conduct of the employers of Mary Allingham.  The Police Magistrate asked the Immigration
Agent to remove Mary from the service of Mr. John Waugh Drysdale and cancel her
apprenticed articles, and “place her in servitude where her morals and her
religious instruction (she being a member of the Protestant Church of England)
may be attended to; at the same time it may be necessary to mention that four
out of seven of the parties who made the affidavits are of the Roman Catholic
Church”.  Mary’s apprenticeship to the
Drysdales had been made on the recommendation of a Roman Catholic clergyman of

On 3rd September 1849 the Police Magistrate again wrote to the Immigration Agent acknowledging receipt of a Memorandum from the Orphan Immigration Committee.  The Magistrate had the honour to solicit that in consequence of Mary having accompanied her employer Mr. Drysdale to the district of Brisbane Water that he may be excused from proceeding under the Apprenticing Act at his Bench.  He begged leave to recommend that the matter be communicated to the Gosford Bench (Brisbane Water district) that it may give the necessary instructions for the Police to protect “that unfortunate female from being led into scenes of immorality and vice at Mangrove Creek, the present place of residence of Mr. Drysdale.”

On 27th September 1849 the Police Magistrate at Gosford wrote to the Immigration Agent referring to previous correspondence (as above).  The Magistrate reported that they had given their constable at Mangrove Creek express instructions to keep a strick (sic) surveillance over the parties and he had informed them that they have conducted themselves since their arrival in the district with every propriety. He begged to decline entering into any enquiries with the case initiated by the Police Magistrate at Wollombi.

The above account of her employment with John Drysdale reveals that, despite early concerns for her welfare, Mary Allingham continued in his service. The report by the police constable at Mangrove Creek, in September 1849, seems to have put an end to concerns over Mary Allingham’s welfare, as he indicated that there were no grounds for further enquiries.

Marriage of Mary Allingham 1852

Three years after arriving in Australia, on the 2nd August 1852 Mary Allingham was married to John Ellem in the Church of England at Gosford (Mangrove Creek) by Alfred Glennie in the presence of John and Harriett Ferguson of Mangrove Creek. Both John and Mary signed with their mark. John Ellem was a son of Richard Ellem and Charlotte Huxley. They farmed, growing corn and rearing cattle until 1871 when John joined his brothers on the long trek northward to the Clarence River. They raised a family of nine which eventually spread over many of the northern states. 
Mary was described as “very small and thin, about five feet tall, had a fair complexion and extremely red hair”. John Ellem was born on 20th December 1832 and died on the 16th June 1916. Mary Ellem (nee Allingham) died on 8th December 1917 and is buried in the old South Grafton cemetery. Her death certificate stated that her parents were Robert Allingham and Fanny Marshall. Mary Allingham is one of 19 girls remembered at the Orphan Girls memorial beside the workhouse in Ballyshannon. The Orphan Girls Memorial is opposite the Fr. Tierney Park and is open at all times

.Ideal Local Book for Christmas

  "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon.Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The railway arrived in Ballyshannon 150 years ago this year


The old GNR bridge on the right  with the new bridge on the
Ballyshannon-Bundoran By-Pass today.

The  Great Northern Railway, or the  G.N.R as it was known, opened for passengers in this area in June 1867 and brought major benefits to the business and local community in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas including  the seaside resort of Bundoran and the Pottery in Belleek. The line was extended to Belleek, Ballyshannon and Bundoran through the lobbying of John Caldwell Bloomfield and the directors of the Pottery at Belleek, who required the rail line to bring in raw materials and coal for their china. Ms. Bloomfield laid the foundation stone at the railway bridge over the Erne at Belleek on 2nd January 1865. The construction  of the railway line provided work and further employment was created when the Ballyshannon and Bundoran  Stations were up and running on the aptly named Station roads. Things were on the up in Ballyshannon as the town was lit by gas by the Ballyshannon Gas company in the1860s, on the site of the handball alley today. The railway provided  a service for local people and connected this part of the North-West with Northern Ireland and Dublin. In the eyes of some local people in Ballyshannon, the railway was to have an adverse effect on the harbour at Ballyshannon, as goods formerly brought by sea could now come by rail.  However the problems at the seaport of Ballyshannon were long running, involving the sand bar which made it hazardous and in some cases uninsurable for shipping. There was no stopping the onward spread of rail transport. The G.N.R. opened up new areas of the country and linked towns and villages over a wide area. Local communities benefitted from the arrival of the railway and the seaside town of Bundoran owes much of its early growth in tourism to the coming of the railway.

The Beginning of the Rail Link to Ballyshannon  7th June 1867

An initial meeting was held in Ballyshannon on the 25th of  September 1860, to establish a railway to link into the Omagh-Enniskillen line. Present were the local  landlords: Thomas Connolly, M.P., John Caldwell Bloomfield, William Johnston, Alexander Hamilton, John R. Dickson and Rev. G.N. Tredennick was Secretary. Agreement was reached to issues shares to the value of £200,000 at £10 a share and  with funding in place, representations were made to parliament for approval of the project.  Permission was granted and work started on the project with a spur at Bundoran Junction, as it was called, on the Omagh-Enniskillen line leading on to Irvinestown, Kesh, Pettigo, Castlecaldwell, Magheramena, Belleek, Ballyshannon and Bundoran. The first passenger train crossed the metal bridge at Belleek on Sunday, 7th June 1867, on its way to Ballyshannon and onwards to Bundoran.

The  railway brought universal time replacing local time which had been estimated by sunrise, sunset and the seasons. Greenwich Mean Time (G.M.T.) was introduced in 1880 and was regularly known as Railway Time. Clocks became the order of the day and punctuality became more a feature of peoples lives, as they now became aware of precise times with the arrival of the train.The railways also carried the post and  newspapers became more popular as they were now accessible daily. Goods could be ordered and sent by rail and commercial travellers became a feature of life in Ballyshannon. Local crafts and industries were to suffer from the competition of  cheaper manufactured goods arriving by rail. The local fisheries benefitted as  fish could be transported speedily by rail to reach Billingsgate Market in London the following day. Ice was transported from Belfast to Ballyshannon in five hundredweight blocks on the G.N.R. for Swan’s fishery which operated in what is now the Mulligan warehouse on the Mall. Wooden mallets were then used to break the ice which could last for the fishing season. Two trains left Ballyshannon station daily for Dublin at 9.35 a.m.and 4.30 p.m.

The corporate image was maintained by the G.N.R. Company with solid buildings, well crafted bridges and a smart uniform with a crest. (Part of the facade of the building still survives at Station Road Ballyshannon).  Like the banks the G.N.R. station was amongst the most impressive buildings in Ballyshannon. Excursions from Ballyshannon were promoted by the G.N.R. and  became a regular feature as many people had their first adventures into the exciting world of travel . Local people went as a community on  bank holiday excursions to places like Derry and Portrush. The railway brought in large numbers for local events such as The Harvest Fair Day, the Falgarragh Horse Races and the Gaelic League Aeridheachts which were held at Rockville close to the G.N.R. station. The local soccer club Erne F.C later called “The Blazers” used the railway to compete in the Irish Football Association Cup in 1907 against teams such as Omagh United and Strabane Celtic. Gaelic games fans travelled by rail to the Ulster finals and to All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park. Emigrants who in former times had emigrated from the Mall Quay or Derry now began their journey to Great Britain or America from the railway station at Ballyshannon. 

Approaching Bundoran station

Railway memories from World War One and the War of  Independence

The sight and sound of  British Army troops with their bands, marching through the Port from the G.N.R. station on their way to the Rock Barracks, was to be a regular occurrence for local people. The garrison was changed from time to time and the railway was especially busy at times of war. With the building of Finner Camp in the 1890s the soldiers marched out through the two Ports, to Portnason  and on to Finner. This was to be  a regular feature as soldiers went to Finner for training during  the First World War ( 1914-1918) and also left on the railway for the Western Front in France. Not generally known is that a detachment of 200 soldiers of the 12th Reserve Battalion Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers from Finner Camp left by G.N.R. special train from Ballyshannon to take part in putting down the 1916 Rising in Dublin early in Easter Week.

The Great Northern Railway Station at Ballyshannon was  the scene of an armed robbery during the War of Independence. In June 1921 armed men entered the station at Ballyshannon and destroyed five tons of oatmeal enroute to a firm in Garrison. In the same raid 63 pounds of chocolate consigned by Cadbury’s at Belfast for crown forces at Finner Camp as well as 72 paint brushes from the Ulster Brush Company in Belfast were destroyed. This was in retaliation for pogroms in Belfast and was part of a boycott of British goods and personnel during the War of Independence. The County Donegal Railway (C.D.R.) also suffered a number of hold ups by armed men during the War of Independence (1919-1921). In April 1920  the  fireboxes from two railway engines were removed at Bundoran station to obstruct the British military from using the railway. This was  intended to disrupt military intelligence and was part of a guerilla war waged during the War of Independence. Tuesday 7th March 1922 was an historic day in Ballyshannon as, following the War of Independence and the Treaty, British forces vacated the town for the final time. The Royal Irish Constabulary police force who were based at the barracks in College Street lined up outside the barracks and, as the clock struck eleven, the Irish Volunteer force moved in. Head Constable Doyle and the R.I.C. police officers marched off to board the Great Northern Railway at Station road. The barracks still stands opposite the former Vocational School.

Pat Quinn of Corlea, some years ago,  in an interview with Martin Mc Cann, a student at Ballyshannon Vocational School, who was part of a group doing a project on the railways, recalled memories of working on the Great Northern Railway. He started working as a painter on the railway in 1929, worked for a time at laying rails at Belleek, and spent years as a track worker. In the mornings he would set out walking from Belleek Barracks to Ballyshannon. Every farmer who had land on either side of the railway had a crossing. Pat checked to see that the gates on the crossings were secured. There were two crossings between Belleek and Ballyshannon. One was a level crossing at Maggie Dohertys. The second was at Annie McCabe’s (Annie McCaffreys). There were signals at these gates, two on each side. If the train was coming from Belleek, the gate next Belleek was opened first. At Ballyshannon there was a distant signal and a home signal. The distant signal was about a half a mile out the Bundoran line and a couple of hundred yards away from the cabin. Pat carried a box  containing fog signals and these were activated if he noticed anything wrong on the line. The safety of passengers and crew depended on the signal system working properly.

The Emergency and The Great Snow of 1947

The G.N.R. provided an essential service, during the Emergency 1939-1945, when petrol was in short supply for private use. The Bundoran Express from Dublin to Bundoran was introduced after the Second World War and it also led to an increased popularity for the pilgrimage at Lough Derg in Pettigo. In the autumn and winter the Sugar Train also ran  from Dungannon to Bundoran on Sundays. This train allowed passengers  to stock up on sugar and other items which were scarce in the North. Smuggling was quite prevalent and in October 1942 the customs introduced a lady searcher to check for smuggled goods at the G.N.R. station in Ballyshannon. Folk memory of the big snow which fell all over Ireland in February 1947 and which resulted in 20-30 days of snowfall is readily recalled by those who lived through the period. The G.N.R. train due in Ballyshannon on Tuesday 27th February at 9 p.m. did not arrive in Ballyshannon until 7 p.m. on Wednesday 28th February due to the snow. The line was blocked at Irvinestown and the passengers had to stay overnight in a heated coach. The railway crew saw to their needs and meals were provided in a local hotel. The train ploughed its way to Ballyshannon next day but the snow continued to cause problems. The only G.N.R. bus to arrive in Ballyshannon on that Wednesday was the workers’ bus from Tullaghan driven by Jack McAllister. It took four hours and twenty minutes to reach Ballyshannon from Tullaghan!

Ballyshannon a Town with Two Railways

Local businesses which used the railway frequently included: Neely’s Mills, Myles’ Timber, Coal and General Hardware, Stephens Hardware, and Fancy Goods and F.H. Morgan on East Port. These firms, and others, had in earlier times  imported by ship through the Mall Quay. Cattle trains were also to be a feature at Ballyshannon station and this benefitted the farming community who now had  a more ready access to markets.  Some staff who worked for GN.R. locally  included: Eddie and Johnny Boyle, Jimmy Trainor, Andy Mc Shea, Patsy Mc Geown, Charlie Boyle, Pat Fannin, Pat Quinn, Jim Flanagan and Phillip Boyle. In earlier times employees included, W. Duffy, Ballyshannon agent, James Mc Donald, station master, and D. Beatty who was stationmaster in 1880. The G.N.R were later engaged with road transport and kept their buses and lorries in the Market Yard where they had a waiting room and an office, while still operating the trains from Station Road. Packie McIvor, Paddy Drumm, Michael Campbell and John Connolly were amongst the lorry drivers with G.N.R. The railway also ran buses from the Market Yard with Mary Gillespie working for the G.N.R. from a railway carriage beside her home in the Market Yard. Her daughter May was the founder of the Gillespie School of Dancing.

Ballyshannon was a town with two railways as the County Donegal Railway or “narrow gauge” as it was called was on the northern side of the river Erne. The C.D.R. opened in 1905 and served areas in County Donegal including  Creevy, Rossnowlagh, Ballintra and Donegal Town. Both the G.N.R. and the C.D.R. were to share in the boom in Ballyshannon, created by the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme in the late 1940s, as both transported materials for Cementation, the main contractors on the Scheme. The G.N.R. carried bulk cement from Drogheda and also carried plant and machinery. Despite the short term benefits of the building boom during the Scheme, changes in modes of transport were to lead to a decline in passenger numbers and to financial difficulties for the G.N.R. Company. Both the G.N.R and the C.D.R. would have required major investment to upgrade the railway lines and railway stock. The two railways in Ballyshannon were not connected as the width of gauge was different, but  passengers regularly walked across  the town to continue  on their rail journeys by the G.N.R. or C.D.R. The switch over  to road transport and the increased use of motorcars effected both  Ballyshannon and Bundoran.

The recent discovery of a forgotten medieval graveyard at Ballyhanna when the By-Pass was being constructed recalled a linked incident in 1900. The corner of Station road and East Port was  called Hobson’s Corner as a John Hobson resided at Rockville house, on the grounds of which 1,300 skeletons were recently uncovered. Back in 1900 as water pipes were being laid to the G.N.R. station a number of  human bones were uncovered at Hobson’s Corner. The bones were left in situ on the site and covered up. These were a small part of the Ballyhanna graveyard, later discovered during the construction of the By-Pass, which is commemorated with a heritage garden on the site today.

 Requiem for the G.N.R. 30 September 1957

A green flag waved, a whistle shrilled and the last passenger train steamed out of Bundoran railway station on Monday afternoon, 91 years after the first train had chugged its way in. Into history it rolled on its way, accompanied by the cheering of a crowd on the platform, the reverberating crash of fog signals and the shriek of the engine whistle.”

“The Donegal Democrat”  aptly summed up the end of the line for the G.N.R. as the reporter described the mixed emotions of crowds gathered on the platform as the last train left Bundoran station to the call of “Last train for Enniskillen”.  On the 30th September 1957 this last train, with upwards of one hundred passengers, left Bundoran and journeyed through Ballyshannon, Belleek and Pettigo. Many made the short journey to Ballyshannon and disembarked retaining their tickets as a memento of the great days of rail.The staff at Bundoran station were redeployed and a number of  families left the area as a result. Mr. Wickham, stationmaster, was transferred to Castleblaney as stationmaster; Mr. Mooney went as guard to Howth, Mr. Jimmy McGrory to Dublin as guard; Mr. Paddy Martin, driver, to Dundalk; Mr. P. Mulhern, platelayer, to Dundalk; Mr. Felix Campbell, platelayer, to Dundalk; Mr. Thomas Campbell, ganger, to Dundalk; Mr. Robbie McCurdy, fireman, to Clones; Mr. Seamus Gallagher, clerk, to official in charge Monaghan; Mr. P. Jones, clerk, to Dublin and Mr. Richie Phillips electrician to Drogheda. From Ballyshannon station Mr. Patsy McGowan went as goods checker to Dundalk and Mr. Johnnie Gallagher went as porter-signalman to Dublin. Initially three of the staff at Ballyshannon station were retained. Mr. J. Flynn, stationmaster, remained in charge of the road freight section, and  signalman J. Trainor and permanent way ganger J. Boyle remained at the Ballyshannon station.

The impact on the town of Ballyshannon, of the closure of the Great Northern Railway sixty years ago in 1957 and two years later, the closure of the County Donegal Railway, coupled with the end of the  Erne-Hydro Electric Scheme in the early 1950s, had a lasting effect on the town  and its commerce. In this period "The Donegal Vindicator" newspaper also closed.  Bundoran faced a challenging time to retain its developing tourism and  bus transport increased greatly to the seaside resort. The closure of the Great Northern Railway in 1957 meant that business firms receiving goods from Dublin had no direct access by rail. The nearest railway was Sligo and this involved greater transport costs. Road freight now became the only viable option. The closure of the G.N.R  railway  sixty years ago was a major blow to the local economy and led, for a period, to increased isolation for this area.  So ended a rich history of railway service to the people of this area which began 150 years ago and which is still remembered with great affection by the older generation who travelled on the line.

 Train at Ballyshannon station in 1956  one year
before the railway sadly closed

Danny McIntyre of the Whitehill, Sheegus, Ballyshannon in his ballad entitled “Pictures from the Past” echoed what many people felt about the passing of the railways.

In dreams I see the trains run on their shining rails of steel,

The G.N.R. and narrow gauge, their image is so real.

The platforms and the stations, the people young and old,

How bitter sweet the memories that dreaming can unfold.

Ideal Christmas Gift 


 "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon.Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Date for your Diary

On Saturday next 9th December at 12 0' clock I will be giving a 20 minute local history talk in the Mercy Hall. This is part of  Ballyshannon Enterprise Town     with lots of activities in the Mercy Hall from 11-2 p.m. All welcome to this free event hosted by Bank of Ireland and Ballyshannon Chamber.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Famous Ballyshannon Ghost Story

The scene of the ghostly appearance was the barracks on the left of this photo.

The Goblin Child, Lord Castlereagh and the Barracks at Ballyshannon

The barrack’s building at the bridge in Ballyshannon County Donegal is considered to be the oldest and most interesting building in the town. It is an historic military building which has been central to the history of the town for over 300 years. A detached six-bay building of two-storeys over a basement, the barracks was built in 1700. The building was planned as a T-shaped building and this outline can still be seen today The keystone over the central archway, records the date of erection of the barracks which can be viewed today on the front of the building and the interior of the building had a long spinal corridor 8 foot wide and 110 foot long. Alistair Rowan considered it to have been the work of Colonel Thomas Burgh who took over the role of Surveyor General in Ireland in 1700. Burgh who designed Collins Barracks in Dublin in 1701 was an ancestor of well -known singer Chris De Burgh. 
The interior of the building has been renovated and reconstructed and today the most authentic features are to be seen on the facade. The barracks was constructed for the British military to protect a very strategic crossing point into Ulster. Located beside the bridge over the Erne, the barracks in its early years had a checkpoint on the bridge to control all movement into County Donegal. Local people for generations have identified the building as the ghostly home of both The Green Lady and The Goblin Child. The story of The Green Lady centres on an officer’s wife who defied her husband by attending a ball in the town. On her return to the barracks an altercation developed with her husband and he threw her to her death down the stairs. The lady had been wearing a green dress and right up to present times local people believe that she haunted the barracks, particularly around the Harvest Fair day in September.

The Radiant Boy seen in Ballyshannon by Lord Castlereagh

The Goblin Child of Ballyshannon is also associated with the barracks and this event was known in various parts of Ulster, in the 19th century, as ‘the radiant boy,’ but few sources identified the location of the apparition as Ballyshannon. The story of the Goblin Child concerns the supernatural appearance of a boy in the barracks at Ballyshannon, and is one of the most authenticated ghost stories in the area. The tale centres on Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, who arrived in Ballyshannon barracks following military manoeuvres. Having retired upstairs to his bedroom, in which a fire was still glowing in the fireplace, he went into a fitful sleep. During the night he was awakened from his sleep and claimed that he saw the image of a naked child emerging from the fireplace and coming across to the foot of his bed. The child did not speak and the apparition receded back into the fireplace. Robert Stewart is reputed to have later recounted the tale to Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish novelist in 1815- “It is certain he related several strange circumstances many years after, at a dinner party in Paris, one of those present being Sir Walter Scott who afterwards referred to it in his writing.”  Scott said only two men had ever told him that they had seen a ghost, and that both had ended their own lives. One of these men was Lord Castlereagh. In other accounts of the apparition, Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, was said to have been out hunting when the weather turned bad and he sought shelter in a gentleman’s house. One source called the child ‘a radiant boy’ and recounted that the incident happened somewhere in Ireland. Perhaps the reason that the event has not been generally identified with Ballyshannon is, that the ghostly apparition is mainly referred to as the ‘radiant child’ but William Allingham the poet refers to it as the Goblin Child. Francis Joseph Bigger M.R.I.A placed the ghostly appearance of the boy in the barracks at Ballyshannon in 1796, whilst referring to the apparition as ‘the radiant boy’ and recounted how Lord Castlereagh had told the story to Sir Walter Scott and to the Duke of Wellington. There is also strong anecdotal evidence to locate the strange happening at the barracks beside the river Erne in Ballyshannon. 
The Curse of the Goblin Child

Who was Lord Castlereagh? He was born Robert Stewart in Dublin in 1769, the son of a Presbyterian landowner and Member of Parliament, who built Mount Stewart near Newtownards in Co. Down. By a strange coincidence he had a Ballyshannon connection, as he was married to Lady Emily Hobart, who was a relative of William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish Parliament, who was born in Ballyshannon in 1662. By a strange quirk of location the Speaker’s birthplace was just across the street from the barracks where Robert Stewart saw the apparition. Stewart later rose to prominence as Chief Secretary, War Minister, Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Commons during the Napoleonic Wars. He is remembered in Ireland for his suppression of the 1798 Rebellion and for forcing through The Act of Union. In 1822 he cut his throat at his residence in Kent. An added piece of information about the Goblin Child was that when the boy/child appeared to anyone, that person would rise to high prominence but would have a violent death.  Castlereagh’s violent death leaves one to wonder about the curse of the Goblin Child, as Castlereagh rose to high office but then met a violent death.,

William Allingham heard the story of the Goblin Child in his Youth

The account of the story in William Allingham’s narrative poem, The Goblin Child of Ballyshannon, graphically describes the appearance of the child to Lord Castlereagh and locates this unusual tale at the barracks in Ballyshannon.  The room in which the event occurred in the barracks was, for many years, referred to as Lord Castlereagh’s Chamber. It is significant that the Allingham family lived close to the barracks at Ballyshannon, when the apparition occurred in the late 1700’s, and that the poet William Allingham who was born in 1824, published his poem on the occurrence in 1850. He would have been familiar with the story, growing up, and in the extract from his poem quoted at the end of this blog, describes the apparition and names Lord Castlereagh as the person who saw the Goblin Child in Ballyshannon barracks.

    Ideal Christmas Gift 

 "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon.Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

When   suddenly – Oh Heaven! – the fire

Leaped up into a dazzling pyre,

And boldly from the brightened hearth

A Naked Child stepped forth.

                                                                       With a total, frozen start,

A bound – a pausing of the heart,

He saw.  It came across the floor,

Its size increasing more and more

At every step, until a dread

Gigantic form stood by his bed.

Glaring for some seconds’space

Down into his rigid face –

Back it drew, with steadfast look.

Dwindling every step it took,

Till the Naked Child returned

To the fire, which brightly burned

To greet it: then black sudden gloom

Sunk upon the silent room,

Silent, save the monotone

Of the river flowing down

Through the arches of the bridge,

And beneath his casement ledge.

This happened when our island still

Had nests of goblins left, to fill

Each mouldy nook and corner close,

Like spiders in an ancient house,

And this one read within the face

Intruding on its dwelling-place,

Lines of woe, despair, and blood,

By spirits only understood;

As mortals now can read the same

In the letters of his name,

Who in that haunted chamber lay,

When  we call him – Castlereagh.

Fears of a French invasion during the Napoleonic era resulted in a new barracks being built on higher ground overlooking Ballyshannon in 1798. Traces of this barracks can still be seen at East Rock in the town. In the 1890s Finner Camp was constructed as a training camp for the Boer War and the First World War. The barracks at the bridge, where the Green Lady and the Goblin Child had appeared, had ceased to be used for military purposes since before the Great Famine. The building was suggested as a site for a workhouse but was not considered suitable. From the 19th century to the present day the barracks building at the bridge in Ballyshannon has been used as commercial premises and currently houses an auctioneer’s premises, a computer shop and a music store. This barracks still stands, beside the bridge over the Erne at Ballyshannon, and has a rich ghostly history, which is believed to be the location of Castlereagh’s ghostly vision of the radiant or goblin child.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Two Christmas letters sent from the Trenches to Ballyshannon families during World War One  

Anthony Begley speaking at a talk on
          local memories of  World War One  and the Battle of  the Somme 
to a capacity crowd in the Imperial Hotel Ballyshannon  November 2016   (Donna Martin)   

A Happy Christmas and New Year to you from Ballyshannon, wherever in the world you are reading this blog.

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery.

    Ideal Christmas Gift 

 "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon.Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Local Background

At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, hundreds of local men had enlisted in the British Army at places like Finner Camp, Enniskillen and different places in Ireland. Many who had emigrated to Great Britain, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada joined in their adopted countries. They joined for a variety of reasons including the opportunity to earn a wage, for a sense of adventure and following the advice of political leaders like John Redmond and James Craig. One hundred years later we have an opportunity to read and hear, for the first time, about what life was like in the trenches, how they felt about the war and tragically reports of how some of them died. Over 60 local men died in the First World
Postcard received by a Ballyshannon soldier Sergeant Caldwell Main Street Ballyshannon. Unlike the postcard most people thought the war would be over quickly.

Christmas Eve in the Trenches 1914- A letter to a mother in Erne Street

Before World War One began, Patrick McDonagh was an instructor in the Irish National Volunteers in his native Ballyshannon and also in the Belleek district. He would have enlisted in the army, on the advice of the Volunteer leader John Redmond. On the outbreak of war  in 1914 he served in the 2nd Division of the 4th Guards Brigade, British Expeditionary Force. He spent Christmas Eve in the trenches on the Western Front from where he wrote a letter home to his mother Bridget McDonagh 94 Erne Street, Ballyshannon.

I received your last letter all right. We spent our Christmas in the trenches, arriving at the firing line on Xmas Eve. I am sure that you all spent a good Xmas. It is hard on us out here, but these things cannot be helped. Hugh Moan is out here and in my Company. He was wounded early in the war and is out again. Paddy Fleming is here too, he came out from London and joined us while we were having the rest. The country is in a terrible state from heavy traffic. Thank God I am living and well and I shall hope to come out safe. I don’t think that the Germans will last much longer, let us hope so anyway. You can send me a tidy little parcel and make it as secure as possible and put my full address on it. Tell Tommy Moan that Hugh is doing fine and that he and I are together. Let me know how you all spent Christmas and tell me all the news. I had a narrow escape on Christmas Day. A German bullet struck the top of my rifle breaking the top off clean and wounding a sergeant behind me in the trench. I am more than lucky when I was not killed at different times. I am writing this letter in the firing line and hope that you will receive it safe. Tell all the people I am asking for them and hope to see them soon again. We have our priest and doctor with us and the wounded are well looked after, every man receiving the Last Rites of the Church. Isn’t that a great blessing? Good-bye and God bless you all and pray for us out here suffering terribly to save our country from ruin.

                                                                                                P. Mc Donagh

Patrick’s brother, John McDonagh, was in the 7th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial along with seven other Ballyshannon men, as their bodies were not located. Those named on the Memorial  include; Corporal Patrick Melly, Finner, Sergeant Christopher Laird, Main Street, Private Robert Kearney, Rossnowlagh, Private Patrick Gallagher, Kilbarron, Private Frederick Armstrong, Private John Joseph McShea, Rathmore, and Private Hugh Moan. Hugh Moan who later died at the Somme, is mentioned in the letter from Patrick McDonagh, above, He was also in the Irish Guards and, as indicated above, he was wounded and returned home for a time. During his recuperation in Ballyshannon, he visited his former workplace at “The Donegal Vindicator” newspaper on East Port, where he indicated to the editor that he didn’t think he would be killed by the Germans. On the 23rd December 1916 Private Hugh Moan was killed in an accidental explosion in the trenches on the Somme.

Troops at Finner camp preparing for the Western Front in France

A letter to a mother in Sheegus on the death of her son

Edward J. Mcintyre was born in Sheegus, Ballyshannon on the 9th August 1891, the son of Denis and Maria Mcintyre. Denis was a local fishermen like many of his neighbours in the Abbey. Edward had worked at the building trade in Ballyshannon before emigrating to the United States in 1912. When America entered the war he joined Company B, 306th Infantry and served on the Western Front in France. He was killed in action in the Argonne Forest region north-west of Verdun  on 27th September 1918. Corporal McIntyre is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. A family anecdote recalls that the McIntyre family at Sheegus first heard about his death from a neighbouring family called Tunney from the Legaltion area. The Tunney family had received a letter, from one of their family, who was in the same regiment as Edward McIntyre and who witnessed his death. The Tunney family went down to the McIntyre’s home and told them the sad news. Later Mrs. Maria McIntyre received the following letter from the American Army.

  Co. B, 306 Inf.

    6  Dec. 1918

My Dear Mrs. McIntyre,

It is with a heavy heart that I answer your letter of Nov. 15th to inform you, if you have not already been told, that your son, Edward, was killed in action on Sept 27th, apparently the very day upon which you last heard from him. He died the death of the brave, fearless, manly soldier that he was in leading his men against a German machine gun position. A bullet killed him instantly and he was later buried where he fell, upon  the ridge west of the “Baricade Pavilion” in the depth of the Argonne Forest.

I was personally very much attached to Corp. McIntyre. He was the finest type of clean, vigorous, good-natured Irishman. On the march, in  quarters, in trenches, or in action, he was always the same reliable, quick-witted, fine-appearing soldier, loved by his comrades and his officers, the life of the platoon, and one of the best non-commissioned officers in the company.  I miss him as much as any of the dear lads that this ghastly war has taken from us.

God help and comfort you. If this letter is the first means of your knowing of your great loss, I hope it may also convey to you a sense of the homage that we feel toward his mother.The men of the old company join me in extending to you, our sincerest sympathy and good wishes.

Your servant,

Theodore S. Kenyon, Capt. 306 Inf.

Ballyshannon woman Kathleen McFadden (nee McIntyre)  at the grave of her
                uncle Corporal Edward   McIntyre who died in the First World War while serving
in the American Army in France.

Footnote. On the 4th November 2016 Anthony Begley, Jim Melly and Conor Carney, remembered those from the Ballyshannon area who had died in the First World War, at an illustrated Emerson Lecture in Dorrian’s Imperial Hotel ,which was attended by upwards of 200 people. This was possibly the first local remembrance of the First World War in the past one hundred years.The event was organised by County Donegal Historical Society in association with The Allingham Arts Festival. In August 2016 large crowds attended a centenary walk through Ballyshannon which  remembered the independence struggle during the 1916 period. During 2016 "The Donegal Democrat" and "The Donegal Post" in a series of newly researched articles , recorded the memories of local involvement in both major events , which occurred one hundred years ago .These articles by Anthony Begley can be found  (or will be posted) as local history blogs on the internet at 

3 Images of Ballyshannon at Christmas 2016 thanks to Ballyshannon Business Chamber

(l.tor.) Anthony Begley.Jim Melly
and  Conor Carney at "Local Memories of World War One and the Battle of the Somme" talk in Dorrian's Imperial Hotel 2016.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Eve in Ballyshannon the most unusual event ever

The scene of an act of piracy at Ballyshannon on Christmas Eve 1846

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery. Ideal Christmas Gift."Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon. Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact


On Christmas Eve 1846 a most unusual incident occurred in Ballyshannon harbour, during the Great Famine. A ship was waiting for a suitable tide to cross the bar on its outward journey to Liverpool when this strange event happened. The background to this real event happened during the Great Famine in 1846. The appearance of blight in the summer of 1846 resulted in whole fields producing very few healthy potatoes in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas. Curiously the weather was fine for the most part but people were anxious as for many the potato was their principal food. Some merchants brought Indian meal from Sligo as a substitute for the potato but the amounts were small to meet a serious food shortage. By October 1846 the poor were wretched. No Indian meal could be purchased below 18 pence. Diseased potatoes were exhausted.  Some people didn’t wait for worse to come but emigrated to Canada on board the brig "Charlotte of Yarmouth" from Creden’s Quay near Inis Saimer Island at Ballyshannon. James Creden a well-known local business man who also had business premises in Enniskillen, was also the contractor who built Ballyshannon workhouse in 1843. Notices were posted around the district inviting people to a public meeting on Saturday 17th October 1846 in the Market House, to set up a Relief Committee to provide food at cost price for the starving people of the area. They had a store in College Street and raised a large sum to purchase meal which was sold in November 1846 to the distressed poor.

Desperate Food Robberies in Ballyshannon, Ballintra, Kinlough and Bundoran areas

The incidence of local robberies involving food during the winter of 1846 was indicative of the desperation and hardship of Famine times. On October 23rd 1846 the Abbey Mill was broken into by a large body of men and about two tons of meal carried away. They had boats prepared by which the meal was taken across the channel. The owners of the Mill at the time were Donaldson and Connolly. This mill building still stands although unoccupied today. In November 1846 an oat mill belonging to Andrew Greene Ballintra was broken into and a large quantity stolen. Also in November a cart carrying bread from Ballyshannon to Kinlough was attacked by a large number of men who carried off bread.  There were also incidents of sheep being stolen. Some gruesome incidents of cattle being stolen were also reported in the area. In December 1846 in the townland of Boyney a cow’s head was severed and the head was left in the iron chain and the remainder of the animal taken away. A similar incident occurred in a nearby townland where James Gallagher of Bundoran had a bullock taken, the hide and head left.

Piracy near the Mall Quay on Christmas Eve

The schooner 'Confidence' was waiting just inside the bar for suitable conditions

On Christmas Eve, 1846, the schooner Confidence was lying just inside the Bar at Ballyshannon waiting for suitable conditions to leave. The ship was bound for Liverpool with bacon, ham and lard and had been charted by Mr. Edward Chism, a baker and grocer of Castle Street Ballyshannon. After a time a boat owned by Mr. Wade, woolendraper, of the Mall, pulled alongside the vessel and the men who claimed that they were from the salt works at Ballyshannon, asked  the master, Joseph Davidson, for permission to come aboard to light their pipes. The manufacture of salt was carried on at the saltpans, situated at the back of Myles’ property and there was also a saltpan at Portnason. Salt water was brought from the bar in large boats, and in special barges, towed by horses, which pulled the barges along from the shoreline. The salt water was then placed in large containers at the saltpans. John Greene and Andrew Teevan of the Port operated the saltpans but were most probably unaware of the men who boarded the schooner.

Several men went on board the schooner and then produced guns, overcame the captain and crew, and took nine bales of bacon, a number of hogsheads of ham and lard from the ship. Signs of the desperation and shortage of food are evident in the use of firearms to seize the food. It is also clear evidence of food leaving the harbour at Ballyshannon during a period of the Great Famine. By Christmas Day the police recovered some of the food buried in the nearby sand dunes and the soldiers were out searching the area. (This area in modern times is located behind Finner camp). James Currie was arrested in the town carrying a ham which he claimed to have found in the sandhills. He was later sentenced to nine months hard labour for his part in the incident. Two others were also arrested for their part in the robbery. This act of piracy happened, sadly, on Christmas Eve, at the height of the Famine, when people in the area were struggling to survive.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Falgarragh Park Ballyshannon officially opened 1936 also the Falgarragh Horse Racing Course

Opening of Falgarragh Park (now St. Benildus Avenue) in 1936. Sean T. O'Kelly,  later President of Ireland , seen here on the right,  under the umbrella,  in the centre, officially opened the housing scheme. Cecil Stephens, Town Clerk, is the man  carrying a folder beside Sean T. Ó Kelly. Dean McGinley P.P Kilbarron is further back under the umbrella.

The second largest housing scheme in the Ulster counties of Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan was opened at Falgarragh Park Ballyshannon by Sean T.O’Kelly, Minister for Local Government and Public Health  on Monday 9th March 1936. Mr. O’Kelly had played an important role in the 1916 Rising, twenty years before, and was later to become the second President of Ireland. On his visit he firstly inspected the new housing scheme at East Rock which had recently been built on the site of the Rock Barracks. Fr. Timoney blessed the houses and the Minister inspected and complimented the workmanship in their construction. He then visited the Mall Hosiery where the proprietor Mr. Swan presented him with a beautiful cardigan made in the factory. He also visited the Mall Quay and surrounding areas where he praised the new seating, shelter and dance platform recently completed as part of the Town Improvement Scheme. He also visited the Mall Laundry where he was welcomed by the proprietors Mr. & Mrs. M. Ward.

Official Opening of Falgarragh Park (now called St. Benildus Avenue)
At 12.30 Sean T.O’Kelly attended the official opening ceremony of the 80 houses at Falgarragh park which he described as “the most beautiful he had yet seen”. The Minister remarked on the numbers of houses that needed to be replaced all over Ireland to stop the spread of tuberculosis and infant mortality and welcomed this new housing development in Ballyshannon.  Present with the Minister were local clergy Dean McGinley, Fr. McMullin and Fr. McGroarty who blessed the houses. Also present were Cecil Stephens, Town Clerk, Mr. Lysaght Commissioner in charge of the Town commissioners, M.F. Irwin C.E. Clerk of Works, W.J. Doherty architect of the scheme, reps. of contractor Kilcawley, Maloney and Taylor Ballisadare Co. Sligo, Dr. Gordon, Major Myles T.D. and Brian Brady T.D. The tape of number 77 was then cut by the Minister who inspected the house.

(A fuller account of the Falgarragh Housing Scheme and the East Rock Housing Scheme are contained in the book “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” available in local shops. see below for details.)

The following is an extract from the poem which has twelve verses and a number of verses are parodies of William Allingham’s “Adieu to Ballyshanny”. The poem was written by Dan McCauley who had fought in World War 1 and whose family, were one of a number of families, who left condemned houses in places like Bachelor’s Walk and the Back Street to live in the new houses which had all amenities.
Dan McCauley's World War One medals

 The Flight to Falgarragh

‘Twas in an old thatched cabin

With its walls as white as snow,

Where mother dear, (God rest her soul),

Some forty years ago-

Told me of some noble deeds,

How the great Red Hugh did turn

The Saxon from Tirconaill
On the Winding Banks of Erne.

I’ve trod the world ever since,

I’ve ploughed the seas afar,

I’ve seen Killarney’s lakes and fells,

And historic Castlebar.

From County Down to Cavan Town,

Through Fermanagh’s leafy fern,

Till I landed at Falgarragh

On the Winding Banks of Erne.

Our Twelve Commissioners are no more,

Their plans were out of date,

And a Gentleman from Kerry

Comes and strikes the old Town Rate,

He puts seats upon the Mall-

‘Tis true- and a dancing Board to learn

The “Waltzes from Vienna”

By the Winding Banks of Erne.

And now we have a Housing Scheme

To brighten up the town:

We’ll clear out all slum dwellings

And pull the old shacks down,

A brand new house they’re giving us,

              And its Finn Hill turf we’ll burn,

Away in grey Falgarragh

By the Winding Banks of Erne.

Ballyshannon Races –Old  Falgarragh Course 1929

Ballyshannon Races were held on Monday 5th August 1929 on the old Falgarragh horse racing course. This was in the days before the current houses were erected and races were frequently held on this site The five race card had a prize fund of £80- a sizeable sum eighty years ago. The racing programme was as follows:

1.        2 oclock. The Assaroe Plate. (Open Handicap.) Value £15. Distance, 11/4 miles. Entry Fee, 10s.

2.        2.30 oclock. The Farmers Plate. Value £10. distance, 1 Mile. Entry Fee, 7s 6d. (catch Weights).

3.        3 oclock The Traders Plate. Value £25. distance, 11/2 Miles. Entry Fee, £1.

4.        3.30 oclock. The Erne Plate. Value £15. distance, 11/2 Miles. Entry Fee, 10s.

5.        4 oclock. The Ballyshannon Plate. Value £15. distance, 1 Mile. Entry Fee, 10s.

The Farmers’ Plate was for horses the bona-fide property of Owners (Farmers within a 10-mile radius of Ballyshannon for three months prior to the date of the races.)
Forms and full particulars about all the races were available from the Secretary. Special Reduced Fares on the Great Northern and Donegal Railways and all buses.

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery. Ideal Christmas Gift.

"Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills Bridge End, Clearys garage shop and Local Hands in Ballyshannon. Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact