Friday, 16 March 2018

Images of St. Patrick's Well in Ballyshannon for St. Patrick's Day and how the station worked

St. Patrick's grotto at the Abbey Well
One of the stations that pilgrims prayed at

    Gathering water from the well

Tying rags  in an ancient custom
Catsby Cave near St. Patrick's Well  at Ballyshannon

Listening to the history of the Abbey Well with Anthony Begley 
local historian

The station involved reciting set prayers and moving around beds in a similar manner to Lough Derg at the present time. According to folklore the station at the Abbey Well went as follows: Fifteen pebbles were picked from the river bed or station bed and pilgrims began by saying, one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Creed while kneeling at the well. Then going sun wise they knelt at each bed, saying one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and one Creed. A pebble was tossed into each bed. The round of five beds was completed three times and the station was concluded by taking three sips of water from the well and saying a rosary at the grotto. A rag or a medal was left on the bushes near the well

Rag Tree with the Abbey bay in the background

Happy St. Patrick's Day from Ballyshannon 

The photographs above were taken by Pauline Kilfeather, Coláiste Cholmcille, on a history walk/talk to the Abbey, which  I gave to students  from the local community school .

A  Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away

"Ballyshannon. Genealogy and History" reveals newly researched history and genealogy of the town, extending as far as the Rossnowlagh, Cashelard, Corlea, Clyhore, Higginstown and Finner areas. Includes the parishes of Kilbarron and Magh Ene. It contains the full story of  The Green Lady which  was  performed in Ballyshannon  to great acclaim. The genealogy material provides detailed guidelines for anyone tracing their roots in the area or anywhere in County Donegal or Ireland. The book contains 500 pages and is richly illustrated with stunning colour, aerial photography, original illustrations and rare photographs of the area not seen before. Available in Novel Idea, Museum and Local Hands in Ballyshannon and 4 Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

Also available from Anthony Begley for postal enquiries email

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Great Snow of 1947 in Ballyshannon

Ballyshannon in the snow 2010. (Andrew Fenton)

The Great Snow of 1947 in Ballyshannon

                                                                             Anthony Begley “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History”
The current snow blizzards gripping the country are well reported in the media and local people look back to previous spells of Arctic weather to compare how people coped with the situation in the Ballyshannon area. Folk memory of the big snow which fell all over Ireland in February 1947 and which resulted in 20-30 days of snowfall between February and March is readily recalled by those who lived through this phenomenon. The snow which fell was of a dry powdery type and driven by an east wind it rapidly covered the landscape and enveloped ditches and electricity poles. Farmers had the added difficulty of foddering cattle and sheep and transport ground to a halt which resulted in continued shortages which followed on from the World War. The cold spell continued into March with Arctic conditions  and snowdrifts causing chaos to people’s lives. The snow was still visible on the mountains near Ballyshannon in the month of May.

The Year of the Big Snow in Ballyshannon 1947- A Lost Car
 Local people can still recall the Big Snow of 1947 when there were immense drifts of snow obliterating pathways, roads and significant landmarks.  In Ballyshannon heavy snow fell for 24 hours commencing on Tuesday 25th of February 1947.On Tuesday transport was able to run  during the day but by nightfall an easterly gale piled the snow into drifts and filled roads and lanes  to hedge-top level. The last bus from Ennniskillen to Ballyshannon was snowbound on Tuesday. The G.N.R. train due in the town at 9 p.m. did not arrive as the line was blocked at Irvinestown. Mr. William Carson, the station master, and his crew, brewed tea for the 20 passengers who were bound for Kesh, Pettigo, Ballyshannon and Bundoran. A coach was specially heated and  the passengers were made comfortable for the night. On Wednesday they got meals in an hotel in Irvinestown and the train then ploughed its way through the drifts reaching Ballyshannon at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. By Wednesday the streets of Ballyshannon were deep in snow and all movement of vehicular traffic ceased.  The only bus to reach Ballyshannon  was the workers bus fromTullaghan driven by Jack McAllister which took four hours and twenty minutes for the short journey. All other traffic into the town from the Sligo direction was hampered when a G.N.R. lorry got stuck in a snow drift near Castegal Post Office. This road remained closed until Friday of that week. Evidence of how deep the snow drifts were revealed in an incident on the Sligo road where a motorist got stuck and went for assistance. On his return he was unable to find the car as it was buried in a snowdrift.
Power failure and a novel way to deliver milk
Bread vans were unable to travel but townspeople were fortunate as The Ballyshannon Bakery supplied their needs. Rural milk sellers braved the elements to deliver milk in the town and Mr. Ward of Higginstown had a novel delivery method as he delivered milk with a horse-drawn sleigh. Secondary roads were completely impassible and those who worked in the town  had to pick tracks through the fields. Ballyshannon ground to a halt with the G.N.R. station closed and all work on the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme ceased. Curiously enough “The Wee Train” as the C.D.R train was called, only lost one hour off its full schedule and was the only lifeline with the outside world. An electrical breakdown at Shannon blacked out the Erne and Abbey Cinema, the Convent and the Sheil Hospital. The old Blackstone generator of the Myles Electrical Works provided the rest of the town with electricity until the E.S.B. resumed service on Thursday. News from the papers and letter communication were hampered by the snow drifts.
Town Shutdown
One bright spot was that schools were closed and the young and not so young had great fun with snowball fights and sleighing on the peaceful streets of the town. A funeral in the town on Wednesday required six men to carry the coffin with hand slings as it was impossible for the hearse to travel. A local turf lorry had an adventurous journey from Gweedore on Wednesday afternoon as it set out for Ballyshannon at 3 p.m. They dug their way through snow drifts at Doochary and Glenties and eventually made it as far as Ballintra in the early hours of Thursday morning. They encountered their deepest drifts there but eventually made it to Ballyshannon, sleepless,foodless and exhausted at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Train services resumed on Thursday with outstanding mail arriving in town but only the Belfast and Derry newspapers arrived. No bus had arrived from Sligo by Friday. It was hoped to use an Erne bulldozer to clear the streets and gangs of council men were employed to clear the station and the Beleek, Bundoran and Donegal approaches into the town.

 The Winter of 1947 is frequently cited as a landmark event by those who lived through the arctic conditions and hardships of the time.

500 pages of local history plus lots of  photos available in Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. For postal queries contact

Saturday, 20 January 2018

On This Day. The Largest Rally ever in Ballyshannon

This man drew the largest crowd ever in Ballyshannon

On this Day 20th-21st January. The largest gathering of people ever to assemble for an event in Ballyshannon. Thousands travelled from neighbouring towns and areas, from Bundoran, from Kinlough, from Pettigo, from Ballintra,  from Rossnowlagh, from Donegal Town, from Belleek and thousands from the Ballyshannon area. What was happening to draw over 20,000 people to town?

The reason for the gathering was to hear the famous Fr. Mathew speak and most importantly to give the people the pledge to stay off alcoholic drink. Fr. Mathew, a Capuchin priest, was invited to give a charity sermon in St. Patrick's church on Wednesday 20th January 1841. He was a household name throughout Ireland, as the great Temperance crusader, and drew large crowds both to the church (a ticket only event) and to the Big Meadow, a short distance away the following day.  Fr. Mathew tackled the great social ill of people drinking too much and travelled the country giving people the pledge to stay off alcohol.

Huge crowds in the Big Meadow and the Church

 It is estimated that upwards of 20,000 people heard Fr. Mathew speak in the church and at the outdoor rally in 'The Big Meadow.' This today is the location of Coláiste Cholmcille the community school.The town band played “See the Conquering Hero Come” and Ballyshannon never witnessed such an influx of people in the days when most people would have walked to the event. The event was also a fundraiser for the building of the new St. Patrick’s Church which had been badly damaged in The Night of the Big Wind in 1839. A well-known Dublin architect, J. B. Kean, prepared the plans and specifications for parish priest, Fr. Cummins, and the building contract for St. Patrick’s Church was granted to Daniel Campbell, Pettigo, who commenced work in 1842. The foundation stone was laid in May 1842 by Rt. Rev. Dr. Mc Gettigan.
Sheil House adjoined St. Patrick’s Church and today is the property of Kilbarron parish and is occupied by the Health Service Executive. The church car park was at one time the beautiful garden of the Sheil family who are still remembered because Simon Sheil left money for the building of the Sheil Hospital. An unusual entry in the diary of Mary Anne Sheil who lived in Sheil House is recorded on the 27th January 1844: “I saw the altar going to the chapel this day. It has been here for nearly two years but now that the windows are in they can bring it home. If we live a short time I dare suppose, we shall see a glorious new one in it”.

Fr. Mathew rally at St. Patrick's Church and The Big Meadow 1841

Those were the days

The Temperance movement was very strong at that time when Fr. Mathew visited Ballyshannon on this day, 20th January and on the following day. On  Easter Monday there was another  great procession of tee-totallers, followed by a mass and later in the year a collection was taken up for Fr. Matthew’s Temperance Crusade. In October 1841 a Temperance gathering in St. Patrick's Church saw around 1,000 people taking the pledge.The promise to stay off drink led to less crime being committed, less poverty and helped to put an end to the savage faction fights which were widespread in this and other parts of the country.

Read about local events in the 1918 Election, the War of Independence,  the Civil War and the Boundary Commission which established the border in "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History". Also includes lots of local history on Kilbarron and Magh Ene areas. Also lots on how to trace your ancestors.

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

Saturday, 30 December 2017

“Farewell to Ballyshannon” and the Great Northern Railway 1867-1957

Emigrants leaving Ballyshannon railway station
This story of emigration from Ballyshannon GNR railway station was written over 100 years ago and deserves to be remembered as the only known story of emigration from this railway station. The railway opened 150 years ago in 1867 and closed 60 years ago in 1957.

“Farewell to Ballyshannon”

In 1894 Katherine Tynan, well known novelist and poet, wrote an original story, “Farewell to Ballyshannon” about a young boy’s departure from Ballyshannon. She had a great appreciation for the works of William Allingham, the poet, and based her story around his famous poem “The Winding Banks of Erne” also known as “Adieu to Ballyshanny”.  

“Farewell to Ballyshannon” is a story which tells of a young local boy called Johnny, being accompanied to the Great Northern Railway station in Ballyshannon, by his mother and his sister Susy, on the first stage of his emigration to America. The following is an extract from the story which reveals a continuous process of emigration from the Ballyshannon area and the sadness of those leaving, and those left behind. The narrator and a friend were also on the cart to the railway station. Johnny aged twelve years of age, with his innocent blue eyes under a thatch of fair hair, was dressed in hand-made clothes for the journey.  He had scarlet hand-knitted stockings and a muffler around his neck. His mother fussed nervously over him, about whether he had put spare socks in his bag and the sandwiches for the train journey. As the horse and cart pulled away from the hotel on Main Street for the railway on Station Road, a crowd of ragged onlookers gathered around the cart and the narrator reflected that Johnny might be as well away from this poverty.

 “He’s but a little chap to take the green fields to Amerikay alone. Ay surely!” said our carman, musingly. By this time we were rattling down the street, and over the bridge, from which we could see the silver spray of the falls below and hear the dull thunder. The other car was close behind, all the ragged retainers trotting cheerfully in its wake. “Is there much emigration from here?” one of us asked. “Ay surely”, said the man, “what else is there for them? Sure there isn’t enough to keep the life in the old bodies, unless the young goes away to Amerikay, and sends home the money. Och, sure, it’s the sorrowful place. If you was here last Wednesday you’d have seen a train full starting for Derry. An’ the same every Wednesday since March. I don’t like to be about the station myself them times. It’s terrible hard for them to go.

We asked one or two sympathetic questions. The carman answered us flicking his whip. “There’s some,” he said, “that’ll hold up strong and silent; and there’s others again, keenin’ worse than the old women at the wakes. There’s a girl now,” he broke off, pointing at a straight, handsome creature, who was just stepping across the street. “There’s a girl started for Amerikay, an’ kem home the next day. Ay, faith, it was the shortest voyage yet known in the town. She turned back from Derry. She said she didn’t give a thraneen for the passage money. She’d work her fingers to the bone to earn enough to keep the oul’ woman out of the workhouse, without lavin’ her childless.” He said it with a certain admiration and added immediately afterwards, “There’s not a handsomer nor cleverer girl than Nancy Goligher in the three baronies.”

Then he planted his feet firmly, as if he had talked enough, and began to sing in a deep baritone:

                                       Farewell to Ballyshanny! where I was bred and born;

                                       Go where I may, I’ll think of you, as sure as night or morn.

    The kindly spot, the friendly town, where every one is known,

                                      And not a face in all the place but partly seems my own;

There’s not a house or window, there’s not a field or hill,

But, east or west, in foreign lands, I’ll recollect them still.

                  I’ll leave my warm heart with you, Tho’ my back I’m forced to turn-

So adieu to Ballyshanny, and the winding banks of Erne!

It was the song of a townsman, William Allingham, who had won the delightful immortality of being the ballad maker to his birthplace. Under the circumstances the song sounded curiously mournful.

On arrival at the railway station some of Johnny’s friends came to see him off and Johnny was putting on a brave face.He swaggered up and down with his hands in his pockets and we could hear him committing rash promises of letter writing. Sometimes he blinked uneasily as if a little salt-water drop troubled his eyesigh.  His mother, dressed in black like a widow, explained that he was setting out for Florida to join his father who had been there eleven years. He had been unable to secure work in Ballyshannon due to the decaying trade of the town. Each year one of the children emigrated to join him in America. Only herself and Susy remained and Susy would follow on next year, when they could get the fare together. Susy was a sober-looking girl with glasses, who was the eldest child and was a great support to her mother.  Her mother would accompany Johnny as far as Derry, where he would go on alone on the ship to America. They shared the railway carriage with an American.The American looked out at the exquisite country and shook his head. It puzzled him that there should be such poverty to override God’s precept, that husband and wife shall not be parted, and here in a land covered with tiny green spears of corn, dappled with the gold and white of the pastures, under such a sky, by such a river full of rosy salmon.The story concluded with the train pulling out and the strains of Allingham’s famous emigrant ballad, “Adieu to Ballyshanny”, were whistled by the young boy who was joining the many people from the locality forced to emigrate by economic necessity.

Ballyshannon GNR station  in 1956, one year before it closed

Auld Lang Syne and the End of the Line

Hush! ‘tis Music! Sweetly stealing

Oh! How thrilling is the strain.

Cold the heart-devoid of feeling

If not touched with love, and pain.

Hush! ‘tis Music! Softly playing

Auld Lang Synes, heart stirring lay.

“Tho’ seas between us roar” `tis saying

“Forget not Auld Lang Synes blithe day.

“The Parting Hour” Mary Anne Allingham

Mary Anne Allingham was an aunt of the poet William Allingham, and she also wrote poetry, and was a major influence on encouraging her nephew to write poetry. In the verse above she is describing how she witnessed emigrants leaving by ship from the Mall Quay, to the musical  strains of  “Auld lang Syne” in the 1820s.  Forty years later the railway station replaced the Mall Quay in Ballyshannon as the place where families saw off their emigrant children, as they began their journey to Great Britain or America. Local shops and the railway company sold tickets which included all transfers to the emigrant’s final destination.  Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band were at the G.N.R station in 1910 to see off one of their comrades. William Mc Cartney resided in the Diamond in the town and had played a major role in the development of the  Band as a player, instructor and officer. The spirit of  comradeship in the band was reflected in the tremendous send off he was given on his departure for Canada, on Wednesday the 2nd of March1910.. On Wednesday 2nd March a large number of his friends accompanied him to the Railway station and as the train steamed in the Band played “Auld Lang Syne”. A similar tribute was paid to bandsman Joe Keown prior to his departure for America. It is interesting to recall that in earlier generations families had gathered at the Mall Quay  and “Auld Lang Syne” was  played for the emigrants, leaving by sea,  who might never have returned. No doubt the railway station was to be a scene of sadness for many, but with more modern transport the likelihood of seeing the emigrant return  was much higher.

Sadly both railways that served Ballyshannon closed in the 1950s, due to changes in modes of  transport, with increasing use of lorries and motor cars which resulted in less use of the railways . The upkeep of the railway lines would have required major investment and political commitment.  The Great Northern Railway was first to close, sixty years ago, on 30th September 1957. Two years later on 30th December  1959 the C.D.R. in Ballyshannon closed. The Great Northern Railway had provided a link for local people to get rail connections to locations in Northern Ireland and to Dublin. It also allowed the sporting public to attend Ulster finals in Clones and  All-Ireland finals in  Croke Park. The railway had opened up this region for tourism and business and provided a service to the community. The withdrawal of the railways was a major blow to the local economy and for a long period led to  increased isolation from the rest of the country.

A GNR railway bridge survives on the Ballyshannon-Bundoran By-Pass

Friday, 22 December 2017

A letter to a mother in Ballyshannon, on Christmas Eve, from the trenches in World War One

Letter sent from the trenches in World War One to Erne Street
This is the third in a series of Christmas memories from Ballyshannon. This third local history blog records a letter sent home in from the trenches in World War One to a mother in Ballyshannon. Places named in this blog are Rossnowlagh, Belleek, East Port, Finner, Main Street, Kilbarron, Rathmore, Enniskillen and Finner Camp.
Over 2,000 people worldwide, so far, viewed the Famine blog in which food was taken from a ship in the Channel at Ballyshannon on Christmas Eve. The previous week we heard about what Christmas shopping was like 125 years ago in Ballyshannon. Over 1,700 people worldwide, so far, viewed that blog.
There are lots of other local stories, and lots of rare photographs, in my local history book available in local shops for Christmas.  See details below.

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
Soldiers joining up at Finner Camp 1914

Letter from Patrick McDonagh to his mother on Christmas Eve

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

World War One postcard sent to Ballyshannon 

Eight Ballyshannon men who died are named on the Thiepval Memorial in France

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.

Eight Ballyshannon men  remembered on Thiepval Memorial

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 -2 days before Christmas.

Ideal Christmas Gift

Local History book available in Local Shops. . "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

Friday, 15 December 2017

Christmas Shopping in Bygone Days in Ballyshannon (newly updated)

Ballyshannon a thriving business town 125 years ago

 Journey  through the streets of the  town  over a century ago, and enjoy the Christmas shopping in Ballyshannon.

What was Ballyshannon like  125 Years Ago?
  • The town had a distinctive clock on the newly built Belfast Bank which was built in 1878 at a cost of £4,000.  This building later became the Royal Bank. In the 1960s the Royal Bank amalgamated with the Provincial Bank which was next door and the two banks merged into Allied Irish Bank. (A.I.B.) which still operates as a bank today.The building with the clock then became a jewellers. Sadly the clock face, which is visible in the photograph above, was badly damaged by storm in February 2014  and has never been repaired. As Barry Britton says in his iconic Christmas card- "Where did the time go?"
  • There was a Market House close to O'Reilly's Fish Shop. Courts were conducted in the         Market House and there was also a dispensary and social activities in the building. The Market House was tossed  in living memory. This is an open recreation area today used for craft fairs and music events.
  • The Workhouse was still operating on the Rock beside the Church.The building still survives today but is in a dangerous condition. Sad.  The Famine Orphan Girls memorial the only one of its type in Ireland, is open at all times to the public, beside the workhouse and just opposite the main entry to Fr. Tierney Park. It names and remembers 19 orphan girls shipped to Australia from Ballyshannon workhouse at the height of the Famine. The girls were from the areas around Ballyshannon including Kinlough, Belleek, Mulleek and the Ballyshannon area. Check out last week's blog on Mary Allingham. Mary, a native of Belleek,  was an orphan in Ballyshannon Workhouse and died in Australia 100 years ago this week. Her story can be heard on the Joe Duffy Liveline RTE podcast on 8th December 2017 under the heading Magdalene Laundries which was also being discussed on the radio programme. 
  • The Great Northern Railway was thriving in Station Road and there were two trains to Dublin daily. The railway arrived in Ballyshannon 150 years ago in 1867. One hundred and fifty years ago, this year, the Sisters of Mercy  also arrived in Ballyshannon and are still here today. The G.N.R. railway closed in Ballyshannon 60 years ago in 1957.
  • There were 6 churches open in town- 2 Catholic, 1 Protestant, 1 Presbyterian and 2 Methodist. The second Methodist Church was at the top of the Main Street. Today there are three churches in town. The town has one iconic clock thanks to the St. Anne's community and the peal of the bells is part of Ballyshannon's heritage. The church which is lit up at night is a welcome beacon for people coming home or passing through town.
  • There were 2 Markets every week in the Market Yard on Thursdays and Saturdays where farmers could sell their produce. The car boot sale takes place in the general area today.
  • Fairs were held on the second day of each month. The Harvest Fair was held on the 16th September and was the biggest social gathering of the year. The cattle, horse and pig fairs were held in and  around the Fair Green which today is Allingham Park. Cattle are now sold in the Mart on Station road.
  • The Donegal Independent  on the Mall and The Donegal Vindicator on the Port were two newspapers carrying on the tradition of the oldest newspaper town in County Donegal begun in 1831. The Donegal Democrat (still in existence) was  founded in Ballyshannon in 1919 and was the last paper to be printed in Ballyshannon. 
  • There was a Coastguard Station, a Brewery  and an Excise Office which all harked back to the days of shipping from the Mall Quay in the town. In modern times a micro-brewery has been opened at Dicey Reillys and who can say what other revivals there will be? The Coastguard houses are still visible at West Rock.
  • Like most  towns in Ireland, craft trades have disappeared since 1889 including; tanners, boot and shoemakers, weigh-masters in the Market Yard, saddlers, cart makers, hide and butter merchants and fishing tackle makers. Good to see a number of craft shops and other new business premises  opening in the town in recent years.

Christmas Shopping in Ballyshannon in 1889

Christmas in 1889 saw lots of optimism with many business premises and private residences decorated for the festive season. As you journey through the streets of Ballyshannon in 1889 you can’t help but notice the large number of shops in the main thoroughfares.  There were a lot more shops in 1889 than in 2017 but some shops were smaller, in some cases a front room in a house. For a more complete list of business premises check out The Ulster Directory of 1880 contained in “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” noted at the end of the article.

Shopping in the Port
In 1889 the Port area in Ballyshannon was a thriving hub of business but alas the street surface left a lot to be desired. The post office and the Vindicator newspaper were on East Port and a host of local business premises were decorated for Christmas. A local correspondent for “The Donegal Vindicator” has left a descriptive account of Christmas shopping  in the busy town of Ballyshannon in 1889, although space prohibited the reporter listing all businesses:

The two Ports, East and West, though somewhat narrow, did their best to enliven the dullness caused by the thick layer of mud always there. At the extreme West Mr. P. Kelly’s premises were tastefully decorated with the orthodox evergreen, Mr. Peter Campbell’s leather warehouse being also tastefully done up.  Mr. J. Gillespie’s grocery establishment was also prettily adorned with evergreen.  At the Bridge end Mr. James Moohan had his extensive premises fancifully festooned, the decorations from lack of window space being principally inside the shop. Down the East Port Mr. Rapmund has expended great taste in ornamentation, as had also Mrs. Breslin, even the Post Office contriving to throw some brightness on its stern official aspect.  Mr. J. Ward’s two establishments were nicely done up, and across the way Mrs. Cunion’s drapery establishment was a glow of everygreen and holly.  Next door the “Vindicator” looked dull, gloomy and forbidding, as befits a Nationalist newspaper office in these days of prison dungeons and removeable law.  Right over the way, however, Mr. William Maguire’s premises made up for the dark spot by a glow of light and colour, set off with holly and evergreens.Mr. James Brown’s shop was very prettily decorated wiith the usual green.  The other shops along the Bridge were all decorated more or less and some of them looked really charming. 
It becomes evident as you follow the reporter through the main thoroughfares of Ballyshannon, how few of the families who ran businesses in 1889 are still in business today. This indicates, as much as anything does, the massive changes which have taken place in the past 125 years. Can you spot any surviving business family in 2017?

The Far Side
One of the great mysteries of life in Ballyshannon is, that no matter what side of the river Erne you were living on, you were said by the locals to be from ‘the far side.’ So crossing the bridge we come to the barracks on ‘the far side’ and the shops on the Main Street. The first building on your left is still called the old barracks, although it had not been used by the military since way before the Great Famine of the 1840s. There was another barracks directly opposite where the C.I.E. and Tourist offices are today but it was in ruins when William Allingham was a boy in the 1830s.

A local book for Christmas

So that you can get your bearings in 2017  the old barracks is occupied by Diarmaid Keon (DKP) auctioneers, a computer shop and a music shop today. The premises of Robert Sweeney listed below were located where the Bank of Ireland is today. P.B. Stephens' ‘emporium’ is where Mary McGuinness has the town’s bookshop called ‘The Novel Idea’. Read on to see the businesses up the town. 

The newspaper correspondent having crossed the 14 -arch bridge  resumed his descriptions of shops commencing at the bottom of the Main Street. The old barracks on the left of the photograph (with 4 windows visible on the side) is the oldest building in Ballyshannon, built in 1700. It is also home to the  two most famous ghost stories in the area. The ghostly Green Lady and the Goblin Child also known as 'the radiant child' both had connections to this barracks. The full story of the Green Lady is contained in "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History".

From the Barracks to the Butchers
Crossing the Erne swollen by recent rains, the first place to catch the eye is Mr. John Cassidy’s licensed premises, and here quite an unusual array of floral decorations were to be seen and next door Mr. Potter had made a pretty show.The premises of Mr. M. Flanagan command attention. They make some thing like a pantomimic transformation scene, and especially after nightfall proved very attractive. Some of the choicest goods in the haberdashery line are here displayed amid a judicious arrangement of evergreens and large featherly plumes of foreign grasses.  When lighted up at night the effect is very pleasing and attractive.  The interior is also redolent of the festive season.The premises of  Mr. Michael  Cassidy, butcher, were also adorned in a most artistic manner. In the “barrack” decorations were necessarily confined to the interior, and Mr. Patterson, the courteous manager, must be complimented on the dazzling appearance presented on entering. Mr. John Stephens’ establishment was also handsomely ‘got up’ with evergreens and holly, not to speak of the tempting array of Christmas goods set off to such advantage.

Up the Main Street
Mr. Robert Sweeney’s large premises were decorated in every corner, and the windows displayed great taste in arrangement and style. Every Christmas novelty in the drapery line was procurrable here.  Mr. McClelland also had his place very beautifully decorated. Only a passing notice can be given to the premises up this fashionable thoroughfare. Mr. Renison’s premises sported a profusion of holly and evergreens, and Mr. Lipsett’s recent battles did not prevent him from flourishing the season’s emblems. Mrs. Mulhern’s premises were tastefully arranged.  Returning down the opposite side the nice arrangement of Messrs. Forde companies premises was noted. Mr. John Daly had an abundant show of evergreen interspersed with his Christmas stock of fancy drapery goods, nor was the boot and shoe department neglected.  Mr. Hegarty’s jewellery establishment also bore  witness to the festive seson in the shape of holly and evergreen.

Castle Street/The Mall and West Port
Crossing over, Mr. P.B. Stephens’ fancy emporium is reached, and a truly dazzling sight meets the gaze.  The variety here ranges from the tiny toy to the choicest article in usefulness.  Noticeable amongst them being the rarest speciments of parian ware from the world renowned Belleek Pottery.  Farther up, the premises of Mr. Edward Stephens are choicely decorated. Floral ornamentations are also seen in the shops of Mr. McNulty, Mr. Mulrine, Mr. C. Campbell, Mr. J. Kelly and Mrs. Gallagher.  It would be impossible to chronicle and comment upon all. Down the Mall the attractive premises of Mr. Trimble are tastefully and elaborately decorated with moustached monkeys, mirth provoking clowns and other appropriate emblems, suitable for the establishment. Though somewhat out of the beaten track the premises of Mr. Myles must not be forgotten.  The decorations were on a fine scale and thoroughly artistic, obtaining no aid, however, from the nature of his goods, ironmongery and such like, being perhaps the most difficult of all to show off with any effect.

Mr. Lipsett’s ‘recent battles’ above refers to a disagreement which he had over the Inspector Martin plaque which can be seen today in St. Anne’s Church. Inspector Martin was killed in Gweedore in 1889 and is buried beside thw entrance porch to St. Anne's Church. Trimble’s on the Mall, named above, were a newspaper family who still print “The Impartial Reporter” in Enniskillen. Ballyshannon had 2 newspaper at the time with McAdam’s Donegal Vindicator on the Port and Trimble’s Donegal Independent its rival on the Mall.

In 1889 few people were seen to be under the influence of alcohol during the festive season and there were no disturbances of any kind. Business premises in the town closed for Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day unlike in modern times where the holiday is generally longer for some. 

Modern Ballyshannon

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

Congratulations to all the business premises who have contributed to the beautiful tree and         the Christmas lighting in the town in 2017.

  Rory Gallagher enjoying the Christmas scene
in Ballyshannon

Happy Christmas from Ballyshannon