Saturday, 30 June 2018

On this Day 1st July (1844) the Circus Came to Ballyshannon







It is incredible to imagine that the circus visited Ballyshannon before Famine times, 174 years ago, and that the town was in a state of excitement which few occasions must have matched. Mary Anne Sheil was a member of a prominent family whose diary gives us an insight into what Ballyshannon life and society was like at the outbreak of the Famine. She was the daughter of Simon Sheil, senior, and lived in Sheil House, which still stands at the entrance to the church car park in College Street and is now occupied by the Health Service Executive. Her brother was Dr. Simon Sheil who was to leave £6,000 in his will for the building of the Sheil Hospital.



The Sheil family, like everyone else in town, were mesmerised by the circus parade through the town and the circus performance reminiscent of Donnybrook Fair at its best. Townspeople and anglers alike watched in amazement as the circus performers displayed their skill .through the streets of the town. Everyone wanted a good vantage point to view the Circus parade with seven pairs of beautiful horses and as the advertisement said:  The Largest Elephant in the World”



Upstairs windows were at a premium as they offered a great view of the circus parade. That evening there was a parade and show through the streets of the town and Mary Anne watched the parade from her home in College Street. ( Lane):



When we  got here we found our Lane equal to Donnybrook Fair particularly at our own door, there were jugglers, tumblers, people riding on stilts, dancers etc. etc. we all gathered into the windows and for two hours we laughed loud and long at the rival performers. Dr. Mc Gettigan came up by the upcoming coach from Ballintra and we stood so long watching all the varieties under the windows we did not dine till long after six.

    Sheil House on College Street from where Mary Anne Sheil witnessed the circus
parade in 1844. It still stands today at the entrance to the church carpark

On Friday 2nd July, Hughes’s Modern Roman Amphitheatre of Arts, as the circus was called, was going to perform at 2 o’ clock. Mary Anne Sheil and her sisters went for a sneak preview and: “got a peep through a keyhole at the elephant, which little Stephen Heyward who was with us particularly enjoyed.”

"Excitement continued when a message was brought that the show was commencing at the “Roman Arena”. We ran off to get on our bonnets and Florinda, Julia, Henny, Louisa, Mr. Allingham, Dr. Mc Gettigan, Mr. Hobson, Simon and myself started; Alas! We were in when one half of the performance was over. I was very sorry as I could have gazed on them for hours; I thought the riding so beautiful. In all my memory I never recollect a day of such variety in the town of Ballyshannon; it was a Fair day, which with the attractions of the Elephant etc. etc. caused the town to overflow with company".

The following day saw the departure of the circus and normality slowly returned to the town, which had been in a state of excitement for three days. The circus left in the direction of Bundoran, on its way to Sligo. Very few diaries have come to light which give eyewitness accounts of life in Ballyshannon in the nineteenth century. Mary Anne Sheil , in her diary, reveals glimpses of life in Ballyshannon, in the mid-nineteenth century, with insights into life in the big house, fishing on the Erne, Victorian protocol, customs, the Famine, the building of St. Patrick’s Church and the excitement generated by the arrival of the circus in town, over 170 years ago, on this day 1st July.






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. 
  • 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.
  • It  includes much new material on the independence struggle which is being remembered throughout Ireland. It also contains the full story of  The Green Lady which  was  performed in Ballyshannon  to great acclaim. 
Available in A Novel Idea, and Local Hands in Ballyshannon and 4 Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. Also available from Anthony Begley for postal enquiries email anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com

Friday, 25 May 2018

Memories of Early Cinema, Drama, Gaelic Games, Eurovision in the oldest community hall in Ballyshannon

Assaroe Ceili Band
Front: Cathal Flynn, Kevin O'Loughlin, Seamus Sweeney 
Back: Cyril Curran, Peggy Kelly, John Tierney, Breege Curran and Patricia Sweeney 



The Rock Hall has a long and continuous history in providing a venue for parish and community activities since 1892. It is the longest surviving hall in Ballyshannon which predates The ’98 Hall, The Masonic Hall, The Abbey Centre and The Marian Hall. Across the road from the Rock Hall in 1892 was the Fever hospital, a few doors away was the workhouse, where inmates were still being admitted ,and visible from the front of the Rock Hall, was the military barracks occupied by the Dorsetshire Regiment, where the East Rock houses were later built in 1936. The Rock Hall was constructed before Finner Camp became the new military barracks in 1896, before the foundation of the local G.A.A. club in 1909 and before the arrival of the De La Salle Brothers in 1912.
Rock Hall opened 25th May 1892-2018




The Opening of the Rock Hall 1892


On Monday 25th May 1892, known as Lady’s Day in honour of Our Lady, the Rock Hall was officially opened.  James Monaghan, a well known contractor from West Port, built the hall at a most reasonable cost and also subscribed generously to the building fund. His name can be clearly seen on the tower of St. Joseph’s Church, next door,  which he constructed in 1886. He also built the Courthouse on the Mall now the Tyrhugh Centre. He was the grandfather of Mary and Paddy Monaghan, West Port, well known to older residents in Ballyshannon.


The official opening was marked by a concert and the local newspaper “The Donegal Vindicator” printed on East Port described the opening concert as follows:


The fine new Hall, Rock, Ballyshannon, was opened on Monday, Lady Day, with a very successful concert. Every inch of room was occupied by a most respectable audience. Mr. Starling Philson who organised the concert had advertised a grand Diorama of Irish views but unfortunately the hydrogen gas escaped from the cylinder in transit and he was unable to gratify his audience with a sight of the splendid views.


The concert went ahead despite the leaking gas and was the beginning of a wonderful era of local entertainment in the Rock Hall in the days before cinema and television. The hall has echoed to the sound of laughter and community endeavour as actors, singers, dancers and athletes developed a parish and community spirit which was a feature of events in the Rock Hall. 


Drama on the Rock


The drama movement in Ballyshannon can be clearly traced back to the 19th century when Bernard Kelly of the Port, the first nationalist Member of Parliament for South Donegal, was a member of The Ballyshannon Amateur Dramatic Club. Kelly is buried at St. Joseph’s on the Rock, just beside the Rock Hall which was the popular local venue for plays and concerts. John (Pa) McAdam, editor of “The Donegal Vindicator,” produced countless plays in the Rock Hall. He was responsible for the old Dramatic Club who staged “The Colleen Bawn” and “Ara-na-Pogue” in the Rock Hall around 1904. He was an all round producer who taught  the local actors how to talk, walk and more importantly stand still. In the 1930s The Ballyshannon Players regularly performed plays by George Sheils including a three act comedy called “The New Gossoon”.  Audiences got great value for their money in those pre-television days as there were also singers and dancers accompanied by a small orchestra on the programme. The night concluded with The National Anthem.


1910 AGM of Aodh Ruadh Hurling and Football Club in Rock Hall






Promotion of Gaelic Culture


In the early 20th century the Gaelic League was active in promoting the Irish language and culture in Ballyshannon. Classes for junior and senior students were provided by Aodh Ó Diver in the Rock Hall to encourage people to speak Irish. Dr. Mulhern P.P. gave the Rock Hall free to the Gaelic League for these classes which ran during the school year. Fr. Tierney who was a curate on the Rock from 1911-1917 was actively involved in the promotion of Irish classes; Irish history lectures and in Gaelic games. Following his tragic death on the Chinese Missions it was fitting that he was remembered in the name of the local football field and in a memorial beside St. Joseph’s Church. In October 1909 the Aodh Ruadh Hurling and Football Club was founded at a meeting in the Rock Hall. Officers elected were Rev. J O’Daly (President), James Rogan (Vice-President), John Downey (Treasurer) and Cecil Stephens (Secretary).


Rock Cinema- See "The Song of Bernadette" on for 6 nights
The First Cinemas


The Rock Hall as well as being a concert venue in the town was also the location of the town’s first permanent cinema. Films were shown earlier in venues like the shed in the Market Yard by travelling film companies but the first cinema in town with projection equipment installed was the Rock Hall. John Sweeny of the Commercial Hotel, Major Myles, Paddy Crose and a few interested business people formed the Ballyshannon Cinema Company. They brought in an operator from Glasgow and the cinema played to packed houses, for some years, as people came to the Rock Hall from far and near. During the War of Independence the  Bracey Daniel’s Picture Company booked the Rock Hall annually at Easter and showed silent movies nightly. Bracey Daniels (1884-1956) is buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery close to the Rock Hall and is described on his gravestone as an “Irish Cinema Pioneer”. By the 1930s the four penny matinee on a Sunday was the highlight of the week for young people in Ballyshannon . Mass in the morning and the ‘flicks’ in the afternoon with the Cisco Kid, Tom Mix, Buck Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and  Dale Evans. The patrons crammed into the hall, sitting on wooden benches, no backs, no arms and noisily greeted their heroes on screen in the ‘talkies’ which had replaced the silent movies. The arrival of the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme brought great changes to cinema viewing in the town. By 1946 two new cinemas opened in the town, The Erne Cinema and the Abbey Cinema which nowadays is called The Abbey Centre. Nevertheless the Rock continued for a while as a cinema but its heyday was in establishing cinema in Ballyshannon from the early 20th century. Fortunately the Rock Hall was able to move with the times and meet other needs of the community.


Ballyshannon native Charlie McGettigan 
   Eurovision winner had  early appearances
in the Rock Hall.
Memories


The Rock Hall was a mecca for variety shows and it would take a book to name all the artistes who provided entertainment for the community. Everyone has their own special memories. Charlie McGettigan who won the Eurovision Song Contest with Paul Harrington in 1994  rates the Rock Hall as a major influence on his early career. He was influenced by hearing Cyril Curran and the Assaroe Ceilí Band  playing in the Rock Hall. The Assaroe Ceili Band were to become nationally known and toured also in Great Britain. Charlie also remembered the fun provided by artistes such as Michael Gillespie, Maureen Kane and Lily Heresey to name but a few. Charlie McGettigan perfomed for the first time in the Rock Hall with his new Egbert electric guitar in 1963 where he sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” And the rest is history.



The guardian of the hall who ensured that everything was properly looked after was Terry McDermott with his distinctive walking stick. His sister Annie looked after the church and Eileen Kennedy continued the family association with the parish as church sexton. Renovations to the hall in 1947 were continued over the years and developments in 2014  have resulted in an excellent modern facility which will serve the needs of the community far into the future. Activities such as parish events, drama, Gaelic culture, school events,cinema socials, bingo, meetings, badminton,  sport, dances, youth clubs, card playing and ceilí dancing have  provided enjoyment and community spirit  to generations of people in the wider community. The history of the Rock Hall is a proud one of service to the community and we remember all our clergy, friends, neighbours, parishoners and wider community  who have passed on this small but unique hall to our keeping in  the twenty first century.


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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Bundoran, Kinlough, Belleek, Rossnowlagh, Ballintra and Ballyshannon workhouse opened 175 years ago





Famine Orphan Girls Memorial Ballyshannon
Only one in Ireland
One hundred and seventy five years ago, on the 8th May 1843, a workhouse serving parts of Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal was opened in Ballyshannon. With the passage of time the workhouse has been forgotten in most of the  areas it served. In a sense its location in Ballyshannon has given the false impression that the 900 poor people who were in the buildings, at the height of the Great Famine in 1847,  were from that town and surrounding area. During the Famine years upwards of 1,000 people died in this workhouse and they originally came from areas in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal. Recent research I completed on 19 Orphan girls from Ballyshannon Workhouse, who were shipped to Australia in 1848,  revealed that these girls were from  Belleek, Mulleek, Ballyshannon , Kinlough and  other areas served by this workhouse. Their names are recorded on a Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial, beside the Workhouse in Ballyshannon, and this heritage also belongs to the wider area in the neighbouring counties, as the girls were from these communities. Ballyshannon Workhouse served the poor and disadvantaged from the following areas; Bundoran, Kinlough, Glenade, Ballyshannon, Ballintra, Belleek, Innismacsaint, Churchill, Devenish and Boho.
The workhouse at Ballyshannon has still got the outline of the original building and is well worth a visit by locals, visitors and school groups, who can explore the exterior and visit the Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial. This is the only complete workhouse in County Donegal, although it is disintegrating at an alarming rate.
Workhouse in Ballyshannon still surviving after 175 years



Black ‘47’ with 900 people in the workhouse
The year 1847 is aptly called ‘Black ‘47’ in Irish history as Famine reached crisis proportions. People from parts of Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal flocked to this workhouse and, by January 1847, overcrowding became a problem. The medical officer recorded a wide incidence of diarrhoea and bowel complaints. The lack of a proper water supply added to the problems and hygiene was a major cause for concern. Alarm was also expressed that Famine fever was contagious and that those affected, should be segregated to curtail the spread of disease. Temporary sheds were built on the workhouse grounds in July 1847. Concern was also expressed at the accumulation of seven bodies in the mortuary in May as there was resistance to providing burial ground “at several burying grounds in the neighbourhood”.  A very conservative estimate of 360 deaths would indicate the number who perished in the workhouse in 1847.

Mary Allingham from Belleek  one of the 19  orphan girls who went  to Australia from Ballyshannon 1848
She died 100 years ago in 1917

Famine Orphan Girls’ Shipped to Australia
Nineteen orphan girls who were in Ballyshannon Workhouse, were shipped to Australia, at the height of the Great Famine in 1848. The girls have only recently been remembered in 2014, when an Orphan Girls’ Memorial was opened beside the Workhouse. The girls who  left Ballyshannon in October 1848 were: Mary Allingham Belleek, Jane Carleton Fermanagh, Jane Carberry Ballyshannon area, Ellen Feely Ballyshannon area, Sally Lennon Belleek or Mulleek, Margaret McBride and Ann McBride were sisters listed from Ballyshannon with their parents from the Belleek area, Mary McCrea and  Letty McCrea were sisters, Mary born in Belleek and Letty in Ballyshannon area,  Mary Ann McDermott and  Sarah McDermott were sisters with Mary Ann born in Belleek and Sarah born in the Ballyshannon area, Jane McGowan born Kinlough Co. Leitrim, Mary McGowan born Kinlough Co. Leitrim, Mary McGuire from the Ballyshannon area, Ann Muldoon born Mulleek Co. Fermanagh, Rose Reel born in U.S.A., Ann Rooney born in Ballyshannon area, Bridget Smith born Ballyshannon area and Margaret Sweeney birthplace unclear . It was agreed that each of the girls would be equipped with 6 shifts, 2 flannel petticoats, 6 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes and 2 gowns one of which must be made of some warm material. It was envisaged that it would cost Ballyshannon workhouse £5 per head to equip the girls and that the remaining costs would be borne by colonial funds.


Pam Barker a descendant of one of the orphan girls with
Anthony Begley, Peter Barker and Paddy Donagher
at Orphan Girls' Memorial




Orphan Girl Descendant opens Famine Memorial at Ballyshannon Workhouse
In the wider area around Ballyshannon, until recently, these Famine orphan girls have been largely forgotten .In 2014 a walled memorial, with their names and a brief history of how they came to be shipped to Australia, was erected to their memory. The memorial includes a Famine pot which originally was used in the workhouse at Ballyshannon. Each orphan’s name has been inserted on a separate stone on the wall and information stones tell of their journey to Australia. The memorial site contains a flower garden and overlooks the girls’ quarters in the workhouse, which still survive. The Orphan Girls’ Memorial is located beside the workhouse buildings and opposite the Fr. Tierney G.A.A. Park on the Rock in Ballyshannon. The memorial is open to the public at all times and is signposted for visitors.In September 2014 a large crowd attended from the Belleek, Kinlough, Bundoran and Ballyshannon areas, for the ceremony at the new Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon, to welcome home a descendant of one of nineteen orphan girls who had left Ballyshannon workhouse during the Famine in 1848. Anthony Begley introduced Pam Barker and her husband Peter who had journeyed from Sydney, Australia to remember Pam’s great- great grandmother Mary Ann McDermott, originally from Belleek. She had left Ballyshannon along with 18 other girls from the nearby Fermanagh, Leitrim and Ballyshannon areas
In a dignified rose- laying ceremony to remember each of the girls, Cliodhna Kerr and Aisling O’Connor narrated brief lives of the 19 orphan girls, their backgrounds in Ireland, and how they got on in Australia.  The rose laying ceremony was conducted by nineteen local women who each planted a rose in memory of an orphan. A number of Australia descendants of the orphan girls have visited the Memorial but as yet no local descendant from Leitrim, Fermanagh or Donegal has been identified.Their descendants in Australia today, are proud of the courage and resilience of these orphan girls in the face of hardship and dislocation. In some symbolic way the girls have come back to Ballyshannon
The Workhouse buildings, the Paupers’ Graveyard and the Famine Orphan Memorial are some of the saddest, but most historic sites still surviving in Ballyshannon, and are a source of great interest to visitors from Australia, America, Canada, the Continent, Britain and Ireland. They are an important part of the history of the oldest town in Ireland.




 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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com






Monday, 30 April 2018

Customs for May Day in the Ballyshannon area


May Day Customs would have been popular in the 1920s in the 
Back Street and in the town and countryside


People long ago had great faith in customs and traditions which were handed down through the generations. People were also very much in tune with the seasons and had customs to go with particular times of the year. Certain times of the year such as Halloween, Bonfire Night, New Year’s Day and May Day had their own special customs in this area.



·         A May Eve custom was to collect yellow flowers like buttercups from the meadows. They were made into wreaths and hung over doors. These flowers were supposed to bring good luck all the year round to those who passed under them

·         On the evening before the First of May ashes were put on the doorstep and in the morning, if a footprint was turned inwards in the ashes, it was a sign of a marriage in the house, but if the footprint pointed outwards it was a sign of a death in the house

·          If you got up before the sun rose on May morning and washed your face in the dew you would be good-looking for the rest of that year

·         On May-Eve some people went out and gathered a branch of a rowan berry tree. This was put around the churn dash and people say they will never want butter the whole year round. In some places a May Queen was chosen and on May Day she was crowned with a wreath of flowers.

·         May day was an important day of the year as it was the beginning of summer. It was a lucky day to move cattle to pasture.

·          The 1st of May was Hiring Day.

·         Old May Day, 11th of May, was when young calves were put out for the first time and then they wouldn’t get a cold.

·         Any person suffering from bronchitis was said to get worse or even die in May.

·         Marriage in May was considered unlucky and also it was unlucky to see strangers walking on the land on May morning.

·          It was lucky to pull a rope through the dew on May morning, and then put it under a churn which would be filled with butter the next day.

·          May flowers were pulled and one put at each door and window, and the Blessed Virgin walked on these on May Eve. The McNamara family carry on this custom on West Rock and others robably do the same elsewhere

·          The water to be used for churning on May Day had to be the first water taken from the well before sunrise on May morning.

·         A householder watched to see his neighbour’s smoke before he would put on his fire. No coals were let out of the house on May Day, neither was milk given to a neighbour that day.


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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com