Let Me Sing of What I Know (1)
A wild west Coast, a little town,
Where little Folk go up and down,
Tides flow and winds blow:
Night and tempest and the Sea,
Human Will and Human Fate:
What is little,what is great?
Howsoe’r the answer be ,
Let me sing of what I know.
Ballyshannon was the first town in County Donegal to publish a newspaper when The Ballyshannon Herald was printed on the Mall in 1831. This newspaper tradition was continued in the town with The Patriot, The Liberator, The Donegal Independent, The Donegal Vindicator and the Donegal Democrat. The newspaper tradition is another indication of the commercial prosperity of the area as local newspapers depended on local commercial outlets for advertisements.
Local newspapers are of great interest and value to the local historian and to the genealogist as they may be the only source for local events which were not written down elsewhere. Local newspapers also record advertisements, obituaries, property sales, sport, national events, and a host of local memories. Two of the pioneer editors in the development of newspapers in Ballyshannon were John McAdam and John Downey
John McAdam was born in Glasgow in 1856 and came to Ireland to work on The Tuam Herald. In 1889 he was invited by the Land League to set up a newspaper in Ballyshannon. The Donegal Vindicator was established on East Port in the town and supported Parnell and the Home Rule Party until the Parnellite Split over Kitty O’Shea.
McAdam had a keen sense of social justice and also an interest in recording local history which is invaluable today. Two of the local papers The Ballyshannon Herald and The Donegal Independent merged into The Donegal Independent in 1884 with Samuel Delmege Trimble as proprietor. McAdam eventually gained control of The Donegal Independent which merged into The Donegal Vindicator. John McAdam was also proprietor and editor of The Derry Weekly News and The Tyrone Herald.
The period of the independence struggle was a dangerous time for the McAdam family who courageously reported on local incidents in the struggle. The British Army raided the newspaper offices and arrested Eily and Kathleen McAdam and seized newspapers and files. They were later released without charge. During the Civil War (1922-1923) armed men entered the newspaper premises and smashed the printing press. Nevertheless despite intimidation the paper still continued to record local political and community events and is an important source in trying to gain a balanced viewpoint, alongside government records of the period.
John Downey, first editor of The Donegal Democrat was a son of Michael and Mary
Downey from Cashelard, and he was educated by Master Thomas McIntyre who had his school in College Street in Ballyshannon. He was employed in different printing establishments in Ballyshannon; working firstly with P.A.Mooney of The Donegal Independent. Later he worked in The Donegal Vindicator on East Port where was foreman in the printing works for John McAdam. In 1909 he was goal-keeper for the Aodh Ruadh Hurling Club and a staunch supporter of Gaelic games. Sinn Féin swept all before them in the 1918 General Election and the time was ripe for a new local paper to reflect the changes in the country. In 1919 John Downey established his own newspaper, The Donegal Democrat, with the backing of local business man Cecil Stephens, himself a keen local historian. The Donegal Democrat reflected the new nationalist Ireland and this newspaper also came under close scrutiny from the British Army at Finner.
John Downey presented The Democrat Cup for the County Donegal club championship in Gaelic games. He was also actively involved in promoting the Irish language through the Gaelic League. Downey had a keen interest in drama, the local brass and reed band, handball, the Red Cross and on every movement for the good of the town. He regularly recorded the activities of these clubs and also has left a rich legacy of local history which is not available anywhere else. In particular the two local newspapers courageously recorded the independence struggle of the 1920s which gives a rare and valuable insight into local incidents. Both papers were raided by the British military from nearby Finner Camp who on occasions seized documents and files. John Downey was buried in Cashelard on Friday 23rd of May 1947. Members of the Downey family still reside in Ballyshannon today.
The Year of the Gathering: Please let people with connections to Ballyshannon and surrounding areas know about this site, particularly people who are not living locally and those who are abroad. The site is called "Ballyshannon Musings" and there are a number of back issues. New items will be posted every week or so during 2013-The year of “The Gathering”. Keep in touch.
New Local History Book: “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” by Anthony Begley details the history of the Ballyshannon area in the 19th and 20th centuries including fishing,
sport, tourism, social history, flora and fauna, The Independence struggle, The Emergency, buildings, townland history and lots of reminiscences.
The book covers an area roughly from Ballyshannon:
· To Rossnowlagh, to Belleek, to Finner/ Bundoran to the Loughside and towards Ballintra. Contains 500 pages with much material on how to trace your roots. All the gravestone inscriptions in the 3 local cemeteries are recorded and indexed for ease of location. Includes many rare images and modern colour aerial photographs of the area.
Available from The Novel Idea Ballyshannon/The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town or can be ordered on line from firstname.lastname@example.org Price €25 softback plus postage if required. A limited number of hardbacks also available. Enquiries welcome.
Next Week’s Blog on local newspapers concludes with the contributions to local history of Cecil King, editor of “The Donegal Democrat,” and John Ward, editor of “The Donegal Vindicator”.