19th Century Commercial Ballyshannon
Last week’s blog showed how shops in the town were geared up for Christmas in 1889 and this week we take a brief look at some of the factors which made Ballyshannon a significant town one hundred and thirty years ago.
Ballyshannon was a thriving commercial town in the 1880s although there was a recession at that time also:
- The town served a wide hinterland in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal. It was by far the most prominent trading town in south Donegal, if not in the county. (Partition in the 1920s was to have a significant effect on the local economy).
- The town had all the normal civic offices but also had 2 banks- The Belfast Bank (now Gallogley’s Jewellers) and the Provincial Bank (now A.I.B.). The Belfast Bank with its iconic clock tower cost £4,000 to build and in return for being allowed to build outwards, narrowing the street, the bank provided the town with the clock which is still there today. Such was the planning process at the time!
- There were 6 churches in Ballyshannon consisting of 2 Catholic, 2 Methodist, 1 Presbyterian and a Church of Ireland . ( In 2012 big changes as there are 3 churches- 2 Catholic and 1 Church of Ireland).
- Ballyshannon had a brewery, dispensary, post office, the Great Northern Railway station, numerous hotels and shops and a workhouse which also served a wide area in Fermanagh, part of Leitrim around Kinlough, Tullaghan, Bundoran, Rossnowlagh and close to Ballintra.
- The military presence had been in the town since the Ulster Plantation and there was an English military barracks at the top of the steps at East Rock. ( the perimeter wall can still be seen in places). There was an R.I.C. police barracks on Main Street opposite Dorrian’s Imperial Hotel.
- The Market House still stood in the centre of town (close to where O’ Reilly’s Fish shop is today), and two weekly markets were held in the Market Yard- a flax and pork market on a Thursday and one for grain and agricultural goods on a Saturday. The town was an important centre for fairs with one held on the second day of every month except of course in September when the Harvest Fair was held. Agriculture played an important role in the local economy.
- The harbour still saw cargoes such as coal and timber landing although shipping was much reduced in numbers due to the sandbar at the mouth of the harbour, shipwrecks, lack of insurance and competition from the railways. Emigrants in the 1880s used the train, which had a regular connecting service, and not the harbour as in former times. The Coastguard houses were occupied by staff and there was an Excise office and Weighmaster in the Market Yard.
- Fishing was a major source of income for local people, for the Erne Fishery Company and for local hotels. The first tourists to stay in the Ballyshannon area were fishermen. Probably the finest craft in the town was that of Michael Rogan of the great fly-tying family who carried on the craft at West Port. (nowadays the Credit Union building).
- The Great Northern Railway (G.N.R.) arrived in Ballyshannon in 1867 and Bundoran was the end of the line locally. The railway connected scattered communities with the town, developed the seaside resort at Bundoran, brought in mail and newspapers and manufactured goods. Cattle could be exported to Britain starting their journey on cattle trains at Station road. Fish could be transported from Ballyshannon and be in the London market at Billingsgate the following day. The railway made it easier to emigrate and families gathered at the Station Road to bid farewell to loved ones commencing their journey abroad. (The County Donegal Railway (CDR) railway station was built in Ballyshannon at the beginning of the 20th century and then the town had 2 railways which were on either side of the river. Because of the width of gauge the two railways were not connected. Rossnowlagh and Creevy became popular with locals who used the C.D.R. train and many areas were now connected with town).
However the growth of the industrial revolution brought mass production of goods which were conveyed by railway to towns like Ballyshannon. Local hand crafts couldn’t compete and started to decline because of competition from imports and changes in society. Trades and crafts which gradually disappeared included salt manufacturers, candlemakers, tanners, saddlers, cart makers, white smiths, black smiths, weighmaster, shoemakers and brewers although Dicey Reilly’s is soon to resume this ancient Ballyshannon industry in 2012-2013.
Spread the Word: Thanks to people who contacted me in the past few weeks and are enjoying the blog in Hong Kong, New York, London, Australia, Canada, England, Zambia, Switzerland, U.S.A. and various parts of Ireland. Please let people with Ballyshannon connections 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 two. 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, social history, flora and fauna, The Independence struggle, The Emergency, 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.
- 500 pages with much material on tracing 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.
Next Week’s Blog will look at how dancing and “sitting out” in cars was looked at in the Ballyshannon area in the 1930s. Times have really changed!!