Saturday, 27 July 2013

A Famine Walk and Sad Memories in South Donegal, Leitrim and Fermanagh

On Monday 5th August 2013 at 2.30 p.m. I will be leading a Famine Walk from the Paupers' Graveyard to the Workhouse in Ballyshannon. The meeting point is the Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon and I hope you can make it as part of the Ballyshannon 400 Week. On the Famine walk we will hear stories, songs and verses from the Great Famine of the 1840s and recall the suffering endured by our ancestors in this area.

The workhouse at Ballyshannon housed people from:

  • The  Belleek area as far as Churchill, Devenish and Boho in County Fermanagh 
  • Kinlough, Glenade and Tullaghan areas in County Leitrim 
  • Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Ballintra and Rossnowlagh areas in County Donegal.     

If you know anyone from the areas above please invite them to come along to remember people from their area who are forgotten today, some of whom would be buried in the Paupers’ graveyard. The walk will be at a leisurely pace. All welcome.

                                                                                                                                    Anthony Begley

This week's blog recalls earlier famines and an outbreak of cholera where some of the dead were interred in what later became the Pauper's Graveyard. 

Early Famines 1816-1822

There was widespread poverty in the Ballyshannon area with frequent failure of the crops which caused great hardship long before the Great Famine. The failure of the crops in 1816 was not severely felt until the spring of the following year with serious scarcity of food in the summertime. People collected nettles, wild mustard and any other edible plants or herbs. In the seashore around Ballyshannon marine plants were collected to eat and the poor regularly collected cockles, limpets, mussels or even putrefying fish they found on the shore. This food gathered from the seashore kept many families alive. In desperate times seed potatoes were eaten but this was eating their future crops and merely postponed the evil day. Blood was drawn from cattle in the fields and was mixed with oatmeal, when this was available, and this was some families’ means of survival.

Christian Ladies Assist the Poor in the Ballyshannon Area

A  local group of Christian ladies assisted the poor by providing gainful employment for them in their own homes. Donations of clothing were received from the Ladies Association in London to enable the poor to spin cloth. By the 23rd of February 1822 there were over 120 spinners being supplied and the number was on the increase. The local ladies took in yarn, paid for the spinning and distributed flax and clothing. They also visited the poor in their own homes to encourage them to send their children to school and they also checked on the levels of hardship. In the days before the welfare state the provision of meaningful employment had a double advantage as it enabled people to earn money and to have the dignity of work.

Cholera brings Fear and Death to the Locality in 1832

Cholera was believed to have spread to the town from Bundoran where it had arrived on board a ship in August 1832. In early September 1832 a young man called Gallagher, a cart maker, had left Ballyshannon to avoid cholera but died of the disease at Brownhall near Ballintra. He was buried in the Abbey graveyard. Cholera continued to spread in the community and a Cholera Relief Fund raised £45-8-6 to help the victims and their families. 

Fear of cholera was rife in the area and a poor woman called Magrath who lived in the Cloghan contracted cholera. The Cloghan is just beyond Bishop Street on the road to Rossnowlagh. She refused to go to the hospital or to take the prescribed medicine and she died. Sadly her infant child also died of cholera in the hospital. A neighbouring woman called Grace Gallagher, aged 70, also died of cholera. The early weeks of September saw the death of a man called Daly and another man called Edwards from the Abbey, both of whom were taken to the graveyard in the same cart. Edwards’s father also died at this period. William Ellis of the Main Street died, Arthur O’Neill, a shop keeper of Mill Street died, a child named Sergeant died and an old lady named Highland died of cholera in the Port, having refused to go to the hospital.

Death of a Journeyman called Hume

By the 21st of September the Ballyshannon Herald was still reporting on sad individual cases of sudden death from cholera. A man called Hume worked as a journeyman for Mr. Wilson who was a cabinet maker in the town. He had been out walking on a Sunday morning and was at Mr. Wilson’s house where a girl offered him breakfast. Mr. Wilson was away from home at the time. Hume started to feel sick before breakfast and left to go to his lodgings in the Port. There he paid his landlord for three weeks lodgings which he owed and he also settled his bill with the washerwoman. On returning to Mr. Wilson’s house he shook hands with the girl who had offered him breakfast earlier and he walked down to the hospital on the Donegal Road. He died later that night.

The Sad Case of Mrs. Flaherty of the Port

Three other recorded deaths in September 1832 were of a man called Meehan who fled the disease in the Cloghan but died in the Port, a butcher named Mc Crann who took ill, refused to go to hospital and died, and the unusual case of a woman from the Port called Flaherty. Her husband Daniel Flaherty, a pilot on the ships, thought that his wife was dead and went to the hospital for a coffin and the dead cart was sent to the house to collect her remains. On arrival at the house Mrs. Flaherty had recovered somewhat and the cart returned empty. However the story didn’t have a happy ending as her condition deteriorated and she died at eleven o’clock that night. The cholera epidemic affected the business life of the town and shops in the Back Street and the Port were nearly deserted. Crops and markets were still good but the poor were in want.

Newspaper Suggested a Scourge from the Almighty?

By October 5th 1832 the local paper recorded that some people paraded the town, accompanied by music, in celebration of a clearance of cholera from the area and a feeling that the worst was over. The editor reflecting on the cholera outbreak felt that “the disease was a scourge from the Almighty for our numerous transgressions”. The parade was led by the band of the 4th Dragoon Guards who played “God Save the King”, “Patrick’s Day” and many lively tunes. However the local military in the Barracks at the bridge were not immune from attacks of cholera and, despite the optimism, a soldier of the 4th Dragoons took ill in October and died within six hours. Sergeant Major Smith of the Donegal Regiment who had apparently recovered from an attack of cholera had a relapse and died.

Tragic Death of Local Priest but End in Sight

By October 19th only one death was reported in the previous week and that was of Fr. O’Donnell who would have been vulnerable to attack as he attended the sick and the dying in their final moments. His death was mourned by people of all creeds and his remains were brought to the graveyard accompanied by a huge crowd of friends and parishioners. By mid October the worst appeared to be over and a day of thanksgiving for their deliverance from cholera was arranged by the Established Church. The shops of all Protestants were closed throughout the day and at twelve o’clock divine service was held in St. Anne’s Church.  

Mr. Neal O’Neill a shopkeeper died of cholera in Ballyshannon in November 1832. Also in the same month Mrs. Bird wife of Richard Bird, a grocer and seed merchant, in Main Street and Mr. Purcell of the Ballyshannon Distillery also died. Surgeon Crawford died of cholera in November. In December Miss Mary Britton a daughter of Captain Britton of the Whitehill died of cholera. Ballyshannon was free from the ravages of cholera by January 1833 but upwards of one hundred people had died from the disease with at least a further 230 people having contracted the disease.

People in the Ballyshannon area felt some relief when the cholera epidemic abated but more devastation was around the corner as in the next decade the Great Famine of the 1840s began.

P.S Check the archive for November 2012 for a blog on the closure of the workhouse 90 years 

Next Weeks Blog

3rd August  "Cures of Bygone Days.

Lots Happening for Ballyshannon 400 Gathering and Other Events

A New Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away

A new book entitled: "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.

Topics include: How to go about Tracing your Roots/The first settlers in the area/ Newly researched history of the town of Ballyshannon and the townlands in Kilbarron and Mágh Éne parishes/ Records of the first travellers and tourists to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Belleek, Rossnowlagh and Ballintra/An aerial guide to place names along the Erne from Ballyshannon to the Bar/Flora and Fauna of the area/ A history of buildings and housing estates in the locality/Graveyard Inscriptions from the Abbey graveyard, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s /Rolling back the years with many memories of the Great Famine, Independence struggle, hydro-electric scheme, Gaelic games, boxing, handball, Boy Scouts, soccer, mummers, characters, organisations, folklore and lots more.

Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details. Also available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum, Ballyshannon Tourist Office, The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

The blogs are original and are not taken from the book above.

Ballyshannon Musings:  Good to hear that people from the Ballyshannon area enjoyed the blog worldwide and the site received thousands of hits. The site is called Ballyshannon Musings and there are a number of back issues available on the internet. Copy this link and it can be googled at

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