Friday, 19 July 2013

Local Customs for Special Days

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.

New Year’s Day

  • Never pay out money on New Year's Day
  • Water whether dirty or clean or ashes should not be thrown out.
  • The floor should be brushed towards the hearth, not out the door.


The custom in the 19th century was to have dancers and fiddlers performing in the house on Shrove  Tuesday with neighbors gathering in for the fun before Lent began. The 40 days of Lent were then spent in fasting and prayer as was the custom until recent times.

For St. Patrick's Day people in the Ballyshannon area made crosses which they wore on their garments as far back as the 1840s and probably much earlier. 

May Eve 

  • Yellow flowers like buttercups from the meadows were collected on the eve of May day. 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. (A modern version of this custom has, for many years, been carried on by the McNamara family at West Rock who place buttercups. on their neighbours' window sills and doorways. No doubt other areas have similar customs).
  • 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.

Bonfire Night

  • The night of St. John’s Day was bonfire night and before leaving the fire the mother followed by the family walked around the fire and said three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys in honour of St. John. The father of the house then put some of the coal in a bucket and dropped one in the cornfield, one in the potato field and so on, to bring good luck to the crop. 
  • Another version of the Bonfire custom was to spread the dying embers on crops for good luck and to drive the cattle through the bonfire.
  • Bonfire night has always been one of the highlights of the year when local communities came together to play and mark the seasons. In June 1844 the people looked forward to bonfire night but the morning was stormy however it calmed down later and there was a beautiful evening. In 1844 Mary Anne Sheil, who lived in College Street, in the house now occupied by the HSE at the entrance to St. Patrick's Church car park, counted 21 bonfires from the skylight window of her home.
In the 1930s there were bonfires all over town in places like Milltown, The Cornmarket, Erne Street, Falgarragh, The Kiln Well, The Rock and the Port.

    Halloween Night

    On Halloween night it was the custom that the girls of the house turned their petticoats inside out and left them in front of the fire. The first man to enter the house turned one of the petticoats. The daughter that the petticoat belonged to would marry that man. 

    Another custom was that after the fire was raked the girls put a bowl of water on the hearth and the first man that moved it was a husband of the girl who had left the water.

    Old Halloween

    This was celebrated on the 11th November in the 19th century. Halloween as we know it was called New Halloween. Parlour games played in Ballyshannon included placing apple peels over the door to see who would come under each family members peel. A future marriage a possibility! 

    A lottery with a difference was also held again with a view to marriage. Names were written down of famous national and well known locals and again great fun  and discussion in seeing what marriage matches it threw up. 

    Wedding Custom

     A wedding custom was that on the night of the wedding there nearly always was a dance in the house of the bride. Strawboys came to the house and the bridegroom was supposed to go out and give the boys a treat and some money. Then they went away dancing and singing and wishing the bride and groom luck. 

    The bringing home or the hauling home was another custom with a party for the wedding couple lasting all night.

    Date for Your Diary

    Famine Walk Monday 5th August 2013

    On Monday 5th August 2013 at 2.30 p.m. I will be conducting 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 from the Great Famine of the 1840s and recall the suffering endured by our ancestors in this area. All welcome. The pace will be leisurely.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.  

                                                                                                                                        Anthony Begley

    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 are enjoying the blog worldwide and the site has received thousands of hits. The site is called Ballyshannon Musings and there are lots of back stories available on the archive on the site. Copy this link and it can be googled at:

    Next Week' Blog on Saturday 27th July "Cholera and Famine in the Ballyshannon Area"

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