Monday, 26 August 2013

The Gaelic Revival in Ballyshannon a Hundred Years Ago

                                       Go Mairidh ár nGaehilig Slán”  

A great drive to promote the Irish language was undertaken by the Gaelic League and they certainly added much colour and entertainment to the Ballyshannon area in the early 1900s  which we take a look at in this blog. It is interesting to see how people set about reviving a language which had been struggling, certainly in this area, and perhaps their enthusiastic approach could be replicated for other areas of life today.

Classes in the Rock Hall

Classes for Junior and senior students were given by Aodh Ó Dubthaigh (O’ Diver) with the junior classes commencing Book 1 of Craig’s series and the seniors continuing with Book 11. The principal idea was to get people speaking Irish and the teacher assured students that even after a few lessons they would be able to carry on basic conversations. Three classes were held each week with an average attendance of 30 per class. The students paid an entrance fee of one shilling or two shillings for a family. Each week they paid a penny to pay for light and heat. Junior and senior classes were taught the Módh Díreach and the income helped to pay for the teacher. Dr. Mulhern P.P. gave the Rock Hall free for the classes which ran throughout the school year.

Gaelic League Entertainments

D.V. Stephens of the well known Ballyshannon family put on Magic Lantern shows for the Gaelic League including one called “The Scenery of Ireland.” These were the forerunners of the movies which became popular in the Rock Hall in the 1920s. The Magic Lantern Show was followed by a Coirm Ceoil. Dr. Maguire a historian who wrote a history of Ballyshannon gave a lecture on “Abbey Assaroe.” followed by a short concert. Dr. Maguire was well known in Gaelic games circles as he later presented the Maguire Cup for the senior club championship. He had a brother Michael, a solicitor, living in Castle Street Ballyshannon. 

Three plays were performed in the Rock Hall on 15th April 1909: “The Building Fund” by William Boyle plus 2 farces by Seamus McManus “The Leading Road to Donegal” and back by popular demand “The Lad from Largymore.”The cast for the plays included; Ms. F. Daly, E. Lynch, M.D. Quigley, John McCormick, Ms. Celia Croal, T. Kelly, P.H. Daly, P. Croal and Ms. A. Mulhern. 

Much of the entertainment was in English but the aim was to raise funds,to create an interest in joining the Gaelic League and to instil pride in being Irish.

The First Great Féis or Aeridheacht 26 July 1908 at Rockville

Close to 2,000 people attended the first great Gaelic League gathering in the grounds at Rockville in Ballyhanna in 1908. “Go Mairidh ár nGaehilig Slán”  ( literally may Irish remain strong) this was the banner on the platform which greeted people from a wide area as they arrived to celebrate our Gaelic culture. Indeed passengers on the Great Northern Railway who had excursion tickets for Bundoran could break their journey at Ballyshannon at no extra cost. The railway station was close by and even though there was a big A.O.H. rally in Bundoran the same day the crowd was impressive. Performers and competitors came from Gaelic League branches in Glasgow, Enniskillen, Townawilly, Kilskeery, Strabane, Belleek, Bundoran and Garrison.

Guest singers and dancers provided a varied programme of entertainment for over three hours with refreshments served in Rockville House which was given with the permission of the trustees of the late Mr. Sweeney. The grounds for the Aeridheacht were kindly provided by Mr. Cassidy J.P. The days festivities included a performance by Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band who had previously won the cup at Letterkenny Féis and under their conductor Mr. Eldon, all agreed they were first class. Bandmaster Eldon was a member of the military at Finner Camp and  his memory is still recalled by older generations of bandsmen.

Local dancers and choirs from St. Catherine’s N.S. tutored by the Sisters of Mercy and Mrs. Dick performed as did the dancing team of the Misses Stephens and McGovern, Messrs. McManus and McIntyre. The local newspaper agreed that “they could not be surpassed for grace and finish.” This was the first major aeridheacht co-ordinated by Mr. Keawell who was secretary of the local Gaelic League and acted as master of ceremonies on the day.

The Second Féis or Aeridheacht 16 July 1909

The second annual Gaelic League event was once again held at Rockville. Cecil Stephens (senior) had assumed the mantle of secretary and this gathering had many guest artistes and lots of competition to whet the appetite. Cecil Stephens was an active member of many cultural and community organisations including being  a founder of the Donegal Democrat, conductor of the town band and musical society, town clerk and much more. 

Cahal O’ Byrne from Belfast clad in the costume of an Irish chieftain entertained the crowd with songs such as “The Stuttering Lover”, “I Know my Love” and “O’ Donnell Abú.” Band Master Eldon was on hand to once again conduct the Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band and also to play a solo selection on the war pipes. There was no shortage of entertainment with William McCusker 1st prize winner at Enniskillen Féis in splendid voice with songs like “Beautiful Isle of the Sea.” Ms. Drum from Enniskillen once again sang beautifully with songs such as “Once \More in the Dear Old Land” and “The Donovans.”

Cashelard N.S Successes

An interesting competition for children studying Irish since July 1908, resulted in a victory for Cashelard N.S with Ballyshannon Boys N.S. College Street second. In the competition for children studying Irish since October 1907, Ballyshannon Convent N.S were first with Cashelard N.S second. In a handwriting competition the winner was Miss M. Sweeney with Patrick Monaghan Ballyshannon Boys N.S, Ms. S. Sweeney and Ms. M. Breslin Convent N.S in the prize winners. Ms. K. Higgins Convent N.S. won the single reel and the same school won the 4 hand reel and performed an 8 hand reel. In the fife and drum band competition St. Patrick’s Boys Band Ballyshannon were the winners with Belleek Band second. The Belleek Band generously returned their cash prize to the Gaelic League.

Great credit is due to local people who continued with the Irish language revival for many years and it is interesting to note how the neighbouring communities particularly in County Fermanagh helped out. Gradually the influence of the Gaelic League revival was noticeable in local shops also, with an increased use of Irish manufactured goods in Ballyshannon. 

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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.

Final  Blogs

31st August A Unique Diary of Ballyshannon Life in the 19th Century

7th September Complete Guide to Ballyshannon Musings 2012-2013

Ballyshannon Musings:  Good to hear that people connected to 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 

The blog archive of Ballyshannon Musings will still be available to read on the internet.

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