Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas in Ballyshannon 125 years ago

Journey through the streets of the  town and enjoy the Christmas shopping in Ballyshannon 125 years ago. Do any of the business premises survive in 2014?

Christmas Shopping in Ballyshannon in 1889

Christmas in 1889 saw lots of optimism with many business premises and private residences decorated for the festive season. As you journey through the streets of Ballyshannon in 1889 you can’t help but notice the large number of shops in the main thoroughfares.  There were a lot more shops in 1889 than in 2014 but some shops were smaller, in a few cases a front room in a house. For a more complete list of business premises check out The Ulster Directory of 1880 contained in “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” noted at the end of the article.

Shopping in the Port
In 1889 the Port area in Ballyshannon was a thriving hub of business but alas the street surface left a lot to be desired. The post office and the Vindicator newspaper were on East Port and a host of local business premises were decorated for Christmas. A local correspondent for “The Donegal Vindicator” has left a descriptive account of Christmas shopping  in the busy town of Ballyshannon in 1889, although space prohibited the reporter listing all businesses:

The two Ports, East and West, though somewhat narrow, did their best to enliven the dullness caused by the thick layer of mud always there. At the extreme West Mr. P. Kelly’s premises were tastefully decorated with the orthodox evergreen, Mr. Peter Campbell’s leather warehouse being also tastefully done up.  Mr. J. Gillespie’s grocery establishment was also prettily adorned with evergreen.  At the Bridge end Mr. James Moohan had his extensive premises fancifully festooned, the decorations from lack of window space being principally inside the shop. Down the East Port Mr. Rapmund has expended great taste in ornamentation, as had also Mrs. Breslin, even the Post Office contriving to throw some brightness on its stern official aspect.  Mr. J. Ward’s two establishments were nicely done up, and across the way Mrs. Cunion’s drapery establishment was a glow of everygreen and holly.  Next door the “Vindicator” looked dull, gloomy and forbidding, as befits a Nationalist newspaper office in these days of prison dungeons and removeable law.  Right over the way, however, Mr. William Maguire’s premises made up for the dark spot by a glow of light and colour, set off with holly and evergreens.Mr. James Brown’s shop was very prettily decorated wiith the usual green.  The other shops along the Bridge were all decorated more or less and some of them looked really charming. 
It becomes evident as you follow the reporter through the main thoroughfares of Ballyshannon, how few of the families who ran businesses in 1889 are still in business today. This indicates, as much as anything does, the massive changes which have taken place in the past 125 years.

The Far Side
One of the great mysteries of life in Ballyshannon is, that no matter what side of the river Erne you were living on, you were said by the locals to be from ‘the far side.’ So crossing the bridge we come to the barracks on ‘the far side’ and the shops on the Main Street. The first building on your left is still called the old barracks, although it had not been used by the military since way before the Great Famine of the 1840s.

So that you can get your bearings in 2012  the old barracks is occupied by Diarmaid Keon (DKP) auctioneers and Erne Carpets today, the premises of Robert Sweeney listed below were located where the Bank of Ireland is today. P.B. Stephen’s ‘emporium’ is where Mary McGuinness has the town’s bookshop called ‘The Novel Idea’.

The newspaper correspondent having crossed the 14 -arch bridge  resumed his descriptions of shops commencing at the bottom of the Main Street:

Crossing the Erne swollen by recent rains, the first place to catch the eye is Mr. John Cassidy’s licensed premises, and here quite an unusual array of floral decorations were to be seen and next door Mr. Potter had made a pretty show.The premises of Mr. M. Flanagan command attention. They make some thing like a pantomimic transformation scene, and especially after nightfall proved very attractive. Some of the choicest goods in the haberdashery line are here displayed amid a judicious arrangement of evergreens and large featherly plumes of foreign grasses.  When lighted up at night the effect is very pleasing and attractive.  The interior is also redolent of the festive season.The premises of  Mr. Michael  Cassidy, butcher, were also adorned in a most artistic manner. In the “barrack” decorations were necessarily confined to the interior, and Mr. Patterson, the courteous manager, must be complimented on the dazzling appearance presented on entering. Mr. John Stephens’ establishment was also handsomely ‘got up’ with evergreens and holly, not to speak of the tempting array of Christmas goods set off to such advantage.

Mr. Robert Sweeney’s large premises were decorated in every corner, and the windows displayed great taste in arrangement and style. Every Christmas novelty in the drapery line was procurrable here.  Mr. McClelland also had his place very beautifully decorated. Only a passing notice can be given to the premises up this fashionable thoroughfare. Mr. Renison’s premises sported a profusion of holly and evergreens, and Mr. Lipsett’s recent battles did not prevent him from flourishing the season’s emblems. Mrs. Mulhern’s premises were tastefully arranged.  Returning down the opposite side the nice arrangement of Messrs. Forde companies premises was noted. Mr. John Daly had an abundant show of evergreen interspersed with his Christmas stock of fancy drapery goods, nor was the boot and shoe department neglected.  Mr. Hegarty’s jewellery establishment also bore  witness to the festive seson in the shape of holly and evergreen.

Crossing over, Mr. P.B. Stephens’ fancy emporium is reached, and a truly dazzling sight meets the gaze.  The variety here ranges from the tiny toy to the choicest article in usefulness.  Noticeable amongst them being the rarest speciments of parian ware from the world renowned Belleek Pottery.  Farther up, the premises of Mr. Edward Stephens are choicely decorated. Floral ornamentations are also seen in the shops of Mr. McNulty, Mr. Mulrine, Mr. C. Campbell, Mr. J. Kelly and Mrs. Gallagher.  It would be impossible to chronicle and comment upon all. Down the Mall the attractive premises of Mr. Trimble are tastefully and elaborately decorated with moustached monkeys, mirth provoking clowns and other appropriate emblems, suitable for the establishment. Though somewhat out of the beaten track the premises of Mr. Myles must not be forgotten.  The decorations were on a fine scale and thoroughly artistic, obtaining no aid, however, from the nature of his goods, ironmongery and such like, being perhaps the most difficult of all to show off with any effect.
Mr. Lipsett’s ‘recent battles’ above refers to a disagreement which he had over the Inspector Martin plaque which can be seen today in St. Anne’s Church. Trimble’s on the Mall named above were a newspaper family who still print “The Impartial Reporter” in Enniskillen. Ballyshannon had 2 newspaper at the time with McAdam’s Donegal Vindicator on the Port and Trimble’s Donegal Independent its rival on the Mall.

In 1889 few people were seen to be under the influence of alcohol during the festive season and there were no disturbances of any kind. Business premises in the town closed for Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day 
 unlike in modern times where the holiday is generally longer. 

25% reduction in book price for Christmas  2014.  Book available in Novel Idea, Pearse and Rory O'Neill,  Cleary's Garage, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands and Four Masters Bookshop. 

Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal  details.

Ideal local gift for Christmas and other special occasions. 


A  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.

It contains the full story of  The Green Lady which  was recently performed in Ballyshannon  to great acclaim. 

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.

Happy Christmas 2014 to all who follow or come across Ballyshannon Musings wherever you are in the world. Anthony Begley.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A busy year for Ballyshannon history up to Christmas 2014

Ballyshannon book at 25% reduction for Christmas. Available at €15  from Novel Idea/ Ballyshannon Museum/ Cleary's garage/ Pearse and Rory O' Neills and Four Master's Bookshop. Also available by post for details contact 500 pages with lots of  photographs including colour aerial images.

Ballyshannon history is vibrant and had a really good year in 2014. The attendances at events surpassed any previous year and it was great to see so many younger people attending. Interest in the town hopefully can be channelled into support for business enterprises. To paraphrase a visitor to the ancient town of Ballyshannon; the town has been here long before our time and will be here when we have passed on. Ballyshannon has durability and a heritage which will hopefully sustain it in the future as it has in difficult periods in the past. Visitors I have met this year from Australia, USA, Canada, the Far East, Europe and Great Britain are all amazed that such a relatively small town has such a rich history. Ballyshannon Musings blog continues to connect with thousands of hits being made from all corners of the world where there are people with roots in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas or an interest in County Donegal. 

Looking Back on 2014 

Memories of an Historic Convent Building in Ballyshannon – Good News for Ballyshannon  
This was the most popular blog of the year on Ballyshannon Musings and was a good news story for Ballyshannon as the building will become a health centre with investment of over €6 million. Work is progressing well and the facade and character of this impressive and historic building will be preserved for future generations.

Ballyshannon Town Clock- a Landmark since 1878  
The elements wreaked havoc on the facade of the town clock and led to the dramatic closure of the town centre for a few days in February 2014. Again there was tremendous interest in the history of the building and this was the second most popular blog of the year. Hopefully like the convent building it can have a happy ending with time restored to Ballyshannon. 

Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial Opened in 2014
Nineteen orphan girls who went from Ballyshannon workhouse to Sydney in Australia were commemorated at a memorial constructed from March to May 2014. This was a project dear to my heart but would not have been accomplished but for the support of Paddy Donagher and the team we assembled. This was one of the final events supported by Ballyshannon Town Council before their demise. Thanks are due to all who supported the project and Mary Daly, Town Clerk, who co-ordinated much of the funding for a fitting memorial to these forgotten girls. I published a short book entitled “From Ballyshannon to Australia. Memories of Famine Orphan Girls” which tells of links made over the past 30 years and connections with many of the great great grandchildren of the orphans in Australia today. During the summer Paddy Donagher also found time to publish a short book entitled “Kildoney and the Erne Fishermen. The Court Case. A History 1607-2013 and the memorial at the Mall Quay will ensure their heroism will not be forgotten. 

Reopening of the Rock Hall 
In June the oldest surviving hall in Ballyshannon reopened its doors after a wonderful restoration job was completed. Great credit is due to the hall committee for their persistence in getting the project completed with the support of Fr. Frank and Canon Ramon. The history of the hall is included in a blog entitled “Early Movies, Drama and more in Ballyshannon” which can be found in the archive for June 2014. Marc McMenamin a local historian and broadcaster interviewed me in a short piece for RTE Radio1’s “History Show” on Bracey Daniels a pioneer of Irish cinema who is buried in the Rock graveyard and who showed his travelling movies in the Rock Hall back in the 1920s. 

Last Link with old Ballyshannon Broken 
 Fr. Ambrose O’Gorman led an active life for over a century and had clear memories of British soldiers marching though the town of Ballyshannon on their way to Finner. This popular cleric is recalled in a blog entitled “Last link with old Ballyshannon broken” which can be found in July 2014. 

First History Walk over the 3 Bridges in Ballyshannon 
On the August Bank Holiday Monday a large crowd assembled to make history as their historic journey took them over the 3 bridges in the town namely; Allingham bridge, Red Hugh O’ Donnell bridge and Assaroe footbridge. The walk also included East and West Port an area with great character and potential for street markets etc. Welcome refreshments were served in the Bridge End bar. The event was part of the successful Ballyshannon Live Festival organised by Backing Ballyshannon.

Great Great Grandchild of Famine Orphan visits Ballyshannon Memorial 
Pam Barker a great great grandchild of one of the 19 orphans who left Ballyshannon for Sydney in 1848 visited the memorial in September 2014 to remember her relative Mary Ann McDermott who had left for Australia with her sister Sally. Both sisters were from Belleek and were inmates of Ballyshannon workhouse. All 19 girls are commemorated at the memorial and on the day of Pam’s visit roses were laid by local women for each of the 19 girls as part of a moving ceremony. Despite being held the day before the All-Ireland football final, with Donegal participating, there was a great crowd to welcome her back to her homeland and Pam and her husband Peter fully appreciated the interest shown. Joy O’ Neill, a great great grandchild of another orphan Jane Carberry, has also visited the Orphan Girls’ Memorial in 2014 and a number of other descendants of the orphan girls are planning trips from Australia in 2015. 

Largest Gathering Ever at a History Talk 
 The Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon housed around 250 people for a talk I gave entitled “Ballyshannon’s ghostly past including links to Dracula and Frankenstein” as a memorial talk for the annual Emerson Lecture in memory of my good friends Louis and Kathleen Emerson. The talk also featured a short play on Ballyshannon’s best known ghost celebrity “The Green Lady” featuring Patricia Keane and Conor Beattie. The play was kindly written by Soinbhe Lally the well known Rossnowlagh based writer. The full story is told in my Book “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” which is receiving a well earned revival in interest!! About two years ago a walk with a similar theme attracted a tremendous crowd and our ghostly past seems to be of great interest to a wide range of people. Connections to Frankenstein and Dracula have also generated great interest. The talk on ghostly Ballyshannon formed part of a most successful Allingham Arts festival and I was honoured to be invited to pay a special tribute to the late Cecil Stephens a great townsman and historian. Needless to say the tribute event to Cecil was also packed to capacity in recognition of his contribution to the arts and to his native Ballyshanny. 

40 Shades of Ballyshannon and All- Ireland Drama 
I was joined by two stalwarts Conor Carney and Patricia Keane to interpret the history of Ballyshannon in an hour in Dicey Reillys in December 2014. Conor and Patricia, as always, brilliantly interpreted the history through verse, song and story to complement my narrative. This formed part of the sell out All-Ireland one act Drama festival held in Ballyshannon 

Forthcoming Events in early 2015 
On the 11th January 2015 on RTE Radio 1’s “History Show” at 6 p.m. there will be a short feature recorded during Pam Barker’s visit to Ballyshannon for the Famine Orphan Memorial ceremony in September 2014. Marc McMenamin is the interviewer. The Drew University conference featuring visitors from USA takes place in January 2015 and I will be speaking about the orphan girls who were commemorated at the Memorial opened in Ballyshannon in 2014. Ballyshannon technical school celebrates its centenary and was the first technical school to be opened in County Donegal. It was also the first post-primary school opened in Ballyshannon. A blog will tell the story in January 2015.

Anthony Begley :

Friday, 12 September 2014

Special event to mark a nostalgic return to Ballyshannon 1848-2014 .

 A special event with music, history and floral tributes will be held at the newly opened Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial beside the workhouse in Ballyshannon on Saturday 20th September at 3 p.m. This event will welcome a descendant of one of 19 orphan girls who will all be commemorated at the commemoration. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the Rock Hall. All are welcome to this historic event.

Two orphan girls called McDermott from Belleek were part of a group of 19 orphans from the Ballyshannon, Belleek and Kinlough areas who were shipped to Australia in 1848 at the height of the Famine. Pam Barker a great great grandchild of one of the orphan girls Mary Ann McDermott is paying a nostalgic visit to the Orphan Girls’ Memorial on Saturday 20th September. The McDermott sisters landed in Sydney in February 1849 on a ship called The Inchinnan carrying girls from a number of Irish workhouses. Mary was a house servant and could read and write. Sarah was also a house servant but could not read or write. Both girls were Catholics and had no relatives in Australia. 

Mary Ann McDermott married a Yorkshire man called Matthew Lester, a tailor, on the 10th February 1851 at East Maitland New South Wale. Mary Anne’s first marriage ceremony was in the Catholic Church and her sister Sarah was one of the witnesses to the marriage. On the 12th December 1851 she had another marriage ceremony to Matthew Lester from Hull, Yorkshire, at St. Peter’s East Maitland, an Anglican Church. They had ten children many of whom died in childhood: James Walter, Matthew, Robert, Rachel, Rebecca Ruth Rachel, Robert, James, Teresa (died young) and another Teresa. Mary Ann died on the 18th December 1909 at East Maitland. Mary Ann had a difficult life but was a survivor who lived for upwards of 60 years in Australia.

“From Ballyshannon to Australia”
This is the title of a short book by Anthony Begley which tells of the world the 19 orphans left behind in Ballyshannon in 1848 and the lives they experienced on landing in Sydney in February 1849. The book has lots of images from home and abroad and descendants tell the stories of how the 19 girls survived in Australia. The book will be available at the event and also in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum and in Pearse and Rory O’ Neill’s premises.   


"Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" by Anthony Begley is a local history book for all special occasions available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum and The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. The book covers the history of the town and surrounding areas including both local parishes. There is lots of material to assist in tracing your roots . The book of 500 pages has lots of rare images and sketches many of which are in colour.
Special Offer on Postage
50% Reduction on postage for orders for this book to all destinations. Genuine special offer from author. Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price for postal delivery or collection. Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details

Monday, 28 July 2014

First History Walk along the Erne Bridges at Ballyshannon

On Monday 4th August 2014 the first ever history walk taking in the three bridges in Ballyshannon will be held. Aodh Ruadh (Red Hugh) O’Donnell’s bridge, William Allingham Bridge and the Assaroe footbridge are close to  the centre of town and from these bridges can be seen much of historic Ballyshannon. Along the way the walk will lead to Ballyhanna where the amazing excavations took place during the building of the by-pass. Memories will be brought to life of incidents along the Port, which was until the 1940s the main routes to and from Northern Ireland and to Bundoran, Sligo and the West. 

Open invitation to all to gather at the Market Yard at 3 p.m. and join the walk. The event is part of a week of events organised as Ballyshannon Live. Check for further details of other events. 

Many events will be recalled including:
1.      Red Hugh O’ Donnell’s connections with the town
2.      Corry McGinty eel weir
3.      Kathleen’s Falls and its history
4.      Ballyhanna a forgotten cemetery
5.      Curious link between the Convent and the Flight of the Earls
6.      Patrick Sarsfield in Ballyshannon
7.      Murders in the Port
8.      The Night of the Big Wind
9.      Bianconi and the Vanyard
10.  Rogan’s Fly Tying Craft
11.  The site of The Donegal Vindicator
12.  Memories of the War of Independence
13.  Eoin O’ Duffy and the Blueshirts
14.  Early days of the movies
15.  The Hydro-Electric Scheme
And much much more-------------

Forthcoming Events
Saturday 20th September Nostalgic Famine Visit: A great-great grandchild of one of the Famine orphan girls will be welcomed to Ballyshannon on Saturday 20th September in the afternoon. The orphan girls are commemorated at the Memorial opened in May of this year beside the Workhouse. We hope that lots of people from a wide  area will attend this emotional visit and there will be music, song and stories to mark the visit. All are welcome to attend to welcome home a descendant of an orphan girl who left Ballyshannon at the height of the Famine in October 1848. Further details later.

Friday 7th November Ghostly Talk: As part of the Allingham Arts Week-end a talk entitled “Ballyshannon’s ghostly past including links to Dracula and Frankstein” will be given in the Abbey Arts Centre at 8.30 p.m. The talk by Anthony Begley will be given in memory of Kathleen and Louis Emerson of County Donegal Historical Society. All welcome to attend.

Please spread the word about the events above as support is always needed.


A local history book for all special occasions available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum and The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

50% Reduction on postage for orders for this book to all destinations. Genuine special offer from author. Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price for postal delivery or collection. Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Top Ten most popular Blogs on the Ballyshannon area

Ballyshannon Musings continues to be popular worldwide with  Ireland, United States of America and United Kingdom being the top 3 countries. Other countries with a sizeable readership include Australia, Canada, France, Spain and Germany.Worlwide there are upwards of 50 countries where people are reading the blogs.

The following list shows the most popular blogs which have been read by people worlwide in the past year. Why not check out any you have missed in the archive on Ballyshannon Musings.

Top Ten Blogs in the Past Year (July 2013- July 2014)
  1. Memories of an historic convent building
  2. Ten rarely asked questions about Ballyshannon
  3. Ballyshannon Town Clock-a landmark since 1878
  4. Ballyshannon a market town in Famine times
  5. Last link with old Ballyshannon broken
  6. Opening of Famine orphan girls' memorial
  7. Christmas in Ballyshannon 1889
  8. Kildoney fishermen's victory
  9. Cures of bygone days
  10. A unique diary of Ballyshannon life in the 1840's


A local history book for all special occasions available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum and The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

50% Reduction on postage for orders for this book to all destinations. Genuine special offer from author. Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price for postal delivery or collection. Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Last Link with Old Ballyshannon Broken

Last person to remember British soldiers in Ballyshannon

The recent death at the age of 102 of Fr. Ambrose O’Gorman breaks the last link with memories of Ballyshannon prior to independence. In an interview with Ambrose in 2008 he recalled for me the presence of British soldiers marching up the Main Street on their way to St. Anne’s church. The soldiers had marched from Finner camp in through West Port and across the bridge and Ambrose was standing at McClelland’s (later Dorrian’s) chemist shop close to the modern Rory Gallagher bust. The year was 1922 and he recalled his father saying that the soldiers would soon be going home as the Irish Free State was being established. He recalled the event: I can barely remember the last trip by British soldiers to St. Anne’s Church in 1922. We were youngsters in our britches of course; they came over the bridge and up to the Church. I remember a tall bearded fellow. I heard afterwards that he joined the Irish army- he was a kind of sergeant-major. There were a hundred or maybe fifty of the soldiers. His memory was very clear as he also recalled British soldiers getting their horses shod at Lyon’s forge which was located on College Street opposite the modern car park for St. Patrick’s Church. He undoubtedly was the last surviving witness to the presence of British soldiers in Ballyshannon, a town they had occupied for over 400 years. It is amazing to think that his memory was still clear about this event up to 2014. 

Early Memories 

Ambrose as a young boy learned to swim at the Buaile Bawns around the Mall and also remembered local people swimming at the Mall Quay. He recalled walking out to the old Creevy School with his brothers, Reggie, Alo and Bennie and being taught by Master Keegan. The CDR train brought lots of Ballyshannon people to the seaside at Creevy and Rossnowlagh in his early years. Growing up in the town he remembered plays and concerts in the ’98 Hall; the pictures in the Rock Hall where admission was 4 pence, nine pence or 1/3 pence; going to the Market Yard to witness the fowl markets and seeing Dr. Gordon in his plus fours at his surgery in the Market House. Local dances were also held in the Market House and the biggest event of the year in town was the Harvest Fair every September. A favourite haunt for local youth was the Billiard Hall on the Mall owned by the Woods family who had the public house which still survives on the Mall, with the current proprietors the McIntyre family. His brother Alo was a regular on the successful Aodh Ruadh teams and Ambrose came on as a sub in the County Final victory over Dungloe in 1932. He recalled playing football in Erne Park also called Teevan’s field long before the Fr. Tierney Park. 

People and Events now Forgotten 

As a child Ambrose recalled the jaunting cars bringing English anglers from the GNR railway station to local hotels such as The Imperial run by the Evans family and across the street The Royal Hotel run by the Henderson family. A special treat was to get ice cream made by Mrs. Melly in Market Street with cones costing a penny and wafers two pence. John Downey and his three nephews Jack, Danny and Jim owned and printed the Donegal Democrat from 1919 in the Gables area in the vicinity of Peter Fenton’s shop today. Ambrose’s father had been in the Royal Irish Constabulary and their first home was in College Street next door to the R.I.C. police barracks. They later moved to Castle Street, next door to where Hazel Corscadden, mother of Tony Blair the former English prime minister was born. On the upper side of their home lived Mr. Maguire, a solicitor, who was a brother of the Raphoe historian Canon Maguire. Mr. Maguire was a member of the Harbour Commissioners, a former Chairman of Ballyshannon Town Commissioners and a representative along with Cecil Stephens and James Campbell on a Ballyshannon deputation to the Boundary Commission meeting in Enniskillen in 1925. He recalled serving at the wedding of Garda Paddy Dolan and his wife and that their son Paul Dolan went on to represent Ireland in two Olympic Games. Their daughter married John Giles the international soccer player and commentator. During World War 2 Fr. Ambrose, after a visit home, had difficulty re-entering Great Britain, where he served as a priest, and recalled that Major Myles assisted him in returning to England. 

Final Resting Place

Fr. Ambrose served as a priest in England and on his retirement gave invaluable assistance in Raphoe and Clogher dioceses. On Thursday 19th June 2014 he was buried in the grounds of St. Patrick’s Church next to his brother Fr. Benny O’ Gorman who had also giving great service both in England and his native area. He is buried next to Dean McGinley for whom Ambrose had served his first mass as an altar server. The clergy of both dioceses were represented at his funeral as well as priests from his former diocese in England. The local brass and reed band held a special place in Ambrose’s heart as they had played for his ordination back in 1940 and he was recognised as their number one patron and supporter. Band members played some of his favourite hymns close to his graveside. His contribution to his church and his amazing memory will long be remembered by those who had the pleasure of knowing him. May he rest in peace.


A local history book for all special occasions available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum and The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

50% Reduction on postage for orders for this book to all destinations. Genuine special offer from author. Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price for postal delivery or collection. Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Early Movies, Drama and more in Ballyshannon

The Oldest Community Hall in Ballyshannon

The Rock Hall has a long and continuous history in providing a venue for parish and community activities. It is the longest surviving hall in Ballyshannon which predates The ’98 Hall, The Masonic Hall, The Abbey Centre and The Marian Hall. Situated on land once owned by the Dickson estate, it was purchased in 1865 for the parish by Canon Kelaghan P.P. who was the first parish priest of Inismacsaint to reside in Bundoran. Prior to that time the parish priest lived in the Ballyshannon end of the parish. Local tradition suggests that the area purchased contained three small houses and a ruin which in the early years of purchase were used as a stabling ground for the priest and parishoners’ horses. Around twenty five years after the purchase of the property, Canon McKenna P.P. was approached by local people to build a hall and he instigated the construction of the Rock Hall. The vicinity around the hall was much different in 1892 than it is today. Across the road was the Fever hospital, a few doors away was the workhouse where inmates were still being admitted and visible from the front of the Rock Hall was the military barracks occupied by the Dorsetshire Regiment where the East Rock houses were later built in 1936. The Rock Hall was constructed before Finner Camp became the new military barracks in 1896, before the foundation of the local G.A.A. club in 1909 and before the arrival of the De La Salle Brothers in 1912.

The Opening of the Rock Hall 1892

On Monday 25th May 1892, known as Lady’s Day in honour of Our Lady, the Rock Hall was officially opened. The cost of building the hall was shared by voluntary contributions from the people of the parish and also included subscriptions from the Kilbarron parish across the Erne on ‘the far side’ of Ballyshannon. James Monaghan, a well known contractor from West Port, built the hall at a most reasonable cost and also subscribed generously to the building fund. His name can be clearly seen on the tower of St. Joseph’s Church which he constructed in 1886. He also built the Courthouse on the Mall now the Tyrhugh Centre. He was the grandfather of Mary and Paddy Monaghan well known to older residents in Ballyshannon.

The official opening was marked by a concert and the local newspaper “The Donegal Vindicator” printed on East Port described the opening concert as follows:

The fine new Hall, Rock, Ballyshannon, was opened on Monday, Lady Day, with a very successful concert. Every inch of room was occupied by a most respectable audience. Mr. Starling Philson who organised the concert had advertised a grand Diorama of Irish views but unfortunately the hydrogen gas escaped from the cylinder in transit and he was unable to gratify his audience with a sight of the splendid views.

The concert went ahead despite the leaking gas and was the beginning of a wonderful era of local entertainment in the Rock Hall in the days before cinema and television. The hall has echoed to the sound of laughter and community endeavour as actors, singers, dancers and athletes developed a parish and community spirit which was a feature of events in the Rock Hall. Fundraising concerts for the Ballyshannon Lace Class, St. Vincent De Paul, Ballyshannon Lawn Tennis Club, The Gaelic League, The G.AA., Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band and many other organisations helped to raise funds for charitable causes. In the 1890s the Market House located  on Market street ,beside O’Reilly’s fish shop, was the other centre for social events in Ballyshannon.

Drama on the Rock

The drama movement in Ballyshannon can be clearly traced back to the 19th century when Bernard Kelly of the Port, the first nationalist Member of Parliament for South Donegal, was a member of The Ballyshannon Amateur Dramatic Club. Kelly is buried at St. Joseph’s on the Rock, just beside the Rock Hall which was the popular local venue for plays and concerts. John (Pa) McAdam, editor of “The Donegal Vindicator,” produced countless plays in the Rock Hall. He was responsible for the old Dramatic Club who staged “The Colleen Bawn” and “Ara-na-Pogue” in the Rock Hall around 1904. He was an all round producer who taught  the local actors how to talk, walk and more importantly stand still. In the 1930s The Ballyshannon Players regularly performed plays by George Sheils including a three act comedy called “The New Gossoon”.  Audiences got great value for their money in those pre-television days as there were also singers and dancers accompanied by a small orchestra on the programme. The night concluded with The National Anthem.

Promotion of Gaelic Culture

In the early 20th century the Gaelic League was active in promoting the Irish language and culture in Ballyshannon. Classes for junior and senior students were provided by Aodh Ó Diver in the Rock Hall to encourage people to speak Irish. Dr. Mulhern P.P. gave the Rock Hall free to the Gaelic League for these classes which ran during the school year. Fr. Tierney who was a curate on the Rock from 1911-1917 was actively involved in the promotion of Irish classes; Irish history lectures and in Gaelic games. Following his tragic death on the Chinese Missions it was fitting that he was remembered in the name of the local football field and in a memorial beside St. Joseph’s Church. In October 1909 the Aodh Ruadh Hurling and Football Club was founded at a meeting in the Rock Hall. Officers elected were Rev. J O’Daly (President), James Rogan (Vice-President), John Downey (Treasurer) and Cecil Stephens (Secretary).

The First Cinemas

The Rock Hall as well as being a concert venue in the town was also the location of the town’s first permanent cinema. Films were shown earlier in venues like the shed in the Market Yard by travelling film companies but the first cinema in town with projection equipment installed was the Rock Hall. John Sweeny of the Commercial Hotel, Major Myles, Paddy Crose and a few interested business people formed the Ballyshannon Cinema Company. They brought in an operator from Glasgow and the cinema played to packed houses, for some years, as people came to the Rock Hall from far and near. During the War of Independence the  Bracey Daniel’s Picture Company booked the Rock Hall annually at Easter and showed silent movies nightly. Bracey Daniels (1884-1956) is buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery close to the Rock Hall and is described on his gravestone as an “Irish Cinema Pioneer”. By the 1930s the four penny matinee on a Sunday was the highlight of the week for young people in Ballyshannon . Mass in the morning and the ‘flicks’ in the afternoon with the Cisco Kid, Tom Mix, Buck Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and  Dale Evans. The patrons crammed into the hall, sitting on wooden benches, no backs, no arms and noisily greeted their heroes on screen in the ‘talkies’ which had replaced the silent movies. The arrival of the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme brought great changes to cinema viewing in the town. By 1946 two new cinemas opened in the town, The Erne Cinema and the Abbey Cinema which nowadays is called The Abbey Centre. Nevertheless the Rock continued for a while as a cinema but its heyday was in establishing cinema in Ballyshannon from the early 20th century. Fortunately the Rock Hall was able to move with the times and meet other needs of the community.


The Rock Hall was a mecca for variety shows and it would take a book to name all the artistes who provided entertainment for the community. Everyone has their own special memories. Charlie McGettigan who won the Eurovision Song Contest with Paul Harrington in 1994  rates the Rock Hall as a major influence on his early career. He was influenced by hearing Cyril Curran and the Assaroe Ceilí Band  playing in the Rock Hall and also shared in the fun provided by artistes such as Michael Gillespie, Maureen Kane and Lily Heresey to name but a few. Charlie McGettigan perfomed for the first time in the Rock Hall with his new Egbert electric guitar in 1963 where he sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” And the rest is history.

The guardian of the hall who ensured that everything was properly looked after was Terry McDermott with his distinctive walking stick. His sister Annie looked after the church and Eileen Kennedy continues the family association with the parish as church sexton today. Renovations to the hall in 1947 were continued over the years and developments in 2014  have resulted in an excellent modern facility which will serve the needs of the community far into the future. Activities such as parish events, drama, Gaelic culture, school events,cinema socials, bingo, meetings, badminton,  sport, dances, youth clubs, card playing and ceilí dancing have  provided enjoyment and community spirit  to generations of people in the wider community. The history of the Rock Hall is a proud one of service to the community and we remember all our clergy, friends, neighbours and parishoners who have passed on this small but unique hall to our keeping in  the twenty first century.

A local history book for all special occasions available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum and The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

50% Reduction on postage for orders for this book to all destinations. Genuine special offer from author. Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price for postal delivery or collection. Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details