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. anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details

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