Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Ballyshannon Area during the Emergency/ World War 11 (1939-1945)

The Donegal Corridor at Ballyshannon on the river Erne
Seventy years ago Éire or Ireland was neutral in the Second World War and the period was referred to as The Emergency; and yet people in the Ballyshannon area witnessed the sights, sounds, censorship and shortages of the war. Indeed many people who had emigrated to England, U.S.A. and Australia in the 1930s, and earlier, enlisted in the armies of their adopted countries and some died and were wounded in the main theatres of the war. Others who emigrated worked in industries and the caring professions who provided support to the war effort. Closer to home Northern Ireland was engaged in the war and a secret arrangement with the British government allowed planes to fly over Ballyshannon in an area known as the Donegal Corridor.  This enabled the allies to provide aerial support for their shipping fleets in the Atlantic and was also of great benefit as planes could fly along the Erne to Ballyshannon from places like Castle Archdale in Fermanagh, and also transatlantic flights had a much shorter journey than having to avoid Donegal’s airspace. A lucrative black market resulted in the smuggling of goods back and forth across the border from Belleek as shortages were a permanent feature of the war. As a result of censorship people in this area knew little about events concerning the war and rumours of pending invasion were rife. On the 14th July 1940 reports that an invasion force were marching along the Port in Ballyshannon proved false and the noise coming from the Bar was mistaken as the muffled sound of gunfire!

The Donegal Corridor

The Fairy Bridges Bundoran  and Tullan strand scene of a tragic plane crash on 23rd January 1944
Tullan Strand in Bundoran was to be the scene of an incident on the 10th May 1943 when a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress landed on the beach having ran out of fuel. Nearby golfers at Bundoran golf club rushed to the scene and photographs were taken but these were later confiscated in line with censorship restrictions. The crew and plane were returned across the border. In instances like this neutrality was not strictly enforced in the Donegal Corridor. However the crew of a British Handley Page Halifax Bomber were not so fortunate, when their plane crashed into the cliffs at the same location  in Bundoran on Sunday 23rd January 1944.  The eight man Canadian crew were all killed and the spot is marked with a memorial today. On the 19th June 1944 fishermen in their boats witnessed an American B24 Liberator Bomber travelling upriver on the Erne towards the bridge at Ballyshannon in search of a landing place. Eventually the plane headed inland over St. Patrick’s Well and the sound of the plane scraping on stone ditches could be heard before it crashed in the Abbeylands. Two of the crew died and the rest were given excellent medical treatment in the Sheil Hospital under the guidance of Dr. Daly, Dr. Gordon and Sister Fidelma. Cashelard was the scene of the crash of a Sunderland Flying Boat on 12th August 1944 when two of the Canadian crew lost their lives. The remainder received medical treatment in the Sheil Hospital. A number of bodies were washed up along the shoreline as a result of shipping fatalities and a Chinese sailor called Chu Ning Lai was washed up at Creevy Pier and he was interred in the Paupers’ Graveyard at Ballyshannon. Radio Officer V.C. Coleman of HMS Patroclus was washed ashore at Rossnowlagh and is buried in St. Anne’s Churchyard. Older residents still remember these events which brought the reality of the war a bit closer to people in this area.
Preparing for Invasion and Air Attacks
Local discussion on what to do in the event of an air raid bombing attack, resulted in the identification of cellars which could be used as air raid shelters. Amongst the places considered were the underground caves in Munday’s field, the cellars under the old barracks at the bridge and the souterrains at Dungravenen on the Mall although the latter would have accommodated a small number of people. There were also cellars along Main Street and Castle Street. Locally a Parish Council, fire fighters, the Red Cross, the Local Defence Force (LDF) and the Local Security Force (LSF) were given roles in protecting the community and many volunteered to serve. Concerns that an attack on Finner Camp would result in the reservoir there being destroyed with the loss of water supply for Ballyshannon resulted in the following comment from Major Myles. “If the Camp was bombed they would want to be better shots than in some parts of the country. To hit the reservoir the bomb would have to be dropped at Tullaghan."
Cycling to Football Final in Glenties 1942
On Friday the first of May 1942 the government order restricting the use of motor vehicles, except in certain circumstances, came into effect. Ballyshannon returned to the sounds of life in the late 19th century however the jaunting cars were not too visible as yet. The bicycle now became a very important mode of transport with the young folk cycling to the dances in Bundoran, Belleek or Ballintra. Football and hurling teams cycled to their matches and a very well remembered match took place on Sunday 17th of May 1942. Gweedore and Ballyshannon met in the final which was played in Glenties before a large attendance. The Ballyshannon team had cycled to Glenties on Saturday evening, leaving the town with a band of enthusiastic supporters. The Ballyshannon team went into an early lead with a point from Mick Slevin and a goal by Jack Gallagher.  John McDermott added a further two points. The only score for Gweedore in the first half was a point by J. Gallagher scored from 70 yards.  Half-time saw the Ernesiders in front by 1-3 to 0-1.  Three further points were added to the Ballyshannon tally in the second-half with points by James Daly, John McDermott and M. Murray. Hugh Gallagher added a second point for the Gweedore men; but Ballyshannon were worthy winners, in a spirited and skilful match on a score line of 1-6 to 0-2. The Ballyshannon team were: Hugh Mc Guinness (goal-keeper), J. McGarrigle, Mick.Melly, Sean Slevin, Paddy O’ Neill, Dan Doherty, Seamus Slevin, James Daly, B. Gallagher, Mick Slevin (captain), S. Kane, Jack Gallagher, M.Murray, John McDermott , P.J. Goan. Shortly after the match the jubilant team began the 30 mile cycle back to Ballyshannon with the Democrat Cup. Their team spirit showed how to cope with life’s difficulties in a positive manner. 
Rationing and Recycling
Ration books became the order of the day with tea, sugar, bread, butter and flour in short supply. Going to the bog was now a top priority and local businesses such as Morgans who had been coal providers now provided peat. People pined for the days when salt and tallow candles had been manufactured locally and paraffin was also in short supply. Fortunately those in the urban areas in Bundoran and Ballyshannon had electricity supplied by Myles’ who also had timber yards and a hardware shop beside the Erne at Ballyshannon. A Bundoran chemist J. O’Reilly invented a successful coffee substitute made from dandelion and local smoking addicts used a plant called colt’s foot (pronounced “cowl’s fut” by local people) as a cigarette substitute, although the smell was quite foul. Anderson’s grocery shop on Main Street advised customers to bring jars for jam, bags for meal, paper for bread, jars for oil, bags for flour, baskets for everything. Old corsets could be handed in to the drapery shops and they were forwarded to a factory called Twilfit Regd. who cleaned them in an acid bath and new corsets were then made. Severe restrictions were imposed on the amount of material and pockets etc. in garments. In March 1944 a Ballyshannon tailor was summoned under the Emergency Power Order for producing a jacket with more than three pockets and producing trousers with a width of more than 20 inches at the end of each leg.  He got off with a caution. Cross border trafficking in household items like the white loaf and eggs was common. Compulsory tillage was introduced by the government, but not every one liked being compelled to put in crop. Indeed there were a few  instances in this locality of crops being sown but then neglected.
Local Men fought in World War 11
In the First World War a conservative estimate of 40 men, from the area around the town, died in the war whilst in the Second World War local fatalities are currently estimated at around 11 men but the number is probably higher. Allied planes stopped using the Donegal Corridor over Ballyshannon at midnight on the 3rd of June 1945 and the war was finally over. Many local men fought in the war and now that censorship was ending more details emerged about some of those who had served in the allied armies.
Gerard Darcy, R.A.F., East Port was a prisoner of war for 3 years in Italy, escaped and made his way over the Alps, travelling by night into Switzerland, where he was employed in a factory until repatriation.
Richard Davis, Corp., R.Inn. Fus. Sminver, captured in Greece, and imprisoned in same camp as Charlie McBride relieved by Allies and was on way home in June 1945.
Charlie McBride, formerly Tírconaill Street was in the Australian forces, wounded at Crete and taken prisoner by the Germans, one of the first batch to be repatriated to Australia.
Patrick J., Neil, Frank and William Doherty, four brothers originally from Erne Street, all served in the American army overseas.
Pte. Harry Hutton, born at Lisahully, was awarded the Military Medal.
Eddie and Michael McManus were in the American forces, sons of Michael McManus; Johnnie McManus,  born Erne Street, another son of Michael McManus, Glasgow, was at the battle of Dunkirk and one of the escort of Queen Wilhemina, made Tank Commander after D- Day and named his tank “Ballyshannon”, was decorated for bravery. Johnnie McManus was a well known boxer and spent some time as a prisoner of war in Germany. 
Robert Bradford Myles, Lieut., R. Inn. Fus. was awarded the Military Cross for his courage and leadership on May 15th 1944 on the Gustav line.
Thomas J. Myles, Serg., R.A.M.C., Legaltion, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal . On March 26th 1944 during n attack on enemy positions near Maungdaw-Buthidaung road, this N.C.O. was in command of attached section of Indian Field ambulance. During the attack he moved with the leading position and immediately went forward treating and evacuating each casualty as it occurred.
Fred Patchell, Lanc. Sergt., R.A.M.C. wounded in China; Henry Patchell, Staff Serg. R.A.S.C. wounded in Africa.
T.R. Stubbs Captain, Transport Corps, Danby wounded in the Middle East.

Some Local Soldiers who died in World War11
James Barron, Cashelard, U.S.A., wounded in France but drowned on the way back to U.S.A.
Patrick Darcy, R.Inn.Fus. West Port
Jack Fannon,  Pte., R.Inn.Fus., Ballinacarrick, died in Burma Road, China
Thomas Edward Lapsley,  Pte., R. Inns. Fus., Abbey View Tce.
P. Mc Gonigle, R.A.F., Mall
Willie McCafferty, West Port, died in India
Flight Sergeant Mulroney, R.A.F. killed in air raid, nephew of John James McGloin, Abbey
M. O’Reilly killed in action, son of Mrs. O’ Reilly, O.S., Main Street
A. Ramage, Lieut., Laputa
G.E, Roper, Capt., U.S.A. Paratroops
Eddie Taite Gnr. R.O.A., Erne Street, died in Holland. Eddie Taite had been an accomplished cornet player in Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band prior to the war.

Forgotten Memories
During the era of the earlier First World War 1914-1918, many local people enlisted in Finner Camp which was occupied by the British Army, at the time, and the sight of soldiers marching through Bundoran and Ballyshannon on their way to the Great Northern Railway station or to church was a regular sight for local people. The independence struggle from 1916-1921 resulted in those who fought in the First World War being largely forgotten except by their families. 

Those local people who fought in the Second World War 1939-1945 were mostly living abroad when they enlisted, and there was no local discussion about their involvement, due to Ireland’s neutrality and censorship of the media. For different reasons those local people who fought in both World Wars were for the most part forgotten.
A  Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away
"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. Available in Novel Idea, Museum and Local Hands in Ballyshannon and 4 Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

Also available from Anthony Begley for postal enquiries email

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