Thursday, 22 December 2016

Two Christmas letters sent from the Trenches to Ballyshannon families during World War One  

Anthony Begley speaking at a talk on
          local memories of  World War One  and the Battle of  the Somme 
to a capacity crowd in the Imperial Hotel Ballyshannon  November 2016   (Donna Martin)   

A Happy Christmas and New Year to you from Ballyshannon, wherever in the world you are reading this blog.

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery.

    Ideal Christmas Gift 

 "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon.Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Local Background

At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, hundreds of local men had enlisted in the British Army at places like Finner Camp, Enniskillen and different places in Ireland. Many who had emigrated to Great Britain, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada joined in their adopted countries. They joined for a variety of reasons including the opportunity to earn a wage, for a sense of adventure and following the advice of political leaders like John Redmond and James Craig. One hundred years later we have an opportunity to read and hear, for the first time, about what life was like in the trenches, how they felt about the war and tragically reports of how some of them died. Over 60 local men died in the First World
Postcard received by a Ballyshannon soldier Sergeant Caldwell Main Street Ballyshannon. Unlike the postcard most people thought the war would be over quickly.

Christmas Eve in the Trenches 1914- A letter to a mother in Erne Street

Before World War One began, Patrick McDonagh was an instructor in the Irish National Volunteers in his native Ballyshannon and also in the Belleek district. He would have enlisted in the army, on the advice of the Volunteer leader John Redmond. On the outbreak of war  in 1914 he served in the 2nd Division of the 4th Guards Brigade, British Expeditionary Force. He spent Christmas Eve in the trenches on the Western Front from where he wrote a letter home to his mother Bridget McDonagh 94 Erne Street, Ballyshannon.

I received your last letter all right. We spent our Christmas in the trenches, arriving at the firing line on Xmas Eve. I am sure that you all spent a good Xmas. It is hard on us out here, but these things cannot be helped. Hugh Moan is out here and in my Company. He was wounded early in the war and is out again. Paddy Fleming is here too, he came out from London and joined us while we were having the rest. The country is in a terrible state from heavy traffic. Thank God I am living and well and I shall hope to come out safe. I don’t think that the Germans will last much longer, let us hope so anyway. You can send me a tidy little parcel and make it as secure as possible and put my full address on it. Tell Tommy Moan that Hugh is doing fine and that he and I are together. Let me know how you all spent Christmas and tell me all the news. I had a narrow escape on Christmas Day. A German bullet struck the top of my rifle breaking the top off clean and wounding a sergeant behind me in the trench. I am more than lucky when I was not killed at different times. I am writing this letter in the firing line and hope that you will receive it safe. Tell all the people I am asking for them and hope to see them soon again. We have our priest and doctor with us and the wounded are well looked after, every man receiving the Last Rites of the Church. Isn’t that a great blessing? Good-bye and God bless you all and pray for us out here suffering terribly to save our country from ruin.

                                                                                                P. Mc Donagh

Patrick’s brother, John McDonagh, was in the 7th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial along with seven other Ballyshannon men, as their bodies were not located. Those named on the Memorial  include; Corporal Patrick Melly, Finner, Sergeant Christopher Laird, Main Street, Private Robert Kearney, Rossnowlagh, Private Patrick Gallagher, Kilbarron, Private Frederick Armstrong, Private John Joseph McShea, Rathmore, and Private Hugh Moan. Hugh Moan who later died at the Somme, is mentioned in the letter from Patrick McDonagh, above, He was also in the Irish Guards and, as indicated above, he was wounded and returned home for a time. During his recuperation in Ballyshannon, he visited his former workplace at “The Donegal Vindicator” newspaper on East Port, where he indicated to the editor that he didn’t think he would be killed by the Germans. On the 23rd December 1916 Private Hugh Moan was killed in an accidental explosion in the trenches on the Somme.

Troops at Finner camp preparing for the Western Front in France

A letter to a mother in Sheegus on the death of her son

Edward J. Mcintyre was born in Sheegus, Ballyshannon on the 9th August 1891, the son of Denis and Maria Mcintyre. Denis was a local fishermen like many of his neighbours in the Abbey. Edward had worked at the building trade in Ballyshannon before emigrating to the United States in 1912. When America entered the war he joined Company B, 306th Infantry and served on the Western Front in France. He was killed in action in the Argonne Forest region north-west of Verdun  on 27th September 1918. Corporal McIntyre is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. A family anecdote recalls that the McIntyre family at Sheegus first heard about his death from a neighbouring family called Tunney from the Legaltion area. The Tunney family had received a letter, from one of their family, who was in the same regiment as Edward McIntyre and who witnessed his death. The Tunney family went down to the McIntyre’s home and told them the sad news. Later Mrs. Maria McIntyre received the following letter from the American Army.

  Co. B, 306 Inf.

    6  Dec. 1918

My Dear Mrs. McIntyre,

It is with a heavy heart that I answer your letter of Nov. 15th to inform you, if you have not already been told, that your son, Edward, was killed in action on Sept 27th, apparently the very day upon which you last heard from him. He died the death of the brave, fearless, manly soldier that he was in leading his men against a German machine gun position. A bullet killed him instantly and he was later buried where he fell, upon  the ridge west of the “Baricade Pavilion” in the depth of the Argonne Forest.

I was personally very much attached to Corp. McIntyre. He was the finest type of clean, vigorous, good-natured Irishman. On the march, in  quarters, in trenches, or in action, he was always the same reliable, quick-witted, fine-appearing soldier, loved by his comrades and his officers, the life of the platoon, and one of the best non-commissioned officers in the company.  I miss him as much as any of the dear lads that this ghastly war has taken from us.

God help and comfort you. If this letter is the first means of your knowing of your great loss, I hope it may also convey to you a sense of the homage that we feel toward his mother.The men of the old company join me in extending to you, our sincerest sympathy and good wishes.

Your servant,

Theodore S. Kenyon, Capt. 306 Inf.

Ballyshannon woman Kathleen McFadden (nee McIntyre)  at the grave of her
                uncle Corporal Edward   McIntyre who died in the First World War while serving
in the American Army in France.

Footnote. On the 4th November 2016 Anthony Begley, Jim Melly and Conor Carney, remembered those from the Ballyshannon area who had died in the First World War, at an illustrated Emerson Lecture in Dorrian’s Imperial Hotel ,which was attended by upwards of 200 people. This was possibly the first local remembrance of the First World War in the past one hundred years.The event was organised by County Donegal Historical Society in association with The Allingham Arts Festival. In August 2016 large crowds attended a centenary walk through Ballyshannon which  remembered the independence struggle during the 1916 period. During 2016 "The Donegal Democrat" and "The Donegal Post" in a series of newly researched articles , recorded the memories of local involvement in both major events , which occurred one hundred years ago .These articles by Anthony Begley can be found  (or will be posted) as local history blogs on the internet at 

3 Images of Ballyshannon at Christmas 2016 thanks to Ballyshannon Business Chamber

(l.tor.) Anthony Begley.Jim Melly
and  Conor Carney at "Local Memories of World War One and the Battle of the Somme" talk in Dorrian's Imperial Hotel 2016.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Eve in Ballyshannon remembering the most unusual event ever

    The scene of an unusual incident on the Erne at Ballyshannon on 
Christmas Eve 1846
Ideal Local Christmas Gift

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery. Ideal Christmas Gift."Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon. Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Last week's blog on Shopping in Ballyshannon had over 1,600 viewers in 15 countries. This week's continues the Christmas theme with a sad local event.


On Christmas Eve 1846 a most unusual incident occurred in Ballyshannon harbour, during the Great Famine. A ship was waiting for a suitable tide to cross the bar on its outward journey to Liverpool when this strange event happened. The background to this real event happened during the Great Famine in 1846. The appearance of blight in the summer of 1846 resulted in whole fields producing very few healthy potatoes in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas. Curiously the weather was fine for the most part but people were anxious as for many the potato was their principal food. Some merchants brought Indian meal from Sligo as a substitute for the potato but the amounts were small to meet a serious food shortage. By October 1846 the poor were wretched. No Indian meal could be purchased below 18 pence. Diseased potatoes were exhausted.  Some people didn’t wait for worse to come but emigrated to Canada on board the brig "Charlotte of Yarmouth" from Creden’s Quay near Inis Saimer Island at Ballyshannon. James Creden a well-known local business man who also had business premises in Enniskillen, was also the contractor who built Ballyshannon workhouse in 1843. Notices were posted around the district inviting people to a public meeting on Saturday 17th October 1846 in the Market House, to set up a Relief Committee to provide food at cost price for the starving people of the area. They had a store in College Street and raised a large sum to purchase meal which was sold in November 1846 to the distressed poor.

Desperate Food Robberies in Ballyshannon, Ballintra, Kinlough and Bundoran areas

The incidence of local robberies involving food during the winter of 1846 was indicative of the desperation and hardship of Famine times. On October 23rd 1846 the Abbey Mill was broken into by a large body of men and about two tons of meal carried away. They had boats prepared by which the meal was taken across the channel. The owners of the Mill at the time were Donaldson and Connolly. This mill building still stands although unoccupied today. In November 1846 an oat mill belonging to Andrew Greene Ballintra was broken into and a large quantity stolen. Also in November a cart carrying bread from Ballyshannon to Kinlough was attacked by a large number of men who carried off bread.  There were also incidents of sheep being stolen. Some gruesome incidents of cattle being stolen were also reported in the area. In December 1846 in the townland of Boyney a cow’s head was severed and the head was left in the iron chain and the remainder of the animal taken away. A similar incident occurred in a nearby townland where James Gallagher of Bundoran had a bullock taken, the hide and head left.

Piracy near the Mall Quay on Christmas Eve

The schooner 'Confidence' was waiting just inside the bar for suitable conditions

On Christmas Eve, 1846, the schooner Confidence was lying just inside the Bar at Ballyshannon waiting for suitable conditions to leave. The ship was bound for Liverpool with bacon, ham and lard and had been charted by Mr. Edward Chism, a baker and grocer of Castle Street Ballyshannon. After a time a boat owned by Mr. Wade, woolendraper, of the Mall, pulled alongside the vessel and the men who claimed that they were from the salt works at Ballyshannon, asked  the master, Joseph Davidson, for permission to come aboard to light their pipes. The manufacture of salt was carried on at the saltpans, situated at the back of Myles’ property and there was also a saltpan at Portnason. Salt water was brought from the bar in large boats, and in special barges, towed by horses, which pulled the barges along from the shoreline. The salt water was then placed in large containers at the saltpans. John Greene and Andrew Teevan of the Port operated the saltpans but were most probably unaware of the men who boarded the schooner.

Several men went on board the schooner and then produced guns, overcame the captain and crew, and took nine bales of bacon, a number of hogsheads of ham and lard from the ship. Signs of the desperation and shortage of food are evident in the use of firearms to seize the food. It is also clear evidence of food leaving the harbour at Ballyshannon during a period of the Great Famine. By Christmas Day the police recovered some of the food buried in the nearby sand dunes and the soldiers were out searching the area. (This area in modern times is located behind Finner camp). James Currie was arrested in the town carrying a ham which he claimed to have found in the sandhills. He was later sentenced to nine months hard labour for his part in the incident. Two others were also arrested for their part in the robbery. This act of piracy happened, sadly, on Christmas Eve, at the height of the Famine, when people in the area were struggling to survive.
 Rory Gallagher enjoying the Christmas 
scene in Ballyshannon

Happy Christmas from Ballyshannon

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Falgarragh Park Ballyshannon officially opened 1936 also the Falgarragh Horse Racing Course

Opening of Falgarragh Park (now St. Benildus Avenue) in 1936. Sean T. O'Kelly,  later President of Ireland , seen here on the right,  under the umbrella,  in the centre, officially opened the housing scheme. Cecil Stephens, Town Clerk, is the man  carrying a folder beside Sean T. Ó Kelly. Dean McGinley P.P Kilbarron is further back under the umbrella.

The second largest housing scheme in the Ulster counties of Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan was opened at Falgarragh Park Ballyshannon by Sean T.O’Kelly, Minister for Local Government and Public Health  on Monday 9th March 1936. Mr. O’Kelly had played an important role in the 1916 Rising, twenty years before, and was later to become the second President of Ireland. On his visit he firstly inspected the new housing scheme at East Rock which had recently been built on the site of the Rock Barracks. Fr. Timoney blessed the houses and the Minister inspected and complimented the workmanship in their construction. He then visited the Mall Hosiery where the proprietor Mr. Swan presented him with a beautiful cardigan made in the factory. He also visited the Mall Quay and surrounding areas where he praised the new seating, shelter and dance platform recently completed as part of the Town Improvement Scheme. He also visited the Mall Laundry where he was welcomed by the proprietors Mr. & Mrs. M. Ward.

Official Opening of Falgarragh Park (now called St. Benildus Avenue)
At 12.30 Sean T.O’Kelly attended the official opening ceremony of the 80 houses at Falgarragh park which he described as “the most beautiful he had yet seen”. The Minister remarked on the numbers of houses that needed to be replaced all over Ireland to stop the spread of tuberculosis and infant mortality and welcomed this new housing development in Ballyshannon.  Present with the Minister were local clergy Dean McGinley, Fr. McMullin and Fr. McGroarty who blessed the houses. Also present were Cecil Stephens, Town Clerk, Mr. Lysaght Commissioner in charge of the Town commissioners, M.F. Irwin C.E. Clerk of Works, W.J. Doherty architect of the scheme, reps. of contractor Kilcawley, Maloney and Taylor Ballisadare Co. Sligo, Dr. Gordon, Major Myles T.D. and Brian Brady T.D. The tape of number 77 was then cut by the Minister who inspected the house.

(A fuller account of the Falgarragh Housing Scheme and the East Rock Housing Scheme are contained in the book “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” available in local shops. see below for details.)

The following is an extract from the poem which has twelve verses and a number of verses are parodies of William Allingham’s “Adieu to Ballyshanny”. The poem was written by Dan McCauley who had fought in World War 1 and whose family, were one of a number of families, who left condemned houses in places like Bachelor’s Walk and the Back Street to live in the new houses which had all amenities.
Dan McCauley's World War One medals

 The Flight to Falgarragh

‘Twas in an old thatched cabin

With its walls as white as snow,

Where mother dear, (God rest her soul),

Some forty years ago-

Told me of some noble deeds,

How the great Red Hugh did turn

The Saxon from Tirconaill
On the Winding Banks of Erne.

I’ve trod the world ever since,

I’ve ploughed the seas afar,

I’ve seen Killarney’s lakes and fells,

And historic Castlebar.

From County Down to Cavan Town,

Through Fermanagh’s leafy fern,

Till I landed at Falgarragh

On the Winding Banks of Erne.

Our Twelve Commissioners are no more,

Their plans were out of date,

And a Gentleman from Kerry

Comes and strikes the old Town Rate,

He puts seats upon the Mall-

‘Tis true- and a dancing Board to learn

The “Waltzes from Vienna”

By the Winding Banks of Erne.

And now we have a Housing Scheme

To brighten up the town:

We’ll clear out all slum dwellings

And pull the old shacks down,

A brand new house they’re giving us,

              And its Finn Hill turf we’ll burn,

Away in grey Falgarragh

By the Winding Banks of Erne.

Ballyshannon Races –Old  Falgarragh Course 1929

Ballyshannon Races were held on Monday 5th August 1929 on the old Falgarragh horse racing course. This was in the days before the current houses were erected and races were frequently held on this site The five race card had a prize fund of £80- a sizeable sum eighty years ago. The racing programme was as follows:

1.        2 oclock. The Assaroe Plate. (Open Handicap.) Value £15. Distance, 11/4 miles. Entry Fee, 10s.

2.        2.30 oclock. The Farmers Plate. Value £10. distance, 1 Mile. Entry Fee, 7s 6d. (catch Weights).

3.        3 oclock The Traders Plate. Value £25. distance, 11/2 Miles. Entry Fee, £1.

4.        3.30 oclock. The Erne Plate. Value £15. distance, 11/2 Miles. Entry Fee, 10s.

5.        4 oclock. The Ballyshannon Plate. Value £15. distance, 1 Mile. Entry Fee, 10s.

The Farmers’ Plate was for horses the bona-fide property of Owners (Farmers within a 10-mile radius of Ballyshannon for three months prior to the date of the races.)
Forms and full particulars about all the races were available from the Secretary. Special Reduced Fares on the Great Northern and Donegal Railways and all buses.

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery. Ideal Christmas Gift.

"Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills Bridge End, Clearys garage shop and Local Hands in Ballyshannon. Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Christmas Shopping in Ballyshannon in Bygone Days

Ballyshannon in the snow
  • Journey through the streets of the  town  over a century ago, and enjoy the Christmas shopping in Ballyshannon and see can you recognise  any shops named below . 
  • Check out ten or more trades and industries and services which were in Ballyshannon 125 years ago. With the passing of time these are no longer operating .
  • Check out last week's blog on a Ballyshannon woman's part in 1916 in Dublin which has had over 1,400 hits. You can find it in the blog archive if you haven't read it.
Ideal Local Christmas Gift

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery. Ideal Christmas Gift."Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon. Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Changes- Ballyshannon 125 Years Ago

  1. The town had a distinctive clock on the newly built Belfast Bank built at a cost of £4,000. (There was a second bank next door called The Provincial Bank which still operates as The Allied Irish Bank).
  2. There was a Market House close to O'Reilly's Fish Shop. Courts were conducted in the Market House and there was also a dispensary and social activities in the building.
  3. The Workhouse was still operating on the Rock beside the Church.The building still survives today but is in a dangerous condition.
  4. The Great Northern Railway was thriving in Station Road and there were two trains to Dublin daily. 
  5. There were 6 churches open in town- 2 Catholic, 1 Protestant, 1 Presbyterian and 2 Methodist. The second Methodist Church was at the top of the Main Street. Today there are three churches in town.
  6. There were 2 Markets every week in the Market Yard on Thursdays and Saturdays where farmers could sell their produce.
  7. Fairs were held on the second day of each month. The Harvest Fair was held on the 18th September and was the biggest social gathering of the year.
  8. The Donegal Independent  on the Mall and The Donegal Vindicator on the Port were two newspapers carrying on the tradition of the oldest newspaper town in County Donegal.
  9. There was a Coastguard Station, a Brewery  and an Excise Office which all harked back to the days of shipping from the Mall Quay in the town. In modern times a micro-brewery has been opened at Dicey Reillys and who can say what other revivals there will be?
  10. Like many towns craft trades have disappeared since 1889 including; tanners, boot and shoemakers, weigh-masters in the Market Yard, saddlers, cart makers, hide and butter merchants and fishing tackle makers.

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 2016 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 2016  the old barracks is occupied by Diarmaid Keon (DKP) auctioneers and a computer shop 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:

From the Barracks to the Butchers
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.

Up the Main Street
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.

Castle Street/The Mall and West Port
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. 

Local History book available in Local Shops or for Postal Delivery. Ideal Christmas Gift. "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History" available to purchase in The Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, O'Neills, Clearys and Local Hands in Ballyshannon. Available also in Four Master's Bookshop in Donegal Town. For postal details contact

Saturday, 26 November 2016

A woman in Ballyshannon remembers the 1916 Rising period in Dublin

Susan and Cecil Stephens

The fascinating memoirs of a lady who spent the greater part of her life in Ballyshannon, reveals the role played by her, in events in Dublin during the 1916 period and later, and are now published for the first time. Susan O’Daly, as a young woman in Dublin, witnessed the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rising and learned of the execution of one of her teachers, Thomas McDonagh, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. She acted as a courier during the independence struggle and was a classmate of Ernie O’Malley. Susan also took a keen interest in Gaelic culture, was an Irish speaker, and engaged in the politics of the day. In the 1918 Election she canvassed for the Sinn Féin party and was present in the Mansion House for the opening of the First Dáil on the 21st January 1919. In her memoirs she tells of the destruction in the heart of Dublin, the effects of the Great Flu of 1918 and her meetings with Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith.

Early Days of the G.A.A. in Ballyshannon

Meanwhile back in Ballyshannon Cecil Stephens of Castle Street, was immersing himself in Gaelic culture. Branches of the Stephens’ family were engaged in the commercial life of Ballyshannon with major interests in hardware, stationery and fancy goods in Castle Street and an extensive drapery business at the bottom of Main Street where the Saimer Court Shopping Centre is located today. Susan O’Daly, a native of Monaghan, had a family link with Ballyshannon as her uncle Fr. James O’Daly was curate at St. Joseph’s Church in the town. He was actively involved in the formation of the Aodh Ruadh Hurling & Football Club in October 1909. The meeting that formed the new GAA Club was called by Fr. O’Daly a native of Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, who placed a great emphasis on the promotion and preservation of not alone Gaelic games but all aspects of Irish culture. Fr. O’Daly became the first President of the club and subsequently two of his nieces, Susan and Mary, who would have regularly visited him, married two related local businessmen, Cecil and John Stephens. Cecil Stephens was the first secretary of the Aodh Ruadh Gaelic football club and also was secretary of the Gaelic League who were engaged in the promotion of the Irish language. Susan O’Daly married Cecil Stephens in 1922 and resided in Ballyshannon for the remainder of her life. Susan has left her memoirs of life in her native County Monaghan, her exciting student days in Dublin during the 1916 period and her subsequent life as a teacher and a mother in Ballyshannon. This article reflects on the 1916 period in Dublin through the eyes of a woman who witnessed the historic beginnings of this country.

Group of men on road and footpath outside Stephens premises and home.

A Witness and Participant in Events in Dublin in 1916
Susan O’Daly was a first year student at University College Dublin in 1916 and like many other students was on Easter holiday, back in her native Clonturk in County Monaghan, when the Rising commenced. On her return to Dublin she witnessed the destruction and smouldering buildings:

The city was practically deserted and only a couple of small groups were in Grafton Street whispering fearfully with white faces. There was nobody then till we came to O’Connell Bridge. There was the smoke rising from the broken glass and rubble that had fallen all-round the G.P.O. and across the road, and more smoke and rubble about Capel Street and in the Liberty Hall area.  I don’t think we could have got through the heat and smoke and very likely the Dublin Metropolitan Police would not allow us through.

Susan gathered up some broken glass and other bits of rubble outside the G.P.O. to keep as mementos of the Rising. She was actively involved in the Gaelic League and her sympathies were with the Rising, and she remembered attending frequent masses for the repose of the soul of deceased rebels. Many students were in active sympathy with the fight for independence and she regularly attended at Kilmainham and Mountjoy jails, when those arrested were being transported to the North Wall on their way to English jails. Students then marched beside the military escorts to show solidarity with the detainees, cheered on the prisoners and broke through the ranks of the military.These impromptu gatherings of students were often organised by her classmate Ernie O’Malley who was a major figure in the guerrilla war during the War of Independence. The air of unease was everywhere in the city and Susan recalled those uncertain day:

The arrests went on, the city was packed with military armed to the teeth. We were beaten to the ropes, our leaders’ dead- and those who had gone to fight in Flanders for small nations were completely disillusioned. It was not just the executions that turned the whole country into a rebel camp, these were many of the factors but unknown to us teenagers the underground had already taken root.

Susan noted how the executions of the leaders of 1916 played a crucial role in turning public opinion in favour of the rebellion. Also the impact of the 1916 Rising on the Irish born troops, in places like Flanders in Belgium  in World War One,  must have been one of confusion, as the 1916 Rising took the general population completely unawares. Susan was also appalled by the slums and by the dirt, rags and immense poverty in Dublin in 1916.

Student Days and Revolutionary Meetings
Susan O’Daly had been a past pupil of St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross where she successfully obtained a county council scholarship to attend University College Dublin. Her family background was modest as her parents had a three roomed thatched house with a hearth fire, a settle bed in the kitchen and a few stools and basic fittings. The scholarship meant that she could receive an education that otherwise might have been beyond her family means and she certainly made the most of her opportunity. She completed a B.A, a B. Comm. H.Dip. and graduated with first class honours and first place in the B.Comm. class of 1920. As a young student she was very much taken with the fashions of the day and noted that there were no teenagers in her youth just ‘school girls’ or ‘young ladies’. The girls wore their hair long or in plaits but on entering the university grounds they had to put their hair up. Hats were always worn out of doors by both women and men. There were no cosmetics in use, just a touch of powder to take the shine off their features. There were no low necks, except evening dresses, and skirts were long. For entertainment they went to a lot of ceilídhes, dances and concerts in the Round Room of the Mansion House:

In Powerscourt House in Parnell Square we danced and had supper, all for 2/6- while upstairs the I.R.B. held their meetings. I suppose in case of a raid they could mingle with the dancers. Usually some of the St. Enda’s boys would call for us.

Susan Daly was familiar with some of the activities of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.) who had planned the Rising and also knew students attending Patrick Pearse’s all Irish school called St. Enda’s. She had a flat in a house in Harcourt Street and recalled attending meetings, in the house, attended by Belfast rebels and Ernest Blythe and Darrell Figgis were in attendance.

The 1918 Election and her role as a Courier to Michael Collins
The 1918 Election saw many young people including Susan O’Daly canvassing for the Sinn Féin Party. She recalled that, with a friend, she canvassed all the house on Leeson Street in Dublin. She also remembered cycling to Newry, a distance of 75 miles, to assist with the election there by helping out in the committee rooms. Fortunately she got back to Dublin in a van which also carried her bicycle.  Also in 1918 she assisted in nursing duties during the devastating Big Flu commonly called the Spanish Flu which killed millions all over Europe. She recalled a constant stream of hearses moving thorough O’Connell Street on their way to Glasnevin Cemetery ‘all day every day’.  The university was closed and she offered her services to assist the suffering flu victims. Back at home in Monaghan the Great Flu also had an impact on her family, with her Aunt Mary suffering great pain and anguish as two of her young children died from the flu. On completion of her B.Comm. she was looking for any kind of work and was interviewed by Arthur Griffith, the Sinn Fein leader; she also remembered meeting Michael Collins when she and another girl delivered a message to him.:

I went to 6 Harcourt Street to ask Arthur Griffith for a job of work. He was very shy and quiet and asked me how good I was at Irish. I told him truthfully that I could read and write it better than I could speak it, and he said he was in the same boat and that’s exactly all I remember about it. But that was a time when Arthur Griffith was a very ordinary individual, not likely to go down in history. The same applies to Michael Collins whose hide-out I visited accompanied by an older girl with a message of some sort. He was working at a typewriter in a cellar-like room in St. Ita’s in Rathmines. I think that it was part of the St. Enda’s school (for girls). I thought him a rough diamond.

Susan O’Daly later taught in the St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross, and the Technical school in Naas. Whilst in Naas she frequently acted as a courier, during the War of Independence, bringing dispatches to and from Dublin where she frequently spent the week-ends. She was ‘not in the know’ but was a young woman who was willing to play a part in the national struggle. This was during the dangerous days of the War of Independence when the Black and Tans were active, ‘the atrocities were mounting up and the jails filling up, and it was a losing fight for the rebels’. She frequently brought messages from a Mr. Maher in Naas to various people in Dublin which she delivered by bicycle. Frequently the messages were for Michael Collins:

More or less weekly he gave me an envelope containing ‘information’ and this I was to smuggle to Kingsbridge and surreptitiously slip it to one Sean O’Connell, a porter. He then took it over and handed it to Michael Collins who at the time was staying hidden in the Ossory Hotel in Gardiner Street. I forget the name of the lady who owned the hotel-she hid him well! I just don’t remember how long I continued doing this job, but even when I was away doing summer courses I used to return frequently to the flat for weekends and do any job that was wanted.
Maher had been a member of the R.I.C in the offices in Naas. All communications between the British Military in the South and Dublin Castle, passed back and forth through Naas, where Maher typed a copy before forwarding them. The typed copies were then passed on to Michael Collins through couriers like Susan O’Dolan. On one occasion Maher gave Susan O’Dolan a note of appreciation from Michael Collins:

Mr. Maher gave me a note from Michael Collins, to me, about three typewritten lines signed by himself about his appreciation of my work! I kept it a long time, but we had been visited in the flat in Naas by the R.I.C. and I got cold feet. As I had no sure place for hiding it in a small flat, Mollie and I decided it would be better to burn it. Actually we were raided by the Military, and a woman searcher later, and they searched every inch of the flat.

Mollie McCarthy whom she mentioned above was a friend from her Cumann na mBan days in Dublin and who was working in the Munster and Leinster bank in Naas, where they shared accommodation.

Susan O’Daly an Eyewitness to The First Dáil  
On the 21st January 1919 the Sinn Féin elected members refused to attend the parliament in Westminster but, instead, declared their independence by meeting in Dublin. This was a challenge to the British government and was at the beginning of the War of Independence. Susan O’Daly got an invitation to witness this historic event and was among the audience, in the Mansion House Round Room, who looked on in some trepidation but with a sense of great pride.

I have a vivid recollection of the whole procedure- Fr. Flanagan began with a prayer. Then the reading of the proclamation in Irish, English and French and on to the roll call every second name called, met with the response “Faoi glas in nGallaibh” (in prison in England) and this rang out through the whole building. I can still hear it! Outside, Dawson Street was packed with people, spilling over into Molesworth Street and St. Stephen’s Green.

 Fr. Flanagan, the priest who said the prayer at the beginning of the First Dáil, had been stationed, at an earlier stage, in Cliffoney Co. Sligo, where he championed the people’s right of access to the turf bog which was being denied. Susan recalled that there was a tremendous air of excitement around the meeting of the First Dáil, but this was tinged with fear that there would be a raid by the British military, with perhaps wholesale arrests and shootings.

I wonder how many in the Round Room and in the streets outside thought the whole performance an act of sheer madness-the idea of defying the might of the British Empire. What reasonable person could think it possible that a Dáil could ever be established! Certainly not in 1919; it just couldn’t happen! But it did!

Cecil Stephens and Married Life in  Castle Street Ballyshannon

AGM notice for  Aodh Ruadh Hurling and Football Club 1910
Cecil Stephens was the first  Secretary.

On her marriage to Cecil Stephens in 1922 Susan O’Daly devoted her life to family, the business and their shared love of Gaelic culture and music. She would still be remembered by members of the community, as she was engaged in the extensive family hardware and fancy goods business on Castle Street in the town. A teacher by profession, with her commercial training, she was well suited to keeping the financial records for the business. She also established an Argosy lending library in the shop and this was popular with the local population, as they could rent books, at a nominal cost, long before the days of television and public libraries. Her husband Cecil played an active role in the development of the G.A.A, the Gaelic League and was a member of the delegation from Ballyshannon to the Boundary Commission in Enniskillen in 1925. Cecil Stephens was for many years Town Clerk, Conductor of Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band, Conductor of the local Musical Society and a founder of the Donegal Democrat along with John Downey. 

Susan and Cecil Stephens had four children; Donal, Nan (Sister Colmcille), Aiden and Cecil. Susan Stephens died on 7th May 1979 and is interred in Abbey Assaroe alonside her husband Cecil. Very few outside her family circle knew that Susan Stephens (nee O’Daly) had been in Dublin during the 1916 period and that she had been active in Cumann na mBan, acted as a courier in the War of Independence and had participated in much of the beginning of modern Ireland.

This article is dedicated to the memory Cecil Stephens (Jun.) son of Susan and Cecil Stephens who shared his parents’ love for Ballyshannon. 

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