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
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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

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