Friday, 15 December 2017

Christmas Shopping in Bygone Days in Ballyshannon (newly updated)

Ballyshannon a thriving business town 125 years ago

 Journey  through the streets of the  town  over a century ago, and enjoy the Christmas shopping in Ballyshannon.







What was Ballyshannon like  125 Years Ago?
  • The town had a distinctive clock on the newly built Belfast Bank which was built in 1878 at a cost of £4,000.  This building later became the Royal Bank. In the 1960s the Royal Bank amalgamated with the Provincial Bank which was next door and the two banks merged into Allied Irish Bank. (A.I.B.) which still operates as a bank today.The building with the clock then became a jewellers. Sadly the clock face, which is visible in the photograph above, was badly damaged by storm in February 2014  and has never been repaired. As Barry Britton says in his iconic Christmas card- "Where did the time go?"
  • 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. The Market House was tossed  in living memory. This is an open recreation area today used for craft fairs and music events.
  • The Workhouse was still operating on the Rock beside the Church.The building still survives today but is in a dangerous condition. Sad.  The Famine Orphan Girls memorial the only one of its type in Ireland, is open at all times to the public, beside the workhouse and just opposite the main entry to Fr. Tierney Park. It names and remembers 19 orphan girls shipped to Australia from Ballyshannon workhouse at the height of the Famine. The girls were from the areas around Ballyshannon including Kinlough, Belleek, Mulleek and the Ballyshannon area. Check out last week's blog on Mary Allingham. Mary, a native of Belleek,  was an orphan in Ballyshannon Workhouse and died in Australia 100 years ago this week. Her story can be heard on the Joe Duffy Liveline RTE podcast on 8th December 2017 under the heading Magdalene Laundries which was also being discussed on the radio programme. 
  • The Great Northern Railway was thriving in Station Road and there were two trains to Dublin daily. The railway arrived in Ballyshannon 150 years ago in 1867. One hundred and fifty years ago, this year, the Sisters of Mercy  also arrived in Ballyshannon and are still here today. The G.N.R. railway closed in Ballyshannon 60 years ago in 1957.
  • 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. The town has one iconic clock thanks to the St. Anne's community and the peal of the bells is part of Ballyshannon's heritage. The church which is lit up at night is a welcome beacon for people coming home or passing through town.
  • There were 2 Markets every week in the Market Yard on Thursdays and Saturdays where farmers could sell their produce. The car boot sale takes place in the general area today.
  • Fairs were held on the second day of each month. The Harvest Fair was held on the 16th September and was the biggest social gathering of the year. The cattle, horse and pig fairs were held in and  around the Fair Green which today is Allingham Park. Cattle are now sold in the Mart on Station road.
  • 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 begun in 1831. The Donegal Democrat (still in existence) was  founded in Ballyshannon in 1919 and was the last paper to be printed in Ballyshannon. 
  • 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? The Coastguard houses are still visible at West Rock.
  • Like most  towns in Ireland, 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. Good to see a number of craft shops and other new business premises  opening in the town in recent years.

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 2017 but some shops were smaller, in some 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. Can you spot any surviving business family in 2017?

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. There was another barracks directly opposite where the C.I.E. and Tourist offices are today but it was in ruins when William Allingham was a boy in the 1830s.


A local book for Christmas



So that you can get your bearings in 2017  the old barracks is occupied by Diarmaid Keon (DKP) auctioneers, a computer shop and a music shop today. The premises of Robert Sweeney listed below were located where the Bank of Ireland is today. P.B. Stephens' ‘emporium’ is where Mary McGuinness has the town’s bookshop called ‘The Novel Idea’. Read on to see the businesses up the town. 





The newspaper correspondent having crossed the 14 -arch bridge  resumed his descriptions of shops commencing at the bottom of the Main Street. The old barracks on the left of the photograph (with 4 windows visible on the side) is the oldest building in Ballyshannon, built in 1700. It is also home to the  two most famous ghost stories in the area. The ghostly Green Lady and the Goblin Child also known as 'the radiant child' both had connections to this barracks. The full story of the Green Lady is contained in "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History".




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. Inspector Martin was killed in Gweedore in 1889 and is buried beside thw entrance porch to 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 for some. 

Modern Ballyshannon



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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com



Congratulations to all the business premises who have contributed to the beautiful tree and         the Christmas lighting in the town in 2017.

  Rory Gallagher enjoying the Christmas scene
in Ballyshannon

Happy Christmas from Ballyshannon

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