Saturday, 20 January 2018

On This Day. The Largest Rally ever in Ballyshannon

This man drew the largest crowd ever in Ballyshannon

On this Day 20th-21st January. The largest gathering of people ever to assemble for an event in Ballyshannon. Thousands travelled from neighbouring towns and areas, from Bundoran, from Kinlough, from Pettigo, from Ballintra,  from Rossnowlagh, from Donegal Town, from Belleek and thousands from the Ballyshannon area. What was happening to draw over 20,000 people to town?

The reason for the gathering was to hear the famous Fr. Mathew speak and most importantly to give the people the pledge to stay off alcoholic drink. Fr. Mathew, a Capuchin priest, was invited to give a charity sermon in St. Patrick's church on Wednesday 20th January 1841. He was a household name throughout Ireland, as the great Temperance crusader, and drew large crowds both to the church (a ticket only event) and to the Big Meadow, a short distance away the following day.  Fr. Mathew tackled the great social ill of people drinking too much and travelled the country giving people the pledge to stay off alcohol.

Huge crowds in the Big Meadow and the Church

 It is estimated that upwards of 20,000 people heard Fr. Mathew speak in the church and at the outdoor rally in 'The Big Meadow.' This today is the location of Coláiste Cholmcille the community school.The town band played “See the Conquering Hero Come” and Ballyshannon never witnessed such an influx of people in the days when most people would have walked to the event. The event was also a fundraiser for the building of the new St. Patrick’s Church which had been badly damaged in The Night of the Big Wind in 1839. A well-known Dublin architect, J. B. Kean, prepared the plans and specifications for parish priest, Fr. Cummins, and the building contract for St. Patrick’s Church was granted to Daniel Campbell, Pettigo, who commenced work in 1842. The foundation stone was laid in May 1842 by Rt. Rev. Dr. Mc Gettigan.
Sheil House adjoined St. Patrick’s Church and today is the property of Kilbarron parish and is occupied by the Health Service Executive. The church car park was at one time the beautiful garden of the Sheil family who are still remembered because Simon Sheil left money for the building of the Sheil Hospital. An unusual entry in the diary of Mary Anne Sheil who lived in Sheil House is recorded on the 27th January 1844: “I saw the altar going to the chapel this day. It has been here for nearly two years but now that the windows are in they can bring it home. If we live a short time I dare suppose, we shall see a glorious new one in it”.

Fr. Mathew rally at St. Patrick's Church and The Big Meadow 1841

Those were the days

The Temperance movement was very strong at that time when Fr. Mathew visited Ballyshannon on this day, 20th January and on the following day. On  Easter Monday there was another  great procession of tee-totallers, followed by a mass and later in the year a collection was taken up for Fr. Matthew’s Temperance Crusade. In October 1841 a Temperance gathering in St. Patrick's Church saw around 1,000 people taking the pledge.The promise to stay off drink led to less crime being committed, less poverty and helped to put an end to the savage faction fights which were widespread in this and other parts of the country.

Read about local events in the 1918 Election, the War of Independence,  the Civil War and the Boundary Commission which established the border in "Ballyshannon Genealogy and History". Also includes lots of local history on Kilbarron and Magh Ene areas. Also lots on how to trace your ancestors.

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

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