Saturday, 12 May 2018

Bundoran, Kinlough, Belleek, Rossnowlagh, Ballintra and Ballyshannon workhouse opened 175 years ago

Famine Orphan Girls Memorial Ballyshannon
Only one in Ireland
One hundred and seventy five years ago, on the 8th May 1843, a workhouse serving parts of Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal was opened in Ballyshannon. With the passage of time the workhouse has been forgotten in most of the  areas it served. In a sense its location in Ballyshannon has given the false impression that the 900 poor people who were in the buildings, at the height of the Great Famine in 1847,  were from that town and surrounding area. During the Famine years upwards of 1,000 people died in this workhouse and they originally came from areas in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal. Recent research I completed on 19 Orphan girls from Ballyshannon Workhouse, who were shipped to Australia in 1848,  revealed that these girls were from  Belleek, Mulleek, Ballyshannon , Kinlough and  other areas served by this workhouse. Their names are recorded on a Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial, beside the Workhouse in Ballyshannon, and this heritage also belongs to the wider area in the neighbouring counties, as the girls were from these communities. Ballyshannon Workhouse served the poor and disadvantaged from the following areas; Bundoran, Kinlough, Glenade, Ballyshannon, Ballintra, Belleek, Innismacsaint, Churchill, Devenish and Boho.
The workhouse at Ballyshannon has still got the outline of the original building and is well worth a visit by locals, visitors and school groups, who can explore the exterior and visit the Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial. This is the only complete workhouse in County Donegal, although it is disintegrating at an alarming rate.
Workhouse in Ballyshannon still surviving after 175 years

Black ‘47’ with 900 people in the workhouse
The year 1847 is aptly called ‘Black ‘47’ in Irish history as Famine reached crisis proportions. People from parts of Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal flocked to this workhouse and, by January 1847, overcrowding became a problem. The medical officer recorded a wide incidence of diarrhoea and bowel complaints. The lack of a proper water supply added to the problems and hygiene was a major cause for concern. Alarm was also expressed that Famine fever was contagious and that those affected, should be segregated to curtail the spread of disease. Temporary sheds were built on the workhouse grounds in July 1847. Concern was also expressed at the accumulation of seven bodies in the mortuary in May as there was resistance to providing burial ground “at several burying grounds in the neighbourhood”.  A very conservative estimate of 360 deaths would indicate the number who perished in the workhouse in 1847.

Mary Allingham from Belleek  one of the 19  orphan girls who went  to Australia from Ballyshannon 1848
She died 100 years ago in 1917

Famine Orphan Girls’ Shipped to Australia
Nineteen orphan girls who were in Ballyshannon Workhouse, were shipped to Australia, at the height of the Great Famine in 1848. The girls have only recently been remembered in 2014, when an Orphan Girls’ Memorial was opened beside the Workhouse. The girls who  left Ballyshannon in October 1848 were: Mary Allingham Belleek, Jane Carleton Fermanagh, Jane Carberry Ballyshannon area, Ellen Feely Ballyshannon area, Sally Lennon Belleek or Mulleek, Margaret McBride and Ann McBride were sisters listed from Ballyshannon with their parents from the Belleek area, Mary McCrea and  Letty McCrea were sisters, Mary born in Belleek and Letty in Ballyshannon area,  Mary Ann McDermott and  Sarah McDermott were sisters with Mary Ann born in Belleek and Sarah born in the Ballyshannon area, Jane McGowan born Kinlough Co. Leitrim, Mary McGowan born Kinlough Co. Leitrim, Mary McGuire from the Ballyshannon area, Ann Muldoon born Mulleek Co. Fermanagh, Rose Reel born in U.S.A., Ann Rooney born in Ballyshannon area, Bridget Smith born Ballyshannon area and Margaret Sweeney birthplace unclear . It was agreed that each of the girls would be equipped with 6 shifts, 2 flannel petticoats, 6 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes and 2 gowns one of which must be made of some warm material. It was envisaged that it would cost Ballyshannon workhouse £5 per head to equip the girls and that the remaining costs would be borne by colonial funds.

Pam Barker a descendant of one of the orphan girls with
Anthony Begley, Peter Barker and Paddy Donagher
at Orphan Girls' Memorial

Orphan Girl Descendant opens Famine Memorial at Ballyshannon Workhouse
In the wider area around Ballyshannon, until recently, these Famine orphan girls have been largely forgotten .In 2014 a walled memorial, with their names and a brief history of how they came to be shipped to Australia, was erected to their memory. The memorial includes a Famine pot which originally was used in the workhouse at Ballyshannon. Each orphan’s name has been inserted on a separate stone on the wall and information stones tell of their journey to Australia. The memorial site contains a flower garden and overlooks the girls’ quarters in the workhouse, which still survive. The Orphan Girls’ Memorial is located beside the workhouse buildings and opposite the Fr. Tierney G.A.A. Park on the Rock in Ballyshannon. The memorial is open to the public at all times and is signposted for visitors.In September 2014 a large crowd attended from the Belleek, Kinlough, Bundoran and Ballyshannon areas, for the ceremony at the new Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon, to welcome home a descendant of one of nineteen orphan girls who had left Ballyshannon workhouse during the Famine in 1848. Anthony Begley introduced Pam Barker and her husband Peter who had journeyed from Sydney, Australia to remember Pam’s great- great grandmother Mary Ann McDermott, originally from Belleek. She had left Ballyshannon along with 18 other girls from the nearby Fermanagh, Leitrim and Ballyshannon areas
In a dignified rose- laying ceremony to remember each of the girls, Cliodhna Kerr and Aisling O’Connor narrated brief lives of the 19 orphan girls, their backgrounds in Ireland, and how they got on in Australia.  The rose laying ceremony was conducted by nineteen local women who each planted a rose in memory of an orphan. A number of Australia descendants of the orphan girls have visited the Memorial but as yet no local descendant from Leitrim, Fermanagh or Donegal has been identified.Their descendants in Australia today, are proud of the courage and resilience of these orphan girls in the face of hardship and dislocation. In some symbolic way the girls have come back to Ballyshannon
The Workhouse buildings, the Paupers’ Graveyard and the Famine Orphan Memorial are some of the saddest, but most historic sites still surviving in Ballyshannon, and are a source of great interest to visitors from Australia, America, Canada, the Continent, Britain and Ireland. They are an important part of the history of the oldest town in Ireland.

 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  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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