Saturday, 12 September 2020

One of the Most Beautiful Landmarks in Ballyshannon and the Curious Case of the Monk's Head

The Monk's Head

The recent amazing discovery of a bronze age urn at the construction works at the Sheil Hospital recalls to mind the Monk's Head which was in Catsby Cave close to the Cistercian Abbey of Assaroe in Ballyshannon. Read about Catsby Cave, one of the most beautiful landmarks in Ballyshannon, a poem written in the cave in 1830 that has turned up in Norway, and the mystery of the  Monks's Head which has a new home in Rossnowlagh. 

On the bank of the Abbey River, behind the ruins of Abbey Assaroe and the Abbey graveyard lies the mysterious cavern known as Catsby in a secluded and peaceful location well worth a visit. 

Catsby Cave

Catsby Cave is associated with religious ceremonies and the cavern contains two bullauns and an altar hewn from the rock. Bullauns were traditionally used as baptismal fonts and are associated with early Christianity. 
A stone sculptured head was in Catsby until fairly modern time and some people remember when this stone head was in Catsby Cave. It  was removed for safe-keeping to Maynooth College Museum about 70 years ago. It has since been returned to the area and can be viewed at the County Donegal Historical Museum in the Franciscan Friary in Rossnowlagh. Credit to the Franciscans for providing free accommodation for the Museum and curator Louis Emerson who preserved many artefacts since the museum opened in 1952.
A close examination of the Monk’s Head, which is said to date to pagan times reveals a number of features. There are no ears visible on the stone sculpture although it is felt that the left ear may be hidden under a lock of hair. The head has a hairline also there is a moustache with chin beard and the head was designed to be built into a wall. Abbey Assaroe above Catsby was founded in the late 12th century but it is believed that the stone head dates to a much earlier period. Pagan and Christian practices merged in some instances as with wells.The meaning of the place name, Catsby, has never been satisfactorily explained, it is possible that it refers to the steep incline overhead. However Mr. Quinn who reported to the Ordnance Survey in the 1830s called this place 'Cat's Bay' or the bay of the cats !
The Priest, the Drummer Boy and Penal Times
Local tradition is that Catsby was used as a site to say Mass in Penal times, as it was sheltered and secluded, and any approaching military from the town could be observed. According to folklore, Catsby was the scene of an incident between the military and a priest at a mine entry beside Catsby.
 “During penal times a priest was reading Mass there one Sunday. The military who had a barrack in the town heard of this and came to arrest him but he escaped into the mine. A drummer boy followed him and the military waited for some time but he nor the priest never returned and were never heard of since.”

    Catsby Cave on left and  another cave on right which may be the legendary
priest's cave. There also was a cave beside the Abbey bridge pictured below.

A Popular Walk 200 Years Ago
 The walk from the town to the Abbey and along the bank of the river past the Abbey Mill has always been popular with local people and Mary Anne Sheil in her diary written in 1844 recalled one such walk with her sisters and a local doctor. 
“Julia, Caroline, Dr. Swan and I went a delightful walk to the Abby, sat a long time in the cave at Catsby, talked over the ancient glories of the Abby. Dr. Swan told us “the story of a nun”, after a long and very pleasant seat; we took our way through the village and came home safe at five o’ clock”.

The beautiful Abbey bridge and river near Catsby Cave

A Poem on Catsby Discovered in Norway 200 Year's Ago
 A poem written in Catsby Cave Ballyshannon, on the 21st December 1830, has  been located in a library in Trondheim in Norway, by a researcher Eva Hov who has provided me with much material, since 2006, on a branch of the Allingham family who went to live in Norway. Eva has visited Ballyshannon on a number of occasions since 2006 and today is one of the foremost authorities on the poet William Allingham's family roots. In my earlier book "Ballyshannon and Surrounding Areas. History, Heritage and Folklore" (now out of print) there is a chapter on the discoveries Eva made in Norway and local Ballyshannon links that we established.
The poem was written by Mary Anne Allingham (an aunt of William Allingham, the Poet) to her nephew in Norway and shows that Catsby Cave was popular with local people over 200 years ago. Many walked from the town  on a good afternoon and took in the Mill, the Abbey bridge, St. Patrick's Well and Abbey Assaroe.
Recent restoration work at the nearby Mill Wheel and the preservation of many valuable carved stones from the Abbey of Assaroe are well worth a look in this beautiful area of  Ballyshannon.

Lines Written in Catsby Cave (1830)
Five years have fleeted o’er me since last I entered here;
 Since last I saw before me thy cave O! Catsby dear. 
And o’er my bosom stealing as I seat me on this stone; 
There comes a saddened feeling with the thoughts of days now flown. 
Yet I would not their returning if a wish would bring them back; 
But it sets the heart a mourning to look along life's track.
 And see so many hours have wasted been in vain; 
How many of life's flowers lie withered on the plain 
The Summer sun was shining when I last sat in this cave; 
The summer flowers were twining, the birds sweet music gave. 
Now the torrent wildly flowing is the music meets my ear,
 And instead of flowers glowing but withered leaves are here. 
Yet, see! over yon rock streaming in wreaths all brightly green; 
Like hope, o’er this life beaming the ivy plant is seen. 
Tho' all beneath is shaded by winters hand unkind;
 Green ivy keep unfaded like hope within the mind.

 M.A. Allingham

Catsby Cave in September 2020

Next Blog on Wednesday next 16th September:

 " Memories of the Biggest Day of the Year In Ballyshannon"



Limited edition quality hardback with dust jacket as above available in A Novel Idea and Local Hands Ballyshannon and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. Also available for postage from anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com

Topics include: How to go about Tracing your Roots/The first settlers in the area/ Newly researched history of the town of Ballyshannon and the townlands in Kilbarron and Mágh Éne parishes/ Records of the first travellers and tourists to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Belleek, Rossnowlagh and Ballintra/An aerial guide to place names along the Erne from Ballyshannon to the Bar/Flora and Fauna of the area/ A history of buildings and housing estates in the locality/Graveyard Inscriptions from the Abbey graveyard, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s /Rolling back the years with many memories of the Great Famine, Independence struggle, hydro-electric scheme, Gaelic games, boxing, handball, Boy Scouts, soccer, mummers, characters, organisations, folklore and lots more.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Two Ballyshannon Men and their Amazing Generosity to their Home Town Remembered

The Sheil Hospital built in 1894 thanks to Dr. Simon Sheil
Two Ballyshannon men who spent their lifetimes working in the local community, deserve to be remembered for their amazing generosity in providing funding for facilities which are benefitting the wider area to this day. They left the modern equivalent of over one million euro  for the  construction of two of the finest buildings in Ballyshannon which are both used for the medical welfare of the wider community in the Ballyshannon area. 

One of the men died in 1852 and left a substantial sum of money for the building of a convent in the town which today houses the newly opened HSE Primary Care Health Centre. The other benefactor died in 1889 and left a substantial sum of money for the building of a hospital for the poor which still survives today as the Sheil Hospital. This hospital is to be extended with a 3 storey extension at the rear to accommodate 80 new bed units. Both buildings are very important parts of the built heritage in the ancient town of Ballyshannon.
Artist impression of 3 storey extension to the Sheil Hospital with 80 new bed units construction to commence in 2020. ( courtesy of John Hayes HSE)
Who were these two men who left huge sums of money for the building of a convent and a hospital?

 Little did they know that they were laying the foundations for the provision of modern facilities for health care in the community. Without their initial generosity who knows if the recent major projects by the HSE would ever have been developed in Ballyshannon?  Dr. Simon Sheil is still remembered as the hospital he endowed is named in his memory; but the second man has been largely forgotten and William Stephens deserves to be remembered also, for providing funds for the building of a convent which served the community since the 19th century. 

Many people still remember  William Stephens' descendants Cecil Stephens, Postmasrer, at the Hardware and Fancy Goods stores in Castle Street and Brian Stephens in the extensive Drapery store where Saimer Court is today. The impressive  Sheil House still stands on College Street at the entrance to the St. Patrick's Church carpark where the HSE offices are today.

The full story of William Stephens and Simon Sheil and their very generous gift to their hometown is contained in this year's Donegal Annual 2020

This beautiful building was constructed thanks to the bequest of William Stephens.
Renovation and additional buildings  were recently added to the original Convent in Ballyshannon. the character of the original building is beautifully kept as you can see in this image ( Courtesy of John Hayes  HSE)
Full article with rare photographs and lots of information about both men is contained  in the  recently published 2020 Donegal Annual entitled "Two Ballyshannon Philanthropist and their Legacy"  by Anthony Begley. The 2020 Donegal Annual has a wonderful selection of stories and history from all parts of County Donegal. Editor Sean Beattie. 
The Annual is available in A Novel Idea Ballyshannon  and Four Master's Bookshop Donegal Town and also from Una McGarrigle Parkhill Ballyshannon . 



Limited edition quality hardback with dust jacket as above available in A Novel Idea and Local Hands Ballyshannon and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. Also available for postage from anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com

Topics include: How to go about Tracing your Roots/The first settlers in the area/ Newly researched history of the town of Ballyshannon and the townlands in Kilbarron and Mágh Éne parishes/ Records of the first travellers and tourists to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Belleek, Rossnowlagh and Ballintra/An aerial guide to place names along the Erne from Ballyshannon to the Bar/Flora and Fauna of the area/ A history of buildings and housing estates in the locality/Graveyard Inscriptions from the Abbey graveyard, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s /Rolling back the years with many memories of the Great Famine, Independence struggle, hydro-electric scheme, Gaelic games, boxing, handball, Boy Scouts, soccer, mummers, characters, organisations, folklore and lots more.

Monday, 13 July 2020

A JuniorBallyshannon Brass and Reed Band in Balyshannon in 1973 . Can you recognise anyone?



A Junior  Ballyshannon Brass and Reed  Band in May 1973  in the ESB field on the Knather at the Vocational School Sports Day

front (l.tor.) Ann Duffy, Christine Gallagher, Kieran McShea, Thomas Downey, Thomas Gallagher, Terence Lawne.
Middle row (l.tor.) Bernard Monaghan, Patricia Fox, Eleanor McLoughlin, Brenda Fannon, Helen Hoey, Niall Tuohy, Patrick McShane (instructor)
Back row (l.to.r.) Eileen Hoey, Geraldine McShea, Liam Thomas, Pauric McMahon, Geraldine Monaghan and Bernadette Gallagher

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Ballyshannon Imprisonments, Whippings and Transportation to Van Diemen’s Land

                      The Market House in the centre of the bottom photograph 
                       was formerly the Courthouse. In the middle photograph the 
                       steps into the Market House are visible. David Carter's shop
                       mentioned  below was on the left in Castle Street. Note
                       the different types of transport in the photos. 5 at least! Note
                       also the time taken between two of the photographs
Tough sentences handed down by the courts for thefts in Ballyshannon in the 1800s. A number of people transported to Van Diemen's land (now Tasmania) in Australia for stealing clothes. 
Check out the most unusual and incredible crime that inmates of Ballyshannon Workhouse were accused of committing. Unbelievable but true!

Transported to Van Diemen’s Land
Theft of property was viewed very seriously in the past and those brought before the courts faced very severe sentences including being transported to Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land). The following five people were from the Ballyshannon area and were transported for various acts of stealing. They were sent to prison in Australia on the other side of the world.
  • In 1824 Alicia Leonard and Margaret alias Mary McManus were sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing wearing apparel in Ballyshannon. 
  • On 7th August 1833 Margaret McShee stole three dresses belonging to Margaret McAdam a dressmaker in Ballyshannon. She was before Donegal Assizes in March 1834 and was sentenced to be transported for 7 years.
  • Ellen Maguire was charged with having stolen goods on her person. She was sentenced to seven years transportation
  • On the 23rd of July 1840 at Donegal Assizes, Thomas Mc Cann was arrested for stealing wearing apparel at Ballyshannon on the 14th of July. The prisoner pleaded guilty and he said that he was in liquor at the time. His lordship said that in consequence of his being of good behaviour before that date he would sentence him to be transported for seven years! Seven years!
Prison and Public Whipping through Ballyshannon
Damage to property could result in a jail sentence and a public whipping through the streets of Ballyshannon as the first case below indicates
  • In 1823 John McGarrigle, James McEntire, Charles Judge, Michael and Owen McGarrigle were charged with pulling down a house near Ballyshannon the property of Mary McGarrigle. All found guilty and were to be imprisoned for a year. They were also to be publicly whipped through the town of Ballyshannon from the Bridge to the Fair Green on the following days- 12th April, 21st June, and 18th September.
  • Rose Doherty was found in David Carter’s shop with intention to steal and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. David Carter was the editor of the local newspaper called “The Ballyshannon Herald” and also owned a shop selling a variety of stationery on Castle Street in the town.
  • Terence McCawley was convicted for stealing a pig and was sentenced to four months imprisonment.
A Bizarre Offence at Ballyshannon Workhouse
What charge was brought against some inmates from the Workhouse?
A number of inmates from Ballyshannon Workhouse were brought to the court and charged with theft. They had absconded from the workhouse at different intervals and were charged with stealing the workhouse clothes which they were wearing at the time! Life was certainly tough for those poor inmates.
Ideal local gift a Limited edition quality hardback with dust jacket as above available in A Novel Idea and Local Hands Ballyshannon and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. Also available for postage from anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com

Topics include: How to go about Tracing your Roots/The first settlers in the area/ Newly researched history of the town of Ballyshannon and the townlands in Kilbarron and Mágh Éne parishes/ Records of the first travellers and tourists to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Belleek, Rossnowlagh and Ballintra/An aerial guide to place names along the Erne from Ballyshannon to the Bar/Flora and Fauna of the area/ A history of buildings and housing estates in the locality/Graveyard Inscriptions from the Abbey graveyard, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s /Rolling back the years with many memories of the Great Famine, Independence struggle, hydro-electric scheme, Gaelic games, boxing, handball, Boy Scouts, soccer, mummers, characters, organisations, folklore and lots more.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Australia Thanks Ballyshannon Today




 Mr. Robert Owen-Jones Charge d'Affaires in the Australian Embassy laid a
                wreath on behalf of the Australian people at the Orphan Girls Memorial in Ballyshannon
The Australian Embassy paid a special visit to Ballyshannon today to thank our community for remembering the 19 orphan girls who were shipped to Australia from Ballyshannon Workhouse at the height of the Great Famine. A wreath was laid by Mr. Robert Owen-Jones Charge d'Affaires of the Australian Embassy on behalf of the Australian people at the Orphan Girls Memorial in Ballyshannon.


Mr. Robert Owen-Jones Charge d'Affaires in the Australian Embassy visited a wet and windy Orphan Girls Memorial in Ballyshannon on Monday 29th June 2020 and expressed gratitude on behalf of the Australian people for remembering these forgotten girls who left Ballyshannon and made new lives for themselves in Australia.
Mr. Jones laid a wreath on behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people.



Anthony Begley returned thanks to the embassy for recognising the unique Orphan Girls Memorial in Ballyshannon which remembers 19 girls from areas around Ballyshannon in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal who left the workhouse at the height of the Great Famine in 1848. They contributed to Australian society in difficult times and a number of their descendants had visited the memorial in Ballyshannon in the past few years.
Pam Barker a great great grand daughter of one of the  orphan girls Mary Ann McDermott  had travelled from Sydney to unveil the monument in 2014. Mr. Barney McLoughlin Donegal County Council co-ordinated the embassy visit.

Eight of the orphan girls from the Ballyshannon area  are named on the Irish Famine Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney today. All 19 are named and remembered on the memorial in Ballyshannon. Further photos of the event will follow.




Saturday, 27 June 2020

A Ballyshannon Landmark. The Allingham Memorial on the Bridge



 The Allingham Memorial on the Bridge

125 years ago the Allingham Memorial was placed by townspeople on Allingham Bridge at Ballyshannon. 

Back in 1902 a tourist visiting the town asked the driver of the coach he was travelling in  what was the plaque about?

Tourist: Who was William Allingham?
Carman: He was an old residenther Sir.
Tourist: Well why was the tablet put up to him?
Carman: Just an ould residenther in the town sir. Nothing more

Memorial a Tribute to a Poet who Loved his Hometown

The memorial as we know was erected as a tribute to Ballyshannon born poet William Allingham (1824-1889). It was and still is frequently viewed by visitors to the town. 
William Allingham has also  been remembered with a plaque on his birthplace on the Mall. The bust of William Allingham which is now to be seen in the main public office of the Allied Irish Bank was originally located outside the bank in 1971. Allingham Park and the Helen Allingham Gallery in the Abbey Centre still recall his memory as does the Allingham Society which has been ongoing in a variety of forms since 1968.

Why was the Plaque placed on the Bridge?
William Allingham wished to be remembered on the bridge of 14 arches over the Erne and left the verse in his own handwriting which you can read on the plaque. The bridge of 14 arches was demolished when the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme was constructed in the 1940s. The Allingham Memorial was then put on the single-arch bridge as it is today. 
William Allingham  also wished that the Memorial should have a view of the Assaroe Falls but sadly today the only faint trace of the Falls are at the footbridge downstream. 


William Allingham put Ballyshannon on the Map
The unveiling of the Allingham Memorial in 1895 was carried out by Mr. Sweeney, Chairman of the Town Commissioners, who praised the poet for putting his hometown on the map and said that they were delighted to remember his achievements. He also praised the inclusion of the harp and the  shamrock and other national symbols on the tablet made of Mountcharles stone and welcomed the poet’s brother Hugh Allingham as a representative of the family. 
Hugh Allingham symbolically handed over the memorial to the care of the inhabitants of the town. Hugh Allingham was manager of the Provincial Bank which is nearby and is The Allied Irish Bank today.
William Allingham’s love of his hometown is obvious in poems such as “Adieu to Ballyshannon”       and “Abbey Assaroe” and he has also written a ghostly poem “The Goblin Child” about an incident    at the Barracks still standing beside the bridge.  Many visitors to the town are familiar with his poem “The Fairies."



William Allingham-The Poet of Ballyshannon

Limited edition quality hardback with dust jacket as above available in A Novel Idea and Local Hands Ballyshannon and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. Also available for postage from anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com

Topics include: How to go about Tracing your Roots/The first settlers in the area/ Newly researched history of the town of Ballyshannon and the townlands in Kilbarron and Mágh Éne parishes/ Records of the first travellers and tourists to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Belleek, Rossnowlagh and Ballintra/An aerial guide to place names along the Erne from Ballyshannon to the Bar/Flora and Fauna of the area/ A history of buildings and housing estates in the locality/Graveyard Inscriptions from the Abbey graveyard, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s /Rolling back the years with many memories of the Great Famine, Independence struggle, hydro-electric scheme, Gaelic games, boxing, handball, Boy Scouts, soccer, mummers, characters, organisations, folklore and lots more.