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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com






Monday, 30 April 2018

Customs for May Day in the Ballyshannon area


May Day Customs would have been popular in the 1920s in the 
Back Street and in the town and countryside


People long ago had great faith in customs and traditions which were handed down through the generations. People were also very much in tune with the seasons and had customs to go with particular times of the year. Certain times of the year such as Halloween, Bonfire Night, New Year’s Day and May Day had their own special customs in this area.



·         A May Eve custom was to collect yellow flowers like buttercups from the meadows. They were made into wreaths and hung over doors. These flowers were supposed to bring good luck all the year round to those who passed under them

·         On the evening before the First of May ashes were put on the doorstep and in the morning, if a footprint was turned inwards in the ashes, it was a sign of a marriage in the house, but if the footprint pointed outwards it was a sign of a death in the house

·          If you got up before the sun rose on May morning and washed your face in the dew you would be good-looking for the rest of that year

·         On May-Eve some people went out and gathered a branch of a rowan berry tree. This was put around the churn dash and people say they will never want butter the whole year round. In some places a May Queen was chosen and on May Day she was crowned with a wreath of flowers.

·         May day was an important day of the year as it was the beginning of summer. It was a lucky day to move cattle to pasture.

·          The 1st of May was Hiring Day.

·         Old May Day, 11th of May, was when young calves were put out for the first time and then they wouldn’t get a cold.

·         Any person suffering from bronchitis was said to get worse or even die in May.

·         Marriage in May was considered unlucky and also it was unlucky to see strangers walking on the land on May morning.

·          It was lucky to pull a rope through the dew on May morning, and then put it under a churn which would be filled with butter the next day.

·          May flowers were pulled and one put at each door and window, and the Blessed Virgin walked on these on May Eve. The McNamara family carry on this custom on West Rock and others robably do the same elsewhere

·          The water to be used for churning on May Day had to be the first water taken from the well before sunrise on May morning.

·         A householder watched to see his neighbour’s smoke before he would put on his fire. No coals were let out of the house on May Day, neither was milk given to a neighbour that day.


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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com





Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Mystery of the Tunnels in Munday's G.A.A. Field in Ballyshannon



Munday's field on left of Famine Orphan Girls' Memoriala nd the workhouse.
Fr. Tierney Park and Brothers' field on right


Over thirty years ago the Aodh Ruadh club in Ballyshannon purchased Munday’s field in 1987 from a local shop- keeper and farmer, John Munday of West Rock. The field has been transformed into a centre of excellence for Gaelic games. When the local G.A.A club was founded in 1909 their teams played their first hurling and football matches in what was known as the Workhouse Meadow and is today known as Munday's field. The presence of a series of tunnels in the field has given rise to much speculation as to their use. The former owner John Munday, operated market gardening from the field and on occasions part of the tunnels collapsed. His opinion was that the tunnels of brick may have been sewers of some type which probably originated in the nearby workhouse. Some speculation that the tunnels travelled to the Erne at Portnason and were used to bring bodies from the workhouse can be discounted. Records indicate that the remains of Famine victims were brought through the centre of the town, on handcarts, to the Pauper’s grave, for burial in the field next to St. Anne’s Church on Mullaghnashee which has been recently opened to the public.  In later years the coffins were brought by horse and cart. It is possible that the suggestion of tunnels leading from Munday’s field to the Erne is linked in some peoples mind with Portnamara. Portnamara dates to a much earlier period than the Famine and was used to carry remains to the Abbey cemetery in the days before bridges were built. John Munday, at one time, was ploughing and uncovered the outline of tennis courts, near the West Rock gate, which indicated the field being used as a recreation park.
The Tunnels in Munday's field.
An interesting speculation as to the purpose of the tunnels was raised in a survey in 1942. The survey refers to a souterrain in a field at the rear of Dr. Gordon’s house (now Conor Carneys) on West Rock in what is now Munday’s field: Remarkable series of underground passages running in various directions thro’ field covering a couple of acres. Entrance now closed up, but many evidences of subsidence. Dr. Gordon has had several caved-in parts filled up, owing to grazing cattle. We raised sod and stones at one of these holes and saw part of passage, about 6 foot deep and 6 foot wide, roofed by large flat hewn stones. Roof few inches below the sod. Dr. Gordon says passages are built of these stones and also partly with bricks,with timber baulks. No account of origin available. Possibly used by smugglers.Two high mounds, built, one at each end of field, may have been look-outs. (In 1662 Ballyshannon was made landing port for customed goods.) 
The mention of two high mounds recalls that these mounds were visible in the field up to about twenty five years ago when they were levelled. In former times Munday’s field was formerly known as Mc Clelland’s field, as the Mc Clelland family lived in the residence at the entrance to the field, from West Rock.   There is a ghost story connected with a tree in Mc Clelland’s field: It is said that a soldier hung himself on this tree. Every night at 12 o’ clock he rides around the field on a white horse. He stands on the horses back, takes the reins and ties on to a branch. Then he puts the rope around his neck and then he hits the horse a kick. The horse goes to the gate and onto the road. Then the horse goes out the Finner road. Mc Clelland’s Field was also known as the Rock Enclosure and a folklore story of about a hundred years ago tells of a discovery in the field. This story told by Mickie Rooney Bundoran whose family came from the Rock.
"In Mc Clelland’s field, now known as the Rock Enclosure, my father tells me a story when he was a boy thirty years ago. He and some other boys from the West Rock where he was born used to go up to the field to play and they found this cave. They got some candles, lit them and went into the cave and found some old English swords and brought them to their homes. They were told by the aged people who lived on the Rock who owned the swords and that the caves were a place of hiding for our priests and people of long ago from the English soldiers."
1909 Notice of Aodh Ruadh A.G. M. 


Munday’s field will witness generations of football, hurling and camogie players carrying on a proud sporting tradition as they train and play on the ground where Aodh Ruadh played their first match in 1909. Munday's field was officially opened on 29th May 2009 and provides new state of the art  flood lit playing fields. So this field was known in the past  as the Workhouse Meadow, The Rock Enclosure, McClelland's field and for well into the future will be known as Munday's Field.

500 pages of local history for Ballyshannon and surrounding areas plus lots of  photos available in Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. For postal queries contact anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com


Friday, 16 March 2018

Images of St. Patrick's Well in Ballyshannon for St. Patrick's Day and how the station worked



St. Patrick's grotto at the Abbey Well
One of the stations that pilgrims prayed at









    Gathering water from the well






Tying rags  in an ancient custom
Catsby Cave near St. Patrick's Well  at Ballyshannon

Listening to the history of the Abbey Well with Anthony Begley 
local historian













The station involved reciting set prayers and moving around beds in a similar manner to Lough Derg at the present time. According to folklore the station at the Abbey Well went as follows: Fifteen pebbles were picked from the river bed or station bed and pilgrims began by saying, one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Creed while kneeling at the well. Then going sun wise they knelt at each bed, saying one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and one Creed. A pebble was tossed into each bed. The round of five beds was completed three times and the station was concluded by taking three sips of water from the well and saying a rosary at the grotto. A rag or a medal was left on the bushes near the well


Rag Tree with the Abbey bay in the background















Happy St. Patrick's Day from Ballyshannon 

The photographs above were taken by Pauline Kilfeather, Coláiste Cholmcille, on a history walk/talk to the Abbey, which  I gave to students  from the local community school .


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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com






Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Great Snow of 1947 in Ballyshannon







Ballyshannon in the snow 2010. (Andrew Fenton)

The Great Snow of 1947 in Ballyshannon

                                                                             Anthony Begley “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History”
The current snow blizzards gripping the country are well reported in the media and local people look back to previous spells of Arctic weather to compare how people coped with the situation in the Ballyshannon area. Folk memory of the big snow which fell all over Ireland in February 1947 and which resulted in 20-30 days of snowfall between February and March is readily recalled by those who lived through this phenomenon. The snow which fell was of a dry powdery type and driven by an east wind it rapidly covered the landscape and enveloped ditches and electricity poles. Farmers had the added difficulty of foddering cattle and sheep and transport ground to a halt which resulted in continued shortages which followed on from the World War. The cold spell continued into March with Arctic conditions  and snowdrifts causing chaos to people’s lives. The snow was still visible on the mountains near Ballyshannon in the month of May.

The Year of the Big Snow in Ballyshannon 1947- A Lost Car
 Local people can still recall the Big Snow of 1947 when there were immense drifts of snow obliterating pathways, roads and significant landmarks.  In Ballyshannon heavy snow fell for 24 hours commencing on Tuesday 25th of February 1947.On Tuesday transport was able to run  during the day but by nightfall an easterly gale piled the snow into drifts and filled roads and lanes  to hedge-top level. The last bus from Ennniskillen to Ballyshannon was snowbound on Tuesday. The G.N.R. train due in the town at 9 p.m. did not arrive as the line was blocked at Irvinestown. Mr. William Carson, the station master, and his crew, brewed tea for the 20 passengers who were bound for Kesh, Pettigo, Ballyshannon and Bundoran. A coach was specially heated and  the passengers were made comfortable for the night. On Wednesday they got meals in an hotel in Irvinestown and the train then ploughed its way through the drifts reaching Ballyshannon at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. By Wednesday the streets of Ballyshannon were deep in snow and all movement of vehicular traffic ceased.  The only bus to reach Ballyshannon  was the workers bus fromTullaghan driven by Jack McAllister which took four hours and twenty minutes for the short journey. All other traffic into the town from the Sligo direction was hampered when a G.N.R. lorry got stuck in a snow drift near Castegal Post Office. This road remained closed until Friday of that week. Evidence of how deep the snow drifts were revealed in an incident on the Sligo road where a motorist got stuck and went for assistance. On his return he was unable to find the car as it was buried in a snowdrift.
Power failure and a novel way to deliver milk
Bread vans were unable to travel but townspeople were fortunate as The Ballyshannon Bakery supplied their needs. Rural milk sellers braved the elements to deliver milk in the town and Mr. Ward of Higginstown had a novel delivery method as he delivered milk with a horse-drawn sleigh. Secondary roads were completely impassible and those who worked in the town  had to pick tracks through the fields. Ballyshannon ground to a halt with the G.N.R. station closed and all work on the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme ceased. Curiously enough “The Wee Train” as the C.D.R train was called, only lost one hour off its full schedule and was the only lifeline with the outside world. An electrical breakdown at Shannon blacked out the Erne and Abbey Cinema, the Convent and the Sheil Hospital. The old Blackstone generator of the Myles Electrical Works provided the rest of the town with electricity until the E.S.B. resumed service on Thursday. News from the papers and letter communication were hampered by the snow drifts.
Town Shutdown
One bright spot was that schools were closed and the young and not so young had great fun with snowball fights and sleighing on the peaceful streets of the town. A funeral in the town on Wednesday required six men to carry the coffin with hand slings as it was impossible for the hearse to travel. A local turf lorry had an adventurous journey from Gweedore on Wednesday afternoon as it set out for Ballyshannon at 3 p.m. They dug their way through snow drifts at Doochary and Glenties and eventually made it as far as Ballintra in the early hours of Thursday morning. They encountered their deepest drifts there but eventually made it to Ballyshannon, sleepless,foodless and exhausted at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Train services resumed on Thursday with outstanding mail arriving in town but only the Belfast and Derry newspapers arrived. No bus had arrived from Sligo by Friday. It was hoped to use an Erne bulldozer to clear the streets and gangs of council men were employed to clear the station and the Beleek, Bundoran and Donegal approaches into the town.

 The Winter of 1947 is frequently cited as a landmark event by those who lived through the arctic conditions and hardships of the time.

500 pages of local history plus lots of  photos available in Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. For postal queries contact anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com



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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com