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

Saturday, 30 December 2017

“Farewell to Ballyshannon” and the Great Northern Railway 1867-1957

Emigrants leaving Ballyshannon railway station
This story of emigration from Ballyshannon GNR railway station was written over 100 years ago and deserves to be remembered as the only known story of emigration from this railway station. The railway opened 150 years ago in 1867 and closed 60 years ago in 1957.

“Farewell to Ballyshannon”

In 1894 Katherine Tynan, well known novelist and poet, wrote an original story, “Farewell to Ballyshannon” about a young boy’s departure from Ballyshannon. She had a great appreciation for the works of William Allingham, the poet, and based her story around his famous poem “The Winding Banks of Erne” also known as “Adieu to Ballyshanny”.  

“Farewell to Ballyshannon” is a story which tells of a young local boy called Johnny, being accompanied to the Great Northern Railway station in Ballyshannon, by his mother and his sister Susy, on the first stage of his emigration to America. The following is an extract from the story which reveals a continuous process of emigration from the Ballyshannon area and the sadness of those leaving, and those left behind. The narrator and a friend were also on the cart to the railway station. Johnny aged twelve years of age, with his innocent blue eyes under a thatch of fair hair, was dressed in hand-made clothes for the journey.  He had scarlet hand-knitted stockings and a muffler around his neck. His mother fussed nervously over him, about whether he had put spare socks in his bag and the sandwiches for the train journey. As the horse and cart pulled away from the hotel on Main Street for the railway on Station Road, a crowd of ragged onlookers gathered around the cart and the narrator reflected that Johnny might be as well away from this poverty.

 “He’s but a little chap to take the green fields to Amerikay alone. Ay surely!” said our carman, musingly. By this time we were rattling down the street, and over the bridge, from which we could see the silver spray of the falls below and hear the dull thunder. The other car was close behind, all the ragged retainers trotting cheerfully in its wake. “Is there much emigration from here?” one of us asked. “Ay surely”, said the man, “what else is there for them? Sure there isn’t enough to keep the life in the old bodies, unless the young goes away to Amerikay, and sends home the money. Och, sure, it’s the sorrowful place. If you was here last Wednesday you’d have seen a train full starting for Derry. An’ the same every Wednesday since March. I don’t like to be about the station myself them times. It’s terrible hard for them to go.

We asked one or two sympathetic questions. The carman answered us flicking his whip. “There’s some,” he said, “that’ll hold up strong and silent; and there’s others again, keenin’ worse than the old women at the wakes. There’s a girl now,” he broke off, pointing at a straight, handsome creature, who was just stepping across the street. “There’s a girl started for Amerikay, an’ kem home the next day. Ay, faith, it was the shortest voyage yet known in the town. She turned back from Derry. She said she didn’t give a thraneen for the passage money. She’d work her fingers to the bone to earn enough to keep the oul’ woman out of the workhouse, without lavin’ her childless.” He said it with a certain admiration and added immediately afterwards, “There’s not a handsomer nor cleverer girl than Nancy Goligher in the three baronies.”

Then he planted his feet firmly, as if he had talked enough, and began to sing in a deep baritone:

                                       Farewell to Ballyshanny! where I was bred and born;

                                       Go where I may, I’ll think of you, as sure as night or morn.

    The kindly spot, the friendly town, where every one is known,

                                      And not a face in all the place but partly seems my own;

There’s not a house or window, there’s not a field or hill,

But, east or west, in foreign lands, I’ll recollect them still.

                  I’ll leave my warm heart with you, Tho’ my back I’m forced to turn-

So adieu to Ballyshanny, and the winding banks of Erne!

It was the song of a townsman, William Allingham, who had won the delightful immortality of being the ballad maker to his birthplace. Under the circumstances the song sounded curiously mournful.

On arrival at the railway station some of Johnny’s friends came to see him off and Johnny was putting on a brave face.He swaggered up and down with his hands in his pockets and we could hear him committing rash promises of letter writing. Sometimes he blinked uneasily as if a little salt-water drop troubled his eyesigh.  His mother, dressed in black like a widow, explained that he was setting out for Florida to join his father who had been there eleven years. He had been unable to secure work in Ballyshannon due to the decaying trade of the town. Each year one of the children emigrated to join him in America. Only herself and Susy remained and Susy would follow on next year, when they could get the fare together. Susy was a sober-looking girl with glasses, who was the eldest child and was a great support to her mother.  Her mother would accompany Johnny as far as Derry, where he would go on alone on the ship to America. They shared the railway carriage with an American.The American looked out at the exquisite country and shook his head. It puzzled him that there should be such poverty to override God’s precept, that husband and wife shall not be parted, and here in a land covered with tiny green spears of corn, dappled with the gold and white of the pastures, under such a sky, by such a river full of rosy salmon.The story concluded with the train pulling out and the strains of Allingham’s famous emigrant ballad, “Adieu to Ballyshanny”, were whistled by the young boy who was joining the many people from the locality forced to emigrate by economic necessity.

Ballyshannon GNR station  in 1956, one year before it closed

Auld Lang Syne and the End of the Line

Hush! ‘tis Music! Sweetly stealing

Oh! How thrilling is the strain.

Cold the heart-devoid of feeling

If not touched with love, and pain.

Hush! ‘tis Music! Softly playing

Auld Lang Synes, heart stirring lay.

“Tho’ seas between us roar” `tis saying

“Forget not Auld Lang Synes blithe day.

“The Parting Hour” Mary Anne Allingham

Mary Anne Allingham was an aunt of the poet William Allingham, and she also wrote poetry, and was a major influence on encouraging her nephew to write poetry. In the verse above she is describing how she witnessed emigrants leaving by ship from the Mall Quay, to the musical  strains of  “Auld lang Syne” in the 1820s.  Forty years later the railway station replaced the Mall Quay in Ballyshannon as the place where families saw off their emigrant children, as they began their journey to Great Britain or America. Local shops and the railway company sold tickets which included all transfers to the emigrant’s final destination.  Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band were at the G.N.R station in 1910 to see off one of their comrades. William Mc Cartney resided in the Diamond in the town and had played a major role in the development of the  Band as a player, instructor and officer. The spirit of  comradeship in the band was reflected in the tremendous send off he was given on his departure for Canada, on Wednesday the 2nd of March1910.. On Wednesday 2nd March a large number of his friends accompanied him to the Railway station and as the train steamed in the Band played “Auld Lang Syne”. A similar tribute was paid to bandsman Joe Keown prior to his departure for America. It is interesting to recall that in earlier generations families had gathered at the Mall Quay  and “Auld Lang Syne” was  played for the emigrants, leaving by sea,  who might never have returned. No doubt the railway station was to be a scene of sadness for many, but with more modern transport the likelihood of seeing the emigrant return  was much higher.

Sadly both railways that served Ballyshannon closed in the 1950s, due to changes in modes of  transport, with increasing use of lorries and motor cars which resulted in less use of the railways . The upkeep of the railway lines would have required major investment and political commitment.  The Great Northern Railway was first to close, sixty years ago, on 30th September 1957. Two years later on 30th December  1959 the C.D.R. in Ballyshannon closed. The Great Northern Railway had provided a link for local people to get rail connections to locations in Northern Ireland and to Dublin. It also allowed the sporting public to attend Ulster finals in Clones and  All-Ireland finals in  Croke Park. The railway had opened up this region for tourism and business and provided a service to the community. The withdrawal of the railways was a major blow to the local economy and for a long period led to  increased isolation from the rest of the country.

A GNR railway bridge survives on the Ballyshannon-Bundoran By-Pass

Friday, 22 December 2017

A letter to a mother in Ballyshannon, on Christmas Eve, from the trenches in World War One

Letter sent from the trenches in World War One to Erne Street
This is the third in a series of Christmas memories from Ballyshannon. This third local history blog records a letter sent home in from the trenches in World War One to a mother in Ballyshannon. Places named in this blog are Rossnowlagh, Belleek, East Port, Finner, Main Street, Kilbarron, Rathmore, Enniskillen and Finner Camp.
Over 2,000 people worldwide, so far, viewed the Famine blog in which food was taken from a ship in the Channel at Ballyshannon on Christmas Eve. The previous week we heard about what Christmas shopping was like 125 years ago in Ballyshannon. Over 1,700 people worldwide, so far, viewed that blog.
There are lots of other local stories, and lots of rare photographs, in my local history book available in local shops for Christmas.  See details below.

At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, hundreds of local men had enlisted in the British Army at places like Finner Camp, Enniskillen and different places in Ireland. Many who had emigrated to Great Britain, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada joined in their adopted countries. They joined for a variety of reasons including the opportunity to earn a wage, for a sense of adventure and following the advice of political leaders like John Redmond and James Craig. One hundred years later we have an opportunity to read and hear, for the first time, about what life was like in the trenches, how they felt about the war and tragically reports of how some of them died. Over 60 local men died in the First World
Soldiers joining up at Finner Camp 1914

Letter from Patrick McDonagh to his mother on Christmas Eve

Before World War One began, Patrick McDonagh was an instructor in the Irish National Volunteers in his native Ballyshannon and also in the Belleek district. He would have enlisted in the army, on the advice of the Volunteer leader John Redmond. On the outbreak of war  in 1914 he served in the 2nd Division of the 4th Guards Brigade, British Expeditionary Force. He spent Christmas Eve in the trenches on the Western Front from where he wrote a letter home to his mother Bridget McDonagh 94 Erne Street, Ballyshannon.

I received your last letter all right. We spent our Christmas in the trenches, arriving at the firing line on Xmas Eve. I am sure that you all spent a good Xmas. It is hard on us out here, but these things cannot be helped. Hugh Moan is out here and in my Company. He was wounded early in the war and is out again. Paddy Fleming is here too, he came out from London and joined us while we were having the rest. The country is in a terrible state from heavy traffic. Thank God I am living and well and I shall hope to come out safe. I don’t think that the Germans will last much longer, let us hope so anyway. You can send me a tidy little parcel and make it as secure as possible and put my full address on it. Tell Tommy Moan that Hugh is doing fine and that he and I are together. Let me know how you all spent Christmas and tell me all the news. I had a narrow escape on Christmas Day. A German bullet struck the top of my rifle breaking the top off clean and wounding a sergeant behind me in the trench. I am more than lucky when I was not killed at different times. I am writing this letter in the firing line and hope that you will receive it safe. Tell all the people I am asking for them and hope to see them soon again. We have our priest and doctor with us and the wounded are well looked after, every man receiving the Last Rites of the Church. Isn’t that a great blessing? Good-bye and God bless you all and pray for us out here suffering terribly to save our country from ruin.

                                                                                                P. Mc Donagh

World War One postcard sent to Ballyshannon 

Eight Ballyshannon men who died are named on the Thiepval Memorial in France

Patrick’s brother, John McDonagh, was in the 7th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial along with seven other Ballyshannon men, as their bodies were not located. Those named on the Memorial  include; Corporal Patrick Melly, Finner, Sergeant Christopher Laird, Main Street, Private Robert Kearney, Rossnowlagh, Private Patrick Gallagher, Kilbarron, Private Frederick Armstrong, Private John Joseph McShea, Rathmore, and Private Hugh Moan.

Eight Ballyshannon men  remembered on Thiepval Memorial

Hugh Moan who later died at the Somme, is mentioned in the letter from Patrick McDonagh, above, He was also in the Irish Guards and, as indicated above, he was wounded and returned home for a time. During his recuperation in Ballyshannon, he visited his former workplace at “The Donegal Vindicator” newspaper on East Port, where he indicated to the editor that he didn’t think he would be killed by the Germans.
On the 23rd December 1916 Private Hugh Moan was killed in an accidental explosion in the trenches on the Somme -2 days before Christmas.

Ideal Christmas Gift

Local History book available in Local Shops. . "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

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

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

Friday, 8 December 2017

On this day 8th December One of the Orphan Girls who went from Ballyshannon to Australia died

Mary Allingham died on 8th December 1917
On this day 8th December 1917, one hundred years ago, Mary Allingham who had been an orphan in Ballyshannon workhouse died in Australia. Mary Allingham aged 16 was an inmate of Ballyshannon workhouse and her address on the emigration records was given as Billig, Fermanagh which most probably was Belleek, County Fermanagh. The workhouse at Ballyshannon served a wide area, including parts of Fermanagh and Leitrim, and so Mary Allingham would have entered the workhouse at Ballyshannon. Her parents were Robert Allingham and Fanny Marshall (both dead) and by religion were Church of Ireland. She was one of 19 girls who were shipped to Australia from Ballyshannon workhouse at the height of the Famine in 1848.
Mary Allingham in Sydney

The first mention of Mary is in the Bench of Magistrates Cases for Wollombi, a rural area to the north of Sydney.  On 28th July 1849 the Police Magistrate wrote
to Francis Merewether, Immigration Agent, referring him to the enclosed
affidavit relating to the conduct of the employers of Mary Allingham.  The Police Magistrate asked the Immigration
Agent to remove Mary from the service of Mr. John Waugh Drysdale and cancel her
apprenticed articles, and “place her in servitude where her morals and her
religious instruction (she being a member of the Protestant Church of England)
may be attended to; at the same time it may be necessary to mention that four
out of seven of the parties who made the affidavits are of the Roman Catholic
Church”.  Mary’s apprenticeship to the
Drysdales had been made on the recommendation of a Roman Catholic clergyman of

On 3rd September 1849 the Police Magistrate again wrote to the Immigration Agent acknowledging receipt of a Memorandum from the Orphan Immigration Committee.  The Magistrate had the honour to solicit that in consequence of Mary having accompanied her employer Mr. Drysdale to the district of Brisbane Water that he may be excused from proceeding under the Apprenticing Act at his Bench.  He begged leave to recommend that the matter be communicated to the Gosford Bench (Brisbane Water district) that it may give the necessary instructions for the Police to protect “that unfortunate female from being led into scenes of immorality and vice at Mangrove Creek, the present place of residence of Mr. Drysdale.”

On 27th September 1849 the Police Magistrate at Gosford wrote to the Immigration Agent referring to previous correspondence (as above).  The Magistrate reported that they had given their constable at Mangrove Creek express instructions to keep a strick (sic) surveillance over the parties and he had informed them that they have conducted themselves since their arrival in the district with every propriety. He begged to decline entering into any enquiries with the case initiated by the Police Magistrate at Wollombi.

The above account of her employment with John Drysdale reveals that, despite early concerns for her welfare, Mary Allingham continued in his service. The report by the police constable at Mangrove Creek, in September 1849, seems to have put an end to concerns over Mary Allingham’s welfare, as he indicated that there were no grounds for further enquiries.

Marriage of Mary Allingham 1852

Three years after arriving in Australia, on the 2nd August 1852 Mary Allingham was married to John Ellem in the Church of England at Gosford (Mangrove Creek) by Alfred Glennie in the presence of John and Harriett Ferguson of Mangrove Creek. Both John and Mary signed with their mark. John Ellem was a son of Richard Ellem and Charlotte Huxley. They farmed, growing corn and rearing cattle until 1871 when John joined his brothers on the long trek northward to the Clarence River. They raised a family of nine which eventually spread over many of the northern states. 
Mary was described as “very small and thin, about five feet tall, had a fair complexion and extremely red hair”. John Ellem was born on 20th December 1832 and died on the 16th June 1916. Mary Ellem (nee Allingham) died on 8th December 1917 and is buried in the old South Grafton cemetery. Her death certificate stated that her parents were Robert Allingham and Fanny Marshall. Mary Allingham is one of 19 girls remembered at the Orphan Girls memorial beside the workhouse in Ballyshannon. The Orphan Girls Memorial is opposite the Fr. Tierney Park and is open at all times

.Ideal Local Book for Christmas

  "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

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The railway arrived in Ballyshannon 150 years ago this year


The old GNR bridge on the right  with the new bridge on the
Ballyshannon-Bundoran By-Pass today.

The  Great Northern Railway, or the  G.N.R as it was known, opened for passengers in this area in June 1867 and brought major benefits to the business and local community in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas including  the seaside resort of Bundoran and the Pottery in Belleek. The line was extended to Belleek, Ballyshannon and Bundoran through the lobbying of John Caldwell Bloomfield and the directors of the Pottery at Belleek, who required the rail line to bring in raw materials and coal for their china. Ms. Bloomfield laid the foundation stone at the railway bridge over the Erne at Belleek on 2nd January 1865. The construction  of the railway line provided work and further employment was created when the Ballyshannon and Bundoran  Stations were up and running on the aptly named Station roads. Things were on the up in Ballyshannon as the town was lit by gas by the Ballyshannon Gas company in the1860s, on the site of the handball alley today. The railway provided  a service for local people and connected this part of the North-West with Northern Ireland and Dublin. In the eyes of some local people in Ballyshannon, the railway was to have an adverse effect on the harbour at Ballyshannon, as goods formerly brought by sea could now come by rail.  However the problems at the seaport of Ballyshannon were long running, involving the sand bar which made it hazardous and in some cases uninsurable for shipping. There was no stopping the onward spread of rail transport. The G.N.R. opened up new areas of the country and linked towns and villages over a wide area. Local communities benefitted from the arrival of the railway and the seaside town of Bundoran owes much of its early growth in tourism to the coming of the railway.

The Beginning of the Rail Link to Ballyshannon  7th June 1867

An initial meeting was held in Ballyshannon on the 25th of  September 1860, to establish a railway to link into the Omagh-Enniskillen line. Present were the local  landlords: Thomas Connolly, M.P., John Caldwell Bloomfield, William Johnston, Alexander Hamilton, John R. Dickson and Rev. G.N. Tredennick was Secretary. Agreement was reached to issues shares to the value of £200,000 at £10 a share and  with funding in place, representations were made to parliament for approval of the project.  Permission was granted and work started on the project with a spur at Bundoran Junction, as it was called, on the Omagh-Enniskillen line leading on to Irvinestown, Kesh, Pettigo, Castlecaldwell, Magheramena, Belleek, Ballyshannon and Bundoran. The first passenger train crossed the metal bridge at Belleek on Sunday, 7th June 1867, on its way to Ballyshannon and onwards to Bundoran.

The  railway brought universal time replacing local time which had been estimated by sunrise, sunset and the seasons. Greenwich Mean Time (G.M.T.) was introduced in 1880 and was regularly known as Railway Time. Clocks became the order of the day and punctuality became more a feature of peoples lives, as they now became aware of precise times with the arrival of the train.The railways also carried the post and  newspapers became more popular as they were now accessible daily. Goods could be ordered and sent by rail and commercial travellers became a feature of life in Ballyshannon. Local crafts and industries were to suffer from the competition of  cheaper manufactured goods arriving by rail. The local fisheries benefitted as  fish could be transported speedily by rail to reach Billingsgate Market in London the following day. Ice was transported from Belfast to Ballyshannon in five hundredweight blocks on the G.N.R. for Swan’s fishery which operated in what is now the Mulligan warehouse on the Mall. Wooden mallets were then used to break the ice which could last for the fishing season. Two trains left Ballyshannon station daily for Dublin at 9.35 a.m.and 4.30 p.m.

The corporate image was maintained by the G.N.R. Company with solid buildings, well crafted bridges and a smart uniform with a crest. (Part of the facade of the building still survives at Station Road Ballyshannon).  Like the banks the G.N.R. station was amongst the most impressive buildings in Ballyshannon. Excursions from Ballyshannon were promoted by the G.N.R. and  became a regular feature as many people had their first adventures into the exciting world of travel . Local people went as a community on  bank holiday excursions to places like Derry and Portrush. The railway brought in large numbers for local events such as The Harvest Fair Day, the Falgarragh Horse Races and the Gaelic League Aeridheachts which were held at Rockville close to the G.N.R. station. The local soccer club Erne F.C later called “The Blazers” used the railway to compete in the Irish Football Association Cup in 1907 against teams such as Omagh United and Strabane Celtic. Gaelic games fans travelled by rail to the Ulster finals and to All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park. Emigrants who in former times had emigrated from the Mall Quay or Derry now began their journey to Great Britain or America from the railway station at Ballyshannon. 

Approaching Bundoran station

Railway memories from World War One and the War of  Independence

The sight and sound of  British Army troops with their bands, marching through the Port from the G.N.R. station on their way to the Rock Barracks, was to be a regular occurrence for local people. The garrison was changed from time to time and the railway was especially busy at times of war. With the building of Finner Camp in the 1890s the soldiers marched out through the two Ports, to Portnason  and on to Finner. This was to be  a regular feature as soldiers went to Finner for training during  the First World War ( 1914-1918) and also left on the railway for the Western Front in France. Not generally known is that a detachment of 200 soldiers of the 12th Reserve Battalion Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers from Finner Camp left by G.N.R. special train from Ballyshannon to take part in putting down the 1916 Rising in Dublin early in Easter Week.

The Great Northern Railway Station at Ballyshannon was  the scene of an armed robbery during the War of Independence. In June 1921 armed men entered the station at Ballyshannon and destroyed five tons of oatmeal enroute to a firm in Garrison. In the same raid 63 pounds of chocolate consigned by Cadbury’s at Belfast for crown forces at Finner Camp as well as 72 paint brushes from the Ulster Brush Company in Belfast were destroyed. This was in retaliation for pogroms in Belfast and was part of a boycott of British goods and personnel during the War of Independence. The County Donegal Railway (C.D.R.) also suffered a number of hold ups by armed men during the War of Independence (1919-1921). In April 1920  the  fireboxes from two railway engines were removed at Bundoran station to obstruct the British military from using the railway. This was  intended to disrupt military intelligence and was part of a guerilla war waged during the War of Independence. Tuesday 7th March 1922 was an historic day in Ballyshannon as, following the War of Independence and the Treaty, British forces vacated the town for the final time. The Royal Irish Constabulary police force who were based at the barracks in College Street lined up outside the barracks and, as the clock struck eleven, the Irish Volunteer force moved in. Head Constable Doyle and the R.I.C. police officers marched off to board the Great Northern Railway at Station road. The barracks still stands opposite the former Vocational School.

Pat Quinn of Corlea, some years ago,  in an interview with Martin Mc Cann, a student at Ballyshannon Vocational School, who was part of a group doing a project on the railways, recalled memories of working on the Great Northern Railway. He started working as a painter on the railway in 1929, worked for a time at laying rails at Belleek, and spent years as a track worker. In the mornings he would set out walking from Belleek Barracks to Ballyshannon. Every farmer who had land on either side of the railway had a crossing. Pat checked to see that the gates on the crossings were secured. There were two crossings between Belleek and Ballyshannon. One was a level crossing at Maggie Dohertys. The second was at Annie McCabe’s (Annie McCaffreys). There were signals at these gates, two on each side. If the train was coming from Belleek, the gate next Belleek was opened first. At Ballyshannon there was a distant signal and a home signal. The distant signal was about a half a mile out the Bundoran line and a couple of hundred yards away from the cabin. Pat carried a box  containing fog signals and these were activated if he noticed anything wrong on the line. The safety of passengers and crew depended on the signal system working properly.

The Emergency and The Great Snow of 1947

The G.N.R. provided an essential service, during the Emergency 1939-1945, when petrol was in short supply for private use. The Bundoran Express from Dublin to Bundoran was introduced after the Second World War and it also led to an increased popularity for the pilgrimage at Lough Derg in Pettigo. In the autumn and winter the Sugar Train also ran  from Dungannon to Bundoran on Sundays. This train allowed passengers  to stock up on sugar and other items which were scarce in the North. Smuggling was quite prevalent and in October 1942 the customs introduced a lady searcher to check for smuggled goods at the G.N.R. station in Ballyshannon. Folk memory of the big snow which fell all over Ireland in February 1947 and which resulted in 20-30 days of snowfall is readily recalled by those who lived through the period. The G.N.R. train due in Ballyshannon on Tuesday 27th February at 9 p.m. did not arrive in Ballyshannon until 7 p.m. on Wednesday 28th February due to the snow. The line was blocked at Irvinestown and the passengers had to stay overnight in a heated coach. The railway crew saw to their needs and meals were provided in a local hotel. The train ploughed its way to Ballyshannon next day but the snow continued to cause problems. The only G.N.R. bus to arrive in Ballyshannon on that Wednesday was the workers’ bus from Tullaghan driven by Jack McAllister. It took four hours and twenty minutes to reach Ballyshannon from Tullaghan!

Ballyshannon a Town with Two Railways

Local businesses which used the railway frequently included: Neely’s Mills, Myles’ Timber, Coal and General Hardware, Stephens Hardware, and Fancy Goods and F.H. Morgan on East Port. These firms, and others, had in earlier times  imported by ship through the Mall Quay. Cattle trains were also to be a feature at Ballyshannon station and this benefitted the farming community who now had  a more ready access to markets.  Some staff who worked for GN.R. locally  included: Eddie and Johnny Boyle, Jimmy Trainor, Andy Mc Shea, Patsy Mc Geown, Charlie Boyle, Pat Fannin, Pat Quinn, Jim Flanagan and Phillip Boyle. In earlier times employees included, W. Duffy, Ballyshannon agent, James Mc Donald, station master, and D. Beatty who was stationmaster in 1880. The G.N.R were later engaged with road transport and kept their buses and lorries in the Market Yard where they had a waiting room and an office, while still operating the trains from Station Road. Packie McIvor, Paddy Drumm, Michael Campbell and John Connolly were amongst the lorry drivers with G.N.R. The railway also ran buses from the Market Yard with Mary Gillespie working for the G.N.R. from a railway carriage beside her home in the Market Yard. Her daughter May was the founder of the Gillespie School of Dancing.

Ballyshannon was a town with two railways as the County Donegal Railway or “narrow gauge” as it was called was on the northern side of the river Erne. The C.D.R. opened in 1905 and served areas in County Donegal including  Creevy, Rossnowlagh, Ballintra and Donegal Town. Both the G.N.R. and the C.D.R. were to share in the boom in Ballyshannon, created by the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme in the late 1940s, as both transported materials for Cementation, the main contractors on the Scheme. The G.N.R. carried bulk cement from Drogheda and also carried plant and machinery. Despite the short term benefits of the building boom during the Scheme, changes in modes of transport were to lead to a decline in passenger numbers and to financial difficulties for the G.N.R. Company. Both the G.N.R and the C.D.R. would have required major investment to upgrade the railway lines and railway stock. The two railways in Ballyshannon were not connected as the width of gauge was different, but  passengers regularly walked across  the town to continue  on their rail journeys by the G.N.R. or C.D.R. The switch over  to road transport and the increased use of motorcars effected both  Ballyshannon and Bundoran.

The recent discovery of a forgotten medieval graveyard at Ballyhanna when the By-Pass was being constructed recalled a linked incident in 1900. The corner of Station road and East Port was  called Hobson’s Corner as a John Hobson resided at Rockville house, on the grounds of which 1,300 skeletons were recently uncovered. Back in 1900 as water pipes were being laid to the G.N.R. station a number of  human bones were uncovered at Hobson’s Corner. The bones were left in situ on the site and covered up. These were a small part of the Ballyhanna graveyard, later discovered during the construction of the By-Pass, which is commemorated with a heritage garden on the site today.

 Requiem for the G.N.R. 30 September 1957

A green flag waved, a whistle shrilled and the last passenger train steamed out of Bundoran railway station on Monday afternoon, 91 years after the first train had chugged its way in. Into history it rolled on its way, accompanied by the cheering of a crowd on the platform, the reverberating crash of fog signals and the shriek of the engine whistle.”

“The Donegal Democrat”  aptly summed up the end of the line for the G.N.R. as the reporter described the mixed emotions of crowds gathered on the platform as the last train left Bundoran station to the call of “Last train for Enniskillen”.  On the 30th September 1957 this last train, with upwards of one hundred passengers, left Bundoran and journeyed through Ballyshannon, Belleek and Pettigo. Many made the short journey to Ballyshannon and disembarked retaining their tickets as a memento of the great days of rail.The staff at Bundoran station were redeployed and a number of  families left the area as a result. Mr. Wickham, stationmaster, was transferred to Castleblaney as stationmaster; Mr. Mooney went as guard to Howth, Mr. Jimmy McGrory to Dublin as guard; Mr. Paddy Martin, driver, to Dundalk; Mr. P. Mulhern, platelayer, to Dundalk; Mr. Felix Campbell, platelayer, to Dundalk; Mr. Thomas Campbell, ganger, to Dundalk; Mr. Robbie McCurdy, fireman, to Clones; Mr. Seamus Gallagher, clerk, to official in charge Monaghan; Mr. P. Jones, clerk, to Dublin and Mr. Richie Phillips electrician to Drogheda. From Ballyshannon station Mr. Patsy McGowan went as goods checker to Dundalk and Mr. Johnnie Gallagher went as porter-signalman to Dublin. Initially three of the staff at Ballyshannon station were retained. Mr. J. Flynn, stationmaster, remained in charge of the road freight section, and  signalman J. Trainor and permanent way ganger J. Boyle remained at the Ballyshannon station.

The impact on the town of Ballyshannon, of the closure of the Great Northern Railway sixty years ago in 1957 and two years later, the closure of the County Donegal Railway, coupled with the end of the  Erne-Hydro Electric Scheme in the early 1950s, had a lasting effect on the town  and its commerce. In this period "The Donegal Vindicator" newspaper also closed.  Bundoran faced a challenging time to retain its developing tourism and  bus transport increased greatly to the seaside resort. The closure of the Great Northern Railway in 1957 meant that business firms receiving goods from Dublin had no direct access by rail. The nearest railway was Sligo and this involved greater transport costs. Road freight now became the only viable option. The closure of the G.N.R  railway  sixty years ago was a major blow to the local economy and led, for a period, to increased isolation for this area.  So ended a rich history of railway service to the people of this area which began 150 years ago and which is still remembered with great affection by the older generation who travelled on the line.

 Train at Ballyshannon station in 1956  one year
before the railway sadly closed

Danny McIntyre of the Whitehill, Sheegus, Ballyshannon in his ballad entitled “Pictures from the Past” echoed what many people felt about the passing of the railways.

In dreams I see the trains run on their shining rails of steel,

The G.N.R. and narrow gauge, their image is so real.

The platforms and the stations, the people young and old,

How bitter sweet the memories that dreaming can unfold.

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

Date for your Diary

On Saturday next 9th December at 12 0' clock I will be giving a 20 minute local history talk in the Mercy Hall. This is part of  Ballyshannon Enterprise Town     with lots of activities in the Mercy Hall from 11-2 p.m. All welcome to this free event hosted by Bank of Ireland and Ballyshannon Chamber.