Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas in Ballyshannon 125 years ago

Journey through the streets of the  town and enjoy the Christmas shopping in Ballyshannon 125 years ago. Do any of the business premises survive in 2014?

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 2014 but some shops were smaller, in a few 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.

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.

So that you can get your bearings in 2012  the old barracks is occupied by Diarmaid Keon (DKP) auctioneers and Erne Carpets today, the premises of Robert Sweeney listed below were located where the Bank of Ireland is today. P.B. Stephen’s ‘emporium’ is where Mary McGuinness has the town’s bookshop called ‘The Novel Idea’.

The newspaper correspondent having crossed the 14 -arch bridge  resumed his descriptions of shops commencing at the bottom of the Main Street:

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.

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.

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. 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. 

25% reduction in book price for Christmas  2014.  Book available in Novel Idea, Pearse and Rory O'Neill,  Cleary's Garage, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands and Four Masters Bookshop. 

Signed hard back and soft back books available at special  price from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal  details.

Ideal local gift for Christmas and other special occasions. 


A  Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away

A new book entitled: "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 recently 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.

Happy Christmas 2014 to all who follow or come across Ballyshannon Musings wherever you are in the world. Anthony Begley.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A busy year for Ballyshannon history up to Christmas 2014

Ballyshannon book at 25% reduction for Christmas. Available at €15  from Novel Idea/ Ballyshannon Museum/ Cleary's garage/ Pearse and Rory O' Neills and Four Master's Bookshop. Also available by post for details contact 500 pages with lots of  photographs including colour aerial images.

Ballyshannon history is vibrant and had a really good year in 2014. The attendances at events surpassed any previous year and it was great to see so many younger people attending. Interest in the town hopefully can be channelled into support for business enterprises. To paraphrase a visitor to the ancient town of Ballyshannon; the town has been here long before our time and will be here when we have passed on. Ballyshannon has durability and a heritage which will hopefully sustain it in the future as it has in difficult periods in the past. Visitors I have met this year from Australia, USA, Canada, the Far East, Europe and Great Britain are all amazed that such a relatively small town has such a rich history. Ballyshannon Musings blog continues to connect with thousands of hits being made from all corners of the world where there are people with roots in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas or an interest in County Donegal. 

Looking Back on 2014 

Memories of an Historic Convent Building in Ballyshannon – Good News for Ballyshannon  
This was the most popular blog of the year on Ballyshannon Musings and was a good news story for Ballyshannon as the building will become a health centre with investment of over €6 million. Work is progressing well and the facade and character of this impressive and historic building will be preserved for future generations.

Ballyshannon Town Clock- a Landmark since 1878  
The elements wreaked havoc on the facade of the town clock and led to the dramatic closure of the town centre for a few days in February 2014. Again there was tremendous interest in the history of the building and this was the second most popular blog of the year. Hopefully like the convent building it can have a happy ending with time restored to Ballyshannon. 

Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial Opened in 2014
Nineteen orphan girls who went from Ballyshannon workhouse to Sydney in Australia were commemorated at a memorial constructed from March to May 2014. This was a project dear to my heart but would not have been accomplished but for the support of Paddy Donagher and the team we assembled. This was one of the final events supported by Ballyshannon Town Council before their demise. Thanks are due to all who supported the project and Mary Daly, Town Clerk, who co-ordinated much of the funding for a fitting memorial to these forgotten girls. I published a short book entitled “From Ballyshannon to Australia. Memories of Famine Orphan Girls” which tells of links made over the past 30 years and connections with many of the great great grandchildren of the orphans in Australia today. During the summer Paddy Donagher also found time to publish a short book entitled “Kildoney and the Erne Fishermen. The Court Case. A History 1607-2013 and the memorial at the Mall Quay will ensure their heroism will not be forgotten. 

Reopening of the Rock Hall 
In June the oldest surviving hall in Ballyshannon reopened its doors after a wonderful restoration job was completed. Great credit is due to the hall committee for their persistence in getting the project completed with the support of Fr. Frank and Canon Ramon. The history of the hall is included in a blog entitled “Early Movies, Drama and more in Ballyshannon” which can be found in the archive for June 2014. Marc McMenamin a local historian and broadcaster interviewed me in a short piece for RTE Radio1’s “History Show” on Bracey Daniels a pioneer of Irish cinema who is buried in the Rock graveyard and who showed his travelling movies in the Rock Hall back in the 1920s. 

Last Link with old Ballyshannon Broken 
 Fr. Ambrose O’Gorman led an active life for over a century and had clear memories of British soldiers marching though the town of Ballyshannon on their way to Finner. This popular cleric is recalled in a blog entitled “Last link with old Ballyshannon broken” which can be found in July 2014. 

First History Walk over the 3 Bridges in Ballyshannon 
On the August Bank Holiday Monday a large crowd assembled to make history as their historic journey took them over the 3 bridges in the town namely; Allingham bridge, Red Hugh O’ Donnell bridge and Assaroe footbridge. The walk also included East and West Port an area with great character and potential for street markets etc. Welcome refreshments were served in the Bridge End bar. The event was part of the successful Ballyshannon Live Festival organised by Backing Ballyshannon.

Great Great Grandchild of Famine Orphan visits Ballyshannon Memorial 
Pam Barker a great great grandchild of one of the 19 orphans who left Ballyshannon for Sydney in 1848 visited the memorial in September 2014 to remember her relative Mary Ann McDermott who had left for Australia with her sister Sally. Both sisters were from Belleek and were inmates of Ballyshannon workhouse. All 19 girls are commemorated at the memorial and on the day of Pam’s visit roses were laid by local women for each of the 19 girls as part of a moving ceremony. Despite being held the day before the All-Ireland football final, with Donegal participating, there was a great crowd to welcome her back to her homeland and Pam and her husband Peter fully appreciated the interest shown. Joy O’ Neill, a great great grandchild of another orphan Jane Carberry, has also visited the Orphan Girls’ Memorial in 2014 and a number of other descendants of the orphan girls are planning trips from Australia in 2015. 

Largest Gathering Ever at a History Talk 
 The Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon housed around 250 people for a talk I gave entitled “Ballyshannon’s ghostly past including links to Dracula and Frankenstein” as a memorial talk for the annual Emerson Lecture in memory of my good friends Louis and Kathleen Emerson. The talk also featured a short play on Ballyshannon’s best known ghost celebrity “The Green Lady” featuring Patricia Keane and Conor Beattie. The play was kindly written by Soinbhe Lally the well known Rossnowlagh based writer. The full story is told in my Book “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” which is receiving a well earned revival in interest!! About two years ago a walk with a similar theme attracted a tremendous crowd and our ghostly past seems to be of great interest to a wide range of people. Connections to Frankenstein and Dracula have also generated great interest. The talk on ghostly Ballyshannon formed part of a most successful Allingham Arts festival and I was honoured to be invited to pay a special tribute to the late Cecil Stephens a great townsman and historian. Needless to say the tribute event to Cecil was also packed to capacity in recognition of his contribution to the arts and to his native Ballyshanny. 

40 Shades of Ballyshannon and All- Ireland Drama 
I was joined by two stalwarts Conor Carney and Patricia Keane to interpret the history of Ballyshannon in an hour in Dicey Reillys in December 2014. Conor and Patricia, as always, brilliantly interpreted the history through verse, song and story to complement my narrative. This formed part of the sell out All-Ireland one act Drama festival held in Ballyshannon 

Forthcoming Events in early 2015 
On the 11th January 2015 on RTE Radio 1’s “History Show” at 6 p.m. there will be a short feature recorded during Pam Barker’s visit to Ballyshannon for the Famine Orphan Memorial ceremony in September 2014. Marc McMenamin is the interviewer. The Drew University conference featuring visitors from USA takes place in January 2015 and I will be speaking about the orphan girls who were commemorated at the Memorial opened in Ballyshannon in 2014. Ballyshannon technical school celebrates its centenary and was the first technical school to be opened in County Donegal. It was also the first post-primary school opened in Ballyshannon. A blog will tell the story in January 2015.

Anthony Begley :