Saturday, 3 December 2016

Christmas Shopping in Ballyshannon in Bygone Days


Ballyshannon in the snow
  • Journey through the streets of the  town  over a century ago, and enjoy the Christmas shopping in Ballyshannon and see can you recognise  any shops named below . 
  • Check out ten or more trades and industries and services which were in Ballyshannon 125 years ago. With the passing of time these are no longer operating .
  • Check out last week's blog on a Ballyshannon woman's part in 1916 in Dublin which has had over 1,400 hits. You can find it in the blog archive if you haven't read it.







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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com


Changes- Ballyshannon 125 Years Ago

  1. The town had a distinctive clock on the newly built Belfast Bank built at a cost of £4,000. (There was a second bank next door called The Provincial Bank which still operates as The Allied Irish Bank).
  2. 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.
  3. The Workhouse was still operating on the Rock beside the Church.The building still survives today but is in a dangerous condition.
  4. The Great Northern Railway was thriving in Station Road and there were two trains to Dublin daily. 
  5. 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.
  6. There were 2 Markets every week in the Market Yard on Thursdays and Saturdays where farmers could sell their produce.
  7. Fairs were held on the second day of each month. The Harvest Fair was held on the 18th September and was the biggest social gathering of the year.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. Like many towns 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.

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 2016 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 2016  the old barracks is occupied by Diarmaid Keon (DKP) auctioneers and a computer shop 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:

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. 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. 





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 anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com




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