Dúchas Thír Chonaill

Donegal Heritage


November 2015


Life in the 18th century was one of transition for the native folk with the influx of planters and displaced people. They kept to their ancient customs and ways of life as much as possible. They had no requirement for hard currency as they still used the bartering system and worked as a team known as a “meitheál”. Towards the end of the century, outside influences began to change their way of life. The need for cash was becoming more prevalent with the need to pay increased rents and the introduction of shops with new household commodities. Credit was often given by these shopkeepers, in turn increasing the need for paid employment to clear their bill and their shame.

With no employment in their native area, children as young as seven years were forced to seek work on farms in east Donegal. They walked to the hiring fairs at least 40 miles from their homes. They were hired by farms who gave them work milking, cleaning the barns or harvesting their crops if they were old enough.

Willie Forker working in the Lothians in the early 30s
The men folk sought employment in farms in Scotland. The men of the Rosses went to Lothians and the Borders. They stayed away nine months, returning after the harvest was won for their winter’s rest. Many returned to the same farm annually at the end of March. This way of life continued up until the outbreak of World War 2.

There was no industry at home until the establishment of the Congested Districts Board in the 1890s. The work provided by the board helped with the income from Scotland and the Laggan. Now for the first time the people were able to pay their rent arrears and shop bills.

A short history of the Congested Districts Board’s influence on the Rosses Fishing Industry

 The Congested Districts Board was set up by the government in the 1890’s to help and develop the poor coastal communities of the West Coast of Ireland. They invested in infrastructure and established manageable industries in rural areas. One such industry was the herring fishery on the Donegal coast. They sought to enable small farmers and part time fishermen to make their living at home. Since the last herring fishing boom of the 18th century, there was a steady decline in the fishing industry resulting in a loss of knowledge of the sea. There was an attempt by the Lower Templecrone parish priest Fr. Walker in the 1880’s to restart the local herring fishery. Fr. Walker invested in two boats with nets and his venture was a successful.

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Up until the foundation of the CDB the coastal communities of the Rosses were using currachs (coracles built with hazel and covered with cow hide or tarred cotton) and yawls for inshore fishing, catching species such as Pollack, Turbot and Ling with long lines and Wrasse with a jigging line. In the estuaries they fished for salmon and sea trout.

As herring was scare on the west coast of Scotland, the Scottish Fish Merchants came to the Rosses in 1896. Some of the local business men saw the potential and set up curing stations while others invested in boats. James Sweeney of Burtonport bought several luggers and had a record catch of 130,000 herring on the 4th of January 1898.

The Donegal Fishing Company was set up by the Duke of Abercorn and John Herdman on Edernish Island. This company set up a station to cure locally caught herring. In 1898 alone the company paid £8,000 for fish and wages. It was said that they paid the fishermen in gold. In the same year a curing station for pickling herring was set up at Gortnasade. 500 barrels of herring cured there in 1899.

An estimated £70,000 worth of herring was caught there between 1897 and 1902 while the price averaged just one penny a herring. The fishing was so great, the cooperage in Burtonport were sold out of barrels. The Rosses fishing fleet had about 300 yawls, each had a crew of four and could carry 3 ton of herring. Most of the fishing was carried out in Traigheanna Bay, this bay with it’s shallow bottom suited the draft or ring net. There were two sets of crews of six men and each one of them had a herring net which was thirty feet long and ten feet deep. They laced the six herring nets together and when they saw the bubbles in the water, they made the ring. There were two men with a smaller net and they would sweep the ring with the ring net and then lift the fish with the small net. Sometimes at suitable tides horses were used instead of boats. The herring was so numerous that they could be caught with any kind of tackle including creels.

In 1898 the first CDB luggers came to the Rosses. The St Bernard and the St Micheal were allocated to Kincasslagh crews. Each crewman of the St Bernard earned £12 4s for 32 weeks work. The total fishing for that year amounted to £13,000.



 1910 – 1920

In 1910 the 49’ St Augustine was given to a Carrickfin crew for £160 and £57 for gear and a Nobby the St Joseph came to Arranmore. The 50’ Gola became the first Zulu to be built for the CDB fitted with an engine in 1910. She was built by Robert Buchan at the Killybegs Yard.  Also that year a Belcruit crew acquired the 45’ Motor Zulu the Aztec.

In 1911 a large fleet of English and Scottish boats landed in Kincasslagh . One local lugger landed 100 cran which made £150. That year the 53’ Vine LY 850 came to Kincasslagh and the  50’ St Marcellinus LY 119 was allocated to Donie Rodgers of Mullaghduff. After the winter herring season, Donie’s brother Murty decided to leave the crew and go to the harvest in Scotland. With reports of a large shoal of herring off the Kincasslagh coast, Donie needed his brother back from Scotland to get back to fish, so he sent a telegram to Murty. The telegram went like this….

 Murty Murty come or stay plenty herring in the west bay, fine weather, signed Donie.

In 1913 a further four motor Zulus came to the Rosses.   The  51’ Little Flower was given to a Kincasslagh crew. The 58’ St Finbar to Cruit, the 60’ Daylight Star to Kincasslagh and the 60’ Summer Star to my own granddad Jimmy Duffy from Carrickfin. The Board provided instructors to train the local pioneering engineers. In 1914 a Mullaghduff crew received the 65’ Motor Zulu the Morning Star, other boats with local crews included the 49’ Gowan LY832 of Carrickfin and the 50’ Gola LY 813 of Keadue. In 1915 the last of these boats came to the Rosses with the 47’ Emerald LY 65 to a Kincasslagh crew and the 49’ Donegal Bay LY 455 to Carrickfin.

These motorised boats couldn’t have come at a better time as the war brought a bonanza for local boats especially the ones that could travel to the fishing grounds. The price of herring increased mainly due to the requisitioning of steam drifters by the navy and the minefields that lay outside most of the British harbours. In Donegal there was a minefield on the entrance of Loch Swilly and together with the treat of U Boats the Rosses pioneers reaped the benefit.

 Although my grandfather and his crew of the Summer Star acquired the boat in 1913 they didn’t buy her until 1916. She cost £818 and £143 for the gear and she was paid for at the end of that year’s fishing. She could carry 100 cran (I think about 18 ton). The price of a cran of herring in 1916 was £10. As mentioned before, she was built at the CDB boatyard in Meevagh by George Botan at a cost £1,050. She was fitted with a 55hp 3 cylinder Gardner engine.

During the War of Independence the roads and railways were blocked by the Volunteers There was also a ban in place prohibiting the sale of goods to Donegal by the Unionist controlled Derry chamber of commerce resulting in a shortage of food and hardware in West Donegal. The local motorboats the Summer Star, the Twilight Star, the Orient Star, the Spring Star and the Little Flower together with the steam drifters the Cherish, the Gweedore and the Carrigart each brought 2 cargoes a week from Derry. Shopkeepers Muris O Donnell from Mullaghduff, Charlie Dunleavy from Calhame, Anthony Sharkey and Charlie McBride from Annagry and Paddy Og from Crolly Bridge went on these boats. Having plenty cash with them, the Unionist merchants in Derry welcomed them and gave them all the goods they wanted. Theses cargos were landed in Bunbeg and Kincasslagh and it was then distributed to the other shops in the Rosses. With the evolution of motorised Zulus the fishery changed from a local Donegal based operation. Now they were fishing all year round, following the herring shoals as they spawned on different coasts. They went to Scotland for the summer season and landed in ports such as Frazerburgh, Peterhead and Stornaway. In the autumn they went to Yarmouth, Peel and sometimes to the east coast of Ireland. In the winter they concentrated on the local fishery. It was at the fishing in Ardglass that Charles Doogan from Gola Island was asked to join the crew of the Asgard to take guns from Germany to Howth. These guns were later used in the Easter Rising of 1916.

1-Jimmy Duffy

 Steam Drifters

A total of six Steam Drifters were bought by the CDB in this era. Finross, Carrigart, Inishirrer, Cherish, Laurel and the Calistoga. Some of them were requisitioned by the Royal Navy for war duty.

The Inishirrer was built in Tyrrells yard in Arklow in 1912 at a cost of £1,717 and she was the smallest at just 65’ in length. She was allocated to several local crews over her years in Donegal. She was used as a gunboat in Cork during the Civil War.

The Cherish was owned by a Belfast Shipping company and was captained by Prionnsais Gallagher from Mullaghduff and a local crew. She was used for trading. Prionnsais died suddenly onboard, coming back for Derry in 1929.

The Calistoga was allocated to a Kincasslagh crew in 1915, but she was requisitioned by the Navy later that year. She was lost just six weeks after arriving for duty in the Dardanelles.

The 87’ Gweedore was first acquired by in 1913 by a Kincasslagh crew who fished her until 1920. She was then taken over by an Owey Island crew until her skipper died in 1924. Two local men Condy Boyle and Charlie McGonagle lost their lives off the “Gweedore”.

The 92’ Finross was fished by several crews from Gweedore Parish until she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy in 1916. She was lost at sea shortly after that.

The 87’ Laurel was allocated to a Killybegs crew in 1919.

The 87’ Carrigart was owned by Anthon Mc Gettigan from Downings.

The period following the Great War was a depressing one for fishermen generally. High fish prices during the war were a bonanza and the price of fishing gear which rose by 300% was easily accommodated. After the war the market for fish on the continent had vanished and the British markets were glutted. The cost of fishing gear and other items stayed high. Many fishermen faced and indeed experienced financial ruin.

During the boom time many businesses were set up as a result of the fishery. There were three shops set up at Kincasslagh alone to cater for the influx of fishermen and curers to the area. Coopers came from Co. Kerry help to keep with the demand for barrels. These coopers were responsible for introducing Gaelic Football to the Rosses. Prior to this the locals played Soccer and Caman, a type of hurling. The first Gaelic Football team in the Rosses was formed in Kincasslagh in 1922.


Written by Jimmy Duffy November 2015


Miseóg’s Prophesies

The story of Miseóg and her ability to predict the future is legendary in the Lower Rosses and beyond but it’s not widely known that Miseóg was indeed a real life character. She was born Peggy Boyle in Ballymanus in 1816. It was after her father Manus Dubh Boyle that this townland was named. Peggy had two sisters and one brother. Her sister Anna married Andy McGonagle from Owey Island, her sister Sorcha married Frank Sharkey from Annagry and her brother Seánín married in the neighbouring townland of Braade. After her marriage to Paddy Harley from Ranafast (but of Braade ancestry), she went to live at the head of the White Strand or An Trá Bhán.



Peggy and Paddy had at least five of a family.

Transcript of the 1851 census, original was destroyed in the Civil War

Betty married to Owen Ward and lived in Kerrytown, Séimidh married Miss Harley and lived in Annagry, Condy married Gráinne Duffy from Braade and lived there, Mary was unmarried and lived with her grandparent’s in Ballymanus and Manus. Manus emigrated to his uncle Manus Boyle in San Francisco in 1868, but was reported missing in the Boston Pilot newspaper. His father Paddy Harley was working in Pennslyvannia at that time. Paddy later retired home and died in Braade in 1886 aged 68 years.

manus harley

Peggy earned the name Miseóg because she predicted many happenings in the Lower Rosses and beyond, most of which has come to pass. Some say that she found a book while walking along the Trá Bhán and that she took her prophecies from it. Interestingly there is a book shrine called the Miosach associated with Clonmany in north Donegal, now keep in the National Museum in Dublin. The shrine is an ornate book cover, but the book has gone missing. Was this the book Peggy Mhanuis Duibh found? Was she named after it? Without evidence, we can only speculate.

The Shrine of the Miosach (

We are not sure if Miseóg/Miosach was literate but there certainly were hedge schools in her locality. She may have received an education at the Carrickfinn Hedge School or night school in Braade National School which opened in 1845 adjacent to her home.

The ruin of Braade National School which opened in 1845

While the newly formed Calhame Band was marching to Kincasslagh Chapel on St Patrick’s Day 1881 Miseóg asked them if they knew Napoleon’s Grand March. They said they didn’t, so she whistled it for them. This march was composed by Johann Strauss II in the 1850s.

This band later moved down the road and is still in existence as The Mullachdubh Band and The Grand March is still part of their repertoire.

Mullacdubh Band in Dungloe 1939

The question is how did Miseóg know this tune? Maybe she heard it from a travelling musician, one can only assume.

Here are some of Miseóg Prophesies.

  • Trees will grow on hills without branches
  • Men and women would look similar
  • They’ll be big bridges over rivers
  • Cnoc a’ Deirigh will come down to the shore and the shore will go up
  • Ships will travel in the sky and under water
  • A black pig with smoke coming out of it’s mouth will come over the hills
  • An Trá Bhán will be alight and big white birds carrying people will come down the strand
Airport 1963
An Trá Bhán 1963
An Tra Bhán with Donegal Airport 2015, photographed from the remains of Miseóg’s homestead
  • A chapel at the top of the strand and the day will come when no one will attend it
  • The clergy will take down the church

She also predicted the coming of the World Wars and the Ballymanus Mine Disaster in 1943, which exploded at Purt Ábhóige,just below her former homestead. Many of her predictions have come true while some haven’t as yet.

Miseóg died in about 1899 and is buried in Cruit Island graveyard.

© Jimmy Duffy November 2015


Guidore Coastguard Station Carrickfin 1823-1850

Since the plantation of Ulster, some of the planters served as coast watchers and custom officers in the Rosses. Preventative officers charged with the detection of smuggling, lived in remote places. The nature of their job made these officers unpopular. Casks of wine and brandy were seized by coast watchers in 1717 along the northwest coast. The Rosses was still a favourite landing place for contraband from America in the 1760’s. In order to suppress endemic smuggling and to counteract the making of whiskey by unlicensed distillers, it was decided in the Parliament of the recently established union to set up a force to counteract it.

The Coastguard Service was formed in 1821. A year that witnessed the illegal landing of 14,000 bales of tobacco at Glencolmcille. Initially they assisted the Revenue Police that was set up two years earlier to combat poitín making in coastal areas, but they withdrew from this task after several years.  The Revenue Police had customs officers and coast officers assigned to various ports and also were stationed at isolated parts of the coast to combat the illegal distillation. Before the end of the 1820’s the officers of the Coastguard were chosen from the ranks of the Royal Navy.


The first mention of a Coastguard unit in the Rosses was in Rutland in 1822 followed by the Guidore station set up in Carrickfinn in 1823, which employed around twenty men.This station was located in the townland of Carrickfinn in the Ros Scaite headland in Guidore Bay. Lieutenant Norsuan or Nonuan from Annagry was in charge with Samuel Parsons as Chief Officers at the beginning. Lieutenant George Stuart Penfold (1798-82) came to Carrickfinn on the 15th of November 1823 as Chief Officer and would serve in this rank until the mid 1840s.  Lieutenant George Penfold was the registered tenant at the station in 1828 Tithes Applotments.

Another Donegal station similiar to  Carrickfinn


The Coastguard was effective in smuggling prevention by 1833 but they were no longer assisting the Revenue Police because if they did, they would be murdered.  Coastguard Inspector General Dombrain who owned the Dunlewey Estate stated in 1834 that all his officers were naval officers. Carrickfinn was then under the inspecting district of Dunfanaghy along with Rutland, Innisboffin, Sheephaven, Mulroy, Rathmullen and Knockadoon. The Carrickfinn station had one officer and eight men.

Lieutenant Penfold was called to give evidence on behalf of the Guidore district at the 1836 Parliamentary Report into the state of Sea Fisheries.

See Appendix 1

It would appear from the Lieutenant’s input, he was playing down that actual number of local fishermen engaged in the fishery. He states that there was only two curraghs fishing in the Guidore area. In the same year there were 10 row boats and 50 men fishing in the Inishboffin area and 230 row boats and 1200 men in the Rutland area.

 George Stuart Penfold was appointed as chief officer in Guidore on November 15th 1823. He got the rank of Lieutenant on February 15th 1823 according to the Navy List of 1841. Lieutenant George Penfold was a tenant in Carrickfinn in the Tithes Applotments of 1828, the previous tenant Daniel Coyle held this property until 1823. In 1837 he was the officer in command of the coastguard and was still stationed at Carrickfinn in 1841. He must have been moved in the mid 1840s as he is in the Navy List of 1847 as an inspecting officer at Carne, Derry. The Carne area included Dunree Fort, Dunaff Head, Malin Head, Portredfort and Greencastle. In the Navy List of 1851 he was then 2nd Lieutenant Marine at Carne, Derry and became a Commander on 1st October 1860 according to the 1865 Navy List.

In a complaint by Corneilus Ward to Colonel Brereton in August 1842, it was stated that Lieutenant Penfold of the Carrickfinn Coastguard Station had been associated with known poitín maker for 16 years previously and he (Penfold) employed John Boyle as an extra man on Coastguard duty.  The Coastguard ignored poitín making within a half mile of the Carrickfinn station in 1843, when 246 gallons of portale was later seized.  In October 1843 two members of the Carrickfinn Coastguard detachment where found having breakfast in Jack O’Donnell’s house in Meenaleck, a notorious poitín maker by Revenue Police. The Carrickfinn Coastguards were accused of ignoring poitín making within a half mile of the Carrickfinn station in 1843, when 246 gallons of portale was later seized. The officers would be acquainted with Jack as he taught in the Hedge School close to the Station. In February 1844, 132 gallons was seized within 200 yards of the Carrickfinn station. There is a hill between the Carrickfinn station and the shore called Carraig na hEoirna which means “the rock of the barley” indicating the drying or malting of this crop and close to the eastern shore there is a hill called Ard na hAithe which means “the height of the kiln”.

The Coastguard set up an enquiry at Gweedore Hotel in April 1844 into the location of the stations. On the 20th April the same year the Customs and Excise set up an enquiry into Revenue Police complaints that the Coastguard wasn’t helping them. The Coastguard witnesses alleged that Lord George Hill arranged the transfer of the Guidore Coastguard Station from Carrickfinn to Bunbeg in order to intimidate his tenants and to enhance profits at his shop in Bunbeg Harbour. After much pressure, Hill succeeded in getting a detachment of Revenue Police later that year. Further pressure from Lord Hill saw the Guidore station transferred from Carrickfinn to Bunbeg on August 7th 1850.

The watch tower at the Carrickfinn station became an Island and Coast Society School and a place of worship for the Church of Ireland community in 1850, The school was later moved to a propose built building in the south side of Carrickfinn and the former watch tower was renovated and became a Chapel of Ease for the local Church of Ireland community in 1868. The Coastguard Station was later occupied by the Alcorn family who were recorded as tenants in Griffiths Valuation and that family lived there until 1982 when the last of the family passed to their eternal reward. It is now in the possession of a relative.

The Coastguard communication flagstaff was situated on the hill above. Three iron rings still in good condition inserted in the granite rock, are relicts of the Coastguard station. These rings are approximately 8 metres apart triangularly (north to south = 12mtrs, north to west = 8mtrs and west to south =8mtrs). The flagstaff which was of a considerable height would have been held with chains and lifted with the help of a block and tackle. They would have signalled to the Mullaghderg signal station, Bunbeg Harbour and the signal tower at Bloodyforeland.

The following are some of the many officers that were stationed at Carrickfinn. In 1822 the Boatmen were John Craig from Bushmills, Ian Kirkpatrick from Ballibidy, James Jaas from Portstewart, Alexander McDonnell from Glenarm, Charles Boyd from Ballycastle, John Ross from Glenarm. Also stationed here in the same year was Samuel English from Glenarm, Sergeant Honnan from Isle of Magee, Sergeant Noonan from Ballycastle, John Coscadden from Ardmore and Philip Cornish. Boatman James Hamilton from Bruckless joined the station in 1823 with William Eakin from Rathmullen arriving in 1824. The Chief Boatman in the 1820s was Edward Elsted. Local man John Boyle from Rutland joined in 1829, he was later involved in the illegal distillation of poitín in Carrickfinn. Thomas Oaff of HMS Blenheim and Pat Sweetman of Killybegs joined in the 1840s. On the 6th of April 1844 Eleanor Belden wife of Commander Belden Royal Navy died in Carrickfinn.  Commanders were only in control of larger stations such as Ballycastle, Galway, Dundalk and Clifden. She may have been the widow of Nathaniel Belden, a Lieutenant of the Royal Navy who made his will in Ardara in 1839.

John Sinnott originally from Monogara Co. Dublin but stationed in Killybegs was posted to Guidore around 1840, first to Carrickfinn and later moved with this detachment to Bunbeg. He and his wife Mary a native of Kingstown Co. Dublin and their young family lived here until 1870 when on his retirement they moved back to Killybegs. Seven of the couple’s nine children were born in Carrickfinn. Katherine Susan born at Carrickfinn in 1846 became Sr. Mary Francis Chantal in 1873 and died in 1899. She was a member of the Visitation Convent in Wilmington Delaware USA. Agnes was born at Carrickfinn in 1854, graduated from the Convent School of the Sacret Heart at Eden Hall Tornesdale Pennsylvania USA in 1873 and taught in convents in the States. Margaret was born at Carrickfinn in 1844 and married Thomas Colin Mac Ginley in St Mary’s Chapel Derrybeg in 1864. Thomas a native of Killybegs was a teacher in Croagh National School, Dunkineely. Thomas later wrote the celebrated book ‘The Cliff Scenery of South West Donegal’ in 1867. Margaret and Thomas Mac Ginley had a large family one of whom was Bishop John Mac Ginley of Nuevo Caceres in the Philippines and later of Montenegro Fresco in California. James Patrick Sinnott born at Carrickfinn in 1848 was educated in the seminars in Letterkenny and Navan. He went to Philadelphia in 1868 and later to the American College in Rome where he was ordained in 1876. He returned to Philadelphia and served in a parish where he became Monsignor in 1910.

© Jimmy Duffy November 2015

Appendix 1

Guidore, Gala Island, and Cruit Harbour, January 9; Burton Port and Rutland
Island, January 11; Daurus, January 12, 1836.

Examining Commissioner—John Jacob, Esq.

Witnesses—Lieut. G. S. Penfold, R.N., Guidore; Patrick Boyle, Gola Island; Mr. James
M’elbing, Coast Guard Boatman, Cruit Harbour; Nassau Foster, Esq. of Burton Port  
Lieutenant Hamilton, R.N.; Mr. Poster; and Peter Gllljgan, a Fisherman of Daurus.

Lieutenant Penfold states that the coast abounds with Mackerel and Craig-herrings (Skad), in July, August, and September; but until last season, he never saw them taken except with a fly. A man from Sligo was then hired by Gallagher, who has the Guidore Salmon fishery; and this man took out a small net of Gallagher’s, only three fathoms deep, and it has been stated, that he took about fifty thousand Mackerel and Craig-herrings. The coast abounds with all kinds of fish, but there are only two curraghs which fish in this district. He is confident that the island shores abound with fish every season; and, from what he has heard, the Herrings are off every season, but are not fished for.

Patrick Boyle was at the Killybegs fishing last season. If a good net were used at Guidore, a profitable Mackerel and Craig-herring fishing might be carried on. He got for Gallagher, last season, fifty thousand, to the surprise of the people in this place. In all the places he ever was, he has never seen such quantities of Craig-herrings and Mackerel; and as for Lobsters and Crabs, they are beyond bounds in number.

Mr. James M’Eking, of Cruit, states, that yesterday evening (8th January) he saw large numbers of Herrings within the harbour of Cruit, but no net was shot. He believes Herrings are off every season, and the shores abound with Mackerel and Craig-herrings, which are taken in no other way than off the rocks with a fly. The white fisheries may be carried on at the harbour, as it is safe anchorage for boats of forty or fifty tons. Sand-eels are on all the strands; he will make a small net to take them next season.

Mr. Nassau Foster, of Burton Port, states that he has resided on the coast fifty years. The Herring fishery continued at Rutland for many years, and was so extensive, that five hundred vessels were generally loaded every year. The Herrings were large; five hundred would fill a barrel; and they were of very fine quality. At the time of the Rutland fishery, eight to nine hundred of the Killybegs Herrings would be required to fill a barrel. The Herrings of Rutland were, for the last four or five years of the fishery, taken in less and less quantity, and then entirely left the place. Their departure was attributed to the blasting of granite rocks, on the shore; and some thought that the sand of Rutland, which broke up about the time, was the cause, as it was blown into the sea in large quantities. It is thirty years since the fishery entirely failed. The fishermen enjoyed prosperity, while the supply of fish was abundant; and, among the circumstances connected with their condition, it was mentioned, that they commonly wore top-boots. The Conyngham family constructed a harbour, dockyard, store-houses, and a town, on Rutland Island; with inns along the line of road from Killybegs to the point of the mainland nearest Rutland. The harbour and the greater part of the buildings constructed on the Island, are now covered with sand. There seems to be a disposition in the Herrings to return to the coast. Some have been taken this season. Herrings are in Arran Roads at present. The price of Herrings formerly, was one guinea a-thousand; sometimes less. A great deal of money was then made; £50 for a boat was considered fair earnings; the fishing continued three months, November, December, and January. The boats then used were much larger than the present; and the yawls of the large vessels, ‘Herrings appeared in great abundance at Rutland, during the fishery of January, 1836 with the country boats, often amounted to 1500, which fished between Arran and the land, and off the Island of Rutland, and the Rosses.


On the coast within Guidore district, Braziers and Biens are caught in summer; Cod, Fisheries and rock Cod, Haddock, and Plaice, in winter; and in spring, Soles, Plaice, and Codling. Modes of Fishing, these are all killed with long lines; and at present only two curraghs (boats formed of a light frame-work of timber, covered with horses’ skins or pitched canvass,) are engaged in these fisheries. Herrings have not been taken here for several years, until the present (1836,) the fishermen not having nets. I have purchased a set of herring-nets, and have employed a boat and five men to fish with them at Arranmore. The boats are for four oars; of a strong, heavy build; would cost, new, with anchor, cable, and oars, £12; and are well adapted for the double purpose of fishing and carrying manure, as they can at any time be beached above the surf. Ten years ago, when bounties were given, all the country boats in this neighbourhood used to be employed fishing between the Stags of Arran and Tory Island, with great success, catching plenty of fine Cod, Ling, Glassen, and Lythe. I do not know of one boat having fished since. Turbot, Haddock, Hake, Cod, Ling, Glassen, Pollock, and Conger, are abundant on this coast, near the shore;—but there is no fishing at present, the people being too poor to obtain materials for gear. Trawling is not practicable on the coast within Guidore district, from the foul state of  the ground. The sand-worm called lug is the only bait used on this coast for all kinds of fish, except Cod and Ling; for these, eels and the Cod’s milt are considered the best kind of bait. The boats in Guidore district have been much neglected since fishing was discontinued: Boats and Gear, they are merely patched up every spring, so as to carry a load of sea-weed. The skin-boats or curraghs cost £1; a boat employed for cutting sea-weed, or fishing, costs £10 or £12; and smaller boats, for these double purposes, cost £6 or £8.  Letterkenny, distant forty miles, is the nearest market town to Guidore, and the roads, crossing fords and strands, are impassable for carts. A good Cod is sold fresh at 4d. or 6d; Soles for 3d. the pair; and eighteen Plaice for 1s. Scotch Herrings are the only kind of salt fish to be had here. Salt is retailed at 4s. per cwt.

On the mainland, in Guidore district, there are not now any fishermen. The Islanders on the coast contrive to exist, and to increase and multiply beyond measure, on the produce of the soil (potatoes), and to pay their rent and taxes; but in seasons of dearth, which occur on an average every fourth year, they are as destitute as the poor on the mainland. Famines have occurred in the islands only when experienced on the neighbouring coast. They are generally ascribed to a wet spring and summer, and a stormy autumn, which are doubtless very injurious to the potato crop; but I thing laziness and whiskey-drinking are the principal causes. The people are very improvident. Pecuniary relief has been obtained from the Marquess Conyngham and the Earl of Mulgrave. Land is let on this coast at from to 2s to 10s per acre. In Guidore there are no loan funds, benefit societies, or savings banks. Woollen stockings of good quality, are made along the Donegal coast, so generally as to supply a considerable trade. The tenant’s right to land, (the possession without a lease,) is constantly sold by a licensed auctioneer. The quantity is estimated by the sum, (a cow’s grass,) and such lots sell as high as twenty times the actual rent paid. In the summer season, the small occupiers of land frequently dispose of the growing crop, and in some instances the produce of a cow, at a very low rate, to provide provisions at that season; and it not unfrequently happens, that they purchase back their own corn at a usurious rate.

The extinction of the loan fund of the late Fishery Board, fishing has been entirely knocked up. It would be a great blessing to the poor people, if all those possessed of boats could be supplied with herring-nets, long lines, hooks, and a trifle of cash, to enable them to put their boats in order. I think they would not require a bounty to induce them to fish. It is lamentable to see thousands of people starving here at times, when our harbour and the whole coast are literally teeming with fish—Mackerel, Herrings, &c. If stores of salt were placed at Cruit and Guidore, to be sold at a reasonable rate, they also would be of immense benefit to the country—(Lieut. Penfold.)

Harvesting Bent

Bent or marram grass was planted on the Trá Bhán or White Strand Carrickfinn. Each family in the locality had their own division. The harvesting season started on November 1st each year. The bent was cut about a foot below the surface of the ground, this allowed it to grow again for the next year’s harvest. Most families worked in a group called a meitheal. The grass was made into stooks which was dried and then was taken home by donkey and later horse and cart. It was used for the seasonal thatching of their homesteads and cow byres.

Wrack: The Enrichment of Rosses Soil

 There were stones laid out on Braade Strand to cultivate bubble wrack. Each family in the locality had their own division while others in Carrickfin had access to the weed on the inshore rocks. This wrack provided fertiliser for their crops.  In the springtime, before their yearly migration to Scotland’s farms the menfolk cut the seaweed using grass hooks during the ebb of the tide. It then was put into creels which the woman and the youths carried to a caileach or bag net. The bag nets were made by sowing salmon, byan or herring nets together. The filling of this bag went on for many ebbs until the bag was full. The caileach was closed and anchored, waiting for a spring tide to move it by a currach or yawl. A spring tide was favoured as the current was stronger and they were able to beach their load closer to their fields. If their neighbour were old or unable to harvest their own crop it was done by their neighbours. The young men from Ranafast harvested the wrack for Cassie Foster, an elderly lady from Carrickfin.

The Mystery of the Stained Glass Windows in Annagry Chapel




In the late nineteenth century Annagry was part of the Parish of Lower Templecrone in the Diocese of Raphoe. Fr. Bernard Walker was parish priest in Kincasslagh at the time and Fr. Daniel Sweeney was his curate.  A decision was made to build a church in Annagry.  The responsibility became Fr. Sweeney’s. The joinery work was provided by Joseph Colhoun of Derry and the labour was given voluntarily by the people of the area. The Architect overseeing the work was E. J. Toye.  The church was blessed by Most Rev. Dr. Patrick O’Donnell Bishop of Raphoe on October 14th 1894.  The sermon was to be given by Monsignor McFadden P.P. Donegal but he fell ill, so Bishop O’Donnell gave it instead.

Chapel pre 1946
Prior to the lightening damage in 1946

A gallery was added in 1903 and the church was dedicated to St Mary Star of the Sea.  The Parish of Annagry was formed in 1945. Fr. Paddy Carr P.P placed an order for a set of handcrafted stained glass windows to replace the original ones on both side of the altar for the new parish church.  Luckily they took a considerable amount of time to complete, because on the morning of February 4th 1946 St Mary’s was hit by lightning.  The lightning entered at the back of the church and left a hole in the wall above the altar on its exit.  The painting of the crucifixion on the wall behind the altar, all the windows and a statue of the Sacred Heart were damaged.  While the church was been repaired all church services were held in the local Ancient Order of Hibernians hall.  The church was reopened in November 1946 with its new stained glass altar windows.

According to several local sources, the windows were the work of celebrated artist Evie Hone and were installed by Harry Clarke Studios.  This studio made approximately one thousand windows after the death of its founder Harry Clarke in 1931, and continued in business until 1973.  After getting to know Clarke’s work and his fondness of deep blue colours I was of the opinion that somehow he had influenced the artist with his deep shades of blue.

stained glass fourstained glass one

They didn’t resemble any of Evie Hone’s creations up to that date.

But how could this be?

A fellow historian unearthed an article written by an art critic in the Irish Press on November 27th 1946.  It stated that the windows were made at John Hogan Studios in Dublin.  Resulting in further research I found that John Francis Hogan worked with Harry Clarke as an assistant.  He had a bad accident in which he came close to losing his arm.  Harry took him on as an apprentice and taught him the trade.  Hogan set up his own studio in 1945 and worked there until he emigrated to California in 1958.

I sought the help of Ireland’s foremost expert in stained glass artistry who was of the opinion that William J. Dowling who worked with Harry Clarke could have created the Annagry windows.  With the absence of relevant parish receipts we may never know who was responsible for this work of art.

Chapel 1960
Photo taken in 1960 (Sarah Greene Collection)

This history can be seen on a information board at the entrance of St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, Annagry, Co. Donegal.

Written by Jimmy Duffy 2013


Education in Carrickfinn Island; Penal Times until 1968

As part of the Penal Laws which were enforced in 1695, the native Irish was forbidden to educate or receive education. Daniel Boyd a Scottish Presbyterian took up residence in Carrickfinn in the last years of the seventeenth century. There was always good will between the new families and their neighbours. It is possible that Carrickfinn being on the far North West Coast of Ireland would not be harshly affected and together with their new neighbours, they may have had some sort of educational system. When these laws were relaxed toward the end of the eighteenth century the people were too poor to build a schoolhouse so the teachers held classes in a barn or bothóg (a sod built house). When the weather was good, the teacher held their classes in the open air, usually in a sheltered place beside a hedge. These schools were called “Hedge Schools”. The lessons were given by travelling teachers and their usual payment was 2d per week from each scholar but quite often they were paid in kind.

In 1782 Templecrone Parish Vestry gave £15 to build three schools. One of these schools was built in Carnboy and is still in use as a barn.

The building that housed the 1782 school in Carnboy was located to the right of this image

In 1835 Thomas Boyd was recorded as being the master at this school. He received £5 10s 9d from the Robertson Fund, a gratuity of £2 from the Parish and payments of 2s per quarter from each child. He taught reading, writing and arithmetic and had 34 pupils in 1835. With the population of Carnboy only 24 in 1841, a large proportion of the pupils were neighbouring Catholics and children of the local coastguards. The teachers in the neighbouring Ranafast and Belcruit Hedge Schools were then paid between one and two schillings per quarter by each child. Since these Schools had an average of twenty pupils, the teacher’s pay averaged £1 10s per quarter. Belcruit Hedge School was only opened during the winter.

There is a ruin of long thatched building in Carrickfinn which according to local history, housed a school. This building is known as Coyles.

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Coyle’s Schoolhouse Carrickfinn

Daniel Coyle is recorded as a tenant on this property until 1823. From 1822 a detachment of around thirty officers of the newly formed Coastguard Service were stationed on this property. Jack O’Donnell born in Meenaleck around 1830 became a hedge school teacher in Carrickfinn sometime in the 1850s. He may have taught at Coyle’s or at another site. Jack received his education from the Landlord Mr Stewart of Horn Head where his mother was a servant. Jack was later to become a licensee of two taverns in Meenaleck where he held a monthly fair. This village was then known as Jackstown. In 1968 musician Leo Brennan bought one of these taverns and started a singing lounge. His family are now known worldwide as Clannad and Enya.

There were several societies during this period using the Gaelic Bible as a vehicle to educate Catholic children and hopefully convert them to Protestantism. They also educated the local Protestant children. One of these societies was the Island and Coast Society. In April 1840 the acting curate of Templecrone Parish wrote a letter to the Island and Coast Society thanking them for the appointment of a Mr. Foley to the Guidore School based in Carrickfinn. It was called Guidore because it was located on the property of the Guidore Coastguard Station. The letter stated the conditions the new teacher was being afforded and that he would stay at a “decent respectable Protestant widow who lived half ways between Guidore and Rutland”, possibly in Mullaghderg or Kincasslagh.

Cathal Ó Cearbhalláin taught in Carrickfinn from the 1840s but he may have used the old watch house. Master Ó Cearbhalláin or O Carolan a Catholic and a native Gaelic speaker was employed by the Society. O’Carolan was at the seminary with Fr. Dan O’Donnell who was Parish Priest in Kincasslagh until his death in 1879. O’ Carolan dropped out and went to teaching ended up in Carrickfin, but he was recognized by Fr. Dan. Charles Boyle born 1819 in Belcruit next to Sally Ned’s pub was a pupil of Charles O’Carolan.   Cathal was married to Ann McDonnell the only daughter of the then famous poet and schoolteacher Aodh Mac Domhnaill. Aodh was born in Co. Meath in 1802. A descendent of Mac Domhnaill chieftains of Co. Antrim, Aodh was one of the earliest Catholic born schoolteachers employed by a proselytising Society. He was at first employed as a schoolteacher by the London Hibernian Society and was later an inspector with the Presbyterian Home Mission in the Glens of Antrim. After a row between himself and Fr. Luke Walsh a Parish Priest in North Antrim, he lost his position. Robert MacAdam a respected antiquarian and Gaeilge language revivalist employed Aodh as a collector of folklore and as his chief assistant in compiling printed versions of some of Ireland’s ancient manuscripts. In 1856 Aodh came to live with his daughter in Kincasslagh. He taught in Carrickfinn and was also an inspector for the Island and Coast Society. In 1863 while in Carrickfinn he wrote a manuscript, This manusript is now kept in Maynooth College. On a visit back to see his relations, he fell ill, and died in the workhouse in Cootehill, Co. Cavan in March 1867. His former employer Robert MacAdam paid for his funeral to Myrath Cemetery. His daughter Ann and her husband Cathal were sequentially buried in the same plot.

While the greater numbers of pupils at this school were Catholic who received an education in their native tongue, it must be emphasized that Gaelic was the daily language of most members of the local Church of Ireland community. One of these pupils, James Boyd from Carnboy educated there in 1853 spoke very little English. It is possible that Cathal O Cearbhalláin continued to teach up until the death of his wife and daughter in 1877. While we have no record of his birth, his wife was born before her mother died in 1836. In 1850 the Society gave a grant of £50 for the erection of a dual purpose building. The former coastguard watch house was renovated and was used as a church and school. Cork native Rev. Thomas Wolfe, a superintendent with the Society became the first Rector of the Church of Ireland community in Carrickfinn during the spring of 1858. Rev Wolfe resided with the Alcorn family in the former Coastguard Station. He succumbed to the fever on December 22nd that same year.  He was just thirty five years old and was buried near the ancient Cross of Columcille (this high cross fell forty years earlier) on Christmas Eve at Myrath cemetery near Falcarragh, a distance of some twenty miles.


In 1868 the dual purpose building became a Church of Ireland Chapel of Ease.

St Andrew’s Church

With the aid of the Col. Robertson Fund a new schoolhouse was opened in 1868.

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The remains of the Robertson Schoolhouse 100 years after its opening (O’Donnell Collection)

Richard Given a native of Ardara became the teacher at this schoolhouse in the 1882. My grandfather Jimmy Duffy born in 1876 was a pupil. The pupils were now given Bible instruction in English, the language of the Established Church. When my grandfather was old enough to make his confirmation, he and his Catholic classmates were taught catechism by an elderly neighbour Nablá Ní Bhaoill born around 1830, herself was a former pupil of the Island and Coast Society. Many Carrickfinn natives received a good education from the Hedge, Robertson and Society Schools. Duncan Boyle born in 1822 became a captain of ocean going sailing ships plying their trade between Canada and England.

Duncan BOYLE

Charles and Patrick Boyle worked in the engineering section of Scotland’s Rail Network. James P Sinnott born in Carrickfinn in 1848 became a Monsignor in America, his brother Joseph who owned the Moore and Sinnott distillery, once the  largest rye distillery in America and Charles Boyle born 1819 in Belcruit who was a pupil of Charles O’Carolan. Boyle worked as a railway engineer in the new frontier in the US.

My grandfather Jimmy Duffy was the captain of one of the first motor fishing boats on this coast from 1914. Together with his crew most of whom were former pupils of Richard Given’s navigated the coasts of Ireland and Britain using primitive equipment such as compass, sextant and charts. It was essential that they had knowledge of English and Mathematics to succeed.  This school was funded by the Erasmus Smith Fund from 1902 until its closure in 1937. It was the penultimate school Erasmus Smith in Donegal to close down. The schools’ emphasis was teaching English, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. In an examination carried out by the fund in 1935, Richard Given was still teaching and giving high results at the advanced age of 81 years.  Annie Alcorn (Tammy) from Carrickfinn was a monitor sometime during Master Given’s career.

The National Education System finally came to Carrickfinn in 1898. This system which began in 1831 was based on the Robertson model. The building which housed the school was recorded in the Ordnance Survey of 1835 and was inhabited by Edward Sweeney at the time of the Griffiths Valuation of 1858. The first teacher was Mrs Bridget Diver, known locally as Biddy Durín. Biddy nee Durning was born in Bunbeg in the neighbouring Parish of Gweedore and upon her marriage to John Diver (Tharlaigh Mhicí), she taught in the National School in his native Gola Island. John died early in life as did their two young daughters. Broken hearted, Biddy left for a new life in Canada. When she arrived she quickly found that life there didn’t suit her, so she returned home to Bunbeg. She got a post in the new national school which opened on May 5thth 1898. She rowed her currach across the narrow but hazardous estuary that separates Carrickfinn and Gweedore.  When the days were short and inclement she stayed in Carrickfinn where she is recorded in the 1901 census in the Duffy household. She was a well qualified teacher and many children came from surrounding areas to avail of her tuition. Biddy taught only in the medium of English. One of her sayings was “who owns these rags” while holding a pupil’s coat up with a stick. There were eleven boys and seven girls recorded on the first roll call on this historic day. The oldest pupil was Patrick Doherty (Padraig Airt) a fourteen year from the neighbouring island of Inishinny while five years old John Boyle (Michael) of Carrickfinn was the youngest. Maggie Forker who died in 2007 aged 103 years was the last surviving pupil of Biddy Durnín’s era.

There are no records for the rate of the teacher’s pay but it would be less than the £17 13s 8d per quarter, the principal of the two teacher Annagry National School received.

On July 19th 1904 an indenture was signed by Victor George Henry Francis Marquis of Conyngham of Slane Castle, Connell Gallagher Tenant and the Most Rev Patrick O’Donnell Bishop of Raphoe. The contract was start of a process which would see Carrickfinn Island getting the first purpose built National School. The school was built on a site given by Connell Gallagher, a tenant of local Conyngham Estate and was supervised by Rev James Walker, Parish Priest of Lower Templecrone in which Carrickfinn Island was a part. The cost of the building was £228 stg, a grant £152 stg was given by Westminster to the Commissioners of Public Works while the remainder was raised within the Parish. This was a very progressive year for the parish with contracts being signed for the erection of a new National School in Annagry and Annagry Carpet Factory, the later by the Congested Districts Board. Hughie McCole from the Hills built the new school and it was opened on March 28th 1906.

School painting original
Sketch by Kim Sharkey

During World War 1, the teachers received a war bonus of £4 4s per annum because of rising inflation.

When Mrs Diver retired in 1915, a young teacher who had just graduated temporarily filled the position. His name was Jimmy Greene from Ranafast who later was to become the most famous Gaelic novelist of the twentieth century under the penname Máire or Seamus Ó Grianna. Jimmy Fheilimidh as he was locally known travelled to school by currach. When the sea was rough he’d stay in the home of Lanty Gallagher, a serving gunner in the Royal Navy. Lanty who joined the Navy in the 1890s was home on leave during Jimmy’s teaching term in Carrickfinn. Lanty, a past pupil of Richard Given ended his naval career in 1919 having seen action as a gunner aboard the flagship HMS Lion during the Battle of Jutland.

Many of the pupils recorded on the Carrickfinn Island N. S rolls were attending while at service at neighbouring families. They came from Gweedore, Ranafast, Braade, Drumnacart, Innishinny Island as well as some from other parts of Ireland and Scotland while they visited relatives.

At the old school house, slates and chalk were used to write on, but with inkwells being part of the desks in the new school, the pupils started to use copy books. There were many poems taught at this school over the years with some being later recited by past pupils, poems such as “Casabianca” by Felicia Hemans and “Wee Hughie” by Elizabeth Shane. Elizabeth Shane was the pen name of Gertrude Hind, a regular visitor to Carrickfinn in the 1920s.

In 1926 it became compulsory for every child under the age of 14 to attend National School every day. Mothers who in the past kept the most robust members of the family off school while their husbands were either at the harvest in Scotland or were at sea now faced the full rigours of the law. It was compulsory that every pupil would have with them two sods of turf from home to keep the school fire going, failure to do so resulted in the offender getting a couple of slaps with a willow cane or “sally” rod. With the establishment of the Irish Free State there were some changes to the educational system. It was customary to send the children to herd cattle after school. This was done, so that the unfenced areas could be grazed without destroying their own or the neighbour’s crops. It was common for these children not to have their homework done which resulted in more slaps. The pupils got a pandy (a tin can made by a travelling tinker) of cocoa and a slice of loaf bread and butter. Two of the older children in the school were sent to the Dunleavy’s shop in Calhame, a five mile round trip to get the bread. On the way back hunger pangs would overcome them, so they would carefully open the heel of the loaf and eat the inside. When they would land back with the provisions, an inquisition would begin which would result in……even more slaps!

The Irish language was promoted in Co. Donegal by Crann Eithne, an organisation set up by the Bishop of Raphoe in 1909. The participating teachers availed of a bilingual grant in the region of 17s per year. In 1927 Gaelic became the teaching medium of the education system.

The principal of the Carrickfinn Robertson School, Richard Given died on February 2nd 1937 at the advanced age of 84 years, This marked the end of Protestant education in Carrickfinn. Without a teacher it was decided to close the school and to amalgamate with the National School. Before the end of the school year of 1937, eight pupils from the local Church of Ireland community attended Carrickfinn Island National School for the first time. They were sisters, Maggie and Lily Boyd (Mary Jane), Susan Boyd (Johnny Richard Óg) of Carnboy, May Boyd (Christy) Carrickfinn. Also changing school were two sets of brothers George and John Boyd (Johnny Richard Óg) and Joe and John Boyd (Mary Jane), all of Carnboy. May Boyd later McElhinney now reside in Dunfanaghy and is the last surviving pupil of Master Given.


The school’s religious instruction was now controlled by the Catholic Church; the Protestant pupils would be let out to the playground while the less fortunate Catholic children had to suffer on.

Pupils at Carrickfinn N.S in the 1960s (Murray Boyd)

It was decided by the Diocese of Raphoe and the Department of Education that the smaller schools in the Parish of Annagry should close and amalgamate with the larger school in the village close to the Parish Church. On July 1st 1968 ten girls and five boys attended Annagry National School for the first time.

The school fell into disrepair after its closing. It was later renovated and is now a holiday cottage.

Carrickfinn Schoolhouse today

Frances Boyle
Frances Boyle from Arranmore Island , teacher at Carrickfinn Island N.S in 1952 (copyright Maria Doherty)

Air Aodh Mac Domhnaill 

Gen ach bhfuil úr chórn le na luir a choimead go buan

No cloch na sgeala do choimhnach dhuin gach huair

Achd teas shuil na ndeor, sé shaibhleas se é

A ainm ulmhaitheas ó dhath uain na cré

Caranacht na ndeor mar bhuil sé na luidhe

Le gaoil spiridibh silteadh beith ro chaoimh

Ní thuitfuidh na tuilte gan tairbhe no mithórbhuil uabh

Achd foilseaidh dhuin an ait a bhfaisfaidh snuadh na huadh

Sud an ait a gcafaidh an tsamar a snuadh ghlas le sgeimh

Agus aibid úr an earaidh beith go bun do réir

Sud an ait a mbeith an dearg rós ag fáilte gnuis an lae

Agus drucht oidhche silt de dhealgibh gear

Ansin ní fhasan luibh neimhnach go lá an luan

No ni bheith athair neimhe a bhfogas do na leabhadh ro shuan

Dheandaid faire ar huairibh air a luir le brón

Agus banfaid an fomhnan frithe dhe na huadh gach nóin

Ansa t-sean Cill Mhoira shuamneas a chean go crom

Agus codlain go luidhchan ameasg na marbh go trom

(Written by his son-in-law Cathal after Aodh death.)

Aodh Mac Domhnaill wrote two manuscripts, one in Belfast in 1858 and another more than likely in Carrickfinn in 1863 (this one was owned by the late Cardinal Ó Fiaich).

Additional information of teachers.

*Sean McColgan got a post in Dublin in September 1926.

*Annie Breslin transferred to Knockastollar N.S in April 1927.

*Norah Boyle came from Inishirrer N.S. and spent 5 years in Carrickfinn

*Kitty Bonner was in Carrickfinn when Master Given died in 1937.

* Ms McGarvey Boyle said she taught here from 1953/54 to 1957..Annie Carr from Gortahork taught there before her and she thinks Máire McGinley replaced her.

*The were two teachers called Frances Boyle, one from Arranmore and the other know as Nuala  Boyle from Meendernasloe, one of them appeared in the Annagry notes (Derry People) March 1952.

©Jimmy Duffy November 2015


Economics of World War One: The Rosses Experience

Ninety seven years ago this week the Great War ended. Growing up I heard stories of the loss of nine “Mullaghduff men” in this war. At the beginning of 2014 I began to research these men and the greater local involvement in the 1914/18 war. In August of last year I brought this research together and displayed it in a week long commemoration to mark the centenary of the beginning of the war. It was the first Great War commemoration ever to be held in our parish of Annagry. During that week we had an ecumenical service which ironically also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of the first casualty from the Lower Rosses, James Ward who died on the first day of the Battle of Mons, the first action on European soil in 100 years.  A display depicting the life stories of 120 Lower Rosses men who were known to do battle in the war, of which 38 souls would never return, took centre place.

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Last day of the exhibition in Annagry Hall August 2015

On the final day of the event, I put together war memorabilia and possessions of local men who fought on display for the first time. By the end of a highly successful day, we had on display original documentation and artefacts from the Great War and from other conflicts. Free State Army, IRA and Cumman na mBan artefacts from the War of Independence, and many items from WW2 were exhibited.

This exhibition later formed part of the Donegal County Exhibition from October 2014 until April 2015 at the County Museum in Letterkenny.

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When Owen O’Donnell died on July 31st 1917,


he was the 7th Mullaghduff man to be lost in the war. Owen the 4th son of the local shopkeeper, returned from Argentina where he worked with the Anglo American Bank in Buenos Aires.

owenie mhuris ships list from argentina

By then two of his first cousins and four of his next door neighbours paid the ultimate price. One of these, Micheal O’Donnell, the youngest son of Owen’s uncle Paddy was killed in action 10 months earlier. After he fell, a letter was got on his person which was addressed to his father at home in Mullaghduff.  The officer in charge sent the letter home to his father Paddy “Johnny” O’Donnell.

Paddy “Johnny” O’Donnell in 1938 aged 98 years

It read……“My dear Father and Mother, A few lines from your youngest son about to go into battle. I do not know what may happen to me. But if it is God’s holy will that I shall fall, remember that I will be in Heaven. Only a few days ago I lost my poor comrade. He was killed beside me. I hope, dear father that you will be provided for by my brothers, if God spares them. Dear Father, I am thankful for all you did for me. Goodbye to all my nieces and nephews and cousins, and all my friends in dear old Mullaghduff, goodbye forever dearest Father and Mother, goodbye niece Nora Sharkey.                                                                                                                      Erin go Bragh.                                                               P.S. If any fond comrade should find this, send to this address, and I hope God will reward them”.

Michael had four brothers and three nephews and at least two first cousins fighting in the Great War. His brother Maurice was a captain in the US army. Michael’s nephew James McGee died just 6 weeks after Owen O’Donnell at the tender age of 20 years, as did another nephew Dan Boyle from Middle Dore, Bunbeg who lost his life when his ship “S.S Tuncania was torpedoed off Scotland on February 5th 1918. Dan was just 20 years old.

James McGee Mullaghduff
James McGee Mullaghduff

Although their deaths and the carnage of the war was far removed from Donegal, their absence and that of the others still at war was evident in springtime when all available hands teamed together in meitheáls to cut bent(marran grass) to thatch their cottages and turf to heat their homes.

Economically there were winners and losers!

I take you back to life in this area at the start of the 20th century.  After the land wars and near famines of the late 1800s the government set up the Congested Districts Board in 1891 to start industry for the first time in places along the western seaboard including the Rosses and other coastal communities in north and west Donegal. In the years up until the outbreak of the war the Congested Districts Board created a successful herring fishery in north west Donegal. Although it was a thriving industry, the tradition of seasonal migration to reap the harvest in the farms of the Scottish lowlands continued. It was after the harvest in 1914, that upwards on 500 Rosses labourers enlisted in various Scottish, English and Irish regiments of the British Army. One of these men was Charlie Sharkey from Mullaghduff, a neighbour of the O’Donnell boys previously mentioned. 21 years old Charlie migrated to Fifeshire in east Scotland were he found work in a coal pit.

Charlie Sharkey Mullaghduff
Charlie Sharkey Mullaghduff

In the autumn of 1914 Charlie joined the Irish Guards in the nearby town of Kirkcaldy. In December of that year he wrote a letter to his mother stating that 12s and sixpence would be send to her on a weekly basis, this was part of Charlie’s army pay. This money must’ve been a God send to his mother who for the first time had a regular weekly income. She was now able to pay off the credit she got from the local store. But this was short lived as poor Charlie was killed in September 1915.

The Congested Districts Board expansion ceased with the outbreak of war. They had just built a fleet of motorised boats averaging 65 foot in length and five steam drifters capable of dominating the fishing grounds of North West Donegal.

Orient Star skippered by Owen Doherty Gweedore at Bunbeg harbour
Orient Star skippered by Owen Doherty Gweedore at Bunbeg harbour

My grandfather also called Jimmy Duffy was one of those pioneering fishermen with his 69 foot motorboat the “Summer Star”. With the laying of sea mines by the German Navy along the shipping lanes close to the North Donegal coast, the fishery was now curtailed to waters close to the Rosses Shore.

As the old saying goes “It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow good for someone”.

As a result of the war the larger Scottish Steam Drifters that usually tried to dominate the Donegal fishery were requisitioned by the Royal Navy for war duties. Therefore the herring became more plentiful in inshore waters, and with the involvement of the English Fishing Fleet in the war effort, the fishermen of north west Donegal where now supplying the Empire!

Five local steam drifters landed 600 cran of herring into Burtonport harbour in one night in January 1915, with the price at 30s a cran, each boat averaged 30,000 euros in today’s money. By the end of that spring 40 fishermen lost their livelihoods when the same vessels were requisitioned by the navy for mine sweeping duties in places as far away as Dardanelles. In 1915 my grandfather bought his boat for £1000 stg, paid for after the winter fishing season. By the end of the war the good fortune enjoyed by fishermen such as my grandfather changed. They were the now victims of exurbanite inflation. Costing more and more to replace damaged fishing gear and the high price of petrol and parafin oil used to propel boats like the Summer Star, they found it increasingly more difficult to keep their enterprises alive. In the Congested Districts Board’s report for 1918, it stated that inshore fishermen using yawls to fish for whitefish and shellfish grossed £24,000 stg, which earned each boat £30 a day. Yawls were open boats about 26 feet in length and carried a crew of five.

On land, conditions were mostly difficult. Farmers like those in East Donegal were getting for the first time in recent history well paid for their produce. This increased the price of food in the Rosses as local shopkeepers bought their merchandise in Derry City. There was a shortage of the basics usually grown in the smallholdings in the Rosses owing to inclement weather in 1915 and again the following year. This coupled with the high price of farm produce and the decline of shipping owing to mined sea lanes, made life very difficult. With the able bodied men not able to migrate to Scotland as they were accustomed to, due to the risk of conscription, their only option available was to send their children to work as farmhands in the Lagan, where according to Mickie McGowan in his autobiography “The Hard Road to the Klondyke” was anywhere east of Letterkenny. The schoolteachers still recorded these children on school rolls so that the authorities weren’t alerted.

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At a Donegal Guardian Committee meeting in February 1915, the following was stated……

“In the Donegal Congested Districts, where fishing is the mainstay of the people’s subsistence, it is enough to point out that owning to the war the industry ceased after mine laying of Donegal and the people being purchasers of foodstuffs have been doubly struck at, by the increased prices. They are consumers not producers, and as many of the migratory labourers (in one parish to the number of 500) have enlisted in Scotland, their earnings are lost”.

The same was echoed at a meeting of Old Age Pensioners in Dungloe in October 1916…… “Owing to much-inflated prices now current for the necessaries of life, the Old Age Pension of 5 schillings per week is insufficient for the maintenance of these deserving old people”. The government relented by giving an increase of 2s and sixpence to old age pensioners and £4 per annum to the teaching profession.

The demand for hand knitted garments such as socks, gloves and headgear increased due to the war. This cottage industry that provided supplementary income had in the past benefited greatly from the Crimean War.

In a letter sent from an elderly woman in Burtonport to her daughter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia, USA in 1917, she tells of the hardships endured by her and her contemporaries.

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She writes ” You say the price of provisions is high over there, well, prices are going higher and higher here from week to week, and God only knows what may come of it in the end. Just fancy flour, which was less than 14schillings three years ago, is 28 schillings per cwt now. Oatmeal is over 40s per cwt, Butter 2 and sixpence per lb, potatoes which used to be 2 schillings and 2 and sixpence are now 8, 9, and 10s per cwt, Indian meal which cost seven and sixpence before this brutal war is sold at present for 21 schillings per cwt. That gives you an idea of what poor people must put up with”.

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In all, the Lower Rosses paid a high price in this war, losing 38 young men with many others physically and physiologically damaged for the rest of their days.

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Twenty four those fatalities were from a two mile radius of Annagry.

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 © Jimmy Duffy November 2015

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