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.)