Dúchas Thír Chonaill

Donegal Heritage


January 2016

The Feast of St Brigid

Calendar customs were the customs linked with the different seasons of the year in olden days.  They were of great importance, marking the demise of one season and the birth of another.  In the days before the written word, customs were used together with astronomy to record the year. I wish to draw attention to the season of spring, particularly focusing on St Brigid’s Eve and Imbolic. St Brigid is honoured annually on February 1st. This feast day is held in honour of St Brigid, a 5thcentury saint, but this celebration goes back much further into our past, to a time when deities representing the seasons of the year were honoured by the Celts. In this presentation we will look at the customs and beliefs celebrated in Pagan and Christian times.


The Celts believed in Gods which represented the various elements such as wind, fire and water. The celebration of the end of winter and the coming of spring was called Imbolic. According to Kuno Meyer Imbolic derives from the Old Gaelic word Oimelc meaning Ewe’s Milk. It refers to the milking of livestock in preparation for the birth of new babies in the spring. It was celebrated on the second day of February. They were celebrating the darkness of winter and the longer days of spring.  Interestingly, Brigid was a set of three gods all called the same name, similar to the Christian Most Holy Trinity. Brigid the goddess of fire, thresholds and transformation, Brigid the patron of the arts and the protector of crops, pregnancy and sexuality and Brigid the goddess of magic, seership and prophecy were all honoured as one on this day.

As goddess of fire, thresholds and patron of the arts such as blacksmithing, she was linked with the rekindling of sacred fires, an association that was later carried on by Christians with the celebration of the feast day of St Brigid of Kildare, the 5th century holy woman.


St Brigid’s Day falls on the first day of February. It is held in honour of St Brigid. It was considered lucky, to name girls born on this day Brigid. Her feast day was celebrated in different ways throughout the country, but in general they included eating a supper and making crosses out of rushes or straw from the previous harvest.

Cross making in Carrickfinn

Capture 2

According to Padraic O’Farrell writing in 1978, a doll representing the saint was carried about in some villages. This doll was called Brídeog. A churn’s dash-the wooden disc on the handle that poured the butter- was sometimes used to make the Brídeog, and all the women had to bow before it as it was paraded about the villages. St Brigid’s day was the feast day when crosses woven from rushes on the eve of the feast day were placed in tillage fields and in the rafters of cow-byres to bring good luck on the harvest and the yields. He went on to tell of the children laying beds of rushes pulled by hand in front of the fire on St Brigid’s Eve in case the saint wished to rest during the night. Cutting the rushes with a knife was considered wrong. The St Brigid’s cross tradition is said to have originated when a golden cross commemorating the saint was stolen and the manifold weaving the humble rush type commenced to replace it. The Irish television service, RTE, used the cross as its emblem during its formative years.

Todays (31/1/2016) hand picked rushes ready for cross making after the tradition Brúitín dish

In an account from Máire Ní Bhaoill Scoil na gCailiní, Doirí Beaga, Tír Chonaill, part of the 1937 Schools Folklore Collection and published in “Amach as ucht na Sliabh le Donall P. Ó Baoill “Long ago on this night the man of the house would take a creel with him. In it he would put an item of clothing from everyone in the household. He would also put straw in the creel. He would leave the creel at the closed door and he would say these words three times after each other; ‘Gabhaigí ar bhur nglúnaibh, fosclaigí bhur súile agus ligigí isteach Bríd’, (Go on your knees, open your eyes and let Brigid in). The woman of the house would say, ‘Sé beatha, sé beatha na mná uaisle’, (You are blessed, you are blessed, noble woman). He would then come in and make crosses out of the straw. They were put in the rafters of every room in the house, in the cow-byre and the cró or hen house outside. This was done in honour of St Brigid. It wasn’t right to leave the house that night”.

 In another account given in Ross Goill, North Donegal to the Folklore Commission,  “After the prayer and entrance of the man of the house, the rushes were placed under the freshly boiled pot of potatoes. Milk and butter was added to the potatoes, then mashed to make Brúitín. The family sat around the pot and ate their supper from it. When everyone was feed the rushes were taken from underneath and crosses were made from them”.

 In other places in the country, a female by the name of Brigid carried the creel of rushes or straw to the back door.  In any case, the person walked around the house in the direction of the sun, similar to a turas to holy wells throughout Ireland.

There are many different designs of St Brigid’s crosses made, the one most common in Donegal is of the swastika design. It is made entirely from straw or rushes with no wooden centre. It is made by folding a single straw on to another, making the cross the required size. Thomas Mason states that Mackenzie noted,  the use of swastika crosses in pre-Christian Ireland was used to represent the Sun  and it was found throughout the world.

(Thomas Mason. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Vol 75. No.3. 1945)

The three armed design is of a much older vintage, dating back to the Iron Age according to Mason. This cross was mainly used in outhouses.

The people believed that no evil spirit would enter their home while a cross was placed above the door. The old crosses were still left on the rafters. It was said that one could tell the age of the house by the number of crosses.

Small necklaces were made with the leftovers from the crosses by the man of the house and were kept until the lambing season. They were then put on the new born lambs to protect them from disease. The waste from the cross making wasn’t destroyed. It was placed on the hearth and a white cloth placed on top of it. This was called Leabha Bhríde or Brigid’s Bed. A path from the hearth to the doorstep was made with the larger cuttings so St Brigid could go to bed, if she needed, while she passed the house.

In coastal areas, fishermen inserted a ribbon of straw into their clothing to protect them at sea. The coastal people called the spring tide around this time, Rabartha Mór na Féile Bhríde or the spring tide of St Brigid’s Feast Day.

Full spring tide

They took advantage of it to cut wrack which was used as fertiliser for their crops. They also gathered shellfish. On the shores of Galway Bay shellfish was left at each of the four corners of the kitchen, so that they would be blessed with an abundance of fish for the rest of the year.

In Donegal, any available rags were put into a basket and left outside so that Brigid would bless them while she passed by during the night. This was not the case in other parts where the rags had to be a particular colour. In Mayo they had to be red while in Tipperary, black rags were preferred. Fishermen wore the Bratóg to protect them from the elements.

In other parts of Ireland Bratóg Bríde was called Ribín Bhríde or Brigid’s Ribbon and Cochall Bhríde or Brigid’s Mantle. The Bratóg was worn by woman who had labour pains and those who couldn’t have children. It was also worn by young children to protect them from the fairies.

No work was done on St Brigid’s Day that involved turning, twisting, weaving nor did the folk travel on wheels.

In olden days, signs from nature were the only guide the people had to forecast the weather. There were signs observed around the St Brigid’s celebration that would forecast the weather for the coming year. The art of wind that blew on this day was said to be the main direction for the rest of the year. If the weather is exceptionally good on that day, it was considered a bad sign.  If a hedgehog was observed on St Brigid’s Eve it was a sign of good weather, but if it returned to its nest, bad weather was to follow. If a lark was heard singing on this day it was a sign of a good spring.

Brigid was also associated with the linnet, oyster catcher and the dandelion.

Oyster Catchers at Carrickfinn with Gola Island in the background

In an article in the Irish Independent of 1939, the following was stated. The Girdle of St Brigid is made of straw or rushes, plaited trebly with three crosses worked in. Also known as a crois, it is still made in some homes, but the ceremony that formerly ensued is now extinct.

In each townland a chosen one carried the girdle aloft from house to house, the while repeating in Gaeilge:-

“The girdle of St Brigid of the crosses,

The girdle by which Christ was conceived,

Arise, mistress of the house,

And get out three times.”

At this utterance, all the members of each house came out-of-doors and had the girdle thrice hung about in turn.


There are a number of native Irish trees linked with St Brigid and Imbolic. Namely the Rowan, the Birch and the Broom.

The rowan shares St Brigid’s link with fire and the protection of livestock, it was tied to tails of young animals to protect them. The birch and the broom were used to make St Brigid’s Wand which was placed in a cradle to welcome Brigid to the home. The birch was also associated with the re-birth of the year.

In conclusion, I believe that the tradition of St Brigit and that of Imbolic originates as early as the Iron Age, but it is possible that it goes further back to the evolution of the Celtic Race itself.

© Jimmy Duffy 2016

The Dark Stranger

A large sperm whale was washed up on a Carrickfinn strand in 1992. It drew a great deal of interest with people who came to see it from many parts of the County and beyond.

Local composer Johnny Forker wrote the following lines.


The Dark Stranger

It was early in the morning I walked round the shore

From the Strand End to Ranamart on to the Parland Hole

I walked another hundred yards perhaps a little more

And behold at the beach a whale lay on the shore

Sperm Whale laying close to Trá na Stacan, Carrickfinn in 1992 ( his tail to the left of the photo)

I stood and looked in wonder, I thought it was a dream

And then I thought it was a German submarine

I felt a little lonely as I was on my own

As that is the time that spirits walk between the dark and dawn


I wished I stayed at home and lay upon my bed

Instead of running around the shore meeting the living and the dead

I often think of the gambler who is always out for more

No man has ever made his fortune running round the shore


I went home and drank a good strong cup of brandy and tea

I phoned up the Sergeant and he told me to call Lifford 2103

The Council called up Hanlon and his gang from Calhame

And sent them down with picks and shovels and fifty yards of chain


The shovels they got broken, the chains blistered a few hands

But the whale it never moved not an inch upon the strand

Stand back says Peter Hudie and leave the job to me

And I will land Sambo on the beach with my JCB

I’ll gut him and skin him and take his teeth for sure

His ribs will be a great attraction

We will send them to the museums on tour


The children had a field day, they came from near and far

From sweet Mayo to Dungloe, from Wexford to Kilcar

Some came in raincoats and wellies, some in fancy suits with big cigars

The Airport bar was crowded from dark until the dawn

It was two weeks or more before they all had gone


They said he was a stranger who came from a foreign shore

In search of a lone female but he will search no more

He meet his death such a lonely death, It makes my heart so sore

To think of him coming to die where no whale ever came before

Composed by Johnny Forker in 1992

The Kincasslagh Disaster (1922)

Manus O’Donnell, aged 60 years, with his sons James and Dominic O’Donnell, aged 25 and 21 years respectively, together with Dan  Sharkey, aged 59 years and brother-in-law to Manus O’Donnell, left Kincasslagh Pier on the hazy evening of the 22nd of June 1922 to sail seven miles to the salmon fishing ground.  When they did not return early next morning with the other fishing boats, these boats immediately went in the search of the missing crew, but only to find a few miles from the shore, floating on the waves the nets of the missing boat, and a cap and a boot belonging to one of the missing crew. The boat, broken in pieces was cast ashore a few days later.

1-kincasslagh salmon yawl 1914
Fishing yawls at Kincasslagh pier (F. Gallagher)

All the vales around the Rosses

There are weary hearts today

Thinking of the four brave seamen

Who so nobly sailed away


To face the raging bellows

As they often done before

The brace O’Donnell’s and

Dan Sharkey from around

Kincasslagh shore


Never more will poor Dan Sharkey

Face again the Keadue strand

With his gallant brother Dimlick

He brought credit to the land


To the dear old land of shamrock

That land for troubles soon will cease

And God be with their wives and families

May their souls now rest in peace

By Bog and Well

There was only one bog in Carrickfinn  island located in the sandy banks between Dunmore and Carnboy.

Carnboy, Carrickfinn Island

This bog was cut by the Richard Óg Boyd family and is cut out now. The turf in this bog was a mixture of bog and sand making it quick burning and very hot. All the other families had to cut their turf elsewhere. Most used bogs at Diaragh Annagry and Mountjoy near Ardcrone while others cut in Gweedore. Carrickfinn being a tidal island with no road into it the only way to transport their crop of turf was by boat. There was more work with this crop than their mainland neighbours had. After the crop was won it was taken by horse and cart to the seashore at Annagry Bridge, Toinacnoic and Bunbeg Harbour. The turf was built into stacks and left there until there were suitable spring tides. In the morning they would leave Carrickfinn and sail their boat called a yawl to Annagry where they would spend the day filling the yawl. This vernacular boat was about 26 feet long and and was equipped with a fishing rig. When filled with seven cart loads, the yawl would sink in the water to the last board about nine inches from the gunwale. They rowed back home with the ebbing tide to their little quays adjacent to their farms, or to the strands at Dunrower or Toberahoney to unload their crop. They would sail if it was calm and wind in a favourable art. At the quay the turf was built into a stack and from there the youths in the family would carry it home in creels. When it was at home another stack was built, so from when the turf was cut to it was on the fire it was handed eleven times. The Dunmore folk took their cargo to Dunrower strand and took it home by the cart load. The Carnboy folk took their turf from Toinacnoic, Annagry West to Toberahoney and put it in a shed until they carted it home. This shed was green in colour and was located close to the present day Duffy home. In 1945 the turf was taken home by lorry on the newly constructed Strand Road, thus ending centuries of tradition. Con Bonner was the first lorry driver to take turf to Carrickfinn road.

**The placename Toberahoney is used here in its English form.

Tobair a’ Shonnaigh is an interesting name, the first part of the name means well in English. It’s the second part of the name that is not so easy to ascertain. There are at least three explanations for this name,one meaning was the fox’s well from the gaelige for fox shonnagh. It’s the others that is more interesting, could it be the name of a previous landowner? The Cunningham family lived in the adjoining field and their Gaelige name is Ó Cuinneagáin. The third explanation is the most interesting, just below this seaside well small pieces of wood are washed ashore even to this day and the gaelige for this type of wood is cionnlaigh or kindling.

©Jimmy Duffy 2016

The Celtic

On a wild and stormy evening,

as the fishing fleet let go,

From the harbours of the Rosses

and the ports around by Doe;

They came from Magheraroarty

and the islands “round Gweedore”

One small boat among the number,

with a crew well known and famed,

Sailed across the ocean billow

and “The Celtic” was her name


Little thought those fearless heroes,

as they sailed away in style,

The would never see their mothers

or their friends on Gola Isle.

Machaire Gallen
Boats at Gweedore coast (Peter McGinley)

Never now on Sunday morning,

will those bold lads sail ashore,

To pray down at the chapel

where they often went before.


Oft I bought their silvery herring

from those lads so bright and gay,

They will l never say good morning

or you’re welcome Davey Hay.

never will l they cross the sand banks,

never see those scenes so fair,

Never hear the Angelus ringing,

calling all to silent prayer.


Written by Davey Hay (1931)


IMG_4294Slán, slán ag achan ard,achan cnocán, achan ghleann

Ó Loch an Iúir go Bun na mBeann, ón Mhullachdubh go Mín na Leice.

Rann na Feirste ‘san Charn Buí, Doire na Mainséar go Calchéim,

Cul a Choic is Mín na Craoibhe.

Slán, Slán aghaibh go léir.

Slan, slán ag achan sliabh, achan sruthrún, achan bheann,

Ó Anagaire suas an glean, Ailt an Eidhinn go Loch na nDeorán is,

Ó Croithlí siar go Braid, Mín Doire na Slua thuas go h-ard

Cnoc a Caochan sa taobh thiar.

Slán slán aghaibh go léir.

Slan, Slán ag achan tonn, achan oiléan, achan chuan

Ó Árainn Mhór go Inis Meáin,

Ón Chruit go hÍnis Óirthear, Inis Bó Finne, Inis Fraoich,

Oileán Ghabhla, Uaigh taobh amuigh, oileáin i bhfad siar,

Slan, Slán ag agaibh go léir.

Slan, Slán ag achan fhear agus slán ag achan bhean,

Achan stócach is cailín óg, achan pháiste beag is mór

Nó ní fheicfear sibh níos mó nó mó bhaile dhúchas féin

Tá deireadh leis an cheol

Slan, Slán agaibh go deo.

le Patrick Ó Domhnaill (Johnny Sheain) Beál na Cruite

Every Picture has a Story


Doyle, Lynn.,’The Spirit of Ireland’ (London, 1946) , p v.
Doyle, Lynn.,’The Spirit of Ireland’ (London, 1946) , p v.

While visiting Westport, Co. Mayo several years ago, I visited an antiquarian bookshop in the town. While browsing through the many rare books in the store, I came upon a 3rd edition of a 1946 printing of a book entitled “The Spirit of Ireland” by Lynn Doyle. I flicked through the hundred or so pages of this travel book depicting life in 1930s Ireland, looking for some Donegal interest. Towards the end of the book, I came across a series of photographs of interest.  One of these was the above photographic illustration entitled “Loading the Turf Boat, Co. Donegal. The image jumped out of its dusty cover, through my inquisitive eyes into a mind, thirsty for local historical knowledge. The photo depicted an activity carried out by inshore island communities off the Donegal coast including my native townland of Carrickfinn, then a tidal island.

There has been a total change in the way of life since this photo was taken sometime before the first publication date of 1935. In this essay I will examine the detail, the activity and the changes that occurred since the image was captured and tell what is known about the photograph itself. The subject of the photograph is filling the boat with turf. In order to fully comprehend the hardship involved with saving this crop, I feel it is necessary to look at the work involved.

The people of Carrickfinn harvested their turf supply in Diarach Mountain about a mile from the location of photograph at Annagry.

B indicates the approximate location of the bogs that most Carrickfin folk used. X points to the near hand quay at Annagry where the yawls docked.
B indicates the approximate location of the bogs that most Carrickfin folk used. X points to the near hand quay at Annagry where the yawls docked.

The only method of transporting the turf to townland was by boat as it was a tidal island inaccessible by road. It was the custom that the Carrickfin folk would cut their turf on the days of the new or full moon at the beginning of June when the tide was full in the morning and evening to ensure a hassle free crossing to the mainland. On the morning on the assigned day, the women of the house, would rise early so to have the breakfast ready for the turf cutters. The table was adorned with delph from the dresser, kept for important occasions. The meal consisted of home cured bacon with a duck egg, cooked on the hearth and accompanied with homemade scone bread and butter. The meitheál or team of eight able men was as a rule made up by the man of the house and/or his adolescent sons. The remainder of the team were neighbours. The same company would return the favour when the other members of the team were cutting their crop. This was a family day out with the woman and children of the house going along too, equipped with pandies, tea and bread, the makings of a fine lunch. While the men cut their dark, the woman and children made tea on a campfire, fueling the meitheál to continue their task.

When not capable of fishing due to high seas, they would sail the more peaceful inshore waters of the Gweedore Estuary to work with their crop, thus assuring their free time was used wisely. Every available person in the household went along, but their task now was somewhat different. On the first return to the bog, several weeks after the cutting, the sods of turf were turned over and left to dry in the mountain air until they returned a few weeks later.

Returning to the bog, the drier turf was footed. Footing involved four sods of turf balanced on their ends similar to the legs of a stool with a larger sod on the top to steady it, ensuring that the wind passed through them. On the next visit to the bog the dry turf was clamped into small stacks, each one the equivalent of two creel loads. On the next visit, a donkey was hired from one of the farms close by to take the turf to the roadside. Shellfish and salted fish were given in exchange for the donkey’s services.

X marks the immediate location of where the yawl in the photographs was moored . The change is remarkable.
X marks the immediate location of where the yawl in the photographs was moored . The change is remarkable.

In the ensuing days the turf was filled into a cart drawn by a horse and taken to the quay at Annagry, ready to be taken to Carrickfinn by boat. The hire of the horse, cart and driver was again paid through the bartering system.

R represents the townland of Ranafast, A represents Annagry, X represents Carrickfin, C represents the causeway. The broken red line shows the route taken by boats laden with turf prior to 1945.
R represents the townland of Ranafast, A represents Annagry, X represents Carrickfin, C represents the causeway. The broken red line shows the route taken by boats laden with turf prior to 1945.
X represents the location of the yawl in the image, the broken line indicates the route taken to Carrickfin which is represents by the letter C. Note that the tide would have been top spring when this passage took place.
X represents the location of the yawl in the image, the broken line indicates the route taken to Carrickfin which is represents by the letter C. Note that the tide would have been top spring when this passage took place.






In an interview before his death in 1993, Johnny Forker then eighty eight years old, tells of the yearly effort to keep the home fires burning…

“In the morning we would leave Carrickfinn and sail our boat called a yawl to Annagry where they would spend the day filling it. When filled with seven cart loads, the yawl would sink in the water to the last board about nine inches from the gunwale. We rowed back home with the ebbing tide to a little quay near to our farm, to unload our crop. We would sail if it was calm and wind in a favourable art.  At the quay the turf was built into a stack and from there the youths in the family would carry it home in creels.”

Johnny went on to describe how centuries of tradition came to an end when the turf supply was taken home by lorry on the newly constructed causeway into Carrickfinn from the mainland at Braade in 1945.

Recent image showing the former tidal island of Carrickfin in the background with the 1945 causeway and Donegal Airport to its left.

In her book Tales of the Donegal Coast and Island published in 1921, Elizabeth Shane, a frequent visitor to Carrickfinn, depicts this laborious work in her poem The Turf-Drawing.

Along the edge o’ the land we tied the white boats in a row,

Where the bank was piled wi’ turf down from the bog a week ago,

An’ all day long the girls an’ men were workin’ wi’ a will,

For the turf is aisy handled, yet a boat takes long to fill-

Oh! The turf, the brown, sweet-scented turf, each boat must have its fill.

Tommy, Mary Ann, Fanny and Willie Alcorn from Carrickfinn taking their turf home
Tommy, Mary Ann, Fanny and Willie Alcorn from Carrickfinn taking their turf home

The poet describes the above scene as thus; the brown sails glow as the laden boats come slowly one by one.

Since 1945 Carrickfinn folk went along to fill the lorry but with the help of hydraulics the turf could be emptied without anyone handling it. The capability of the tractors to travel on accessible turf banks was also seen as a progression. It ended the carrying of turf by creel and it put the donkey out of business. They could now cycle with their turf spades or sléans tied to the crossbar and with a flask of tea and a packed lunch they could stay there for a full shift. The popularity of the motor car from the 1970s, made the bog accessible at anytime. Harvesting turf has transformed from community based to a more independent exercise. It is now possible to hire a machine to cut turf and hire a tractor with an operator to get take it home. The yearly turf supply can also be bought by the tractor load or in local shops by the bag full.

The men in the photograph wore garments in common with most other older men in coastal communities along the western seaboard; trousers made of flannel, that were both relatively waterproof and hard wearing were worn. A grandfather type shirt was worn under a hand knitted gansey or waistcoat. This attire worn with undergarments such as simmets and long johns kept them warm. It was also customary for the men folk to wear easily repairable hobnailed boots. The youths in the photo are in their bare feet; more common in summer.

With the change in modes of transport from boat, to bicycle and eventually to car, dress codes changed also, to lighter clothing based more on fashion trends and wider availability than necessity determined by the weather and work.

The boat in the photograph was a seaworthy vessel of Norwegian origin known as a yawl common along the Donegal coastline.  It was an adaptable craft that could safely carry large unstable cargoes such as herring, seaweed and turf. The sprit and jib sails wrapped around the mast in the photograph were used instead of the usual rig of two sprit sails and a jib to ensure a safe passage.

A similar yawl at Greencastle Maritime Museum, Co. Donegal. Photo by the author.

With the book “The Spirit of Ireland” crediting the Irish Press I searched the newspaper archive and found this image with another confirming the location and passage from Annagry to Carrickfinn.

Irish Press Newspapers
turfboat 2
Irish Press Newspapers

Interestingly while delving deeper, I found that it was part of a collection of an Irish material to be used by the Nazis for their planned invasion of Ireland.

Rumsey, David, Historical Map Collection<–175–Beladen-von-Torfbooten


This romantic image of a boat weighed down by turf takes one back to time not that long ago, when in west Donegal agricultural activities were all done with grit and determination by hand. Taken at a time of transition this snapshot of an age old activity was about to change swiftly beyond recognition, for the better and for the worse; within a generation they could cycle to process their crop; then get a lorry to deliver and empty the load on their doorstep.

The celebrated access to roads ended years of physical struggle and dealing with weather and tides. The growing popularity of motor vehicles in the 1970s also meant people could wear casual clothing and go to the bog anytime they chose. Of all the changes that have occurred in this tradition, the social aspect was most altered. The necessity of going for breakfast with the family whose turf was getting cut stopped; this custom is carried on in the form of an evening tea for the lorry or tractor driver and the workers now.

In summary the contents and historical background of this simple photograph taken in post treaty Donegal has a cosmopolitan feel with simmets from Scotland, yawls from Norway and its fascinating international use by the Wehrmacht.

It is a treasure to have this photograph in order to preserve and highlight our history and heritage, in combination with the poem and the oral tradition in the interview discussed in the essay, we are truly able to reveal a window into our past.

© Jimmy Duffy 19th January 2015.


Pre War Seasonal Migration

The following is taken from an manuscript documenting the memories of the late Johnny “Susan” Forker from Dunmore, Carrickfinn in his own words. It was compiled just before his death in 1993.

I think I have a very good memory for a man of my years- 87 years (1993).

My longest memory is of seeing the men from all around the Rosses coming down the strand and around Carnbuoy with bundles on their backs, going to a place called Poll Dubh (down below my house) where there is always deep water and a long granite spink that served as a slip. The men then were ferried out in yawls to the big ship called the Gráinne Mhaol. Two men from Inis Shionnaigh and a man from Ballymanus called Charles O’Donnell rowed them out.

Charles O’Donnell Ballymanus pictured here with his brothers, unbeaten oarsmen of the 1890s

Charles spent a lot of time in Inis Shionnaigh  with John Mulligan and his brother Paddy both carpenters, and often away repairing boats with them.

The Mulligan home on Inis Shoinnaigh (James Barr Collection)

The ship stopped in a place called Gola Roads where today there’s a black buoy is to be seen. The fare was six pence on the yawl to Gola Roads and from there to Glasgow it was six shillings. The men carried their own food. The food the men brought with them was later cooked on the ship.

The women came down with them and when the ship weighed anchor, they could be heard crying on Gola Island. The womenfolk then went back up the white strand and home. They cut the harvest, took home the turf, dug the potatoes and had the bent in the garden ready for thatching when the men came home at Christmas.

I would have been about four years at the time, when my mother took me down with the other Carrickfinn women to watch. The hill we stood on is called the Watch Hill. It was a look out place for the Coast Guards who served as Coast Watchers at the time. No carcases then, be it a duck or bird was lying on the shore.

The ship I spoke of came down from the coast of Mayo to Burtonport, Kincasslagh and anchored at the Gola Roads


picking up passengers all along the coast. From there it set sail to Glasgow. Three Sundays in the month it came-1st, 2nd and 3rd Sundays in June. All the men in the area would leave. I hope the young generation read this. There are not many alive today who remember that- may they rest in peace. Johnny can be seen here telling a similar story


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A Trip to Sea

The following is taken from an manuscript that documented the memories of Johnny “Susan” Forker from Dunmore, Carrickfinn in his own words. It was compiled just before his death in 1993 aged 88 years.

In 1912 a motorboat called the Summer Star came to Bunbeg. She was built in Botan’s boatyard in Mulroy, by a man called George Botan. The Summer Star was manned by a crew mainly from Carrickfinn. The names of the crew were Big Frank the Sailor, Jimmy Duffy and his brother Mickey,

Jimmy Duffy at the helm of the Summer Star's lifeboat c1950
Jimmy Duffy at the helm of the Summer Star’s lifeboat c1950

Paddy Duffy (Paddy John Owen) from Braade, a cousin of the Duffy’s, Charlie Gallagher the engine driver and two men from Gola-Joe and Dan McBride. The Summer Star fished for herring all along the Irish Coast.

CDB Fishing grounds map

In Ardglass in County Down, Howth in Dublin, in the Isle of Man and in Stornaway, a place on the coast of Scotland.

Orient Star
Orient Star LY 917 at Bunbeg Harbour,  the wheelhouse of the Summer Star LY 930 can also be seen 

The Orient Star came to Bunbeg a year earlier. She was manned by a crew from Gweedore and skippered by Owen Doherty.

The Spring Star belonged to Gola men-the McGinleys.

The Twilight Star was manned by the O’Donnell’s of Inismeain. The engine driver was John Bán Gallagher from Carrickfinn and his brother Owen . He also drove the motor boat for Archie Dunlop called the Little Flower. This boat was also owned by Charlie Friel and his brother Joe.

I must recall how these motor boats played a part in the lives of the Donegal people.

At that time there was trouble between this Country and Britain. There was a war being fought. The roads were all cut and blocked and big boulders of stone were put on them to block the British lorries. The train was derailed and ambushed at Crolly Station and parts of the railway lifted.


Because of this no food stuffs could come in from Derry. Food stuffs were in short supply so the motor boats came to the rescue of the people of the Rosses and Gweedore and the rest of Donegal. The Donegal people should never forget the motor boats- The Summer Star, The Twilight Star, The Orient Star, The Spring Star and the Little Flower. Also the ? (name missing) from Kincasslagh, the Gweedore skippered by Ned Sharkey, and the boat owned by Big Anthony McGettigan from Downings. All these boats brought two cargoes a week from Derry. Men like Muiris O’Donnell from Mullaghduff, Charles Dunleavy from Calhame, Anthony Sharkey from Annagry, Charlie McBride from Annagry, Paddy Óg from Crolly Bridge and Donie Coll from Gweedore all went on these boats. They had plenty money and the merchants in Derry welcomed them and they got all the goods they wanted.

These boats and their crew ran a big risk for submarines and mines were all around our coast, but thankfully nothing happened to them.

Most of these motor boats are now lying useless down in Mulroy Bay and parts of the Summer Star are to be found in fences in Carrickfinn; a sad end, and the crew are buried in graveyards in Annagry, Kincasslagh and Magheragallon. May they rest in peace. The Scotch men said of them- “They were iron men on wooden boats”.

I would say I am the last surviving crew member of the old Summer Star.

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