The Bridge of Tears

Sheephaven History
The Muckish Gap is the name given to a stretch of road which links Creeslough and Letterkenny to Falcarragh. It is a lovely drive in a car and also one of the best rally-driving stages in Europe, if not the world. as it makes its way past the back of Muckish Mountain. It is still a very busy stretch of road in 2023 but if you travel from the Falcarragh side you will notice a sad memorial to former times – Droichead na Caointe nó Droichead na nDeor, which translates to “The Bridge of Tears”. A Gaelic inscription is now on the Bridge commemorating those times. The Inscription translates as: Friends and relatives of the person emigrating would come this far. Here they parted. This is the Bridge of Tears Long before the coming of the railway to Donegal, those emigrating from the area would travel with their families to the Bridge of Tears before parting with their loved ones to make their way on foot to get the boat at either Derry or Moville to take them to a new life in Glasgow or later on the New World in America. This was long before the advent of cheap air travel. The majority of those emigrating would not see their homes or their loved ones again and so many tears would be shed on both sides, hence the name of the Bridge. Often, the night before a young person or family would emigrate, an American Wake or ‘Convoy’ would be held in the family home and all the neighbours and friends would gather around to say goodbye to them as they would not expect to see them again.  These events would last until the morning when those emigrating would leave accompanied by their families to begin the long walk to a new life. At that time, Tickets for voyages could be bought in Dunfanaghy and sometimes those emigrating would get into a Curragh and leave Dunfanaghy or Port na Blagh. They would then jump on the Transatlantic Liners as they passed by the back of Tory Island – a journey not without risk as not only had they to brave the seas between the mainland and Tory but they also had to jump onto the moving liner which only slowed down and did not stop to let them on board! Many of those who left would never see their homeland again as back then even Glasgow seemed a long way away and the life of the Donegal emigrant has been well documented by such writers as Caisleáin Óir by Séamus Ó Grianna and Rotha Mór an tSaoil by Micí Mac Gabhann.  The latter is a posthumously published memoir which was dictated by Micí Mac Gabhann to his son in law Seán Ó hEochaidh and tells the story of Micki’s life working as a labourer in Scotland, Montana, and in the Klondike gold rush, where he made his fortune and was able to return to his native Donegal. In earlier times most of the emigration from West Donegal would have been to Glasgow where the Donegal people would have struggled to at first to make a living, having in most cases no English as they were Gaelic speakers and also discrimination because of their religious beliefs. They lived in tenement buildings in places such as The Gorbals which had little to no sanitation and made their lives there.  These buildings would eventually be torn down in the 1960s but the Southside of Glasgow is still very important to the Donegal Irish. In fact, the buses which still run during the summer season to and from Glasgow still begin their journey home at Gorbals Cross. Nowadays though through their sheer hard work and perveance their descendants occupy important jobs in both the political and business world of that city today. In the 1840s, and especially during the Great Famine, many of those emigrants made their way to America many on coffin ships, which were run by unscrupulous companies and captains to cash in on the crisis in Ireland with little thought for those whom they were transporting. In the beginning many settled in cities such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia after making the long sea voyage from their homeland. Eventually, as the American West opened up the Irish followed the Wagons and the Railroad west and they settled in cities all over the United States. Some of the Irish went on to have great political influence in some cities such as New York and the Irish American vote remains a very important vote to this day in U.S. Elections. Many of them did well for themselves never returned home again whilst some fell on hard times and even passed working to try to feed their families such as those who died at Duffy’s Cut. Two of these emigrants who left Donegal were Grace Strain and Manus McFadden near neighbours who were born in the Townland of Muntermellin in Hornhead in Dunfanaghy around 1831 and 1842 respectively. They got married in Doe Chapel in 1864 and shortly afterwards they left their thatched cottages behind in Horn head to sail to the new world, little knowing that over a century afterwards a descendant of their working in a medium which had then yet to be invented would grow up to be an award-winning actress. On sailing to America, the newly married Manus and Grace McFadden arrived at the port of New York aboard the ship Webster SS. By the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, the McFadden family had settled in Pennsylvania. Their child, Mary Agnes McFadden, later married Henry Charles Wolf. Henry Charles and Mary Agnes Wolf’s daughter  ‘Mamie’ is Meryl Streep’s grandmother. This is just one of many examples of how the Donegal Irish have made their mark in the land of opportunity. These days, emigration is not the life-changing event that it once was as nowadays most parts of the world are just a 24-hour plane journey away but nevertheless tears are still shed at ports and airports when our loved ones go away. So remember, that tucked away in a lonely corner of north west Donegal stands The Bridge of Tears. a sad monument to the thousands of people who emigrated from north west Donegal in search of a better life and never came home again.

Lughnasadh and The Tailteann Games

Tailteann Games

In Ireland, August is when two very important events occur; the first harvest of the year, and the festival season kicking off. Festivals have been an integral part of our history for thousands of years and have carried on to the modern day with new, innovative ways of engaging with our heritage while still maintaining a very traditional, if not ancient, celebration of life, agriculture and culture. The most famous, and one of oldest running, is the Puck Fair which as been going on since the 17th century, but many communities much like our own have smaller local fairs and festivals in the early part of August, but beyond it being associated with the harvest season, why else do you think we have so many localised fairs and festivals nationally, and do you ever think it’s associated to an Old Irish God?

Well, if you are not familiar with it already, the first of August is actually a festival in the Irish Celtic Calendar from ancient times. This festival is called Lughnasadh and its origins date back to when Ireland followed a polytheistic faith. The name is believed to be derived from the God of Craft and the Arts, Lugh Lamhfada or Lugh of the Long Hand – a greatly skilled hero and warrior in Irish Mythology who also has ties to the harvest and warrior culture. According to legend, Lugh was cast from the shores of Toraigh Island by his Grandfather, Balor of the Evil Eye, and was raised by his Foster Mother Taitliu. After clearing the plains of Ireland for settlement, she died and Lugh created a harvest festival with funeral games in her honour known as Áenach Tailteann. During this, there would be events honouring the dead, proclaiming the laws and the festivities following. Some of the sporting including running, hurling, spear throwing, archery and even horse racing, and the festival, much like today, would have competitions in crafting and music and food. Due to these great sporting events and competitions, the Tailteann Games are often referred to as the Irish Olympics because of this!

One of the stranger events that took place were mass arranged marriages where couples would often meet for the first time before being married amongst other brides and grooms. If you didn’t like your spouse though, you had a year and a day to decide of you wanted to divorce them.

This festival also celebrated the beginning of the harvest season. People would celebrate by cooking grand feasts, playing music, selling their wares and revitalising their connection with nature as the Irish landscape was bursting with produce and foliage. We still see this today with events like the Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July. Lughnasadh is actually the last of the major festivals in the Celtic Calendar.

Today, the festivals that we have across Ireland have evolved into something new that reflects our ever-changing climate while still honouring and preserving ancient tradition. If you have a festival coming up in your community, take a moment and consider how this yearly festival has its roots in our rich line of cultures and traditions.

Dunfanaghy and the Griffith Evaluation

Griffith Evaluation / Dunfanaghy Village
Today, the village of Dunfanaghy relies heavily on tourism for much of its business. However, in times past, Dunfanaghy was at a central point for the British Empire in the area as it held a headquarters for the Army, Coastguard, and administration, including the Union Workhouse for the catchment area. This would have meant that many more people were living in this area compared to others, with most living on the Main Street. As a result of this larger population, Dunfanaghy was also the home of many of the services which the population of the neighbouring countryside would have come to town. This included the bank, post office, the market square, etc. The farmers from the surrounding area would also come to the town every Fair Day to buy and sell their animals and their produce. Dunfanaghy would always be bustling with life as families lived on the main streets often above the shops and other businesses that they operated downstairs.

In the early twentieth century all these services were freely available in the area and the last Post Office had two postal deliveries every day. The Postmaster, Jim Nixon, was an agent for the Lloyds Telegraph which at that time ran a cable from Pollyguill in Hornhead to Tory Island, as part of its transatlantic communications network. Travelers to America could even purchase the tickets for their passage in the Post Office and were then faced with the choice of either traveling to Moville or Derry to get their boat or boarding the moving vessel from a small boat or Curragh as it passed Tory Island!

In the 1830’s Dunfanaghy had undergone a period of development which saw the Pier being reconstructed, the reclamation of the Market Square, and the construction of the block of buildings stretching from Ramsay’s Stores down to the Carrig Rua Hotel. The Market House which is the centerpiece of the town, was built as a Famine Relief project. Before this reclamation and the building of the Market House, Dunfanaghy would have looked a lot different to what we know it now with the tide flowing up to the buildings where Centra, Flynns and the Great Wall are now.

When the Griffiths Valuation of Tenements of 1858was taken inDunfanaghy, the area would have been recovering from the effects of the Great Famine and poverty would still have been a big problem in the area. At the time of the publishing of the Valuation, there were numbers of families living in the area of the town. The valuation began at the Stewart Arms Hotel which was owned by a Thomas McLean at that time, and made its way up that side of the street taking in Ramsays Stores and The Square before and going to the top of the town making its way down the other side of the street before finishing at the building which is now known as Arnolds Hotel. The residents of the town were mostly tenants who paid their rents to the following landlords Alex J.R. Stewart, Thomas McLean, Charles, Henry and Thomas Wilkinson, John Grier, James Irvine, Henry Moffett, and James and William Nixon.

There were some 68 different families living in this relatively small area and among the local landmarks still standing are the Market House and Ramsays Stores whilst the Presbyterian Church which was located in the centre of the town has gone ,its minister at the time of the evaluation was Rev. William Allman. This Church was just 10 years old at the time of the valuation having opened in 1848 after the Church and the other tenants of the Stewart Estatewere forced from their homes in Ballymore to make way for the Boundary Wall of the Stewart Estate which is still visible along the N56 to this day. The new Presbyterian Church was built in its present location at Kill and was opened in 1878. George Hogg from Hoggs Hotel is also listed as is Edmund Murphy who was the agent for the Ards Estate and he lived in what is now known as Arnolds Hotel.
The Griffith’s Valuation was a boundary and land valuation survey of Ireland completed in 1868 which was just after the Great Famine.Some of the names mentioned in the Griffiths Valuation are still familiar names in the Dunfanaghy area, although are not necessarily living on the Main Street such as the Ferry’s, Coll’s O’Donnell’s, McGinley’s, McClafferty’s Wilkinson’s, Algeo’s, Grier’s, Moffets, MacIntyres, Boyles, and Currans.

Other names such as the Divers, McCauslands, Ramsay’s, Heffermans, Nixons, Mahons and McNutts, are not as common in the area. Some of these families, such as the Ramsay’s and the Nixons, were business people in the town. The Mahons were farmers; some of the other names were probably members of the Crown forces who were stationed in the town at the time.

Richard John Griffith was a Scotsman who had spent two years in the early 1800’s valuing the land of Scotland before in 1825 being appointed to carry out a boundary survey in Ireland in preparation of the first Ordnance Survey. He completed this work in 1844. He was also appointed Commissioner of Valuation in 1827 and he completed his valuation of County Donegal in 1858. As the Census Records for Ireland were largely destroyed by fire in 1922, the Griffith’s Valuation serves as a very valuable tool for those looking up their family history

The Owencarrow Disaster

This week marks the 97th anniversary of the Owencarrow Viaduct disaster when the Derry to Burtonport Train was blown off the Viaduct during a storm, resulting in the loss of four lives. 

On this day, 97 years ago, the ill-fated train had left Derry Station earlier in the evening. By the time it had reached the Owencarrow Valley, winds were gusting to 120 miles per hour.   These winds derailed the train carriages off the viaduct causing it to partially collapse. The roof of a carriage was ripped off, throwing four people to their deaths.  The four killed were: Philip Boyle and his wife Sarah from Aranmore Island, Una Mulligan from Falcarragh and Neil Duggan from Meenbunowen. Five other people were seriously injured and locals showed great courage in tending to the dead and injured when word of the tragedy reached Creeslough. 

The company opened its first railway line 1863, extending as far as Letterkenny in 1883.  In 1903, the building of the Burtonport extension was a great engineering challenge with little machinery or electric power used. As well as serving the towns, the main purpose of building the railway was to serve the bustling fishing industry at Burtonport. It was built with one hundred percent manpower and horsepower with dynamite being used to blast the huge cuttings. One of their main challenges was to build a bridge across the Owencarrow river and bog.  To achieve this a temporary steam-driven pile driver was used to push oak trees from Derryfad and Umerfad into the bottomless bog and swamp, Fleeces from sheep were also driven down and then rocks and concrete.  This was their platform before the piers were constructed with granite blocks that had been cut and numbered and hoisted into place with a block and tackle. This was a great engineering feat and many locals were involved in its construction and the quality of their workmanship is still there for all to see today in the remains of the viaduct that they constructed over 100 years ago.

During the War of Independence and the Civil War the Train and the track were attacked many times as they were used by the British Forces to transport personnel, munitions and supplies to their troops in West Donegal.

The accident on the Owencarrow Viaduct was the worst disaster to befall the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway but it was by no means the only incident to happen to the railway during its time of operation on the line. On Christmas morning in 1922, another trip from Derry had almost led to loss of life in the locality.

A train left Derry that morning and made its way through a storm towards Burtonport. Nearing Dunfanaghy Road station where the line crossed an embankment, the coach next to the engine was lifted completely off the tracks by the wind and the couplings snapped. The coach toppled over and crashed down the steep embankment. The only occupant was a boy who was able to crawl out of the wreckage. The second coach which contained five or six passengers was toppled over also but was held from tumbling down the embankment by a wall. Luckily, none of the passengers was injured.

On 7 February 1923, the 8.30 a.m train was making its way from Burtonport and near the 6814-milepost at Cruckakeehan, between Kincasslagh Road and Crolly. As it was about to enter the cutting beside Owen Sharkey’s house, a gust of wind lifted two carriages and a bogey wagon off the line and dropped them sideways down the bank. Only the engine, driven by James Deeney, and the third brake van were left on the line.

The frightened passengers gathered together in the brake van before being taken into Sharkey’s house where they were comforted and given tea. Deeney took the engine and travelled to Crolly for help. When he returned, the brake van was also off the line. In the weeks that followed the wreckage was set on fire and destroyed.

There were also numerous accidents with livestock on the line and on the morning of 10th September 1922 during the Civil War, a party of irregulars tore up the railway line at Loughagher between Creeslough and Dunfanaghy. The Ganger was threatened and told not to repair the line but it was repaired and trains were soon running again.

The railway played a big part in the success of the Fishing industry in places like Downings and Burtonport with the big Scottish boats landing their catches there at these piers before transporting their catches by train to their markets. The train also transported tattie hokkers on their way to work in Scotland and those traveling to and from the hiring fairs in East Donegal and further afield.

Last July a new memorial was erected at the site by the Creeslough Development Association and the memorial was unveiled by the late Kathleen Doyle representing the families of those who died and whose grandfather was killed in the tragedy. Hundreds of people traveled from all over Donegal and beyond to see the memorial unveiled. 

The disaster is also commemorated in the nearby Log Cabin Bar and in recent years the disaster has been brought to the fore in a song “The Owencarrow” written by Creeslough man Ben McFadden and recorded by local singer Ailish McBride.

Today the pillars of the old railway viaduct stand high above the tranquil flowing Owencarrow river which elies the fact that it was on this spot that the worst tragedy in the history of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway occurred on a stormy night in 1925.

The Second Battle of Moytura

For 2022, we want to start sharing more posts to do with our cultural heritage and our Mythology, so we’re starting up Mythology Monday with our Heritage Officer, Róisín. Even if it’s a condensed version, it’s so important that we’re able to share these stories and this week we’re starting with one very close to home, the Battle of Maigh Tuireadh.

In an Ireland times gone by, a great battle took place to restore the honour of the old Gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha were made up of Gods and Heroes that nurtured the earth and the mortals, gods like Brighid, the Dagda and Dian Cecht. For years they had been oppressed by the Fomorians under their king, Bres, but enough was enough. They raised their armies to fight their oppressors and reclaim Ireland.

They fought ferociously against the Fomorian armies, the Dagda lifting his great club, Nuada slicing with his sword, the Claomh Solais, and the Morrígú crying out their battle cry but the Fomorians pressed on. Their leader, Balor, struck down their men with his Evil Eye, a cursed third eye which killed any man in its line. However, when things seemed lost, Lugh Lamfhada rose. Lugh, son of Eithne and Grandson of Balor, stood with the Tuatha and faced his Grandfather. Balor laughed, as all Lugh had before him was a slingshot – such a weapon could not defeat him! But Lugh was not deterred. He swung his arm and fired a stone towards Balor’s head. The stone ripped through his evil eye and Balor and the Fomorians fell.

The Tuatha were victorious, and Lugh took his ranks amongst them. Prosperity returned to Ireland and the Fomorians retreated back to the sea and their fort at Tory Island.

Suggest other myths you’d like to see next week! The reason why this is so close to home? Some versions of the myth say this battle took place in the Poisoned Glen in Dunlewey! In fact, it’s said Balor is buried in the side of Errigal.

Yule, Newgrange and The Irish Winter Solstice

Ireland has been celebrating the different markers of the year for millian and over time these different festival have evolved to adapt to our changing Climates. Samhain has evolved into Halloween, Ombolc has evolved to St. Bridget’s Day and even the festivals of Lughnasa are believed to have evolved into the village fairs we see across the country. The Winter Solstice is a quieter festival date that marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, but it may be one of the most important dates in the ancient Irish calendar based on our archeology. 

The Winter Solstice or Yule, known as “An Grianstad” in Irish, is a mid-season festival on December 21st that marks the Winter Equinox – the shortest time of the year in which we only have around 9 hours of sunlight. Our ancestors would have recorded this time as having some great significant meaning, from what we can see through archeology, specifically at Newgrange which dates back as far as the Neolithic Period – around 5,000 years ago! 

Newgrange is one of the oldest buildings in the world, and is the second largest of the mounds of Brú na Bóinne, the largest being Knowth. It is approximately 80m in diameter with a 19m long passage tomb running through the mound with a corbelled ceiling which has kept the interior of Newgrange water-tight for millenia. Upon its rediscovery in the early 20th century, bones and cremated remains were found on the flat stones in the chambers of the passage tomb, along with intricate designs and grooves carved into the stone of triskles and spirals that to this day historians are still unsure of their significant meaning. Some believe that Newgrange, and it’s surrounding mounds in Brú na Bóinne, were the burial sites for important figures in society, such as Kings or Bards, and that the Winter Solstice marked a point in the calendar when the first light born after the longest night carried the spirits of the dead, but this is only speculation. 

The entryway of the passage tomb, guarded by an intricate carved kerbstone and a lightbox above the doorway, is perfectly aligned so that at dawn from the 19th to 22nd of December the rising sun [pierces through the lightbox perfectly illuminates the long inner-chamber for 17 minutes. 

There is so much we can learn through monuments like Newgrange on how our ancestors celebrated different markings of the year, and what they may have meant, and even looking at things we still do today says a lot about how our folklore and culture has evolved. Today, the Winter Solstice is synonymous with dark, cold evenings shared with loved ones and roaring fires, and I’m sure not much has managed to change in the past 5.000 years.

“The Maid of Marble Hill”

“Beyond Sheephaven’s foaming tide three dreary miles away

Unto a maid who there resides a visit I must pay.

For there a thousand times a day my thoughts against my will

Cross o’er, and bid me follow them to the Maid of Marblehill.

My love’s a young and handsome maid the sunlight’s in her hair

The spring dwells in her breath so sweet and on her cheeks so fair.

Her whispers sound like far-off streams, when the Autumn eves are still

And her eyes keep Winter distant from the groves of Marblehill.

When mellow evening lights the west I wander by the shore

And think had men been made with wings how quickly I’d fly o’er!

For then my wings against my thoughts would strive to show their skill,

But I’d clip them when I’d reach the side of the Maid of Marblehill.

And oft when winds and waves are calm beneath the moonbeams clear

I then unmoor my little boat and o’er the waters steer.

I know my steamship is small, but true love gives me skill,

For at the voyage-end I meet the Maid of Marblehill.”

An extract from “The Maid of Marble Hill” by Andrew MacIntyre, who was also the final Master of the Dunfanaghy Workhouse between 1914 to 1917.