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.

The Dunfanaghy and Sheephaven Schools

Image of Holy Cross Church

Nowadays the children of the Dunfanaghy area have their education needs looked after with several local primary schools and their teachers – Holy Cross, Holy Trinity, Faugher, Ballymore and Murroe. In recent years, these schools have undergone some refurbishments and are equipped with the latest technology for learning in a digital age, though it has not always been like this.

The Irish School System has come a long way since the days of the Hedge Schools, when Teachers would teach pupils in the open air and in private homes to give children a chance of an education. The Hedge Schools were set up in response to the 1695 Stuart Monarchs which prohibited Catholics from getting an education. This remained in force until it was repealed in 1782. Its’s believed that by the 1820s, up to 400,000 students, in 9000 schools, were educated through Hedge Schools.

In the early 1800s, a formal education for Catholics in Ireland, was established by Ignatius Rice, and by 1831, the Board of National Education and the National School System was established. A Commissioner of National Education was set up and their role was to assist in the funding of primary school construction, textbook production, and the training/funding of teachers in National Schools. It wasn’t until 1967 with Free Secondary Education Act in the Republic of Ireland that secondary school education became open for all.

Just over 100 years ago in the Dunfanaghy area there were different National Schools to what we know now and some of these buildings are no longer standing. For the children of Hornhead, their school was located in a building in what is now Wilson’s farm in Lurgabrack. This was the school that my grandmother would have attended and she often spoke of having to run the gauntlet of passing Stewart the Landlords Bull which was in the field on the way to the school morning and evening on her way to school in the late 1800 and early 1900’s.  In those days’ children walked to school Summer and Winter often in the bare feet.  After the fall of the Landlords, this School was moved to the Gate Lodge for Hornhead House at The Bridge and it features on old pictures of when the sand blew in Hornhead and the Teacher and Pupils would have to dig themselves out of the sand in the evening and their Lunches would be filled with blowing sand!

In the late 1930s, it was decided to close this school and move the pupils to the Robertson School Board School which was located where the car park beside the Holy Trinity Parish Hall is now.  This decision did not sit well with the parents from Hornhead and there was a strike for a few months before the children eventually went to the Robinson School which was known as Dunfanaghy Number One National School. This meant a long walk for the children of Hornhead and there was no clock in the school. So, the Master would send the children over across the road to the Garda Barrack to get the time and often the Guard on Duty would give them the wrong time which meant the children would get sent home early! The headmaster here was Master Barlow and he went on to teach in Holy Trinity School when it was opened and the old School which was a landmark at the top of the town was demolished to make way for the car park.

100 years ago, the Catholic Children of Dunfanaghy would have been receiving their education in a school which is now also demolished at the entrance to the present day Holy Cross Cemetery.  The school then moved to the Old Fever Hospital in Dunfanaghy which is now the Gallery.  The teacher was Eamon Cannon who moved to Dunfanaghy from the south of the county and was to be instrumental in the Educational, Sporting and Musical life of Dunfanaghy for decades afterwards.

Both schools would share important information with each other such as when the School Inspector would put in an unexpected appearance. 

Master Cannon and his pupil, like their neighbours down the road, moved to a new school with the opening of Holy Cross NS which is still educating children today.

The Old Murroe School would have been providing education to the children in its area in the early 1900s, and like all schools at the time pupils would be absent from school when the hard work had to be done on the farm.  Ireland was largely a rural economy back then and the horses and carts were the driving force on the farms and the hiring fairs were still a fact of life which saw many children take the train to Letterkenny to be hired in the agricultural heartland of the Laggan and elsewhere. The new school at Murroe was built and opened in the 1960s. 

Among the other schools in the area were at Roshine which has closed and Kildarragh which only closed in the 1980s when its pupils moved to Creeslough.

100 years ago, Ballymore School would have been providing education to all the children in the area and among those who would have attended in the early 1920s would have been the late Bridget McBride from Knocknafaugher who only passed away recently. The School at Ballymore continued to educate the children of the area until Faugher NS was opened. 

Like Ballymore, Faugher NS continues to provide education for the children of the area and this is due in no small way to the campaign led by the parents in the 1980s to keep the school open when plans were afoot to close the school and move their pupils elsewhere. 

This is just a small history of some the schools in the area and things have certainly changed in the past 100 years and those at school then just at the start of the Irish Free State could hardly have thought that in a few short months a Civil War would have broken out and just 17 years later we would find ourselves in ‘The Emergency’ as the Second World War was known here would break out and they would certainly not have known about the technological advances which would take place during their lifetime and change their lives forever.     

The Port na Blagh and Dunfanaghy Fair

Dunfanaghy Fair Vintage Car

Monday the 7th of August was the annual August Bank Holiday here in the Republic, and for years it was traditionally a very busy day for Festivals in towns and villages up and down the country. None more so than in Port na Blagh and Dunfanaghy where Sports and Fairs have been traditionally held on this date for years.

For the months leading up to the Port na Blagh Sports Day, the hard-working local committee would be making preparations as well as getting the all-important sponsorship gathered up to keep the Sports Day going. The fundraising meant visiting businesses as far away as Letterkenny and members of the committee would spend a day visiting all the pubs and business premises on the Main Street in the Cathedral Town gathering much needed sponsorship.

The annual Port na Blagh Sports Day were held on ‘Mullens Keadue’ which is situated close to Port na Blagh Pier. This was one of the biggest sporting events in the North West, attracting the best athletes from around Donegal to compete as a medal won at this event was to be cherished. As well as the Track and Field events, there was also the Bonny Baby Competitions, Cycle Races, Curragh Races, Tug of War and the choosing of the lucky girl who would get the title of Miss Port na Blagh.

The Sports would be followed by the Annual Sports Dance in the nearby Pier Hotel, which used to be a mecca for dancers and disco goers for miles around but which is now sadly confined to the annals of history. 

The Portnablagh Sports ran for many very popular years before eventually fizzling out in the late 1990s, despite the best efforts of the organisers and this left a void in the Bank Holiday entertainment in the area.

It would not be too long however before this void was filled by another local event which from small beginnings grew into one of the biggest annual events in north west Donegal. 

In the early 1990s, Holy Trinity Church in Dunfanaghy were looking at ways of raising money for the Parish finances. For a number of years previously, the Church had been holding Coffee Mornings, Socials, ‘Donegal Evenings’ and teenage discos in the Parish Hall as well as a Table Quiz and Treasure Hunt. The Select Vestry at the time felt that another bigger event might be able to be held which would replace some of the smaller ones and put less pressure on the fundraisers. 

They had seen that the Sports in Port na Blagh had been discontinued and thought that it might be a good idea to start a new event in Dunfanaghy in its place.

To this end a ‘Car Boot Sale’ was organised for the Saturday of the August Bank Holiday in Charlie McKinley’s Field on the Horn Head Road and in the following years the Dunfanaghy August Fair Day, as it came to be known, was established. The event grew into one of the biggest and most popular events with thousands of people flocking to Charlie’s Field on a yearly basis to meet their friends and have a great day out. 

Over the years, all the local Churches used the Fair Day to raise finances and the Table Quiz and Treasure Hunt were also organised for the week prior to the Fair Day as well as new events added such as the Beetle Drive, Float Parade, Underage Disco and the Choosing of the August Fair Queen so that the event became the August Fair Festival Week. In the early years, events were also held in the Green at Arnolds Hotel on the Saturday and entertainment from the likes Conal Gallen would be held in the Marquee in the Field.  The Sheep Dog Trials and Sheep Judging in John Joe McGinley’s Field were also a very enjoyable part of the Fair for many years as was the Angling Competition on Purt Lake. In recent years also Dunfanaghy’s very own Dog Show has become a very popular event also.

The August Fair continued in Charlie’s Field for a long number of years before moving to its present location of a field in Figart Dunfanaghy overlooking the New Lake.

For a number of years also, Holy Cross Church organised a very enjoyable Country Concert in the Ozanam Centre in the weeks leading up to the August Fair and this has added to the pre-August Fair atmosphere in the area and the Creeslough and Killdarragh Fairs would also take place around this time of year bringing visitors into the area from far and near.

Sadly, due to the Pandemic, the Dunfanaghy August Fair Festival Week nor the Concert nor any of the forementioned events has not taken place for the for a few years. Then, in 2022, the August Fair Day returned to the Calander and is now being held on the Holy Trinity Parish grounds of the Hall, Church, Rectory and Church on the Horn Head Road with the majority of pre-fair events also returned. On Bank Holiday Monday last, crowds again gathered to enjoy the Dunfanaghy August Fair keeping the tradition of Festivals in this area going and hopefully it will continue long into the future.

The Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway Extension

In recent times there has been much talk about the possibility of the Railway coming back to Donegal after a long period of years. The proposed route is to link Letterkenny to Derry and from there passengers could travel further afield throughout Ireland, both North and South.

It’s worth remembering that for a period between 1903 and 1940, this area was served by trains operated by the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company on a narrow-gauge railway before the line was closed in 1940 to save the company money. The coming of the railways provided a boost for the commerce of the area because it meant that goods produced in the area could be transported to vital markets much quicker by rail rather than the old system of horse and cart. This was especially true for the fishing industry and the piers at Burtonport and Downings. It flourished so much so that, according to a British Parliamentary, herring landed from boats and cured in Downings by Scottish and local girls in 1906 fetched record prices in St. Petersburg in Russia and the Congested Districts Board had plans to export Mackerel caught in Donegal to the American market. Downings was one of the top Piers in the country back then and this can be seen in photos from the time.

The coming of the Railway meant that there was a bit more choice of items for the local shopkeepers to sell and local produce such as eggs, rabbits and potatoes could be sent to market quicker. Unfortunately for those living in Dunfanaghy there was a bit of a journey to get to the train as the local Dunfanaghy Road Station was in fact located at Cloone in Creeslough so a train journey would start by either a walk, or journey to Creeslough to get the train. The building of a train station far from a town was not an unusual occurrence as the building of stations were often at the whim of local landlords who sometimes did not believe in the new-fangled train technology or did not want the cost of having the railway on their lands as each landowner was responsible for the upkeep of the railway line.  They were given a ‘cut’ to maintain and there were a number of those in this area. 

Nevertheless, many canny businessmen saw the chance to make money from the railway and among those was Mr Sterritt from the Stewart Arms Hotel (Now the Carraig Rua) in Dunfanaghy who transported tourists from the Dunfanaghy Road Station to his hotel. There was also Master McGinley who done the same when he built the Port na blagh Hotel in the early 1920s, pioneering tourism in the area which before was confined to mainly the more well off or friends of the local gentry. Many people would also have travelled on the train to get the Derry boat to go Tattie Hoking in Scotland, or to emigrate to far off fields or to go to the hiring fairs in Letterkenny or Strabane and an often-uncertain future.

The essence of the Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway Line was brilliantly captured by the former P.P,. of Dunfanaghy when as a young curate he filmed the journey and this footage is now available online to view and offers a fascinating insight into the journey.

The tracks were lifted in 1959 and over the years, the only reminders left are the little Station Houses, the flat areas of ground that the tracks were laid on and the bridges and viaducts you can see from the roads.  In this area, the Owencarrow Viaduct was the scene of a disaster in 1925 when the train was blown off the tracks during a storm, resulting in the loss of 4 lives.

The Railway may be gone but here in this area it still provides a great amenity for the Railway as the Railway Walk between Muckish Mountain and Dunfanaghy continues to provide a great tourism amenity for the area.

The Hunters Moon

Whilst it can often be cloudy in these parts, when we get a chance there are often many things to see in the night sky. From the planes carrying their passengers to and from far flung destinations, to the stars and planets, asteroids and shooting stars, even the International Space Station or even a UFO or two. The sky is fully of wonderful things to see, but by far the brightest light in the night sky is the Moon. On October 9th, the Hunter’s Moon, also known as the Blood Moon or Sanguine Moon, was high in the evening sky.
The Hunter’s Moon is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon which occurred last month, and it gets its name from the tradition that after the harvest, hunters began tracking and hunting heir prey so to stockpile food for the winter ahead. On the farm, October was also a very busy month as the last of the crops such as potatoes would at least begin to be gathered up and in many cases the corn stacks would be thrashed in the Haggard This would involve a man arriving with a thrasher and the local farmers would gather at the first farm to be visited by the tractor and thresher and then travel to all the farms to the neighbourhood until the work was completed. This day of hard work would sometimes be followed by a supper and dance to celebrate the saving of the harvest.
In the autumn months, there’s no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days in a row, around the time of full moon, meaning there’s prolonged periods of light which is the reason why these moons have traditionally been used by hunters and farmers to finish their work. This is where the name comes from in Native American Folklore where they primarily hunted big game like deer. In Ireland, it would be used to hunt smaller game like rabbits, hares, foxes and other animals. As well as that, country folk used the light of the moon as they moved around their neighbours to visit. This was locally known as “rakking”. This was a great tradition when neighbours would gather in different houses each night to visit and ceili and play cards which would sometimes mean that they would be rather late returning to their own homes over the country lanes, boreens and hillsides. This would give more importance to the light of the Hunters Moon as often there would be a storyteller in the rambling house who would frighten those attending with ghost stories making the journey home more frightening.
In olden times before the coming of rural electricity there were supposed to be ghostly happenings in many areas especially in poorly lit country lanes and byways. In this area there were reports of headless gentlemen roaming about as well as white ladies, strange lights and other unexplained paranormal activities.
Unfortunately, the coming of the electricity has seemingly done away with these stories or maybe the spirits have just retreated into the shadows and are still there waiting to greet the unwary traveller – a lovely thought as we approach Halloween!
Likewise, the month of October is the month of the Rosary and those attending the evening October Rosary’s in their local churches would have saw and walked under the light of the Hunter’s Moon as they made their way often over long distances to and from Church.
Interestingly, the Hunter’s Moon is not usually any bigger or brighter than any of the other full moons. The only notable difference between it and other full moons is that the time between sunset and moonrise is shorter, usually as little as 30 minutes.
These are just a few of the events and culture associated with the Hunter Moon and the long October Evenings. What do you think of when you see a Hunter Moon?

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.

A Short History of Muckish Mountain

From the Parishes of Doe to Cloughaneely, there is an iconic part of the landscape that is impossible to miss, except perhaps on cloudy days when there’s a low cloud or fog in the way. This is the sight of Muckish Mountain. 

Muckish has stood overlooking this corner of Donegal for Millenia and has watched from above the many changes of our landscape since then -from the arrival of our ancestors, the marauding Vikings and the days of the great Irish Chieftains, to the colonization under the British Empire all the way to our Independence. It has also bore witness to our tragedies; The Great Hunger, Two World Wars, the Battle of the Atlantic off the coast of Tory Island which saw the death of hundreds of sailors, and the countless lives that have drowned along our coast. 

Muckish, coming from the Irish Mucais or An Mhucais (meaning “The Pig’s Back”) is a distinctive flat-topped mountain in the Derryveagh Mountains . At 667.1 metres, it is the third-highest peak in the Derryveagh Mountains and the 163rd highest in Ireland. Muckish is also the northernmost and second highest of the mountain chain known as the “Seven Sisters” by locals. The Seven Sisters include Muckish, Crocknalaragagh, Aghla Beg, Ardloughnabrackbaddy, Aghla More, Mackoght, and Errigal.  A large cairn (man-made mound of stones), can be found on the summit plateau which marks a Bronze Age court tomb. 

The mountain contains high-grade quartz sand that was mined on the flanks of the mountain for many years and the remnants of the quarry workings can be seen on its northern side to this day. The sand mined on Muckish was taken down the mountain on sluices and taken to Ards Pier on lorries where it was loaded into boats for export. Two of these boats were the Saxon Queen and the Gaelic. Unfortunately, the Gaelic sank after leaving Ards Pier after hitting the Black Rock off Rosguill. There was no loss of life and the ship’s remains have become a popular spot for divers. 

The miners who worked on the quarry would arrive at the bottom of the mountain by foot or by lorry and make their way up the mountain by what is now known as The Miners Path. The route of the Miner’s Path is to the summit, up the northern side of the mountain. Part of this route follows the path used by the workers to reach the quarry. A less difficult route to the summit begins from the Muckish Gap on the southern side of the mountain. These miners came from the townlands and towns surrounding Muckish, with the exception of Engineer Jack Smyth who came from England. He settled in the area and became an integral part of The Anvil Ceili Band as their drummer.  

In the past, families would gather at the Bridge of Tears in the foothills of Muckish to say goodbye to their family members who were leaving for a better life across the Atlantic, often never to return.  Percy French, the famous poet, visited the district at the beginning of the 20th century and while staying in Falcarragh he wrote a poem called “An Irish Mother”.  Once the Railway chugged along the base of Muckish, flanking its sides from Letterkenny to Burtonport, but even though the railway is gone now, it is still a very popular and expanding greenway.

Muckish Mountain has seen many changes down through the years and is now a very popular climbing route although care must be exercised as the mountain can be deceptively hard to climb. Up until recent years, a race known as ‘The Glover Marathon’ was held running along the ridges from Muckish to Errigal but this has now largely been abandoned in order to preserve the mountains from damage. The Muckish Gap is a name given to the road between Creeslough and Falcarragh on the southern side of Muckish and as well as being a shortcut to and from Letterkenny, it is also a world-famous rally stage for the Donegal Rally. 

In 2000, a large metal cross was placed at the summit of the Mountain, replacing a wooden one that had been erected by the workers of Muckish Sand in 1950. The new cross was placed much closer to the northern end of the mountain, while the cairn is towards the south. Among those who climbed the mountain to put up the Cross in the year 2000 were also there when the original Cross was put up 50 years beforehand. So, next time you’re looking to Muckish, keep an eye out for the cross!

The Dunfanaghy Fishing Tragedy

The seas around the Donegal coast have provided a bountiful harvest for fishermen who have ventured to sea. Unfortunately, this occupation has its dangers and to this day deep sea fishing is one of the world’s most dangerous of occupations with many tragedies. One such incident occurred in the Dunfanaghy Bar Mouth when two local fishermen, a father and his son, lost their lives within yards of their landing spot on Horn Head. The Dinsmore’s cottage, close to the shore at Horn Head and overlooking the Bar, witness the events on that fateful day.

On April 5th, 1925 (Palm Sunday), Alexander and Robert Find more went out to the Dunfanaghy Bar in their Curragh, a journey that would be their last. They were returning from a visit to one of four British Trawlers that were anchored in Sheephaven Bay, a common occurance of the time. Many trawlers from Fleetwood and other British Ports would anchor in the Bay and it was custom for the local fisherman to bring them fresh supplies in exchange for bags of coal or fish. This is what the fishermen were doing on this day.

According to reports from newspapers at the time, the men secured a large quantity of coal to their curragh and proceeded to head home. They reached the Bar around 7:30pm and appeared to have crossed it safely despite a strong ebb tide running at the time. It is believed that in crossing the Bar the Curragh may have shipped water and, heavily lafenx began to sink. One of the men was witnessed to have thrown a bag of coal overboard in attempt to keep them afloat. Directly after this however, the curragh sank and both men disappeared beneath the water. Their bodies were found close to where the curragh sank the next morning. This tragedy was unfortunately witnessed by the son and brother and the fishermen, who watched his father and brother drown right before his eyes. The bodies were identified by James Dinsmore, who was 13 at the time. Alexander and Robert Dinsmore were 60 and 22 when they died, their boat only 29 yards from shore when it occurred.

The community were in mourning for the loss, and sympathies went to the bereft widow and her children. To this day, the Dinsmore Tragedy is still talked about in Horn Head and it’s said the fishing gear owned by the deceased men were still kept in the Attic by the family for many years after the tragedy.

Despite the traumatic events of that Palm Sunday, James Dinsmore still took to the curragh and helped with the planting of the Ards Forestry before emigrating to Scotland. He died in the 1990s and was buried in the family plot at the Clondahorky Cemetery in Kill, Dunfanaghy. His tombstone is also includes an inscription the remember to tragic events that took place on Palm Sunday, 1925

The Wreck of The Algores

The top of the mast of the wreck of the Algores is still visible in Dunfanaghy Bar.  The Algores was a cargo boat owned and operated by Samuel Grey, owner of the Grey Line Shipping Company in Belfast. In 1925 she left Clare bound for Anterpt in Belgium with a load of flagstones. Unfortunately neither the ship nor its cargo reached their destination. 

Whilst steaming down the Tory Sound, the Algores sprung a leak. The crew proceeded round the tip of Hornhead where they anchored the Algores on the sinking sands of the Dunfanaghy Bar for repairs before Captain Jones and his crew of nine abandoned the Algores to her fate. The boat quickly became stuck in the sinking sands of the Bar and over the years she began to sink into them, becoming a total wreck. The events were summed up by a local Balladeer who wrote “Whilst coming round the Tory Sound, the boat she sprang a leak and now she lies in Dunfanaghy Bar a total wreck”.  

The wreck of the Algores, coupled with another wreck, the Honora Evelyn, and the silting stands, marked the end of Dunfanaghy as a major trading destination as ships were unable to safely pass through the wreckages. Local fishermen take great care not to hit ‘The Old Boat’ when crossing the Bar. At the time of the sinking, locals risked life and limb but managed to salvage items from the wreck as she remained intact for a long time. In fact, locals on Horn Head at the time described hearing the eerie sound of the cargo doors on her and the Honora Evelyn flapping open and closed during storms. 

Among the items salvaged was the Captain’s Table which went on to be cut in two and graced two houses in Horn Head. Even the Captain’s Chamber Pot was salvaged.  Flagstones from the ship were used as flooring in local houses and then in later years there was more salvage work done on  lifting some of  the  remaining Flagstones which are highly prized in modern houses.  

“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.