Begging in Dunfanaghy

In the 19th century, alongside the tragedy that was the Great Famine, the people of Ireland were already familiar with their crops failing and imminent starvation. Prior to the introduction of the Poor Laws and the building of the Workhouses, there was no place for the poor to go for relief, and it would be years before the introduction of the old age pension. Due to these circumstances, our great grandparents would have been familiar with ‘beggars’ walking along the byways and boreens of county Donegal. 

Prior to the opening of the Workhouses and Asylums, there were few places for people to go for help. In 1836, a report from the Commissioners of Inquiry regarding the conditions of the poorer classes in Ireland was published. This report gives us an insight into what life was like for the poor in Ireland several years before the Famine, and includes a section on the Parish of Clondehorkey which includes the town of Dunfanaghy entitled “Vagrancy – as a Mode of Relief”. It says:

 “It is impossible to ascertain the number of vagrants here; there was, however, an apparent increase of vagrancy last year, most particularly which Mr. Harper, a farmer, attributed it to the failure of the crops. From April to August is the period of the year at which vagrancy is most common; their own stock of potatoes being exhausted; the poor people are obliged to have recourse to mendicancy.  The majority of traveling beggars (who generally consist of old people), and women with tribes of children, go to strange parishes to seek alms; shame prevents them from remaining in their own parishes.  When employment is scarce, the labourer’s wife starts on a begging tour and leaves the husband to support themselves as well as he can. It is a common practise with the cottier tenants (having set their potatoes) to wander about the country seeking alms. There are also many beggars who had been farm servants; but very few tradesmen, as they show the greatest reluctance to beg and suffer the greatest privation before they do so. There have been no instances of small farmers in this neighborhood having transferred their property to their children, in order to adopt a vagrant life.” 

Destitution is generally the primary cause, but laziness often induces mendicancy.  It depends on the season, the supply of food in the country, and the tale he tells of the state of the family behind him, whether a sturdy beggar can obtain much more food than he consumes; but in most cases they obtain more food than they can obtain themselves.

Those who can afford to do so, generally increase the quantity they give in proportion to the number in the group, though every poor giver can only give a trifle in either case; they seldom separate in order that different members of the same family should apply for alms to the same individuals, they find it more in their interest to remain in in groups so as to excite pity.  Among discriminating persons there is always a difference made in favour of the infirm; nevertheless, the able bodied may get more in the day from visiting more places; and their having children to take about aften prevents beggars from getting so much as they otherwise could, as they cannot travel so much as when unencumbered.

The plea of those persons who seem to be able to work always is that they cannot get the work.”

There are some instances of beggars encouraging the appearance of rags, dirt, and lameness, in order to excite sympathy, some, who state they were shipwrecked sailors, are in the habit of producing forged certificates. 

A Mr Hugh O’Donnell, speaking of the poor in the area, is quoted in saying: “they are forced to beg and it is only when they and their children are half starved, that they do beg”. The poor of Dunfanaghy were not of the dissolute habits and were never known to have been concerned in any outrages on persons or property. “I have seen” Hugh continues, “ a poor woman with only one child dividing her meal with another who had five children”.

Mr. Harper, the farmer referenced in the report, relates the following from his own account of witnessing beggars: “I knew one case where a woman having only one child of her own appeared with four and she admitted afterwards to me that she had borrowed them”.  A local man named Mr Stewart states that he frequently saw the same children coming with different individuals to his father’s house.

Our own Wee Hannah Herrity, whose story you can hear in our exhibition, took to begging towards the end of her life. She was not ashamed for begging, as she recognised that for many people this was their only means of survival during these harsh times. 

Alm = Something (such as money or food) given freely to relieve the poor distributing alms to the needy.

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!