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 This remained in force until it was repealed in 1782.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?

Ards Forest Park – A Brief History

Today, The Ards Forest Parks one of the most popular tourist attractions in County Donegal with walkers and families travelling from far and near to enjoy the walks, trails and all facilities at the park. These facilities include a developed play park, the Coffee Tree Coffee Shop and art installations throughout the park.

The Ards Forest Park, which is maintained by Coillte, is a relatively new addition to the local landscape.  During the a time when the park was owned by landlords, the area the park now covers was once the Stewart Bam Estate. The Landlord carried out a number of improvements to the land including putting a sluice gate on to control the ebb and flow the water into the canal, which is still to be seen today.  These measures prevented flooding in the area for generations. However, in more recent years the sluice gate has been damaged and flooding is now a problem not just in the park but also for farmers in the surrounding countryside. During this time, a tunnel was also built from Ards House all the way to St. John’s Church in Ballymore supposedly so that the lady of the House could make her way to Sunday Service without meeting any of her tenants.

The area covered by the park was once a vibrant community and the main road between Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy passed through it.  Indeed, one of the last intact milestones to be found in the area can be seen close to the entrance to the Park still signposting the way between the two towns and Kilmacrennan.  There used to be more milestones in the locality but they were destroyed by the Local Defense Volunteers. There also used to be a village situated in the Forest beside what is now the Ballymore Bray.  There was even a Presbyterian Church in the Village but the village and Church were abandoned when the residents were evicted and rehoused elsewhere as the Stewart Landlord built a boundary wall around his estate which stretched from Ballymore to the Log Cabin. Parts of this wall can still be seen along the route of the N56. As part of the great temperance crusade of the 1800’s, Father Mathew addressed a large number of people on top of what is now known as Medal Hill.

After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 many of the Landlords left Ireland and their land and Houses passed into the possession of newly formed Irish Land Commission and the Ards Estate was sold to the Capuchin Order and the Irish Forestry Service which then set about establishing what is now Ards Forest Park.  This involved planting thousands of trees and developing the facilities that we take for granted today. This was hard work and men from all over the locality would make their way on foot or on bicycles to the White Gate to begin their day’s work

Today, according to Coillte, the park covers approximately 480 hectares (1200 acres) and includes a variety of habitats, among them sand dunes, beaches, salt marshes, salt water lakes, rock face and, of course, coniferous and deciduous woodlands and is a powerful asset for the recreational and tourism fabric of the local community a far cry from times gone by when the landed gentry were in charge of this beautiful part of county Donegal.

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.

The Stewarts of Horn Head

Horn Head House

For those who travel the Wild Atlantic Way, one of the sites that they might see is an old imposing mansion nestled overlooking the Forestry on the way into Hornhead known locally as ‘Big House’. The façade of the building might be old and decaying now but for two centuries the old Hornhead House was the home of the powerful Stewart family of Hornhead who were the local landlords in the area. 

This branch of the Stewart’s claimed Royal Blood. According to family history the Stewarts of Horn Head are traditionally descended from the Stewarts of Darnley, ancestors of the Earls of Lennox, the later Royal Stewarts and the Dukes of Lennox whose title merged with the Crown in 1872.  They are most likely therefore a branch of the Stewarts of Reiss in Renfrewshire of which several family members went to Ireland in the 17th Century. 

Parts of the present Hornhead House was built by local O’Boyle Chieftain and dates from the 14th Century.  In the 1600’s, the area was granted to Captain John Forward and Captain William Sampson who sold the extensive Donegal Estate of Horn Head on the 4th February 1700 to Charles Stewart. He was the High Sheriff of Donegal in 1707.  He was originally an Officer in the Regiment of Foot commanded by William Stewart, 1st Viscount Mountjoy.   The Stewart family continued to reside at Horn Head until 1922 and the Estate was sold in 1934. 

Charles Stewart was succeeded by his son Frederick Stewart, who died on the 7th April 1768.  One of his other son’s, Andrew, was killed following a fall from his horse.  His eldest Son Charles inherited the Horn Head Estate on the death of Frederick and both men were High Sheriffs of Donegal.  Charles Stewart built the Front Porch on Horn Head House and he also put the first tenants on Horn Head so perhaps some of us can trace our ancestor’s arrival in the area back to this time.  Capt. Stewart died in 1799 and was succeeded by his eldest son who was also the High Sheriff of Donegal.  He married four times during his lifetime and had 17 children.  It was during his lifetime that the improvements were made to the Horn Head Estate including the building of the Hornhead Bridge. He was succeeded by his eldest son the Rev. Charles Stewart. He was not succeeded by his eldest son William as he had died in 1864. He was a Captain in the 3rd Regt. Of Foot (The Buffs) and had seen action in the Crimean War and in China. His second son also died in 1844 and so he was succeeded by his 3rd son Charles Frederick, of whom’s daughter, Emily Anne, was married on the 6th October 1883 to Rev. John Brodie the first Rector of Dunfanaghy Parish Church (Holy Trinity) from 1773 until 1905.  It was during Charles Frederick’s time that the land around Horn Head House was cleared of all stones providing the good fertile land that is still evident today.  This stone was also used to build the stone ditches which can still be seen in the area till this day.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Charles Frederick Stewart who was the last of the Stewart Landlords to live in Horn Head House.  The last representative of the line was Lindsey Stewart. 

The Stewart’s employed a large staff in the house and estate. They also owned the town of Falcarragh and during their time in Horn Head, the family had lived through many wars and revolutions at home and abroad including The Great War. They also lived through the Famine and Charles Frederick Stewart was on the Board of Guardians in the Dunfanaghy Workhouse during this time. 

During the time of the Stewart landlordship, the area greatly changed.  There was no road access to Dunfanaghy from Horn Head and the only way out was to cross the strand which would have been dangerous as the strand that we see now was more of a Bay. They could also cross a small bridge near Errarooey called Trimnaburn part of which still survives.  In 1809, the Hornhead Bridge was built. When the storm of 1917 occurred it altered the scenery, not just of Horn Head House but of the entire peninsula. The Marram Grass, which had been growing on the Sand Dunes to protect them, was cut by the landlord and sent to the Front in France to provide bedding for horses.  Unfortunately, the sand dunes blew with the strong winds silting up the Sand bar in Dunfanaghy, preventing water from getting out and the New Lake was formed.  The Bridge was blocked and the fine surroundings of Horn Head House which was home to Tennis Courts, Terraced Drives, Orchards and a Canal was destroyed by the sands which left the area unrecognizable and from which it never really recovered.  

After 1922, Stewart still returned to the area for holidays and still expected his tenants to save his turf for him.  The last person to live in the big house was Mrs. Short. Hornhead House and part of the farm was bought by local man Billy Durning who lived with his family in the Coach Mans House adjoining the property for many years, before its sale a number of years ago.  The rest of the Estate was divided up amongst the tenants.  Some of the land was planted out in trees by the Forestry Service. 

Mrs Short, the last person to live in the house, had only one servant.  She was described as a strange woman. She always wore black and traveled around in the area in a Black Trap which was pulled by a black horse and the locals were a little afraid of her and it was said that she practiced “The Black Arts”. She had come from England and it was said that she had a hand in the death of her husband.  When she lived in another property in Horn Head, she used to white wash the brace of the wall above the fireplace but it was said that no matter how often she washed it, his face would always appear in it.

The Stewart’s were not the worst of the Landlords in this area. I remember interviewing Frances McElhinney from Horn Head around the time of her 100th birthday in 2001 and she has vivid memories of working in the House as a young girl and minding young Master Lindsey when he was a child. Another more recent story is one of the sons of Charles Stewart who left Hornhead in 1739 for the American colonies to work as a clergyman.  Interestingly, three years ago a descendant of this man who is still a clergyman in America visited the area with his granddaughter and was astonished to find that Horn Head House where his ancestor left from almost three centuries before was still standing..

The era of the English Landlord is long gone in Ireland but memories of this period can still be found in the memorials to the Stewart Family in Holy Trinity Church in Dunfanaghy and in their graves which can be seen inside the old Church of Clondehorkey at Kill.

Perhaps one of the more colourful aspects of the history of Hornhead House occurred just four years before the Stewarts bought the land and the house when in June 1696 the King of the Pirates, Henry Avery, sailed his ship full of stolen plunder into Dunfanaghy Bay after hot footing it across the Atlantic with the Navy on his tail. He engaged the occupants of Horn Head House in a short gun battle before he outwitted the local coastguard and made his escape again. Interestingly this was the last confirmed sighting of Avery and he was never seen again. This is just one story in the long history of Horn Head House.

Dunfanaghy may be best known today as a tourist destination but perhaps this might not always been the case as in the 1700’s a Clergyman in Killybegs warned his congregation against landing in the area and described the natives as being wild saying “that if the sea would not drown you, then the natives would kill you”. Thankfully, the welcome for the visitors is much more cordial in the area now!

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.

Horn Head – A Lookout on History

On Saturday Evening on the first day of 2022, the Wild Atlantic Way Point at Horn Head and the two Look-Out Towers on the Horn itself, one dating from Napoleonic Times and the other from WWII, were quiet after the storms of the night before, except for the heather and the sheep and wildlife around them. The Information point overlooks the Horn at Horn Head and the Skate Bay and is a very popular visitor point along the Wild Atlantic Way. Passing the Horn at that time was the Aqua Transporter, operated by the Mowi Fish Farm group and a regular on the route from the Fish Farms on the Mulroy Bay. Looking out on this scene I could not help but wonder about the many different types of boats who have passed ‘The Horn’ as it is known locally. From the Stone Age up, when stone age man set up homes in the caves of Horn Head, there is also evidence in local place names that the Vikings would have passed by and the Normans and the Wherrymen who rowed and sailed their boats from east Anglia to Donegal. The English invaders would also have passed by as well as the Pirates who used to operate off the coast of Ireland and used the Donegal coast as one of their bases.  In the 1800’s the Scottish Fleets used to come and this was to lead to disaster for one group of Scotsmen who were lost in a storm and which was to lead to the Scotswomen’s Curse on Sheephaven.  Over a century later the crew of the Grimsby Trawler Malaga which sank in Sheephaven Bay with the loss of fourteen lives.   The Napoleonic Watchtower was built in 1805 kept watch over the area and was used as a lookout to keep an eye out for invading armies or passing ships and played a vital role in keeping our country safe. During World War 1 there was a gun battle between a Submarine and an armed Trawler just off the Horn which resulted in the loss of both ships. With the outbreak of World War Two a new Lookout Tower was built to watch for any German or British invasions and the watchkeepers recorded many events some of which including the flotilla coming back from the attack on the Bismarck were momentous events in history.  They would also have witnessed the bloody battle of the Atlantic which was to see the loss of hundreds of ships and lives. 

Over the years also for many taking the emigrant ship Horn Head and nearby Tory Island would have been the last land that they would have seen in Ireland on their way to a life in the New World. Some would have bought their ticket in Nixon’s Post Office in Dunfanaghy and then made the hazardous journey by small boat off to jump on a moving transatlantic liner as it passed off Tory to make their way to a new life and many would never see their Donegal homes again.  Often an American Wake or ‘Convoy’ as it was known locally would be held for the departing emigrant.  These would be all night affairs lasting until those leaving would go to catch the boat.    These lookouts have also seen the development of fishing and fishing boats in the local areas from the days of Curraghs, to sail and steam to the more modern fishing boats that we see now and would have seen the fishing industry go from boom to bust and back again.  Nowadays Horn Head and its viewing point is famous the world over in holiday pictures but I wonder if many of these visitors realize that the headland has stood there through occupation, wars, famines and recessions as it keeps a watch on the surrounding area and that it is truly a lookout on history.