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!

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. 

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