The Market Square

In the early 1830s and 1840s, the Stewart landlords embarked on a land reclamation project in the town of Dunfanaghy which completely transformed the centre of the town and turned it into the village that we know today. 

Prior to the reclamation project, Dunfanaghy Bay as it was known, would lap up to street level which can be seen in old maps of the area prior to the 1830s. Dunfanaghy has long been a Market Town and the records show that there was a grant made to a Hugh Hamill to hold a market in Dunfanaghy and Castlederg, Co. Tyrone, on the 6th of March, 1679.  According to the records, the present Pier was renovated around 1830 and then the area around the Pier and the Market Square was reclaimed. That area of the town from, Ramsay’s Stores, the Social Protection Offices (which were originally the Offices of the Stewart of Ards Estate) and the Stewart Arms Hotel were built and would go on to play an important part in the life of the local community ever since.

Towards the end of the reclamation and building of these structures, Ireland was hit by the Great Famine. The local Poor Law Commissioners had to come up with Famine Relief Schemes to support the local destitute and keep them out of The Workhouse.  While the majority of these projects made little impact since they were quite literally roads to nowhere – known today as “Famine Roads” – in the Dunfanaghy area two of these relief works are still very much in use-The Market House on The Square in Dunfanaghy and Port na Blagh Pier. 

Nowadays, the Market House is home to Revive and a Yoga Studio, but in days gone by the Market House was centre stage in some of the biggest historical and cultural events of the time as it served as a court house as well as being the centre of the monthly fairs and markets. From the time of its construction, the Square would be full of carts as the farmers in the local area would gather in to sell their animals and produce.  Those were the days when cash was king and deals would be done on a hand shake, a far cry from the Cashless Society that nowadays we seem to be fast becoming.  After the dealing was done, it was custom for the fair goers to retire to have a drink in one of the local Public Houses and it wouldn’t be uncommon for the day to end in a bout of fisticuffs in the square and some of the participants who might have earlier that day had made a ‘deal’ in the Market House would find themselves back in the same building at the next Petty Sessions to explain themselves to the magistrate.

Old pictures show gates in the ground floor of the Market House and this was to allow Judges and prisoners to get into the building, away from the public eye.

It was when the Market House was being used as a Court House that the building became known internationally. In 1888 Canon James McFadden was brought with 19 others following the death of Inspector Martin after he tried to arrest McFadden outside St. Mary’s Church in Derrybeg during the Land War.  The trial was then moved to Portlaoise.  After a protracted trial, McFadden was eventually released and would continue to fight for the rights of his community as well as play an important part in the Fundraising for the new Cathedral in Letterkenny.   

A few years later in 1905, Padraig Pearse, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamatio,  would defend Niall Mac Giolla Bhridge in the Four Courts in Dublin when the authorities decided to prosecute Mac Giolla Bhridge for having his name written in Gaelic on his cart, which was considered an “illegible script.” This court case began in the Market House before moving to Dublin and the event is commemorated by a memorial Plaque which was erected in 2016.

Although these were just a couple of the high-profile cases to come before, the Dunfanaghy Assizes in those a look at the old records would suggest that most of the cases were more mundane and of their time including cases of Poitín making, working/fishing on a Sunday and breaking the Sabbath Day. There were also convictions for assault and fighting and a case of rioting at Crossroads (Falcarragh), having illegal weights and measures was another common offence as were farmers getting fined for having livestock wandering on a public road or street. There is one unfortunate case where a mother was charged with assaulting the Master of Dunfanaghy Workhouse after getting charged with deserting her children just before that – a sign no doubt of the abstract poverty which existed in the Petty Sessions area at that time.  

After independence the Market House continued to serve as the Court House in Dunfanaghy up until the early 1990s. 

The Market House continued to play an instrumental part in the life of the local community over the years; from hosting showbands at the dances that were held there, to hosting boxing contenders and actors.  The first of these to appear was Jack Doyle ‘The Gorgeous Gael’, who was billed to appear in a show there in the 1950s. Unfortunately for Doyle’s fans, who had gathered that night, were left a bit underwhelmed with their hero as Doyle who was known to enjoy a glass of Brandy or two or three enjoyed the hospitality of O’Donnell’s House across the street and only appeared at the end of the night where he gave a rendition of McNamara’s Band before promptly leaving the building and ending his visit to Dunfanaghy.

The Market House also housed a Badminton Club, and on occasion the late John Mandy Gallagher would come to show films with his travelling cinema.  It was also home to the weekly Bingo Session as well as to Santa on his yearly visits to Dunfanaghy. 

Dunfanaghy Boxing Club was founded over forty years ago and in the intervening years Eddie Harkin and the late Michael Durning and the other coaches of the club punched well above their weight producing multiple Ulster and Irish Champions a few of whom went on to fight in the professional ranks.  Indeed, the Market House and The Square beside it was often the location to welcome home these boxing champions. Among the Boxing greats to visit the club during its time in the Market House was Derry’s own Charlie Nash and Randall “Tex” Cobb an American Boxer and Actor who in 1982 had boxed Larry Holmes for the WBC World Heavyweight Championship.  Unlike Jack Doyle Nash and Cobb were only too delighted to meet and mingle with their fans.  

The Market House was also the home of the Dunfanaghy Community Band and the Market Square was where the people of Dunfanaghy gathered to see Charlie Nash announce Sammy McGarvey as the Lord Mayor of Dunfanaghy in 1978 and where locals gathered to welcome Anthony Molloy and the Donegal Team with the Sam Maguire Cup in 1992.

In recent years there have been plans to refurbish the Market House which is a focal point for the town which has played a very important part not just in the life of Dunfanaghy but the wider north west area over the past 175 years.

Lughnasadh and The Tailteann Games

Tailteann Games

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Tory Island and It’s History

This week’s Sheephaven History looks to one of the most inconic shapes in our landscape – Tory Island. Inis Toraigh or Tory is an island located off the coast of Donegal and, while small, is steeped in history with a rich tradition of music and mythology, as well as being a bastion of Ireland’s language and culture.  

For centuries, the island has stood as beacon in the Atlantic as it keeps a lookout on the continuing history of Ireland from ancient times right up to the present day. The Island has witnessed turbulent times from invasions to Wars and to Famines, and yet its people have remained steadfast against it all. The Islanders are fiercely proud of their island and its way of life, and visitors have traveled to the island in their thousands every year to immerse themselves in the language and Tory culture. Up until a few years ago, visitors were even greeted as they landed at the pier by the late King of Tory himself, Patsy Dan Rodgers. The rich tradition of Irish Kingship dates back millennium, and this made Tory one of the final places in Ireland with a King. 

Battles and warfare are as part of Tory’s narrative as the waves surrounding it, with many important parts taking place in its waters in both the History and Pseudohistory of Ireland. In the Lebor Gabhála Érenn or Book of Invasions, a medieval text which accounts for the mythical origins and history of ancient Ireland, Tory was the home of the Fomorian Stronghold, the enemies of the occupants of the mainland. According to legend, the third invaders of Ireland, the Nemedians, battled the Fomorians at the Conand’s Tower on the island, Conand being a Fomorian King. The later King of the Fomorians, Balor of the Evil Eye, locked his daughter Eithlinn in a tower on the island called Tor Mór in an attempt to prevent a prophecy that his death would come from her children.    

In more recent history, great battles and sieges took place around the island. In 1608, the Siege of Tory Island took place during O’Doherty’s Rebellion when surviving rebels from the rebellion made their last stand against the Crown on Tory Island. In 1798, the Battle of Tory Island (also known as the Battle of Donegal or the Battle of Lough Swilly) took place on October 12th between the French and British Squadrons during the Irish Rebellion. This was led by Wolfe Tone and the Society of United Irishmen and it was after this final Battle that Wolfe Tone was later captured by the British. In 1884, the HMS Wasp was on a mission to collect rents on the Island when it struck the rocks at Tory Lighthouse and was lost. Coincidentally, the Navy launched another HMS Wasp in 1886 but it disappeared at Sea a year later and was never heard from again. They may have wisely decided to not name another HMS Wasp after this. In 1914, on October 27th, the first British battleship of WWI was lost. This super-dreadnought ship, the HMS Audacious, was sunk off the island when it hit a minefield laid by a German merchant-cruiser. Officially, this loss was not publicisided until three days after WWI officially ended in 1918. The passengers of the RMS Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic, witnessed and photographed its sinking. This is only one of many other ships that would have sunk around Tory in the two World Wars, and it is sus[ected that there are over three hundred wrecks in the vicinity of the island with the loss of thousands of lives. 

In more recent years, the Tory Islanders have faced battles which threatened their way of life and the island’s very existence. In the 1970s, the future of Tory came under threat when the authorities tried to depopulate the island but the islanders fought the campaign to save their island. Despite the fact that half the population left the island, those who stayed oversaw great developments on the island such as the Ferry Service, New Pier and the building of a New Secondary School.  Tory has been a thriving hub of life for the past 5,000 years filled with music, stories and tradition, and today not much has changed. Tory is a thriving and close-knit community that everyone should visit and if you do, be sure to take in the stunning views, the lifestyle and maybe practice some Irish while you’re there!  https://www.toryferry.com/about

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 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. 

Yule, Newgrange and The Irish Winter Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

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!