Bookshop Now Open

Bookshop CollageAfter several requests from followers of this blog, I have decided to open a bookshop here on I have added an order link to all the books on the Bookshop page. Some of the books will be sold directly by me while stocks last, while others will be sold by the publisher. This is a fairly simple set-up. If you would like a copy of one of the books on sale, please click on the link, fill in the form, and I’ll send you an email with the full cost to include post and packaging, to be paid by cheque, postal order or PayPal.

I have included several issues of Donegal Annual which I edit. Readers may wish to complete their collection. Started in 1947, the Donegal Annual has now reached volume number 66. The next issue is for 2015 and will be available in the Autumn. A special edition will be published for 2016 to commemorate events which took place that year. A small number of members of Donegal Historical Society have a complete set. Donegal County Library has three complete sets. After 40 years membership of the Society, I finally managed to collect a full set myself and it was a long and tedious process. As bookshops diminish in number – there are only a handful left in the county  – historians are obliged to bring their publications to a world-wide audience using social media. The demise of the bookshop as we know it is something we regret but on the other hand, this is a great opportunity for those of us involved in the publication of regional histories to gain access to a wider audience.

Gospel Halls in Donegal

The Plymouth Brethern in Donegal trace their origins back to the late 1800s. Founded in 1829 in Plymouth, their places of worship are commonly called Gospel Halls in this county but they are officially known as Christian Assemblies. The Bible is the supreme authority and there are no clergy involved. The Brethern first came into existence when a group of Anglicans expressed dissatisfaction with their own church and sought a form of worship that brought them closer to God.

Christian Ammemblies can be found at three locations in Donegal- Laghey, Magheracorran near Drumkeen and Letterkenny. The Laghey community owes its origins to Alex Scott of Carricknahorna and was founded in 1915. The Letterkenny community, with its hall in Church Lane, dates from 1890. The first worshippers met in a tent and were led by a Dr. Matthews. A group of worshippers walked from here in 1892 and established a hall at Magheracorran. More information on the halls throughout Ireland can be found in a new book by Wynnfield Hooke and David Boyd called A HISTORY OF SOME CHRISTIAN ASSEMBLIES IN IRELAND.

Carndonagh 1929

Carndonagh 1929

To mark the opening of the Sixth Colgan Heritage Weekend starting on Thursday 25 June, here is a picture of the town from 1929. The shop at the centre is BRODBIN AND SONS which was later Donagh Stores and is now DEIRDRES. A brief history of the business will be displayed in the window during the week when shop keepers will turn their windows in mini museums. Note the petrol pump outside Gillespies which sells sewing machines, indicating that the cottage industries were still thriving. DEIRDRE’S  once served as an outstation for the Derry shirt factories where shirts were collected for sewing-up before being carted to Derry. It is known that the city provided 88% of the shirts for the British Army during WW1 and it was also the world capital of the white shirt industry. At the far left is Callaghans, which was previously Dohertys, grain and general merchants. The family thrived during the Napoleonic Wars and were quite wealthy by the outbreak of the Great Famine. 

They were generous during the Famine years and a monument in the graveyard testifies to their kindness. A son of the family, John Doherty, known as “the Cloth” secured election to the Board of Guardians, much to the disgust of local magistrate James Norris Thompson and his sister who wrote a political satire about them. The hatred was more religious than political. John Doherty also led a delegation to Belfast and invited the Northern Bank to the town. It is not known if any close relatives of the family are still around. 

For more information on the history and heritage of the town, drop in on any event during the weekend and the resident historians will be happy to discuss times past. One of the main speakers will be Rob Goodbody, a member of a well-known Quaker Dublin family which supplied boilers during the Great Famine. His talk on the Great Hunger is on Saturday at 11 am followed by a visit to the Famine Village in the Isle of Doagh. (Free admission). We also welcome former employees of Goodbodys which made potato sacks in the town until the 1970s, when the potato boom was at its height. Other speakers include Eamonn O Cuiv, Pat Doherty and Richard Curran, RTE. Copies of the programme are available in local shops. (Sean Beattie)

Mrs Binns, Carndonagh, died 1894

Binns     The Binns of Carndonagh 1882                                   The Binns family lived at Hopefield. The house was demolished to make way for an extension to the Community School Carndonagh. An outstanding and renowned citizen who deserves to be remembered. See Donegal in Old Photographs, 2004 by S Beattie. (Sean Beattie)

Letterkenny’s Rock Icon

Pattie Boyd, whose family once owned Ballymacool House, Letterkenny. 
Pattie Boyd

The Boyds of Ballymacool House, Letterkenny have a unique connection with the world of pop music and with the Beatles in particular. Ballymacool is now a fully developed estate on the outskirts of Letterkenny but Ballymacool House is in a state of disrepair, unroofed and pretty gaunt, shorn of its former glory. The building has a long history starting in 1783 when John Boyd bought the lands and built the house which was the hub of commercial and business life in the town. He had several sons, some of whom held high office in the county. Their descendants had successful careers in the media, literature, maritime affairs and public administration. One of John’s sons, Archibald Boyd was born in Letterkenny in 1755. Archibald’s great-great-great granddaughter is Pattie Boyd, who lives in London and this is a brief outline of her ascent to fame and how she managed to carve out her place in the world of pop music.

Pattie Boyd got married recently in London and this has brought the association with Ballymacool, the Beatles and music history into focus once again. Born in Somerset, Patti started life as a model and worked on the set of A Hard Day’s Night in which she played the role of a school girl. Aged 21, she befriended George Harrison, a year older, as he too was involved in the Beatles’ first film. He wrote the song Something for her. It is said that she inspired three of the greatest love songs of all time, the others being Wonderful Tonight and Layla. After her marriage to George Harrison broke up, she subsequently married Eric Clapton. She now has the distinction of being the sole surviving first wife of a Beatle.

Now 71, Patti recently married 61-year old Rod Weston and they live in Kensington. The Daily Mail broke the news with the heading “Pattie Boyd, the ultimate rock chick, weds at 71”. The marriage took place in a venue which has seen some great rock marriages, Chelsea Registry Office on King’s Road. Apart from the Bentley that took them to the Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, there were none of the trappings of celebrity. It was a far cry from the covers of Vogue and the heady 1960s when she was one of the best-known faces on the London music scene and mingled with members of one of the world’s greatest pop bands. Her links with Donegal are not forgotten and she was featured in an article in Donegal Annual in 2007, written by Brian Boyd, a cousin, who also lives in London. Pattie has recorded her memories in a book, Wonderful Today. It is a long way from Ballymacool to the streets of Mayfair but it is worth remembering that, in the world of modern music with its highly commercial and competitive edges, a descendant of the Letterkenny Boyds from Ballymacool has firmly etched her place in the crowded annals of pop music and that is something of which Letterkenny can be proud.  Sean Beattie.


CARNDONAGH workhouse 1869 etc.

The Colgan Heritage Week-end will have a special talk on the Great Famine to be given by Mr Goodbody, whose family was active in famine relief in the 1840s in the county. As the famine waned, life in the workhouse improved. For Easter Sunday 1869, the Guardians treated the inmates to a celebratory Easter lunch consisting of fresh meat, with liberal amounts of ale and a ration of tobacco for those who wanted it. Breakfast was wholesome with boiled eggs, tea and bread. Numbers had dropped from a peak in 1847, when fever raged, to 165 in 1869. The youngest was 65 and three were over 100, including Anne Doherty from Glentogher who was 106. Two of the inmates were long-stay patients and had been there for 22 years. Free bibles and prayer books were available in the chapel and there were ministers for the three main denominations available. 

Life in Carn has changed in other ways too. As the country heads for a referendum, the town has the appearance of a normal working day. This is in contrast with election day in October 1890 when William O’Doherty drew packed crowds into the Diamond and every window glowed with candlelight. There was a  huge platform beside the market house (now demolished) and Fr Philip O’Doherty was one of the key speakers. They were all assembled in support of the  Independent Irish Party which was led by John Redmond. The rabble-rouser MP, Frank Hugh O’Donnell (nicknamed Frank the Crank)  sent a telegram – “Stand by O’Doherty – kick the intruder out”. 

It is sad to see the slow but steady decline in industrial activity in the town over the last 100 years. At one time, the town had its own creamery but it closed shortly after the war. In 1928, attempts were made to revive it but economic difficulties prevented a local committee from taking action. The Department of Agriculture was offering three quarters of the cost of the building. Farmers would hold shares based on payment of £1 per cow. It was estimated that the creamery could be built for £4,500. The economic war of the 1930s and the advent of World War 2 brought hardship to the land and several decades would elapse before the co-operative movement would take steps to inject some life into the local economy. Sean Beattie (the day before the referendum) PS the “reply ” button is not working on this site. 

The U Boat Surrender on Lough Foyle

There were 470 U – Boats in the Germany navy and they played a deadly role in the elimination of millions of tonnage of shipping on the high seas. On April 20 Hitler committed suicide and the Regenbogen (Rainbow) was put into operation. This involved the planned mass scuttling of the German fleet. But the plan fell apart on May 8 when Germany surrendered unconditionally. Some Nazis had hoped that U Boats would provide one last escape route for the elite to South America. 

By 18 May 1945, seventy years ago, twelve U Boats had been captured and had docked at Lisahally. They were taken by the British Navy following the ending of the Battle of the Atlantic and were placed under escort to proceed up Lough Foyle where the official surrender took place. The event was captured by Pathe News and can be seen on you tube.  The subs, flying a White Ensign,  were escorted by two frigates, the Bligh and the Kempthorne. Two of the subs were 700 tons and the remainder were 500 tons. Some were destined for the Far East but it was considered that they would be too uncomfortable: the hulls had been specially strengthened to face the demands of the Atlantic. 

U1305 had been under the command of Ober Leut. Christiansen. U1009 was under the captaincy of O-L Hilzendort U1005 was under O-L Schwarz. Other captains were Lubele, Creigskor, von Reisen and Schmoechel. 

The scuttling operation took place off Inishtrahull where the wrecks lie offshore. Some years ago Derry City Council set about recovering a U Boat to be placed outside the planned maritime museum at Ebrington but following the death of a diver the plan was abandoned. 

Anecdotes surrounding the surrender abound. According to one story, U Boat captains appeared in a pub in Moville and had a drink. Others tell of Nazi officers landing on Inishtrahull but no photos exist to prove it one way or another. Lough Foyle played a key role in these events marking the end of World War 2 and there were low-key celebrations in Derry to mark the 70th anniversary. 

Captain James Douglas Gaussen MacNeese

Douglas MacNeese was a member of the MacNeece family who lived in the townland of Castlecary near Redcastle. As a young man, he joined the Royal Field Artillery. He was killed leading his battery at the Battle of the Somme on 16 August 1916 aged 25. He was the second son of Col T.F. MacNeese of Castlecary and  Mrs MacNeese. He had just received a Military Cross and was mentioned in dispatches, to use a well-worn expression in the army for having fought with bravery. The parents never fully recovered from his tragic death. 

In his memory the community of St. Finian’s church, near Redcastle, erected  a brass plaque which was made at the Craftworks in Dublin. There is a Bible quotation and a Latin inscription at the foot. Some time ago the church was deconsecrated and the  plaque was stolen. It was feared that the plaque would be sold as scrap metal. Fortunately it was recovered and is now on view at the entrance hall of Dunree Military Museum.

The former church was later put up for sale.  The church was opened in 1853 and was designed by a distinguished architect, Joseph Welland. The erection of the church caused a lot of friction between the local gentry and the Montgomerys in Moville. The site has strong Plantation links as the remains of an old church can be seen in the graveyard; as stated on a slate inscription over the door, it was built in 1747 by Col. Edward Cary of Whitecastle and Edward Cary of Castlecary. Capt. MacNeese’s name is inscribed on a tombstone in the old ruins but his body was buried on the battlefield. The plain unadorned cross is beside that of his parents but there is no marked grave. Major McIntyre of Moville owned a commemorative plaque given by the army to relatives; it is known as the “death penny” because of its style and shape. (Military historians regard the term as derogatory). It was donated by this writer to the museum of County Donegal Historical Society at Rossnowlagh but is not on display currently.

A magnificent marble cross, with chain and anchor were erected over the tomb of Capt. Cochrane by his wife in the graveyard. It was executed by a London company of sculptors. A full family history is listed on the headstone, going back to the Earldom of Dundonald. 

Other notable graves include Arthur Lunel Cary of Castlecary who died on 26 January 1907, and Elizabeth Allen Foster widow of W.J.Foster, who died at Matlock on 2 Sept 1930 aged 93. 

The old church building needs a little care and attention but the graveyard is well managed. With links to the Crimean War and two World Wars, it numbers world-famous writers, military men, sea captains and many others among its former worshippers so it may be regarded as an important local monument.  Sean Beattie. 

Launch of Raphoe Miscellany 2

Dr John Silke has just launched his new miscellany on church history. The launch took place at the Raphoe Diocesan Archives in Letterkenny and Bishop Boyce did the honours. (He retires shortly). He referred to the large number of saints from Donegal mentioned in the book. St Buaden of Culdaff is described as a  cousin of Colmcille. His feast day is July 22 nd. Michael O’Cleary listed 40 saints from Cenel Conaill but there may be 54, and 14 of them became abbots of Iona. The diocese of Raphoe meets the diocese of Derry and Clogher at a point in Barnesmore Gap. The county had dozens of pilgrimages of which Lough Derg is now the most famous. 

There is an extensive list of bishops of Raphoe from 1150 to 1589. Bishop O’Donnell was involved with William Micks in building the mental hospital and other major projects. There is very little evidence on the attitudes of the bishops to the 1916 Rising but many had statements prepared which they did not publish. At a meeting after the Rising, they urged priests to take up places as chaplains at the front. Bishop McLaughlin was the first Derry man to be Bishop of Raphoe.

While this is largely a church history it covers many aspects of life in Donegal eg genealogy, hiring, famines, the visit of Patrick Pearse to Tory in 1906, the Marine College at Killybegs, salmon fishing, poteen making, family wills etc.This is but  a short synopsis of a really remarkable study of church history by a leading Donegal historian.  The Diocesan Archives are a major resource for anyone studying Donegal history and thanks to Dr Silke and Moira Hughes (Moville), major archival work has been completed. 

Raphoe Miscellany 2 by Dr John Silke and Mrs Moira Hughes, Letterkenny, 2015, 168 pages. Available from the Archives.

Malin Head Coast Guard and the SS Athenia 1939


The SS Athenia was one of the first British ships sunk by a Nazi U-boat in the opening days of World War 2. It was built in Glasgow in 1922 and carried 1,418 passengers. It was attacked on September 1, 1939 at a distance of 200 miles from Inishtrahull on a voyage from Glasgow to Montreal. 128 passengers lost their lives among them 28 US citizens. The faint signal of the distressed ship was picked up at Malin Head and a rescue operation was set in train. Many of the passengers were children and the attack provoked outrage across America, as such attacks were in breach of the Hague Convention. There were calls for the US to enter the war and the attack on the Athenia opened up a debate about American attitudes to the war in Europe.

In a recent letter to the Irish Times (17 April 2015), Norman Fullam has pointed out that the Malin Coast Guard was under instructions not to engage in the war operation but decided to intervene to save lives. The ship floundered for 14 hours before sinking and the prompt action of the Malin Coast Guard undoubtedly saved many lives. 

As a new Maritime Museum is being planned for Derry City on the site of Ebrington base, there is no doubt that the story of the Athenia and other passenger ships will be a central feature. Since 1805, naval communications have been prominent in the history of Malin Head. Lloyds took over the tower at Banba’s Crown in 1835 and Marconi in 1902. 

Visitors who commence their journey on the Wild Atlantic Way at Malin Head may ponder on the unique maritime heritage of the area hidden from view beneath the Atlantic waves.