Ballyliffin and Foyle College Camp 1913

Boasting two of Ireland’s great links, Ballyliffin Golf Club has a long and colourful history. In the boom years before WW1,  it hosted the annual summer camp of Foyle College, Derry for one week. Why Ballyliffin? Well, it had a rail link to Derry and it was ideal for young students and staff on an outdoor activity. They dropped off at Ballyliffin station and a carter was on hand for luggage. Bikes were carried in the guard’s van. 

In mid July, 1913, 5 white canvas tents appeared overnight on the edge of the old links. One of the tents was a kitchen where the college cooks were deployed to feed  the hungry lads. Boys took a swim before the cooks yelled at them to take their breakfast which began with a steaming pot of porridge, a traditional boarding school staple. Then it was on their bikes for a run to Malin Head, via Carn, to see the new wireless telegraphy station. Dinner was at 3 pm and consisted of stew, rice pudding, and lemonade. Tinned food was rarely on the menu.

Budding archaeologists gouged the earth for arrow heads, shell middens and bits of pottery which were useful souvenirs. Cricket was played in the afternoon while staff played a few rounds of golf. The Yorkshire Regiment dropped in from Dunree and gave the boys a run for their money on the cricket pitch on at least two evenings. For the soldiers, it was the calm before the storm. Other visitors included the Dills from Muff who were old Foyle boys. Foyle had a long tradition of catering for Donegal students. Rev. Edward Chichester of Culdaff was a student here as were the Montgomerys from Moville and Youngs from Culdaff. Pattersons of Grouse Hall, Gleneely also attended Foyle. 

As night drew in, it was time for a  sing-song around a turf camp fire. Occasionally the night watch was disturbed by dogs foraging for pieces of meat.

The camp continued throughout the war years but the College would pay a heavy price as the war progressed. There were only 200 students on rolls at this time but a total of 420 old Foyle boys served in the armed forces. 72 would later join the Roll of Honour for deceased soldiers. Major Myles was an old Foyle boy who came from Ballyshannon, one of many from Donegal in the college and he survived the war and became an MP for Donegal. Harry Swan was also a student and probably attended the camp here.  Myles survived the war and played cricket for Ireland. His caps are in the museum in the college. 

Local shops supplied food for the camp. Mrs. Doherty of Ballyliffin baked loads of bread when supplies of bakery bread ran out because of the bread strike at this time. Local bakeries objected to bread coming in from Derry on the train. J. Doherty supplied groceries at a cost of £1. 18.5 for the week. George Doherty was the butcher and he received £1.12.6 for supplies of meat. Mrs Doherty also provided fresh milk, turf and jams. Rent was £15. A local carter received 6s for ferrying luggage from the station at Ballyliffin. The camp continued after the war but ceased to operate once the border came into operation. Thereafter it was Castlerock or Portrush but Ballyliffin was a place they would never forget and records show how much the students enjoyed the camp. Long before the Wild Atlantic Way was created, this is a small addition to the colourful history of the village of Ballyliffin and its place in the history of tourism in Donegal.  (Sean Beattie – please acknowledge website in future publications, websites or blogs)

Tom O’Neill, son of Speaker Tip O’Neill and Prof Ronan Fanning, former Prof of History, UCD


Tom O’Neill, son of Speaker Tip O’Neill, whose grandparents came from Inishowen, in conversation with Prof Ronan Fanning, UCD who gave a lecture on how Tip O’Neill managed to establish a special relationship between Ireland and USA despite opposition from the UK government. Pre-1977, Ireland did not feature in US foreign policy. Tip O’Neill changed all that and the Good Friday Agreement followed in 1998. The lecture was at the Slieve Snacht Centre, Drumfries near the ancestral O’Neill home. Only the wallsteads remain and the family now own the ruins and lands. Loretta Brennan Glucksman was given the Tip O’Neill Award and her involvement will further cement the link between Donegal and Boston. Her grandfather came from Greencastle.

WW1 Conference – the Border Counties and WW1

Brochure 2

A major cross-border conference will take place at the Four Seasons Hotel, Monaghan on Saturday 3 October on the border counties and WW1. It is organised by the Ulster Local History Trust and Monaghan County Council.

Lectures will include nationalism and recruitment, Cavan’s Roll of Honour, PRONI records, the story of 7 Monaghan brothers who enlisted and the fate of Belgian refugees who fled from Europe and set up the Belbroid lace factory which thrived.

There will be an exhibition from the Belbroid, a reading of war poetry, booksellers, and a debate. Fee – £15/ 20 euro incl. refreshments. Opening at 9.30, close 4.30. See brochure to book or

Inishowen Archaeological Heritage Development Colloquium.

IMG_2223 IMG_2224 IMG_2222 IMG_2226 IMG_2232The last week end in August brought a host of archaeological experts to Inishowen where  a series of topics were discussed. A number of artefacts discovered on recent digs in Inishowen, mainly Carrowmore are on view here: gaming counters, smoothing stones for cleaning vellum (?), bog ore etc. A full report on the weekend will be published later by the Bernician Studies group.

During the week, further work will be undertaken at Cooley and Crockaughrim, a traditional meeting site during the Land War and the Celtic revival which is also of archaeological interest. Brian Lacey attracted 105 people to his talk on Friday evening. His map of c. 500 AD showed that Donegal was a collection of 10 warring kingdoms. In the following centuries, the expansion of the Cenel Eoghain across Lough Foyle was impressive. Caimin O’Brien spoke about the work of the archaeological survey. Paddy Gleeson (NUIG) lectured on kings of Inishowen and beyond. Anouk Busset (University of Glasgow and University of Lausanne) described her research on monuments in Inishowen, and north west Europe.

Richard Tipping of University of Stirling, a scientist rather than an archaeologist or historian, illustrated his exploration of pollen along river estuaries in the peninsula and the impact of human interaction. Hermann Moisi of University of Newcastle, spoke about the development of the church at Carndonagh. The first recorded reference to a church at Carndonagh is in the Book of Armagh in 807 AD. He explained how Carndonagh came under the patronage of Armagh as the latter staked its claim to pre-eminence over the northern federation of holy places. Cormac McSparron of QUB described recent digs at Elagh which have resulted in the site being upgraded to one of major importance in early medieval history. The co-ordinators and originators of the project, Max Adams and Colm O’Brien gave a detailed review on surveys undertaken to date at Cooley, Carrowmore and Cloncha. Martin Farren drew proceedings to a close. Minister Joe McHugh also addressed the audience. Members of the study group were at hand on Sunday at the main sites to direct visitors.

Most history societies in the peninsula were present and this was something unique in itself. Apart from the Bernician Studies group, guests included Bruce Clark who has a thorough knowledge of Colmcille, Prof Paul McKevitt, Magee College, Vera McFadden, Neil McGrory, John Hegarty, Cllr. Albert Doherty, Joe Gallagher, Seoirse O’Doherty, Siobhan Kelly of Inishowen Tourism, Dessie and Mary McCallion, West Inishowen group, Cowan Duff, Rosemary and John Moulden, Marius Harkin, Desmond Doherty, Malin Head Heritage group, Martin Hopkins, Liam Gorry, Caimin O’Brien (lecturer) of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Andrew Ward, IDP, Anthony Corns, Discovery Programme, Seamus Canavan and many others. There were over 100 in attendance on Saturday.

The Heritage Council funded the event and the McCord Centre in University of Newcastle also provided funding. Lough Foyle Ferry were among other sponsors. Thanks to William McCorkell and the church committee for use of the fine hall, to Neal McGrory for sound, IDP and Moville Hall for their projectors, Cressida Canavan and Cosy Cottage for catering and members of the Bernician group for all their help. (Apologies to anyone excluded)

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.