The townland of Carndoagh is a few miles from Carndonagh. It has one major landmark, the twin arch railway bridge constructed in 1901 close to the Carndoagh railway halt. The bridge can be seen from the Carn-Ballyliffin road. In a field nearby there is a rock called Carraig na Spainneach or the Spanish Rock where a Spaniard was hung. West Donegal has several rocks of the same name usually associated with a Spaniard or an incursion. Prior to the Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls, there are several records to show that Spain sent emissaries – intelligence officers, even spies – to check out the coast line in preparation for an invasion. For example in 1600 two Spanish ships arrived in Teelin with war spoil for O’Neill and O’Donnell. There are many similar references around Killybegs and Slieve League. The only Spanish reference for Inishowen of any significance is the Armada ship La Trinidad Valencera in 1588. The question arises as to why this rock got its name. There is a possibility that a Spaniard from the Armada may have strayed here but this is unlikely.
Possibly an emissary from the King of Spain could have been here to check out the bay as a possible base for an invasion by the Spanish fleet. The small castle at Carrickabraghy in the Isle of Doagh was a maritime landmark, well known in European political circles, and may have been his destination. There, he would have encountered great Irish hospitality amid kindred spirits. It was possible for large ships to cast anchor in Trabrega, which was much deeper than today and was capable of taking large ships. To inexperienced seamen, Trabrega – the bay of lies – is deceptive but the Harveys of Malin kept a three-masted sailing ship in the bay and sailed from there to the Hebrides on fishing expeditions which are recorded in family diaries. Any Spaniard captured here would have been executed. Unfortunately, this district around Carndoagh was noted in history as a den of informers. It is worth remembering that in the 1700s, Bishop McColgan escaped from a lime kiln in Carndoagh where he was hidden by a Presbyterian farmer, Joseph Campbell when the Penal Laws were at their worst. A local informer, tempted by a reward or perhaps under the pressure of blackmail, contacted the Redcoats to tell them where the bishop was hiding. As Campbell was ploughing his land in springtime, he saw the soldiers approaching in the distance and helped to bishop to escape, first on horseback through Clonmany and subsequently by boat to Fanad. It is my belief that the Spaniard who was executed here was an emissary who was outed by a local informer. A similar fate befell the Buncrana priest, Fr. Hegarty. A fellow Franciscan met an untimely death in the district of Drumfries around the same period. In fairness, local people often reported strangers to the authorities to escape prosecution themselves. There are 4 Campbell families still living in the district today but despite my investigations, it is not clear if any of them are related to the Good Samaritan, Joseph Campbell. But of one thing we can be certain, that the Spanish agent executed at the rock in Carndoagh that bears the name of his country was an innocent victim of a bitter and poisoned episode in our history. The old adage is true that every town land has a story, and every rock a secret. See also www.historyofdonegal.com. More to follow.