John McLaughlin was born in Buncrana in the 1860s and belonged to a nationalist, middle-class business family. His life story is typical of the rising ‘shopocracy’ in Donegal which emerged as the colonial era waned and in the early decades of independence. He was a man who was immersed in folklore, who fought for his country and was elected to the first Senate of the Irish Free State. His memoirs tread the final years of British rule and provide an insight into the mind-set of a new administration in Ireland. The following is an excerpt from his memoirs and offer a vivid picture of life before Home Rule became a reality.
My earliest recollection of public happenings goes back to 1878 and is of a tragic nature. In April of that year, I returned from school one afternoon to find my father’s shop in Buncrana a centre of excited discussion. The language was in Irish. At this time, most of the people coming to market in Buncrana from Desertegney and Clonamny transacted their business in Irish. My parents came from Clonmany and Irish was their native language. This fact did not tend to add to my prestige at school. There, a matter of oral Irish was regarded as a badge of inferiority and no one willingly confessed to having his habitation in an Irish -speaking district. Accordingly, when I heard my father address customers in the shop in Irish, I was accustomed to make an immediate exit in youthful dungeon. On this occasion, however, my curiosity was stronger than my pride and I remained in the shop in the hope of ascertaining the cause of all the gesticulation and animation. I discovered, eventually, that the conversation was about a fatal attack on Lord Leitrim. He had been killed outside Milford that morning at about 9 o’clock. In those days, news travelled slowly and it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon before news of the tragedy reached Buncrana. Amongst the people in the shop [there was little sympathy and several of the customers were down on their knees to thank God] (partly deleted). This incident may seem too callous or incredible but it must be remembered that the Earl of Leitrim combined in his person most of the evil characteristics of a feudal lord of the period. He treated his tenants as serfs and evicted them without scruple not only for failure to meet his excessive rent demands but for the infringement of certain arbitrary rules he had been at pains to draw up for their better behaviour. These included, strangely enough, the keeping of goats. How the goat incurred the displeasure of his lordship will never be known……………………………………………..more excerpts to follow.