Local History by Seán Beattie


BUNCRANA 1916-1920

I have been reading the minutes of Buncrana Urban Council for 1916 and have been struck by how much life in the town changed in a mere four years.

The town minutes of 1915 record that Major Baillie, recruiting officer for Donegal,, was given the support of the council to proceed with army recruitment in the town. Conscription was not yet on the cards. In 1914, the council agreed to take Belgian refugees. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and Royal Engineers were stationed at Luddan Camp and at Swan’s Mill. The Local Government Board demanded that the council support troops who were stationed in the town and make them welcome. Admiral Jellicoe’s fleet was now based in Lough Swilly. Concerns were expressed about the excessive amount of water used by the military and the problems associated with military vehicles driving along the roads of the town but otherwise relations were good between the army and the townspeople.

Four years later, a very different picture emerges. In July 1920, courthouses in Buncrana, Carndonagh and Burnfoot were burned. The local MP, Joseph O’Doherty was before the court in Derry surrounded by heavily armed troops. He was accused of soliciting funds for Dail Eireann in Carndonagh earlier.  Const McLaughlin said he could not proceed with the case as the courthouse in Buncrana was out of commission. Joseph O’Doherty MP refused to recognise the court and was remanded in custody. In October, conditions in the town took a turn for the worse with the arrival of the Black and Tans on 22 July 1920. They began by raiding houses and carried out searches indiscriminately. 300 soldiers arrived by train to deal with unrest but surprisingly marched off for  a distance of 13 miles to their camp. In Donegal Town, P. J. Ward, Sinn Fein MP (for South Donegal, (grandfather of John Ward) had his offices raided by the Black and Tans.The AOH Hall at Cluneely was burned on 25 October 1920, and further south, creameries and co-ops were also targeted. The Irish College in Cloughaneely was destroyed by fire.

Subsequently, Harry Swan applied for compensation for the burning of the courthouse, furniture, 60 legal texts, 12,000 printed forms, and  a gold mounted fountain pen, the property of Harry Swan. He lodged a claim for £100.

The Treaty of 1921 was a long distance away but it is clear that from 1920 onwards, life in Inishowen would never be the same again.

Seasons’ greetings to all readers.


  1. elaine.graham55

    Sent from Samsung tablet

  2. Paul Doyle

    Hello Sean – I stumbled upon this article by you about Buncrana in the period 1916 to 1920 whilst I was looking on the Internet for references to Patrick Porter. I was speaking to his grandson Leo Porter today and I am currently reading a book by Malachy Sweeney – Troubled Times”. I’ve only got through about one-third of the book and finding that, so far, it deals mostly with events in South Donegal in the period up to 1919. I’m curious about the subject of your article and was quite amazed to come upon this website.

    I am fascinated by the change in the political landscape and in the events that occurred in Buncrana and Inishowen generally in the period from about 1880 when the Empire was at its height and Buncrana was a garrison town, to 1926 or thereabouts when the new order began to take shape. I too have read the minutes and other documents in the Buncrana TC archive (from 1914 ) but have often wondered why a substantial number of pages are missing from a scrap book kept by the Town Clerk, Charles Callaghan, covering (as far as I can recollect) the Councils activities and events in Buncrana in the period up to 1925?? The rest of this scrap book should be in the archive. I also recall reading an account of how the Town Clerk was visited one night and forced at gunpoint to hand over several documents, files etc., arising from the reluctance of the Council to recognise the new Department of Local Government and Public Health and cease to do business with the Local Government Board. It is also my recollection that Buncrana UDC was one of the last Councils in Ireland to so recognise the new Department of Local Government and Public Health. Apparently some of the minutes books are missing but it might be possible to assemble accounts about these periods from Council files/Derry Journal records.

    There are so many aspects about this period in Buncrana and Inishowen about which I am unaware that have been documented. I would welcome your comments.

    Many thanks for the book you sent me which I greatly appreciate.

    • Comment by post author

      Excuse my delay in replying. The UC at Buncrana was dominated by Unionists and I suspect they found it difficult to accept the new regime. Someone did not want the truth to get out.It may be possible to re-construct the missing years from news paper reports but this will only be second best. I think a note should be added to the files to explain the gaps with a possible explanation which may be of interest to researchers in the future. The change in the political landscape occurred gradually but what happened between 1914 and 1922 was breath taking. I would like to see your 1916 file photocopied for the Buncrana library where I could get back to it easily. It is a treasure.

  3. Dr Arlene Crampsie

    Interesting post, thanks for this. Readers of this post might also be interested in the excellent recent publication by Dr Niamh Brennan, Donegal County Archives Service: Buncrana Urban District / Town Council: A short history. This is available on request from the archives office or can be downloaded from this link: http://www.donegalcoco.ie/culture/archives/publications/. Could you please post the references to the relevant minute books quoted above so that those of us interested can follow up?

    • Comment by post author

      Arlene – i was delayed in getting back to you as my internet connection collapsed in the storm. I presume your question refers to the minute books of Buncrana Urban Council. A former town clerk had a file from 1916 in his possession and he handed it over to some Council staff members on the day Niamh launched her book. As a guest at the launch, I had 15 minutes to peruse the contents and asked a public representative to photocopy them for Buncrana library before they went to Lifford. I am not sure if this has been done. I believe the 1916 file with an interesting collection of letters is now in the County Archives at Lifford. They make very exciting reading and I was regret I was unable to examine the contents in more detail. May do so later.

  4. The 1916 file was actually handed to me, County Archivist, for the County Archives, on the day of the launch of the Buncrana Urban District Council: A Short History book. It is now part of the large collection of invaluable archives of the Urban District Council/Town Council of Buncrana. I have read through the file, it is an administrative file relating to the activities of the UDC in the year 1916 and contains correspondence and government circulars about issues ranging from housing to maintenance of roads, county roads in Donegal, financial issues affecting the Council, development of the town and rates and valuation. There are some circulars relating to the ongoing World War 1. This file, along with the rest of the collection of the Buncrana UDC, is available at the Archives research room for viewing on request, by prior appointment. The surviving minutes of Buncrana UDC are likewise available and form part of the same collection. Some of the file is being scanned at present. The booklet is also available, on request and is online as Arlene has already mentioned. Hope this helps,
    regards, Niamh Brennan, Archivist, Donegal County Council.

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