Local History by Seán Beattie

Culdaff, Irish National Volunteers, WWI

Culdaff National Volunteers 1915 – Sean Beattie

Throughout the country, the National Volunteers were being organised and by 1914 a corps was formed in Culdaff with the purpose of securing the final passing of the Home Rule Bill. Initially, the corps was unarmed but by the end of 1914, finance became available from an unusual source. A Ballyharry man, James Kelly was working in Boston and was in contact with a Carndonagh man Patrick Doherty of Churchtown. Kelly decided to hold dances to raise funds for arms and huge numbers turned out for the functions, most of whom were from Inishowen. It was a night for exiles to meet, exchange greetings, and support a national cause.

By 1915 the corps had a collection of rifles, mostly second-hand, and they met three nights weekly for drilling in the village. An army instructor was at hand for training purposes. Emigrants continued to supply money for more rifles. Such activity was illegal but Volunteers were active through the land and the government took no action. It was a warning of things to come and in Culdaff House, there was much unease. The Culdaff Yeomen of old were being replaced by a new force.

At the same time, on a lighter note, the band of the Inniskilling Fusiliers was entertaining local people by marching through Moville. In the Square, Col. Robert Montgomery stood on a platform making speeches urging young men to sign up and fight for Belgium. This was the town his fore fathers had founded and he was proud of it. The band travelled to the town from Ebrington Barracks by boat and marched from the pier, while townspeople looked on silently.

Meanwhile, the Development Commissioners, the Congested Districts Board and the parish committee were demanding grants from the War Office in London for the development of Leenan pier in Clonmany to develop the fishing industry. Although the pier served Fort Dunree, the War Office refused to help because its resources were being diverted to the war in Europe.

But for many Donegal families, it was a time of suffering. News came through that Private Patrick Murrin of Killybegs was killed in May 1915 at Neuve Chapelle. A Moville man from Cooley, Private William Doherty was still fighting on the front and his family was concerned at newspaper reports of the fighting. The Law family was celebrating in Dunfanaghy when Francis Stewart Law, son of Hugh Law, MP for west Donegal was granted a Commission in the Irish Guards. The Laws were lucky as he would survive the war. With a world at war, local people turning to arms and politicians making questionable promises about Home Rule, it was difficult to predict the future turn of events in Donegal in 1915. No one knew what lay ahead. The arms which the Boston dancers paid for in support of the Culdaff Volunteers would subsequently be used for an assault on Culdaff House which would be burned to the ground along with courthouses, coastguard stations and police barracks. It was clear that even in peaceful districts such as  Inishowen, which were far removed from the conflict in 1915, it was the calm before the storm.

S Beattie. More to follow. Keep in touch.

Enjoy Burns Night on the 25th January (see earlier post)

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