Francis Stuart in Ballymagarraghy

Francis Stuart (1902-2000) was one of Ireland’s established writers who led a life that was both colourful and controversial. His marriage to Iseult Gonne, daughter of Maud, ended in failure and Iseult later attracted the attentions of W.B. Yeats. Interned for his activities during the Troubles, Stuart was attracted by the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and in 1940 decided to live in Germany where he obtained a post as a lecturer in Berlin University. In 1942, he broadcast a commentary in English from Germany which many people found offensive. Critics regarded him as a Nazi supporter although he would later deny this. In 1944, he married Gertrude Meissener who changed her name to Madeleine. Stuart’s best known novel was Black List – Section H which he published in 1971.

The following year he came to Inishowen as a guest of the Adult Education School. One of the field trips was to see the village of Ballymagarrihy which at that time was regarded as one of the last and the most interesting of the old clachans. Among the visitors was Robert Hunter, a native of Ashbourne and a distinguished Reader in History at Magee College, Derry and Tom McGurk, then an emerging poet and later a leading figure in RTE. Madeleine accompanied Stuart and after the visit she penned her thoughts which were broadcast in  THOUGHT FOR THE DAY  on Radio Eireann. Below is an extract from her broadcast which casts the village of Ballymagarrihy in an unusual light:

Thursday – The following evening, our painter-friend took us to the little village of Ballymagarrihy. Like a bird’s nest, it lies there high up on the cliffs, on the edge of the sea in North Inishowen.

The painter pointed out to us the apparent non-planning scheme of the village with its main and side streets. And yet how was it that as a whole the end result was so pleasing to our eye, the harmony so perfect, the whole picture so touching, while our geometrically-built new towns have such a soul-killing effect on their inhabitants?

Our painter was intrigued by the way the cottages cast their shadows. The pattern was so delicate and intricate like a piece of lattice-work. He was enchanted with the lighting of the whole landscape. We saw things we had never seen before such as the little gardens, not bigger than 4 square yards surrounded by a thick hedge to protect the delicate plants against the northern storms.

I felt deeply moved by it all, felt such peace in me which I had to go and find in the Nazareth-like village of Ballymagarrihy. …………We found it hard to leave this place, the evening and the shadows were getting longer, the night remained faintly luminous as complete darkness does not set in in these northerly parts. ……….I think most of us felt we had been on a visit to some kind of Holy Land.

(Thanks to Brendan Flanagan, Malin. organiser of the Adult Education School,  who has the full text of the 3 broadcasts).

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