Local History by Seán Beattie

Carndonagh, The Famine, Workhouse

Carndonagh Workhouse Rifles

As the county was flooded with arms by 1917, nationalists were faced with problems of storage. The RIC became more active following the 1916 executions. The Irish National Volunteers were meeting regularly throughout Inishowen. The Culdaff branch objected strongly to house raids and military intervention at a meeting in August 1917. Sinn Fein established  a new branch in Desertegney and the United Irish League held meetings in Culdaff, Clonmany and Carndonagh in support of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party. Home Rule was still on the horizon but nationalists were becoming frustrated by delays. 

In Carndonagh, members of the Irish National Volunteers knew that their homes were in danger of being raided as the RIC knew who they were and were under instructions to go in search of illegal weapons. Consequently, no member was prepared to risk storing weapons on his own property. At a meeting in the town, it was proposed to use the workhouse as a weapons dump as the facility was mostly empty and it would be difficult to press charges. The secretary of the Carn branch of the Volunteers was Edward Quigley and he was a porter in the workhouse. He knew there were locations which would be suitable for storing guns and if the police raided the workhouse, they were unlikely to arrest the paupers. Most of the guns in the area were brought to the workhouse and Quigley arranged for storage. But shortly afterwards, police activity saw more houses being raided, and he got cold feet. He contacted a constable he knew and handed over 30 guns to the RIC. No action was taken against him. It was  deadly blow for the Carn branch but the guns were soon replaced by arms dumps from outside the town. Drilling continued apace but few could have anticipated what lay ahead. 

Ironically this was not the first time the workhouse was used for military purposes. When the workhouse was built in 1843 and before it was opened for inmates, a regiment of soldiers was stationed in the workhouse in anticipation of an outbreak of violence when the repeal movement was active. The workhouse closed down in 1922. One wing still remains standing and is used as the James Connolly Hospital. 


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