To mark the opening of the Sixth Colgan Heritage Weekend starting on Thursday 25 June, here is a picture of the town from 1929. The shop at the centre is BRODBIN AND SONS which was later Donagh Stores and is now DEIRDRES. A brief history of the business will be displayed in the window during the week when shop keepers will turn their windows in mini museums. Note the petrol pump outside Gillespies which sells sewing machines, indicating that the cottage industries were still thriving. DEIRDRE’S once served as an outstation for the Derry shirt factories where shirts were collected for sewing-up before being carted to Derry. It is known that the city provided 88% of the shirts for the British Army during WW1 and it was also the world capital of the white shirt industry. At the far left is Callaghans, which was previously Dohertys, grain and general merchants. The family thrived during the Napoleonic Wars and were quite wealthy by the outbreak of the Great Famine.
They were generous during the Famine years and a monument in the graveyard testifies to their kindness. A son of the family, John Doherty, known as “the Cloth” secured election to the Board of Guardians, much to the disgust of local magistrate James Norris Thompson and his sister who wrote a political satire about them. The hatred was more religious than political. John Doherty also led a delegation to Belfast and invited the Northern Bank to the town. It is not known if any close relatives of the family are still around.
For more information on the history and heritage of the town, drop in on any event during the weekend and the resident historians will be happy to discuss times past. One of the main speakers will be Rob Goodbody, a member of a well-known Quaker Dublin family which supplied boilers during the Great Famine. His talk on the Great Hunger is on Saturday at 11 am followed by a visit to the Famine Village in the Isle of Doagh. (Free admission). We also welcome former employees of Goodbodys which made potato sacks in the town until the 1970s, when the potato boom was at its height. Other speakers include Eamonn O Cuiv, Pat Doherty and Richard Curran, RTE. Copies of the programme are available in local shops. (Sean Beattie)