Local History by Seán Beattie

Carndonagh, Uncategorized

Carndonagh’s Most Artistic Building-1896


CARNDONAGH’S  “most artistic building”

It was built by James Gallagher and Sons in 1896 at the top of Chapel St. in Carn. Gallaghers were based in Moville and the property was ownedby the Harkin brothers. It earned its title because of its cornices, mouldings, 2 plate glass windows, pilasters by Fairmans of Derry, fancy woven lattice work, and ironwork. The report went on to describe Carn as a “thriving little town”. The architect was J. Nolan. The building was 56 ft long and 30 ft wide. It is now 120 years old. This was a vibrant business thoroughfare at the time and benefitted from its proximity to the market in the Diamond. The yard at the back was ideal for farmers and traders to leave their horses and carts.

The contract and bills for the house are still available and the total cost was £556.18.6.

The site was originally the home of Michael Harkin, better known at Maghtochair, historian and author. He operated the Carn Loan Fund from here (a sort of credit union for the poor).  He is listed in the 1850s as the owner. The older buildings were demolished and the modern house was built and he also bought the house next door. Michael had 2 sons. James and Frank and for a time there was a large shop here which at one time was owned by Celia Canny. Frank left the house to his son, Michael, who was born in 1908 and became a factory manager in Carn and his family are well known in the town today. In 1927 James MacDonagh bought the property which now has two businesses, hairdressing and accountancy. A son of James was vice-principal in the Community School when it opened and I worked with him for many years. He designed many of the houses in the district. The current business owners are all past pupils of the school.

I recall visiting the premises with a long, low counter made of solid wood when it was used as a vet clinic by Jim McCarroll over 50 years ago. My father had livestock and if a cow developed “weed” (a milk disease), the milk had to be inspected by the vet before it could be consumed, and so I found myself cycling to Carn and calling into the clinic. It gave me a brief introduction to the world of agriculture.

As I ramble down the street today, I am impressed by the building – painted in dark grey, with white blocking at the edges. It is just a few yards from Donagh Café run by Pascal Trabac from the Bordeaux area and Pascale Chometon from the Lyons area. The original characteristics are still intact and it stands out from the other buildings in the street. I have visited the hairdressing salon which has a very attractive interior but I have not visited the accountancy offices. (My tax affairs are pretty basic). The signage is functional and looks well. It is good to see that the original artistic features are maintained in the exterior and interior of the building and the current occupiers/owner deserve commendation.

As most towns celebrate their writers, and Maghtochair has done Carn proud, it would be an ideal site for a plaque in his memory and help the thousands of visitors who pass through the town to take another look at its architectural history. This aspect of Inishowen history is taken for granted but we can be proud of our crafts people, tradesmen, builders, artists and architects who have made the town a better place to live in. Visitors, who pass through, often judge a town on the appearance of its buildings. (Sean Beattie)


  1. Pascale Chometon

    We don’t pay enough attention to some buildings we pass by every day. It is great that thanks to people like you, we know more about them. It gives us an idea of what Carn was like years ago. The building in which Café Donagh is located has a rich past too. I was told by local people that it was once the police station of the town. Merci beaucoup pour ton article, Sean. C’est très intéressant!

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