Local History by Seán Beattie

Folklore, Inishowen, Music

Bands and Song Collectors in Inishowen – Sean Beattie

Last night (18-3-2016) I attended the musical NUNSENSE  in Carndonagh and enjoyed a fine evening of music and song. The 7 member band under Helen Haughey did  a great job with flute, clarinet/sax, trumpet/guitar/ bass, percussion and keyboards. Today, such bands do not give themselves a name unlike the bands of the past, when there were over a dozen bands in the peninsula, a spin-off from the Celtic Revival and the Temperance Movement. The earliest date for a band in Carndonagh is 1877 when the Carndonagh Flute Band played at the open air wedding reception of John Loughrey and Miss Rogan (Dublin) to which most of the tenants appear to have been invited at Binion House. Lots of “refreshments” were available. It is possible that smaller bands played in the town before this date but records have been lost. At this time,  Buncrana had St. Patrick’s Flute band. Flutes and fifes were very popular during this period but their traditions are now preserved in northern flute and bands which make their public appearance on July 12th. .

The revival of the Brass Band in Carndonagh is of interest as it clearly has its roots in a 140 year old history post-Great Famine. Bands were part of the social fabric and could turn up at political demonstrations, concerts, Land War rallies or, as in the 1950s, Corpus Christi processions. The newly revived Brass Band from Carndonagh will play on Easter Sunday in Culdaff to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

There has been a revival of interest in traditional music in Inishowen and perhaps more attention could be given to a remarkable woman collector of Irish music who was the daughter of the Moville rector, Rev. Charles Galway whose letters seeking aid during the Famine are in Dublin (See WORKHOUSE AND FAMINE by Sean Beattie in DONEGAL ANNUAL 1980). Her name was Honoria Tompkins Galway (1830- 1925) and her tunes are in a book she published in 1910 called CROONAUNS. Her mother was Honoria Knox of Prehen. She claimed that the Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) was actually a Donegal melody. She collected lilting melodies and music for jews harps which were very popular.

Also forgotten is a great Moville piper called Tom Gorden who collaborated with her. She was a leading contributor to the Irish Folksong Society (1914), another offshoot of the Celtic Revival which blossomed before the 1916 Rising. (See DONEGAL IN TRANSITION  by Sean Beattie, published by Merrion, 2013 and DONEGAL ANNUAL 2016, forthcoming). She was a close friend of Douglas Hyde and Alfred Graves, composer. She also collected the song Over Here ( “The praties they are small…..”) As we delve more into our musical heritage, her contribution will some day get the recognition it deserves. She was a collector of national importance. It would be appropriate to erect a plaque in her honour in Moville where she enjoyed a long life or perhaps to have a public concert of her music to restore her place in public life.   (Research by Sean Beattie – please acknowledge if used in a publication). Please share on Facebook. 


  1. Grace Toland

    Hello Sean,

    I don’t think we have met in person but I read your History of Donegal posts with great interest. I am currently Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive based in Dublin, and a native of Inishowen. Your latest contribution on traditional music prompts me to draw your attention to a digitised edition of ‘Old Irish Croonauns’ on the Irish Traditional Music Archive’s website. There is also an introductory essay on the publication and Honoria’s contribution.


    Other sources from the site which may be of interest to you are: Grace Orpen’s ‘Local Donegal dances’ and the Inishowen Song Project.



    I’d be delighted if you could bring these resources to the attention of your readers. I would also really welcome information or suggestions re other Donegal traditional music sources for the ITMA collection.

    Kind regards, Grace

    Grace Toland Director

    Irish Traditional Music Archive http://www.itma.ie

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Comment by post author

      Hello Grace. Yes we may not have met but our paths have crossed many times in Clonmany over the years and I am aware of your work. I will being the digitised editions to the attention of some of our musicians in Inishowen who are interested in pursuing the connection with Honoria, among others. I have just recently taken note of Honoria although I have researched her father’s work many years ago. It is great to be able to read this material online and that is something I will do shortly. Regards, Sean

  2. Betty Morrow

    Thank you Sean, I loved your history and enjoyed the story of long ago, thanks, Betty.

  3. Betty Morrow

    Wish I was home to go see this, thanks for sharing.

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