One hundred years ago, life was very different in Donegal. There was great sorrow in March over the death of John Redmond – who worked tirelessly to bring Home Rule to Ireland but failed. He urged Irishmen to join the British Army in 1914 in the belief that this gesture would be rewarded by the granting of independence! Culdaff Ancient Order of Hibernians passed a vote of sympathy at his passing.
Conscription? No thanks
The war was now four years running and a Military Service Act was passed which was intended to permit conscription in Ireland. There were violent protests. An All-Ireland Pledge was drawn up and people were encouraged to sign in protest at the threat of conscription. Fr. Maguire of Clonmany organised signatures outside the church gate. No conscription took place in Ireland.
Food supplies were low so a form of rationing was introduced. Sugar was the first commodity to be rationed. Shops had to keep records on a Sugar Card of amounts sold to customers. RIC members called to check if the cards were up to date. Later, meat was rationed. Emily Little of the Fort Hotel in Greencastle was fined in court for serving meat on “meatless” days and for failing to keep a proper register of meals served.
Killer flu epidemic
Meanwhile, the Spanish flu was taking its toll. In the first week of July 1918, there were 50 funerals of flu victims in Derry with 14 dying of flu on average per day. Horse hearses queued at the gates of the cemetery for burial and extra gravediggers were employed.
Sinn Fein rock the boat
In December, there were elections and a new party called Sinn Fein won 3 of the 4 seats in Donegal and brought the Irish Party at Westminster to its knees. SF refused to take their seats at Westminster and decided to set up their own government in Dublin. Sinn Fein clubs were in operation in every parish, named after 1916 leaders. Eamonn de Valera visited Donegal in 1918 as part of the election campaign. He spoke in the Colgan Hall, Carndonagh, and the crowds were so large that the seats had to be removed. Two bands, one from Clonmany and the other from Carndonagh led a parade from the railway station to the hall to give him a rousing welcome.
Jazz Dances at Ture Naval Station
At Ture, Americans were at work building a naval air station where 500 men would be accommodated. They held dances in 1918 and “motor vehicles” took dancers – mainly female – to the hall at Ture from Moville and Derry for all-night dancing. Sea-planes landed at the base in mid-summer to hunt U-boats which were attacking ships carrying food and troops. Only one officer died of flu at Ture base and there were at least 4 marriages.
An emigrant returns
My uncle, John, who emigrated to America, joined the US army and fought in France, came home on holidays from the trenches wearing his military uniform. He attended a dance in Ballyharry school. He survived the war and is buried in Brooklyn in the family grave.
Read more about life in Donegal in 1918 in the Centenary edition of Ireland’s Own, to be published shortly, for which I have written 3 articles. Donegal Annual will be available in mid-summer. See my article on the AOH in Donegal.