Local History by Seán Beattie


The Three Patriots of Carndonagh



One hundred and fifty years ago, Michael Harkin, the great Carn historian described Carn as a town with 4 intersecting thoroughfares. One of them was Pound Street. Today, Carn a new super highway, the Painter’s Way thanks to Margaret Teresa Doherty and her family, located on the site of Philip Fintan’s shoe shop and Miss Doherty’s dress-making business. So who were the Painters? Margaret Teresa Doherty and her family have made a generous donation of this site to the church and community and for generations they have been known as “the painters”. There were 4 in Margaret’s family, her brother John, who was once played a trumpet in the Carn Brass Band. He donated his trumpet to the band before he passed away and it is in use today. Margaret had two sisters, one of whom was Minnie Weeks. Minnie lived away all her life but her final wish was to be buried in Carn and so we remember her today. Her other sister was Annalene who lived in Largs in Ayreshire – Robbie Burn’s country where she is buried.

Their parents were John and Maggie Doherty.

Margaret’s grandparents came from Moville parish and hence the nickname the “Bunaphobails”. He lived in the same street near the courthouse. Her grandfather, Willie was from Glencrow, Terryroane near Ballinacrae church and her grand- mother was Maggie McFeely, Carrowmena.  Other families included Catherwoods, Dohertys (hatters), Merricks (cattledealers) and Mullins (butchers). The first ice cream in Carn was sold in this street. In others words. It was truly a street full of crafts’ people and artisans.

Margaret had a distinguished connection in the church on her grandfather’s side. He was an uncle of the Bishop of Dromore, who died in 1979 and his name was Bishop Eugene O’Doherty, for whom I once served Mass in Ballinacrae. His family came from Terryroane.

The “Bunaphobails”

Her grandfather was a painter by trade and he came to Carn to paint the Colgan hall in 1914, the year it opened. He always said that he got married in 1916 with the money he made painting the hall. Her uncle Pakie Bunaphobail was involved in helping to paint the new church in Carn in 1945. He had a habit of singing aloud as he painted. The PP Fr Bonner was not impressed and suggested he would do better if he concentrated on the painting. His answer to Fr Bonner was to stop the singing but he also slowed down the painting. Fr Bonner got the message.

Margaret has a little-known connection with the history of education in Carn, as Conal Byrne, Margaret Harkin and Sheila McCarroll have noted.

Arthur Gormley- hedge school master

Margaret’s great-grandfather was Arthur Gormley who came to Carn from Bellaghy, Co Derry as a hedge-school teacher as the Penal Laws were coming to an end. He taught in a slated barn in Hillhead donated by the Presbyterian church. and his small headstone can be seen beside the graveyard gate on the right, with his name clearly inscribed. Children brought a penny a week to school to pay his wages and used slates for writing on. Latin and Maths were taught. Hedge school masters travelled from town to town, but Arthur settled in Carn and became quite wealthy. He probably knew Seamus Heaney’s ancestors who came from Bellaghy also. Several Gormley families still live close to Bellaghy but not in the village itself.

Margaret Teresa herself attended the Convent School in Buncrana as a boarder. When I asked Margaret why she became a chemist, she said she had two friends at school and they decided on their careers after they did their Leaving Cert. One of the girls was Rita Quigley, who became a nun and joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Drogheda. Another friend was Margaret Bonner who became a nurse. Margaret Teresa decided to become a chemist and went to Dublin to serve her 6 year apprenticeship with a well-known group of Dublin chemists called Hayes, Cunningham and Robinson. She worked in the Dun Laoghaire branch and cycled nightly from Dun Laoghaire to the College of Pharmacy in Mount Street in the city.


To go back to Sister Rita Quigley. Rita worked in a hospice and one night she was in charge of a woman who was on her death bed and declared incurable. That night Rita said 3 rosaries for her to Blessed Oliver Plunkett and next morning the woman had recovered and returned to good health fully cured. Her cure was considered miraculous and the Vatican accepted the cure as a miracle. It so happened that this was recognised as the third official miracle required for the canonisation of Blessed Oliver Plunkett. On the occasion of his canonisation, the Sisters of Mercy in Buncrana were invited to Rome and Margaret Teresa and her other friend were invited also. Sadly Rita, the nun, was not present. She died in a swimming accident in Italy trying to save a young postulant from drowning. At the canonisation, Fr. Donal McKeown, now Bishop of Derry, did a reading in Rome. He was present when Margaret Teresa cut the tape to open the new road on Sunday, 3 June 2018, following Mass in the church. The Carn Brass Band and Donagh Choir were in attendance.

Finally, we come to the THREE PATRIOTS OF CARN. The house beside the Painter’s Way has three sculpted heads. Before Home Rule, there was great veneration in Carn for the famous patriots of Irish history. The beardless head, with pointed chin, in the centre is Robert Emmet, who died in a Rebellion in 1803. On the Co-op side is Henry Grattan, who led an independent Irish Parliament at College Green in Dublin before it was abolished by the Act of Union in 1800. The other head is that of Wolfe Tone, who was arrested at Buncrana and died in 1798. All the heads bear a true likeness of the leaders, based on drawings and prints of the period.

The sculptor was a cousin of her grandfathers. He emigrated to America and made a career for himself as a sculptor in the States. Before he left, he sculpted the LION OF CARN. You can still see it today in Reid’s yard behind the grill.  The new emigrant was refused work in America with a sculptor at first. The owner of the business went away and Margaret’s cousin took the opportunity to sculpt the head of the owner who had refused him work. When the owner came back, he was astonished to see himself in stone and enquired who did the work. When he heard who was the artist, he gave him a job, even though he had refused him at first.

Like Michael Harkin, we can be proud of this beautiful, historic thoroughfare and our sincere thanks are due to Margaret Teresa and her family, Fr Con McLaughlin, PP and also the team of workmen who completed it.

For more information on Carn history, see CARNDONAGH by Maura Harkin and Sheila McCarroll, which is available from bookshops. A photo of the Hillhead hedge school can be seen in the book with pictures of Margaret Teresa and her family at various stages of their lives. Thanks to all who helped with this history – Margaret Teresa Doherty, Mrs Mary McLaughlin, Mickey McClure, Colgan Heritage Committee, Maura Harkin and the late Conal Byrne who wrote about hedge schools in DONEGAL ANNUAL.

Seán Beattie – 3 June 2018




    my name is llewellyn weeks, mary weeks was my mother and margaret Doherty my aunt I was surprised to find out about the three patriots of carndonagh. I was last there in the nineties, but still in contact with aunt Margaret and hearing how much it has changed over the years

    • Comment by post author


      Most people in the town were unaware of the heads but they are very clear to see
      Margaret was fine when I saw her a few months ago

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