Cooley Dig Open Day August 21 2016

Pictures show progress at Cooley dig after first week. The dig is outside the graveyard to the north and is based on the geo physical survey undertaken at Cooley last year. Two stone structures have been located, one of which may be a part of a large building or ditch and another with smaller stones which may have been part of paved area. At this early stage, up to 20 small but significant artefacts have been found and are recorded – charcoal, polished stones, glass, pottery and iron one. Carbon dating will establish dates of finds and add to our knowledge of the site. Clearly there was metal working on this site indicating its importance as a craft centre and industrial zone. Monks acquired their skills through contact with other monasteries across England, Scotland and even the continent. Apart from digs at Cooley and Carrowmore, no archaeological digs have taken place at our monastic sites in Inishowen.

The skull house picture shows the orderly placement of grave slabs with large well-cut stone covering the graves most of which have a header and footer. In the 1980s when I took photos here for my short guide to ancient monuments, there were human skulls and bones in the skull house but these have vanished. The semi-circular broken artefact was found when the graveyard was being cleaned. A total of 20 crosses have been identified on site some for the first time. They show a resemblance to crosses on Iona, which was in contact with the monastery here. I learned that the Paps of Jura are visible from Iona and from Inishowen also. For an interesting account of work to date see the new book by Max Adams  IN THE LAND OF GIANTS  which has a wonderful chapter on Inishowen sites. For a review of work on Carrowmore, see DONEGAL ANNUAL 2013. No 65.

The Lands of Eoghan Conference was a great success with over 120 in attendance for 6 lectures by a panel of distinguished speakers from Ireland, Scotland and England.

A geo physical survey started today 20 August 2016 at the Cross site at Churchtown with permission from Pat Doherty who owns the field on the corner opposite the Cross. Bottom  picture shows Teis Doherty, Maura Harkin and Sean Beattie at Cooley Open Day on 21 August 2016. (Sean Beattie)

Excavation at Cooley, Moville – Sean Beattie

Cooley Dig 2016

Picture shows excavations at Cooley, Moville, in a field adjoining the graveyard (18 August 2016). This is part of the Lands of Eoghan Archaeological Festival which explores the Early Christian connections between Inishowen and beyond. The Festival opens on Friday 19 August with a lecture by Brian Lacey. For 5 lectures on Saturday in Carndonagh, see Lands of Eoghan Facebook page. Admission is free and open to everyone.

This is the fifth year since studies began on Inishowen monastic sites led by Colm O’Brien and Max Adams and a group of volunteers called the Bernician Studies Group (see their website). This year they are joined by a small team of young archaeologists and local archaeologists. At the end of the dig shown above, some archaeological material was beginning to appear. Studies are also being carried out in the graveyard without soil removal or interference with graves.

Inishowen has been selected because of the variety of monastic sites, none of which have been surveyed or excavated, apart from Carrowmore and Cloncha. The link is Colmcille who opened up shop in Iona. One of his disciples, Aidan, founded Lindisfarne, thus completing the triangle of sites. Carrowmore has revealed metal workings and evidence of smithing dating from 590 AD. Tests have revealed metallurgical debris, including bog ore and charcoal in studies undertaken by a chemical engineer. Tests were undertaken in the UK in an accredited laboratory on 7 samples from Carrowmore using a Bruker portable XRF.  We can only speculate on the extent of the industry at this site, the nature of the goods produced and the high levels of technical skill employed. To date, surveys have shown that monasteries were surrounded by a ditch as if they were sited in old circular forts. The dig above is taking place on the line of one of the fort walls or ditches which were located during the survey last year. (see earlier post on Carrowmore)

There will be an open day on Sunday 21 August when visitors can visit Cooley. The work is carried out under an Irish Government licence issued by the OPW and with the consent of the landowner and farmer. Further surveys are in operation in the peninsula with the approval of the land owner. This is the first archaeological dig at this ancient monastic site and is of great interest to the local community. Note dates-

Friday 19 August 2016 – Dr Brian Lacey, Colgan Hall, Carndonagh

Saturday 20 August 2016 – 5 major lectures 

Sunday 21 August 2016 – Open Day at Cooley

Inishowen Aviation History – Ture sea plane base

Ture 2

A familiar landmark on the Moville – Derry road at Ture, picture shows the bath-house, the last remaining structure of the US seaplane base. On the opposite side of the road, there is a vast concrete apron of about 2 acres and  a small cement jetty, where sea planes were taken ashore. There was no runaway as planes landed on the water supported by floats. The reinforced concrete has survived many storms in the Foyle over the last 100 years. The apron is now in private ownership and at the time of writing is up for sale.

In January 1915 German U-boats became active along the Irish coast and the Royal Navy and the US Navy joined forces to respond immediately by building seaplane bases, including Ture. There were also 5 airship bases including one at Ballyliffin, of which little trace now remains.A number of successful attacks on U-boats were reported from the Ture base but when the war ended in 1918, the base was no longer used. For the last 2 years of the war, the Ture base housed hundreds of American servicemen. Many were boarded in local houses around Ture while others travelled daily from the city. Press reports stated that as many as 15 sea base workers had accommodation in some local houses so it was a boom period for the local economy, however short-lived. Among the men who built the base were several Carrowmena men, including Jim Beatty, who later became a Garda in 1922. They cycled the 15 miles to work at Ture and I often heard him talk about his time at the airbase.

The base had a picture house, a canteen, prayer room, a dance hall, games rooms, a deep well, a bath house and cook house. Letters have become available from US service men who worked there and these will throw new light on this unique episode in Inishowen’s aviation history as we approach the centenary of the base.

Nearer Moville, there is the  American hospital and doctor’s lodge, now converted into a private residence. I recall visiting it in the 1970s before the conversion. As the war ended in 1918 it never housed any patients. It is not visible from the road and access is not open to the public.

In the 1930s there was great excitement as sea planes appeared again flying in formation up Lough Foyle when Gen. Balbo visited Derry. At that time, Derry Corporation was planning to build a new base on the opposite side of the Foyle but the plans fell through. As Ryanair announces its winter schedule from City of Derry Airport, it is good to recall the early days of aviation along Lough Foyle. Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary is not the first to recognise the potential of the region  and its role in Irish aviation history over a century ago. Today, it is time to recognise that the Ture seaplane base  is an important war site as we commemorate the centenary of WW1. Ireland played a key role in terms of training, combat operations and aircraft production in the war and Ture and Ballyliffin played their part.
Compiled by Sean Beattie with thanks to the owners of the sites for their permission to inspect the locations on their property; their courtesy is greatly appreciated and many thanks also for useful information when I called recently. 


Colgan Heritage Weekend

Colgan Heritage Poster

The Colgan Heritage Weekend takes place over the weekend of July 1st-4th in Carndonagh, Co. Donegal. We will have talks from Eamonn Mc Cann and Marie-Louise O’Donnell, a guided walk to the site of Tomas Mac Donagh’s speech to Inishowen volunteers before 1916, and music from John Mc Lachlan and the Henry Girls. Not to be missed.

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. 

Virtually 1916 – Schools’ Competitions

The County Donegal Historical Society is running a number of competitions for schools related to 1916. For more information, and to download an application form, follow this link:

If anyone would like to contact me for advice, I’d be happy to help out. For starters, have a look at the Donegal County Council education pack on 1916, available free from any County Donegal library (more info here: There is also some very helpful information in the ‘Donegal Annual 1966’ which is available in Letterkenny library and contains articles which were written by participants in the Rising.


Clonmany Irish Nation League

From 1914 thousands of Donegal men joined the ranks of the British army having been advised by John Redmond that England would guarantee Home Rule once the war was over.

But in January 1916, Lloyd George announced that if the war had not ended by March 1916, Home Rule would not be granted.

The writing was on the wall and partition loomed ahead. The Home Rule Act had been suspended for the duration of the war but now it was to be dropped.

Clonmany reacted by forming an Irish Nation League at a meeting which was well attended. A branch of the Irish Nation League was formed to fight against partition. Elsewhere, such committees were often known as the Anti-Partition League. The committee was headed by Rev. T. Hegarty, CC, President. Other members were

L McCarron, DC, Cleagh VP

J. M  Doherty, Ballyliffin, Treasurer

Dr. O’Doherty, JP, Clonmany, Secretary.

Committee – P. Quigley, JP, the Castle

P.Doherty, DC, Giblin

N. Noone, Cloontiagh

N. Doherty, Annagh.

Farmers were not too happy with an order confiscating all hay and grain crops in support of the war effort. Only local fodder would be excluded if retained for home use.

More information about the impact of the war on Donegal will be found in two articles which I have written, the first in IRELAND’S OWN (special 1916 edition ) and the second and more detailed in DONEGAL ANNUAL  2016 to be published in September.

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)

Banking on the past in Carndonagh

FairDay CarndonaghExactly 150 years ago this year, the people of Carndonagh and district were enjoying an upsurge in prosperity. The Great Famine was 20 years behind them and the rural economy was making good progress. In the picture above, the dominant building on the left is the Northern Banking Company, the first commercial bank to open in the town. Post Office Savings Banks, a Loan Fund and agricultural banks would follow in the district. The bank was established following the presentation of a memorial by the gentry and business folk to the directors of the banking company.

On Friday 11 May 1866, there was an air of anticipation as two directors from the bank arrived in Carn. A warm welcome awaited William Valentine and Robert Hanna from Belfast as they viewed sites in the Diamond, the business heart of the town. Both knew the bank had great potential as the company already had a branch in Derry. After much discussion, they selected a site between the houses of Philip Doherty and John Gillespie. The local contact was John “the Cloth” Doherty of C & P Doherty, who was also the agent for the English and Scottish Law Assurance Society. At the official opening, speakers welcomed the bank describing Carn as “a rising town”. Historian Michael Harkin proudly noted in 1867, “The Northern Banking Company have a branch here”. 

The staff of the bank were popular in the town. When a cashier, William King, was promoted, townspeople gathered in the Doherty Arms Hotel and presented him with a purse of sovereigns. He founded the Literary and Debating Society in the town during his tenure. Meetings were usually held in the Temperance Hall (before the Colgan Hall was built). Bank staff have played a major role in development of the town over the years. (Note the Enterprise Weekend recently)

Evidence of prosperity was to be seen in the construction boom of the period. There were two shirt factories and in 1859 Tillies sent out a tender for the construction of a factory and manager’s dwelling. Agents of English shirt makers had offices in the Diamond. The Convent of Mercy was also built at this time. Constructed at a cost of £1,300, it was not occupied by the time Michael Harkin wrote his history of Inishowen in 1867. William Scott of Tulnaree invited applications for the construction of a Presbyterian Manse at Tulnaree in 1857. On 9 June 1868, the Wesleyan Chapel was opened – “a neat and substantial” building according to reports. The design was by Thomas Brady of Carndonagh and the builders were Hutcheson and Colhoun of Derry. The cost was £400. With  a population of 641, the town was well served by 23 public houses, of which Michael Harkin did not approve; four local bakeries kept bread on the table. Apart from the fairs and markets, the town was at the heart of Inishowen society as it also had the head quarters of the police, the Union workhouse and the courthouse. 

Further north at Malin Head, tenders were invited for the construction of a Coastguard Station in 1869. Tourist guides often referred to the thatched cottages which housed the first Coastguard Station at Slievebane, the architecture of which was slightly different from local houses: “We arrived at the village of Slievebane which has a Coastguard Station”. (I recall the old thatched cottages at Trean, Tremone, now converted to out offices, which were erected before Tremone Coastguard Station was built; they stood out because of their unique porches and windows).

The town also had a Temperance Band, called after St. Macarten’s,  and a Temperance Association.

I was a customer of the Northern Bank for many years but following the subsequent takeover by Danske Bank I was invited to close my account as the bank was moving out.

The bank was opened 150 years ago this year and is therefore one of the oldest businesses in the town, although now closed. Fortunately, a new business venture is expected on the site in the near future, but it certainly will not be a financial institution. (Research by Sean Beattie)

Happy New Year to all visitors to this site.

Glacknadrummond Methodist Church, Culdaff

I recently attended the annual Harvest Thanksgiving in Glacknadrummond Church, which is situated about 2 miles from Culdaff. The sermon was delivered by the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland so it was an important event. Afterwards, I met Rev. Alison Gallagher, the minister in charge and enjoyed the hospitality provided by the congregation. It was my first visit to a Harvest Thanksgiving in any church and I was impressed with the harvest decorative displays. It was a joyful celebration for all who work on the land and enjoy its fruits. As a resident of the district, I knew almost everyone in the church and met a number of former students of the school where I worked. The building has been used for worship for over 100 years and many of the artefacts associated with its construction are preserved. I recall seeing them during the centenary celebrations some years ago.  

Prior to the construction of the church, a local resident Charles McCandless proposed in 1850 to have a school house erected in the vicinity of his home. The Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Society was active in Inishowen preaching the gospel prior to the Great Famine and the Protestant School in Culdaff village was often used for prayer meetings. Poverty was rife so fund-raising was a challenge. Charles McCandless secured a site from Robert Young of Culdaff –  a member of the Church of Ireland – and a school capable of holding 200 pupils was built. A master’s house was attached. The new school was under the patronage of the Primitive Methodist Society which made a small contribution to the cost. Services were held weekly in the school house and a Sabbath School was also in operation. Plans for the new building were drawn up by a Derry architect J. H. Bible and the building was erected by Alex Ferguson of Derry. (I think the firm of Bible belonged to the company Bible and Simmons of Derry which had an office in the Diamond until recently; the poet James Simmons is a member of the latter family). 

A local minister Rev W. Flaherty, a native of Co. Offaly,  collected £34 in Dublin for the new school. R. Young paid £5. Miss McCandless in Mass., USA contributed £5. A total of £36 was collected in Inishowen and about £40 was outstanding when the building was completed. 

The official opening of the school took place on 9 June 1857 so in 2017, it will be the 160th  anniversary. A Presbyterian community in Scotland offered to pay £30 per annum for a teacher.  A teacher called Lindsay worked here for a period. As the school was also used as a place of worship, it did not come into the national school system run by the Commissioners of National Education and consequently, problems arose in running the school. The school in fact became established as a place of worship rather than a school and it formed the nucleus of the modern church at Glacknadrummond. The Methodist congregations attend worship at Whitecastle and Moville also. Over many years I got to know most of the ministers of the Methodist congregations as they would arrive on a weekly basis in Carndonagh Community School to provide religious instruction for students of their congregation.