Forgotten Heritage of Carndonagh

Carndonagh Corner

  1. THE WATERLOO PRIEST 1779 in Cockhill, Buncrana. He was one of the most colourful clergymen who served in Inishowen. As a nephew of Bishop Charles O’Donnell, he was marked out for the priesthood. Before he was ordained, he accepted a commission in the British Army and served in the Peninsular Wars. Locals called him the “Waterloo Priest” because he was on the continent at the time of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He journeyed through the parish of Clonmany on his horse. A campaigner against tithes (a tax), he found himself in Lifford jail for a short period. With a passion for education, he built five schools in the parish. Two letters written by him have recently come to light in a Carndonagh archive. Writing to the Board of Guardians of Carndonagh workhouse from Straid on 12 May 1847, in a letter marked “Confidential”, he launched a scathing attack on the Relieving Officers. He accused them of misrepresentation in relation to the degree of hunger in Clonmany. This resulted in some of the deserving poor being refused assistance, even though they experienced, in his words, “utter destitution”. In a second letter, he reported on a meeting of the Famine Relief Committee in Ballyliffin in which he highlighted the level of distress in the area. He was a member of the Relief Committee and donated £25 for relief of the poor – a huge sum in those days. Very few of his writings have survived so the signed letters provide a rare insight into the Great Famine in Clonmany parish.
  1. THE LANIGAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE DIARIES: The Lanigans, drapers, grocers and spirit merchants,  ran a prosperous business in the Diamond in Carndonagh. They donated their property to the church and thus an entrance was created at Donagh Café which provided access from the Diamond to the church. The site is marked by a plaque in memory of their philanthropy. James Lanigan kept notes on his activities in the War of Independence and his name is mentioned in Liam Diver’s THE DONEGAL AWAKENING (p 221). His personal accounts, in a private archive, have never been published and contain exclusive information on the history of the War of Independence in Inishowen.
  2. THE MERCY CIBORIUM: (Ciborium – a vessel for holding Communion). According to folklore from well-informed sources, dating from 1895, this Ciborium came from the friary at Donegal Town which was blown up during the Nine Years War which ended in 1603. The monks fled, taking valuable silver plate along with them, including the Ciborium, as they went into hiding. The Ciborium was on display in the Convent of Mercy, Carndonagh, until it closed down. Today, nothing is known of its whereabouts but it is probably in use in a church. Where?
  3. THE DONAGH BELL: The monastery in Carndonagh was one of the most celebrated in Donegal, having been founded by St. Patrick. At an Inquisition in Lifford in 1609, there is a reference to the Keeper of the Donagh Bell. The Donagh Bell, as used in services, was donated to the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson St., Dublin in 1853 by John C. Deane, a Relieving Officer at the workhouse. He found it in a pawnbroker’s shop in Carn, probably traded for food during the Great Famine. Later, the Museum of Science and Art, now the National Museum, placed it on exhibition. The last Keeper was Philip McColgan, who died in the 1870s. Record keeping was not as good as it is today and the Donagh Bell can no longer be traced. Where is it now? The Bell of Cloncha monastery is still retained in the parish at Culdaff. Seán Beatt


(A full account of St. Patrick’s journey through Donegal and arrival in Carndonagh will be published in Donegal Annual 2020, due in July 2020, and written by a Professor of History in Oxford University. Details later on

Seán Beattie, Donegal Historical Society, Culdaff. Please share; for reference, cite



Article on Seán Ó’hEochaidh’s Field Diaries by Lillis Ó Laoire


Dr. Lillis Ó’ Laoire, NUIG

Seán Ó’hEochaidh was one of Ireland’s greatest folklore collectors and he worked for the Irish Folklore Commission in Donegal. Dr. Lillis Ó Laoire, professor in Irish in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, NUIG, has carried out extensive research on his diaries.

In this article, he highlights references to women and how they impacted on Ó hEochaidh’s work. The diaries offer a unique insight into rural life in south Donegal; there are references to local customs and interesting personalities are encountered.

The title of the article is “Tá cuid de na mná blasta/Some Women Are Sweet Talkers”: Representations of Women in Seán Ó hEochaidh’s Field Diaries for the Irish Folklore Commission, and was first published in the Estudios Irlandes Journal of Irish Studies in 2017 (Estudios Irlandeses, Special Issue 12.2, 2017, pp. 122-138).

In the abstract for the article, Ó Laoire states This article discusses representations of women in diaries written by  Seán Ó hEochaidh as part of his work as a field collector for the Irish Folklore Commission (1935-1971). Focusing on a number of well-described events and characters, the article reveals the collector’s attitude to women as they emerge from his writing. It also shows how women could help or hinder his collecting work. The disparities of the lives of a number of working women from Donegal during the period are also highlighted.”

To read the full text of the article, click on the link below: (Estudios Irlandeses, Special Issue 12.2, 2017, pp. 122-138; copyright (c) 2017 Lillis Ó Laoire.)

Christmas Rhymers in Inishowen

As a child growing up in Carrowmena, Inishowen, I recall the visits of the rhymers as they went from house to house in the village. They were a noisy, scary lot if you met them on the road in total darkness. To gain entry to each house, they hammered on the door with a walking stick and performed their play in the kitchen. The play ended with a collection. At the end of Christmas, they had a Rhymers’ Ball. I have no idea where they came from.

Glengad Rhymers

The Christmas rhymers in the pictures appeared in the Strand Hotel, Ballyliffin, Co Donegal in December 2002. If I recall correctly, they were touring hotels as part of a fund-raising project and I happened to be in the hotel on a staff Christmas outing.  I was in touch earlier with the Folklore Commission who were doing a project on rhymers and some of the folklorists called to Glengad to record the rhymers at work. In the past, Donegal had the largest number of rhymers in the country.


In some parts, they are called “mummers” from the French word “mommerie”. Their history goes back to pagan times in Rome, especially the mid-winter feast of Saturnalia. In Shakespeare’s England, they performed “morality” plays.  In England, it was St George v. the Dragon but in Ireland it was St. Patrick v. St George. St Patrick always won! In each version, a combatant is wounded and a doctor is called. He is usually a comedian, carrying a brown bag with a bunch of cures. (a kind of Now-Doc!). In medieval versions, Cromwell was the baddie. (Who would it be today?). Rhymers arrived in Ireland following the Plantation but with the advent of television, they disappeared almost overnight.

On the website, Maura Harkin includes a diary entry by John Norris Thompson in which he recalls the arrival of the Rhymers to Bridge Cottage. A Drumfries Rhymer’s script is also reproduced, transcribed by Kevin Graham. A draft of a Rhymers’ play is also available in a recent issue of the Donegal Annual, which I edit.

Thanks to the Glengad group for the revival of the rhymers in 2002.  (All photos by Sean Beattie). 

St. Boden’s Boat, Culdaff, Inishowen

Culdaff Bridge Postcard

St. Boden’s Boat, Culdaff

The Blessing of the Fleet at Bunagee pier, Culdaff, Inishowen took place last month (August, 2019). There was a large attendance and the sun blazed in the sky. This pier has a special place in the hearts and minds of local fishermen.

The patron saint of the parish is St. Boden and he promised that no harm would come to any boat launched at Bunagee. His feast day is July 22nd. The Bell of St. Boden – as used in the monastery – is still held in the parish and is used on special ceremonial occasions.

The Boat

Boden worked on the missions in Scotland. His stone boat is preserved in Culdaff river on the north side of the bridge. It is 4 ft 9 in long by 3 ft wide, tapering to a point, and 2 ft 7 in high. Up until the early 1800s, large vessels were able to sail up the estuary as far as the bridge, so Boden berthed his boat at what may have been a crude landing place used by fishermen and traders near the site of the bridge at the heart of the village. The Culdaff boat is similar to a stone boat at Clogher Head, Co. Louth, believed to be the boat of St. Denis. Both boats are said to have carried their respective owners from Scotland, a mere 40 miles away.


References to stone boats as used by saints are found in early Christian histories throughout Ireland. Manus O’Donnell recorded a story in the sixteenth century about a flagstone on which Colmcille was born, almost 1,500 years ago. The flagstone was found floating on Lough Akibbon, between Letterkenny and Dunlewey, and Colmcille’s family brought it ashore. His mother Eithne gave birth on the stone, which according to tradition is still at Gartan.

Powers of Flotation

Saints are credited with the power of flotation at several places in Ireland. At Loop Head, at Kilcredan, (“the Church of the Believer”), the saint who erected the church was said to have sailed around the Head on a flagstone until it floated ashore at what is now the site of the church. In mythology, the stone boat is a common feature so it is not surprising that it appeared also in the Christian tradition. In Sweden, archaeologists discovered a stone boat some years ago.

There is a pool in Culdaff river called the Lionadh (“the reflux of the tide”, now filled in or perhaps silted) where cows came to cool themselves in hot weather. In 1890, William J. Doherty, an engineer born in Buncrana, visited the site and described three rough-hewn steps that went down to the pool where a turas (pilgrimage) was made and where St Boden is said to have regularly prayed. Rev. Edward Chichester, Rector of  Culdaff,  has a lengthy description in his writings of celebrations that took place here. This is just one of the many forgotten places of pilgrimage in Inishowen, now lost in the mists of time.

(By way of digression, I feel I must mention Ruadh, a mythical woman, who sailed across the Atlantic in a bronze boat with a tin sail, in order to seek out Badurn, who lived in south Donegal and was King of Ireland – see ATLAS OF DONEGAL, p. 390.)

Seán Beattie

P.S. A group of Americans arrived in Inishowen today (11.9. 2019) and visited Corvish, Carndonagh, having read of the Corvish stone in this blog.



From Ballyharry to Brooklyn 1882


The winter of 1878-9 witnessed the return of the scourge of famine along the western seaboard. There was great hardship in Inishowen and large numbers received assistance from charitable organisations such as the Duchess of Marlborough Relief Fund in Dublin. Conditions were exacerbated by social unrest arising from the activities of the Land League.

Brooklyn Bridge

For many families, America offered an escape from hunger. There was a great demand for labour in New York because in the 1880s, it was the location of one of the world’s greatest construction projects, namely the building of Brooklyn Bridge linking Brooklyn with Manhattan. Hundreds of workers from Donegal were employed. For example, in the Spring of 1882 alone, a total of six people emigrated from Ballyharry, Culdaff and Carrowmena. In Pat McDaid’s diary – he lived in Glebe, Culdaff – they are named as Sarah and Neil McColgan, John Lynch, Biddy McCauley, Patrick Beatty, and Catherine McKinney, Bunagee. My grandfather John was among the many emigrants who left Drumaville and worked on the Brooklyn Bridge, returning home in the mid-1880s. Most Donegal emigrants congregated in the vicinity of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard. Women found work as maids and in the textile industries. In later decades, Mary Anne Beatty, Carrowmena worked as a housemaid for a Jewish doctor throughout her 40 years in America. Wages for the bridge builders averaged two dollars a day, with engineers being the highest paid. After paying for lodgings, money was sent home to enable tenants to purchase their farms, following the passing of a series of Land Acts.

Donegal Association, Brooklyn

Many of them joined the Donegal Association in Brooklyn which thrived in the 1890s. (See James H McLaughlin, A History of Donegal Association Inc of New York, 1939-1981, 1983). The Association helped emigrants find work in the construction industry and tunnel work.  County societies supported emigrants who fell on hard times. For example, on the death of a breadwinner, the family was eligible in some cases for a grant of $250.


Chain Reaction

Brooklyn became popular with emigrants from east Inishowen, particularly Ballyharry, Malin, Culdaff and Carrowmena. Once a family member had accommodation, others followed and so the emigration chain continued to grow. The Irish were perceived as a powerful ethnic group in Brooklyn and a backbone of the Catholic church in New York. On a recent visit to St. John’s Cemetery, Woodhaven Bvd., Brooklyn, however, where many of my relations are buried, I was surprised to find very few Irish names. The Dutch were the first to populate Brooklyn which was a working class area. Later, it attracted artists, musicians and writers, such as Walt Whitman, known as the “Poet of Brooklyn” and Carson McCullers, the famous author. Neal Diamond is a son of Brooklyn. The gentrification process continues today and Brooklyn is a vibrant cosmopolitan community.

Donegal Hill, Brooklyn

In the 1930s, the Irish moved elsewhere in the city. For example, an area close to Prospect Park in Brooklyn was known as “Donegal Hill” where Gaelic speakers from west Donegal settled in large numbers. Today, Prospect Park is a beautiful green area full of strollers and dog-walkers and others seeking a break in the metropolis. Elderly Russian-speaking gentlemen play chess in quiet corners or families head to Coney Island where children play on the golden sands. Dominating Prospect Park is the Memorial Arch, a replica almost of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, an impressive monument dominated by rampant black steeds glinting in the sunlight.

The last of the Brooklyn emigrants of my generation was a friend and fellow student of the classics at St Columb’s College in Derry called Seamus Kelly from Ballyharry, who emigrated in the 1960s. Sadly he died some years ago and his wife Jeanette died recently. The Irish have left their mark in Brooklyn but little remains of their presence today, apart from a handful of names in small cemeteries and on shop fronts and in the police, fire service and the church.

Acknowledgements – Brooklyn Historical Society and  Brooklyn Public Library.  Seán Beattie – June 2019

Carndonagh Teachers 1972

Carndonagh Staff Inis Duinn 1972-min

The two pictures show staff members of Carndonagh College in the Colgan Hall, top, and Convent of Mercy, below. The photos first appeared in INIS DÚINN, 1972, when the second edition of the school magazine was published. It ran to 52 pages and included contributions by students called Paul Fiorentini (Moville) and Paddy Doherty (Dunaff ) among others. Paul is the current Principal and Paddy taught Irish for many years. John O’Kane, (Culdaff) wrote a poem called TRAMP and Deirdre McGrory (Culdaff) wrote a poem called VOCATION. Carmel Lynott provided make-up tips. By 1972, both schools had amalgamated with a total school population of about 400. In September 1973, the two schools joined the Technical School to form Carndonagh Community School, one of the first ten established in Ireland and funded by the World Bank.

Of the college staff, four have passed away – Fr Gallagher, Fr McKenna, John O’Leary and Evelyn Beattie. Of the Convent staff, four are deceased – Helen O’Reilly, Sean McDevitt, Sister Margaret Mary McKinney and Mrs Farren.

The idea for the school magazine came from Fr McKenna in 1971. He had been a teacher in Maghera before he came to Carn College as Headmaster in 1971. Maghera had a magazine also and they included photos of all pupils and staff. Thanks to Fr McKenna, photos were published of all students thereafter except for a break in the 1980s. They can be seen today in the school corridors.

Of the College staff, Veronica McLaughlin is currently School Secretary and Fr McGoldrick is PP of Fahan. Fr Lagan became a Bishop, and was the first Guidance Counsellor in the school. John O’Leary had a great knowledge of History and English and never used text books. He came from Cork and his brother was Professor of Political Science in Queen’s University, Belfast and a published author. Jim Quigley taught Geography and was mentioned in a poem by one of his pupils who became a famous dramatist, Frank McGuinness. Andy McNelis taught mainly Irish as did Evelyn Beattie, who also taught English and Religion. Brian Gormley taught Maths and Colm Toland taught Science and Maths (and Gaelic football outside class time). I taught English, History and French (the latter for one year). In 1984, I was appointed Guidance Counsellor. Fr McKenna taught Latin for a short time before he became Principal. Fr Gallagher taught Irish.

When the two schools amalgamated in 1972, teachers had to travel between the Convent and the Colgan Hall. Fortunately, speed cameras had not been invented. In 1973, the Community School was not ready for students, so classes were still held in the old buildings. Overcrowding was so bad that some classes were taught in a Lough Swilly bus parked outside the Tech. That experiment was not a success.

In 2023, CCS will celebrate 50 years.

Corvish Stone – the CLOGH FAD 1834?

The OS maps reveal more information about the Corvish Stone which was discovered recently. (See earlier post) The first edition of the OS 6-inch maps 1834  shows a “Stone” here but it had disappeared in the 1900 edition. The stone with the carving is most likely the original standing stone listed 200 years ago. Clearly, it has undergone a process of recycling. Thankfully, it was not used as  a door lintel or in land drainage, as was the fate of many of our standing stones. I assume the McLaughlin family recognised its importance and preserved it behind the house, where it was found. The Corvish Stone is an important part of the heritage of Carndonagh parish. 

Note the houses in Corvish in 1834 and the number of “long houses” or perhaps “house rows”, which are very unusual in Inishowen. One of the rows is still standing and another is partially in place. The existence of the corn kiln on the map is indicative of a thriving farming community here, situated along the river bank and with Trabrega Bay in the hinterland. Fishing was important here and the sea weed was a useful source for kelp and manuring land. Kelp was sold in shiploads to Scotland. It was collected by small farmers, dried on stone walls and collected by agents for export to Scotland. When the railway arrived, the kelp was exported by train. Passengers did not complain about the scent!. In the 1890s it was valued at £5 per ton – a nice sum when the total farm income was no more that £40 per annum. (Sean Beattie)

Thanks to Maura Harkin for the maps. See DONEGAL IN TRANSITION ( S. BEATTIE)  for more information on the kelp industry in Carndonagh. 


Carndonagh Hidden History: the Corvish Stone

The inscribed stone at Corvish, Carndonagh was noted in 2019. It is like a standing stone roughly six feet long and one foot wide. It may have originally been a standing stone. There is an illustrated panel on the centre with a carved line running along the entire side.  A beautiful inscribed panel frames the memorial, thus indicating the work of a local stone sculptor and recalling similar panels on the High Crosses. The words IHS are at the top of the panel, and suggests a head stone or perhaps an altar stone that was in use in Penal times in the early 1700s. Similar inscriptions can be seen at Cloncha graveyard, dating from the 1700s. Altar stones were placed on Mass rocks and carried from place to place as priests tried to evade the  Redcoats and their spies. A  local family took care to hide the altar stone. There are several stories about Mass rocks and priest hunters seeking a bounty from this area so the stone is of great interest for these reasons. The main Mass rock of Carn is close by and signposted on the Ballyliffin road. The original date appears to be 1820 but the digits 19 appear to have been added later thus giving  a reading 1918. Thus the stone appears to have had several lives which adds to the mystery.


Mickey McClure and Bernie Logue at the Corvish Stone with the house row in the background which is part of the Corvish Clachan


The Corvish Stone showing the IHS inscription and the OML in the right corner. The stone had several lives – pagan standing stone, Penal Laws altar stone and memorial headstone.


The stone lies at the back of a wall stead owned by McLaughlins and the inscription on the left is OML, suggesting Owen McLaughlin?

The house row at the back of the picture is often found in Inishowen clachans. A similar row of houses stands at Ballyharry and is known as “The Row” and on Ballyliffin golf course. The houses are deserted but belonged to Mclaughlins (James), Dohertys (Nochars) and Kearneys. There was also a McColgan family, the name of the Erenaghs of Donagh (Bell Keepers). There appears to have been another row of houses on the row entering the site. Estimates for population are around 100 persons in 1901 living in the clachan.

Thanks to Mickey McClure, Benie Logue and Stephen Logue, who first alerted us to the stone and assisted with identification.

Armistice Day in Donegal 11/11 1918

This post contains the text of my piece for the RTÉ Sunday Miscellany Armistice Day Special, broadcast on RTÉ Radio One on November 11th, 2018.

Sean Beattie

Listen back to the Sunday Miscellany broadcast: Sunday Miscellany, RTÉ Radio One, November 11th 2018 

thumbnail_1918 US LAS Lough Foyle long dock extending out to channel in otherwise shallow Foyle for picking up supplies from ships.

Air base at Ture 1918/9. Photo courtesy of Meg Carroll, Albany, New York. From the files of her grandfather, Philip Gallagher, who served at the Ture base. The wooden platform was used to provide access from the sea-planes to the concrete apron ashore. There were 7 sea-planes and they were serviced in the hangars shown here. The planes were constructed of wood which was imported from USA and the planes were assembled in Derry. After Armistice Day, the Americans piled the sea-planes on the shore and burned the lot! It was quite  a sight. The poor carrier pigeons were not too concerned as they were happy to return to civilian life. They too had a good time in Ture. (Sean Beattie)

For generations, thousands of emigrants in the north west have set sail from Derry Quay on their way to the New World. Most were heading for America, never to return. But in 1917, the tide turned. Europe was at war, and America came to the rescue.

Under the Draft Law enacted by President Woodrow Wilson, all males between 21 and 30 were enlisted. Most expected to see service on the battlefront, but a small number were dispatched to bases, scattered across the country. One of them was in the townland of Ture in the Inishowen peninsula, Co Donegal, hundreds of miles from the hostilities. They had drawn the lucky straw. So instead of the grime and stench of the trenches, they enjoyed the bracing air and verdant pastures of Lough Foyle, ten miles north of Derry City.

The first to arrive in January 1918 was a small group of tradesmen, carpenters, engineers and supervisors who were tasked with constructing a base, with imported American timber from scratch. By July 4th, all buildings had been constructed, just in time to celebrate Independence Day by flying the Stars and Stripes. The recruits were mostly in their late teens or early twenties, so Commanders at the base organised a Sports Day, followed by a dance in the evening. Several musicians were among the recruits, and they hastily organised their own orchestra, which they christened the Troubadours. To get the gender balance right for the big social event of the evening, army cars were ordered to bring local girls from Derry City, and the neighbouring towns of Moville, Carndonagh and Buncrana. With a new generator imported from America, the banks of the Foyle glowed, as darkness fell amid the music and dancing.  It was indeed a fairyland of mirth, sound and happiness.

For the young ladies, it was a night to remember. No more country waltzes and “Shoe the Donkey”, a traditional mazurka, which was a light-hearted, two-hand dance played in every parish hall. Instead, the sounds of Tin Pan Alley may have floated across the Foyle that evening. The customary tea and sandwiches were replaced by minerals and cookies, with no scarcity of American cigarettes. Not unexpectedly, romance blossomed, and there were at least two weddings that could be traced directly to the base, where couples met for the first time.

During the day, recently assembled sea-planes took off from the base in the hunt for enemy U-boats. For the few months that the base was in operation, there were many U-boat sightings but only one may have been destroyed.

And finally, the news that all were waiting for arrived – the cessation of hostilities, and the signing of an Armistice at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the eleventh month in 1918. Instructions came to the base that all hostilities should cease. The Armistice Day Banquet and Dinner organised by the Welfare Committee at the Air Station was a special celebration, and the menu included many delicacies to mark the occasion, such as Roast Stuffed Liberty Chicken, Peace Bread with cider and cigars as extras. Celebrations led by the Troubadours went on into the night. There was a slight touch of sadness, too that friendships, formed along the banks of Lough Foyle, were about to end.

Sea plane

Armistice Day brought a sigh of relief to many Irish families, with sons in the American forces in Europe. The Beattie family in Inishowen had reason to celebrate – their son John, my uncle, who had enlisted in America, had survived the War. There was an added bonus when he turned up at the family home to greet his widowed mother in his Army uniform.  He created quite a stir when he appeared at local dances dressed in his American uniform.

The Americans departed in style, travelling in batches of a hundred, and parading in the streets of Derry on their way home, cheered on by thousands lining the city thoroughfares. Unlike their colleagues on the Western Front, only two recruits who were sent to Donegal did not return home, one being drowned and another who fell victim to the Spanish flu.

Little did anyone guess that the Americans would be back, in another couple of decades when Europe would again be a battlefield. The story of the U-boats would have a different ending, as the city quays became the base where they were berthed, before being sunk to the bottom of the ocean off the north Donegal coast.

Little remains of the American base of a century ago – a redbrick pump house on one side of the Derry to Moville road, and a vast concrete apron on the other side, all now wrapped in the silence of peace.(Sean Beattie)

Thanks to Meg Carroll, Albany, NY, who has provided copies of the letters of her grand-father Philip Gallagher, which were written in Ture and sent to his mother in USA in 1918; Meg also supplied original photos; to the Rankin family, Ture, owners of the site of the original station for their help; to Eamonn Gallagher who provided documentation; to Cassie Beatty, Carrowmena for information about John Beatty; to Richard Doherty, military historian, Derry for his invaluable research on this subject; Derry Journal, Belfast Telegraph and Londonderry Sentinel files in Central Library, Derry and library staff; to Conor Beattie and Mrs Eva Gilmartin for advice on the first draft; Ronan McConnell, Derry Museum; and to Mickey McGuinness, Derry who highlighted this story many years ago; and finally to Sara Binchy, RTE producer, and her staff for advice on the radio script and broadcast and for selecting the story for broadcasting on the national airways on Sunday Miscellany, RTE. Read Meg Carroll’s article on the base in Donegal Annual, 2017. A copy may be obtained from or from the library.