Dance Hall Days

Photo (L-R): Jim Crumlish (accordion), Robert Carey (tenor saxophone), Dan McCann (singer and drums), Charlie O’Kane (trumpet), Margaret Fullerton, Malin (piano).

While the late 1950s and early 1960s are recognised as the era of the great showbands, they have their origins in the local bands performing in rural towns and villages in the early 1950s. This was the post-war era with life returning to normal, and people were keen to get out and enjoy themselves (sound familiar?). The Tremone Dance Band was one of the precursors of the great showband era.

The Tremone Dance Band came into being in the early 1950s. The band played Country and Western music, traditional Irish music, and jigs. Sets of Lancers were very popular.

The first band, formed around 1953, had four members:  Robert Carey, Dan McCann, James McSheffrey (drums) and Andreas Kelly (melodion). Andreas drove the band around with instruments in the boot. He took ill with a spinal problem shortly after the band was set up and had to be helped on stage. He died in the 1950s. Kathleen Deeny often played piano with them. Few halls had a piano at this time. Charlie O’Kane also doubled up as vocalist.

Founder member Robert Carey, whom I spoke to recently, first got tuition from Eddie O’Kane in Lecamy on the fiddle. He eventually dropped the fiddle in favour of the saxophone (see picture).

The band rehearsed in Packie McCann’s house in the Row, Ballyharry, three nights a week. Packie was a single man who enjoyed the music.

The Tremone Dance Band played all over Inishowen, as well as farther afield in venues such as the Castle, Dungiven, and Crossroads, Killygorden. LDF dances were very popular on Saturday nights in Carn and drew large crowds. Money was plentiful as the shirt factories were providing employment for hundreds in the town and district.

Robert recalls playing in a variety of venues around the peninsula. There was a dance hall in Alex Mullin’s house in Glenagivney near the old school, where Eddie Gillen played the music rather than the full band as the venue was too small. McSheffery’s Barn in Cruckaveel was another popular dance hall. James McSheffery was a founder member of the Tremone Band. In Shrove, they played in a small hall at the beach, which is still there in the carpark.  Cullinean Hall at Quigley’s Point was also very popular before Borderland was built. The band also played in Clonmany.

Closer to home, they played in O’Kane’s hall in Lecamy. In Carey’s Hall, Carrowbeg – Robert’s home place – the Moville District Nurses’ Association organized fund-raising dances with the band as entertainment. Before her death, Lady Montgomery, mother of the Field-Marshal was often in attendance as she was very active in philanthropic work in Moville.

The “Socials”

The Church of Ireland organized ‘socials’ – dances with an interval for tea, home bakes and scones. The largest of these was held in Culdaff Hall (the Wee Hall) but Robert Carey also remembers playing at Carrick Hall in Carn. Gleneely School was another venue for dances. In some venues, the organisers asked them not to play the Soldier’s Song at the end of the night and to play Auld Lang Syne instead. In July and August, the socials were thronged with visitors and local people on holidays, and the band insisted in playing the national anthem instead to keep the dancers happy. People of all religions attended the Socials and religion was not an issue.

Many will recall crowds of 2,000 on a Friday night in the popular dancehall Borderland, Muff, as they danced to the top bands such as the Capitol, the Melody Aces, the Royal and the Clipper Carlton. Carndonagh had its own bands and while I never heard them play, I recall the Michael Galbraith Orchestra and the Paul Anthony Orchestra. The Atlantic Ballroom in Ballyliffin and the Plaza, Buncrana, were top rate venues. The eventual success of the showband era is certainly rooted in the local parish bands on the early 1950s.

Many thanks to Robert Carey for sharing his memories of those golden days.

  • Seán Beattie

Cist Graves of Trabreaga, Malin

Seán Beattie

Sixty years ago this September coming (1961), a group of Council workers were working in a quarry set in a dune landscape, 200 yards behind Lagg Presbyterian church. The quarry can still be seen today from the church grounds. Working with shovels, they came across 3 rectangular box-like stone structures covered by a large flagstone. On opening the first, they found a male skeleton lying in a crouched position; a second slab was raised to reveal a female skeleton, while a third uncovered the remains of a new-born child.

Plans and sections of cists at Drung.

The workers had discovered a family cist burial plot. The landowner contacted Etienne Rynne, an archaeologist from Galway University. He carried out measurements etc., and described the graves as cist graves and proceeded to notify both the gardai and the National Museum in Dublin. The burials were dated to 1,500 BC, the Middle Bronze Age, and were thus 3,500 years old.

The Rock Crystal

Inside one of the cists, he found rock crystal. It was common to bury gems with the dead to support their journey to their pagan version of Heaven. Rich Egyptian kings took their valuables with them in the Pyramids but ordinary folk had less to offer. The Qin Dynasty in China took an entire army of thousands of terracotta soldiers. It is still common today to place mementos of the dead in coffins before they leave home.

The Pygmy Cup

Perhaps the most interesting object was the Pygmy Cup, made of baked clay found in many parts of Inishowen. It is amazing to see the art work on the exterior – triangles, circles, hash marks of a symbolic value. It is surprising to think that this level of artistic and technical skill was around 3,500 years ago!

Similar funerary urns have been found in the county. One was discovered at Bocan Stone Circle while three were located in a cist grave at Bredagh Glen and are now on display in the National Museum in Dublin. Thus, we learn of a pagan civilization that was thriving here in distant millennia. The urns or cups carried food as gifts to the gods who managed the affairs of the underworld.


The townland outside Malin is known as Drung, indicating a place of assembly in ancient times, when war threatened or some natural disaster. So it is significant that the burials took place at this key location.

And the final question: who was this family? Answer –  we don’t know. Looking at the location (Drung), the objects found (rock crystal and Pygmy Cup), the nature of the ritual burying (body folded in death), the art and technology on display (ornamentation and baking), Etienne Rynne concluded that it was a family that had come ashore after a long sea voyage seeking refuge in Trabreaga Bay. They found peace for 3,500 years; now they lie in our National Museum in Dublin.

I visited the site recently. The quarry is still open (on private land) and the cuts in the dunes can be seen from the road when driving past. There are no other markings on this site which once revealed so much about our heritage: another great secret on the Wild Atlantic Way, the mysterious religious beliefs, the sheer technical and artistic skills, the presence of ritual, the existence of a druidic cult, and above all, a deep respect for the dead.  

Perhaps there is a connection between this pagan culture and our own, as expressed, for example on Graveyard Sunday in Christian terms.

The Church of the Sacred Heart, Carndonagh, Co Donegal 1945-2020: 75 Years of Modern Worship

– Seán Beattie

Built in the Romanesque style of Wicklow granite, the Church dominates the landscape of the plain of Maghtochair, an ancient sub-kingdom of the peninsula of Inishowen. Some 1,500 years ago, St Patrick founded a monastery here which became part of the town name. Evidence of Christian worship has been continuous since then, with the Donagh Cross, the Marigold Stone, Mass Rock and the pillar stones standing as emblems of the faith.

The Clergy
It was against this background that Bishop Neil Farren and a Killygordon-born priest, Fr. James Bonner, accepted a tender of £60,866 for the construction of a church on Barrack Hill. The architect was Ralph Henry Byrne and Murphy Bros of Dublin were the main contractors. In a time of hardship and deprivation during World War 11, Bishop Farren blessed the foundation stone on 12 July 1942. The original pestle which he used can be seen in the little museum in the church. It was the culmination of two decades of intense fund-raising which came to fruition in the 1930s when Fr. Daniel Reid as parish priest came into possession of the site which was donated by a parishioner. He died in 1940 aged 62 and so did not live long enough to see construction begin. In many respects, he had done the ground work for Fr. Bonner, who saw the project to completion. Fr. Reid was not forgotten and an elaborate memorial from the parish was presented to him before he died. It can be seen in the museum. Fr. Bonner had great ambitions during his thirty-three years as parish priest. He deserves some credit for overcoming the initial opposition of Bishop Farren, who questioned the cost of the project at a time when Europe was engulfed in war and the Irish economy was in the doldrums.

Four Statues
Fr. Bonner was not a man for half measures. He commissioned one of the most celebrated sculptors of the post-Celtic Revival period, Albert Power, to sculpt 4 larger-than-life figures which are dominant on the dome. They were transported to the town by train. Visitors to the church may observe that the statue of Colmcille – whose 1,500th anniversary we celebrate in 2021 – was positioned so that his gaze was directed towards Iona.
Fr Bonner had not to look far for the Stations of the Cross. They had been sourced some years earlier in Italy by Fr. Philip O’Doherty, a noted historian, who built the Colgan Hall.

Family Links
Every family in the parish contributed to the construction of the church but some have gone an extra mile. James and Mary Lanigan were devout parishioners and owned a shop in the Diamond. According to local folklore, they had a collection of gold sovereigns which were donated for the gold tabernacle on a side alter. Today, a plaque stands in the Diamond which commemorates the generosity of Susan Lanigan, the last surviving member of the family, who, in 1962, bequeathed her business premises and home to the church to provide a walk between the Diamond and the Church. Likewise, Margaret Teresa Doherty donated a building which was demolished to provide access known as the Painter’s Way.
A portrait of the Franciscan priest, John Colgan, was executed by the well-known Derry iconographer, Sr Aloysius.
The baptismal font was gifted by the Simpson family. A statue of Padro Pio was recently added to the statuary in memory of a local business man, Oliver Simpson, who died in 2016.
Vera Butler, organist for over 50 years, was awarded the Bene Merenti Medal as a papal reward for her outstanding services to sacred music and as choir leader.

Beautiful Artefacts
There are several artefacts to be seen which adorn the interior: an original oil lamp from the old church donated by Noel White, carved plaques from Renaissance churches which were presented by donors, the altar tapestries, the antique, coloured hand-made Norman glass slabs which adorn the lancet clerestory, a number of restored classical paintings with Biblical themes, (see above, The Ascension) and statues from the Convent of Mercy. The acrylic panels surrounding the statue of Saint Anthony were painted by a Derry artist, Mary Kelly. The stained class windows were manufactured in the stained glass studios of A W Lyons, Westland Row, Dublin. There is a striking brass candelabra with twelve lights over the altar, which is carved from Portland stone.

Refurbishment 1998
The church was re-dedicated by Bishop Seamus Hegarty on 2 August 1998. The interior was redecorated and a mechanical heating system was installed. The existing tiles were retained but a hardwood timber floor was laid in the seating area. Overall, parishioners were impressed with the refurbishment which has contributed to an improvement in the prayerful atmosphere of the interior.

The church museum features lists of all the clergy who have served the parish of Donagh over the years. Chalices, record books and photographs can also be seen.
The year 2020 is a key date in the history of the church – it has served the community well for over 75 years and remains an important landmark in the community of Donagh.

2020, Culdaff. SB

Culdaff – the Tomb of the Unknown Sailor

Seán Beattie

On 9 January 1918, the Beagle class destroyer, the RACOON, went down off Inishtrahull island, having ran foul of rocks off the treacherous Garvan Islands. The minesweeper ventured into Inishtrahull Sound, between the mainland and the island on its way to engage in patrol duties in Lough Swilly, having sailed from Liverpool. She was well armed, with quick firing 12-pounder guns and torpedo tubes. Of the crew of 95, 17 were buried at Rathmullan and others were interred along the coast as far as Antrim and even the Scottish islands.

In Culdaff graveyard, there are three Admiralty headstones. A Racoon sailor, J R Wood, K 20055, is interred here. A second grave is that of C Darrall, the Welsh Regiment, who died on 2 July 1940, aged 25. His body came ashore at Tremone Bay and was carried, as was the custom at the time, to the nearest public house. Joseph Beatty, proprietor, arranged for the body to be kept overnight in a bottle store, with a Guard on duty. Dr. Friel, Carndonagh, was called to pronounce death. As residents discussed how to dispose of the body, Mrs Mills of Culdaff House came forward and said that “as he was somebody’s son”, he should be accorded a Christian burial.  

The third grave belongs to the Unknown Sailor of Culdaff. His headstone has no name other than to identify that he was a sailor of the Racoon who died on 9 January 1918. He is simply described as


The three bodies lie in a corner of the graveyard, a few yards from the Culdaff estuary and the tempestuous waters that sent them to an early grave.

Paris has its Arc de Triomphe, where an eternal flame honours an unknown soldier. No flame burns for the unknown sailor of Culdaff but his memory lives on amid the sounds of the tranquil waters of the estuary – a truly fitting memorial.

See Book of Inishtrahull . Article featured in Inish Times 9 December 2020. With thanks to Catherine McGinty, Seamus Bovaird, John McFeely, and the late Dr. Friel.

Glengad and the White House

It was the great Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill who said that all politics is local. For the population of Wilmington, Delaware, USA, it is a moment of truth, as it was here that the President-elect, Joe Biden took his first steps into the political arena following a Council election in 1970. 

A descendant of an Inishowen family also became involved in politics in Wilmington, a town of 70,000 people, about this time. His name was William “Bill” McLaughlin, whose parents came from the east of the peninsula, Glengad. His father was James Jackie McLaughlin from Ross Head. He followed the same route as my uncles but they settled in Brooklyn, NY, having travelled to America on the Furnessia, from Moville. James left Glendad in 1903 and joined the hundreds of Inishowen folk who had settled in Boston. In 1904, he married Ellen Crossan and they made their home in Wilmington. They had twelve children and one of them, William (Bill) had a taste for politics in Wilmington, where he became acquainted with a resident, the talented Joe Biden, a fellow councillor. Both had ambitions: Biden made it to the Senate in 1972 but McLaughlin remained in the home strait. He was successful and served two terms as Mayor of Wilmington from 1977 to 1984. Although their cv’s were quite different, they remained close friends and Biden never forgot that it was on New Castle County Council that he learned the rules of the political game. According to Sheila McClay in her book Tar Isteach, it was Bill McLaughlin who encouraged Biden to enter politics – and change the course of American history.

Bill McLaughlin died in 2008 aged 91. As Vice-President, Joe Biden kept close to his roots and delivered the eulogy at Bill’s funeral. The William McLaughlin Building in Wilmington stands today in his memory. James and his wife are buried in the Cathedral Cemetery of Wilmington. When he left Glengad over a century ago, little did James Jackie McLaughlin think that one day his son would be honoured by a future President of the United States.