The Woods of Lisnagra

Hart coat of arms


High on the bleak moorland of Lisnagra

There is a shady wood of swaying trees

That creak and groan when bowed and tempest tossed.

A sandy track emerges from the wood

Winding o’er the moor of Lisnagra

To meet the mountain boulders strewn and wild

Where white marsh flowers bow before the gale.

And overhead the lonely curlew flies

Uttering screams that pierce the solitude

And echo far o’er mountain, lake and fall.

Eithne Anderson. (extract)

The poem is taken from a press cutting found in a copy of THE FAMILY  HISTORY OF HART OF DONEGAL by Henry Travers Hart in 1907. Only 40 books were printed for family distribution and only a handful exist in Donegal. There is one copy in Letterkenny library. The author is Eithne Anderson who lived in Yorkshire but she had no family connection with the Hart family and the poem may have been written after the book was published in 1907. Anderson was a common name in Upper Moville parish.

The woods at Lisnagra are west of Muff and can be reached by turning right at Harkins on the way to Derry. They featured recently on RTE and BBC but are not generally known as a tourist attraction. Some visitors have seen squirrels emerge from the wood and they are quite numerous. A walk through the woods on a warm day is something to remember.

The Hart bookplate is shown here with the motto COEUR FIDELLE. In the book, the second L is deleted probably by a family member. FIDELLE may have been the original old French spelling of the word “fidèle”.  Unusually, the motto is in French translating as Faithful Heart. The family seat was at Muff with other connections at Carrablagh in Fanad and at Doe Castle where George Vaughan Hart planted his initials GVH on the wall facing the sea.  A nice piece of historical graffiti.

Time has moved on and the curlew is now an endangered species. Farmers in certain areas who enter environmental schemes will be paid up to 4,000 euro to engage in programmes of conservation to protect the curlew. Much of the damage has been done by afforestation as the curlew laid its eggs on the ground and the forests have attracted large numbers of foxes which devour the eggs. I have not heard a curlew in Inishowen for years.

I had a lot of correspondence with the late Frank Hart of Muff but as he has passed on, I am still searching for more information about the author of the poem.


Buncrana lady in Mountjoy jail


On 9 June 1923, the newspaper ÉIRE THE IRISH NATION published a letter from an unnamed Buncrana lady who complained bitterly about conditions in Mountjoy jail, Dublin. The banner headline ran BRUTALITY TO WOMEN IN BUNCRANA.

Her jailers were not British soldiers but officers of the newly-established Irish Free State, (referred to as Staters who were pro-Treaty) in the final days of the Civil War. At the time of writing, her parents lived in Buncrana but she had been released and was living in the town.  Below, some extracts are quoted:

I have no longer permission to get letters or parcels or newspapers. This right was denied me because I accused the Staters of the murder of poor Charlie Daly and his comrades. Times have changed for the worse in the last fortnight. We have been changed to other quarters – a terrible place. We sent up a protest against having to lie on planks only six inches off the cement floor. Instead our protest went unheeded. Fifty Slavers were marched up and took positions outside our cells, which were barricaded. We delivered a free address, accusing them of being guilty of the murder of Charlie Daly for the sake of a miserable pittance a week and called on them to leave off their English uniforms. After a while, my cell door was burst in. Four Creeslough girls and myself were attacked and dragged unmercifully out. I was last. The Staters were angry at hearing the bitter truth…..Well I got badly beaten. We were slammed into the place and given wet bed clothing………

Other letters support her story. Similar conditions obtained in Kilmainham jail. Names are not given but there are references to a Miss MacDermott and a Mrs. Barrett in related letters. The lady who wrote the letter above may have been a member of Cumann na mBan in Buncrana but she may have joined in another town. Any help in identifying the lady would be welcome. She belonged to an anti-Treaty family.

Seán Beattie 31/12/2016


Excavations at Carrowmore and Cloncha 2011-2016

The link below contains an update on the surveys and excavation works carried out at Carowmore and Cloncha over recent years by the Bernician Studies Group, as published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol 72, 2013–14. All works on the sites have government approval under licence. 

Download the document here: Cloncha and Carrowmore Update Dec. 2016

There are also maps of Inishowen showing key sites involved and examples of material excavated under licence. 

It is hoped the group will continue their work in 2017 with a major focus of Cooley monastic settlement, the graveyard and old church.

As a result of this work, some of our major religious sites in the peninsula are now attracting visiting groups. The research to date will aid further study and highlight the importance of the monastic clusters along the Wild Atlantic Way. New signage at viewing points on the Wild Atlantic Way will direct visitors to the locations under review. The work which has been undertaken so far is the first major attempt to understand the archaeology of the sites involved.

Sean Beattie

Blue Plaque unveiled in honour of Jack Crawford (Carndonagh), 1847-1917

Maura Harkin and Ray Lannon at the unveiling of the Crawford plaque in the Diamond, Carndonagh.

Maura Harkin, historian and archivist,  with Ray Lannon, chair of Colgan Heritage Committee at the unveiling of the Crawford plaque in the Diamond, Carndonagh. This is the first blue plaque in Inishowen. 

Jack Crawford’s story is stranger than fiction – the story of a boy who was born in Carn in 1847 in poor circumstances during the Great Famine and who went on to achieve fame as Chief Scout or reconnaissance officer of the US army. When he died in New York 100 years ago, his name was a household word.

His parents were Scottish so the Ulster Scots connection is very strong. He was baptised in Hillhead Presbyterian Church on 4 March 1847, the same church where his parents were married and their children were baptised. Both parents went to America and left the Crawford children in the care of an uncle, who lived in the Diamond; Jack had a free and easy life but now and again, he had odd jobs for example as a cattle herd. But at the age of 15, Jack became restless, left Carn and joined his parents in  Pennsylvania. Having never attended school, he was illiterate and found work in the coalmines of Pennsylvania for less than 2 dollars a week, just like the hired children on the Laggan here in Donegal.

America is the land of opportunity and between 1861 and 1865 the American Civil War was in full swing and young men were in demand not only on the battlefields but on the ranches and farmlands. At 17, he joined the army but was injured and was hospitalised. The Sisters of Mercy took him under their wing, and during a nine week stay in hospital taught him how to read and write, thus opening up a whole new world to the ambitious Jack Crawford.

After the war, he held a position as postmaster in Pennsylvania and started to write poetry, the first steps into a literary career. Marriage followed but the call of adventure was too strong and in his late twenties, he was back in the army, this time as Captain with the Cavalry of the Black Hills Rangers of Dakota. America was in the throes of the Indian Wars, this time against the Sioux, a bloody period when the state attempted to drive the Indians off their lands into reservations. It was at this time that he met Bill Cody – better known as Buffalo Bill – and Jack got Cody’s job as Chief Scout of the Fifth Cavalry. Jack’s deeds of daring brought him to national prominence. His greatest feat was when he rode 350 miles in 4 days to carry dispatches about a victory at Slim Buttes to Fort Laramie. The news was flashed across the American press and he became a household name.

Cody was impressed and invited him to join his Wild West Show and here he got a taste of the world of entertainment, storytelling and singing for which he had a flair. After a year with Cody, he branched out and created his own Wild West Show and began touring across America. There was  great interest in this type of entertainment, especially stories of deeds of daring by US citizens and Jack Crawford had captive audiences everywhere.

The Indian Wars were ongoing and the Apaches were in the mainstream. Adventure called again for the third time and Jack re-located to New Mexico, again in his role as Chief Scout. When this phase of the wars ended, Jack settled again into civilian life and dedicated more time to writing.

As age took its toll, he turned his back on adventure and returned to entertainment. He began to spread his wings and in the 1890s became interested in a European tour. In 1894, he set off on a 4 month tour of English music halls drawing huge crowds for his one-night shows. He came back to Ireland for the first time in 1894, 32 years after leaving Carn as a teenager. But this time he was a celebrity, a man of action, a published author of 7 books of poetry, 100 stories and 4 copyrighted plays. It was a much more prosperous town that he returned to. The Balfast Banking Company had just been established a few doors from where he had lived to cater for the rising middle-class in the area. (Former Northern Bank site, soon to be a restaurant)  He drew a full house in Derry and among the audience was Bishop Alexander, husband of the hymnist Mrs Alexander (All Things Bright and Beautiful). He booked the courthouse in Carn – the Colgan Hall was but a dream at this stage – and on Tuesday 7 August 1894 delivered a cracking performance to a full house. He was at home, just 100 yards from where he had spent his wayward childhood days but now a world celebrity. (The old courthouse was burned and replaced by the modern building)

He seems to have made some money because when he returned to America, he joined up with a group of investors and headed for the Klondyke. (He did not meet Micí McGowan, who made a fortune in the gold rush and came home to Gortahork where he built Whalebone House which still stands). But as thousands found out, the hills were not paved with gold. Captain Jack Crawford died in New York in 1917. His papers are in the library of New Mexico for anyone who wishes to do further research.

The final piece of the jig saw is a local one. The Schools Folklore Collection of 1937 has an interesting article by Vera Butler (Doherty), then a teacher in Glassalts NS, who says she got his story from relatives. In a long contribution, she recounts how her father met Jack in New York in 1902 and they dined together, exchanging stories about Inishowen and no doubt getting an account of his courthouse appearance. Jack gave him a book of poetry so maybe this is still around somewhere in Carn. Vera adds that she got a copy of his poems as a present from her father. The mystery of Jack Crawford deepens. But that is a story for another day! He certainly had a full life.

(See for Vera’s hand-written account/ Donegal/ Glassalts NS).


Seán Beattie

(with thanks to Ulster Scots Agency which funded the plaque, Maura Harkin, Maud Hamill and Mairead Ferguson of Ulster History Circle for promotion and research, John Cunningham, Glentogher for church register, Dessie McCallion and Colgan Heritage Committee).

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.