County Donegal Historical Society


Launch of 2017 Donegal Annual

Dr. Lochlann McGill, President of the CDHS, making a presentation to Mr. Raghnall Ó Floinn.
On right is Sean Beattie, Editor of the Donegal Annual.

The first County Donegal Historical Society Annual appeared in 1947 and the 2017 edition was launched recently in Jackson's Hotel - an unbroken run in all that time.
In his welcome address, Dr. Lochlann McGill, President of the CDHS, said this was a magnificent achievement and a great tribute to all involved during those years.
Seán Beattie, its editor for many years, outlined the vast range of topics in the current Annual and he noted that they covered the entire county - not easy, he added, in a county as big as Donegal.
The Annual was launched by Mr. Raghnall Ó Floinn, Director of the National Museum. He then delivered an illustrated lecture on the medieval bell shrines of Donegal. This on paper might seem like a dry, academic topic but it was the total opposite. It was fascinating to hear how important these objects were in the lives of our ancestors over 1,000 years ago. For example, Raghnall pointed out to us from the slides those parts of the shrines near the top and corner that were worn down more than other parts. This was due to constant manual contact, requests from each individual in their own particular circumstances. So, we soon discovered that these shrines were treasures in the personal and theological aspects; in fact, it was very interesting to see close-up the scenes from the Bible on them.
There was time after the lecture for questions and answers from the floor. One of these was about the fact that some of the shrines are in museums outside Ireland. The question of "repatriation", said Raghnall, is a delicate one. He recalled that in 2015 there was great excitement in Donegal when St. Conall's bell was given on loan to the county for several months by the British Museum and this is reckoned to be the first time it ever left that museum in over 100 years.
All present agreed that this was a most enjoyable lecture and a unique opportunity to hear it from such an eminent historian.
The Society would like to express its utmost gratitude to the Director of the National Museum for launching the current Annual and delivering such an innovative lecture.

Review of the 2017 Donegal Annual

Historic rambles around Donegal would sum up the recently published 2017 Donegal Annual from the Co. Donegal Historical Society.
In fact, the opening article by the editor Dr. Seán Beattie is, "A Quaker tour of Donegal in 1880". He focuses on James Tuke from Hertfordshire who came to the county to document the extent of the famine in order to deliver direct aid. A lot of his reports and letters still survive in places such as the Quaker library in London; these tell us what he found throughout the county on his visit.
Helen Meehan has been contributing to the Annual for more than 25 consecutive years. This year she examines the history of Lough Derg and St Peter's turas in the Mountcharles area. Helen notes that 100 years ago everyone came to St. Peter's well to begin the turas on the saint's feast-day, then attendance dropped during the 20th century but its popularity is now on the increase again.
Belinda Mahaffy focuses on the achievements of William Robinson, an influential gardener, born in 1838 in Co. Down, and who was a major figure in the horticultural world. He visited France and the Alps and introduced many new gardening methods to Ireland and Britain. Glenveagh, notes Belinda, is one of the gardens in Donegal based on his ideas. He was also a friend of Charles Darwin and he promoted the science of ecology.
Several contributors put the spotlight on Inishowen. Emma Mahon looks at the history of poteen making. Claire Burke, an architect, examines the built heritage of the peninsula as a result of the Plantation and Margaret Lasch Carroll, a New York citizen, writes about her research into a US Naval Air Station that was in Ture in the days of WW1. She has visited the site and her interest is due to the fact that her grandfather was stationed there. There were only 5 of these stations in the whole of Ireland and some photos of the base in Ture accompany her article.
Another maritime theme is in Mervyn Watson's article on the SS Melmore and her final voyage. These were the days when the fourth Earl of Leitrim established a steamship link between Mulroy, Derry and Glasgow.
The Wray and Stewart families of Ards, Creeslough owned a vast estate from Doe Castle to Dunfanaghy. Edward Rowland documents these families in consecutive generations. Ards House is today famous as a Capuchin friary, although the original landlord's house no longer exists.
An appropriate time now to close the Annual for a few minutes and look at the cover, as it's a photo of the mountain in the vicinity of Ards - Muckish. The photo was taken in 1950 by Ludwig Schenkel and the scene is so idyllic and serene. A lot of holiday homes would be in the same photo today.
In these days of Brexit - a word that's hard to avoid in any context - it is perhaps fitting that Martin Lynch recounts the consequences of partition in the Derry district from 1920 to 1922.
Seán Boner, an Arranmore native, tells us about Dr. Josie Clarke, the island's first resident doctor and also her husband Liam. She worked on Arranmore from 1929 to 1935 and her only means of transport was on horseback. Liam was badly injured on Easter Monday 1916 in Dublin and suffered immense pain for the rest of his life.
Peadar Ó Donnell, a famous son of Donegal, also knew the island well, having taught in one of its two schools and was also an accomplished writer. Dr. Nollaig Mac Congáil has tracked down a piece he wrote as a young teenager for the Derry Journal about his ambitions. It won him first prize and is in the Annual.
The importance of the Raphoe diocesan archives is featured in an article by Moira Hughes and it really is wonderful to read her contribution and realise the treasure trove of archives in the totally refurbished coach house behind the Bishop's house in Letterkenny. And in a similar vein, Rev Raymond Blair browses the pages of the Strabane Morning Post of the 1820's and discovers a huge number of items about daily life in Donegal, eg the pillory as a form of punishment.
The life of farm labourers from 1870 to 1900 is the subject of Padraig. G Lane's article, accompanied by photos of some traditional farming methods.
Tomás G. Ó Canann has a historical piece on the townland of Baile Uí Chanann near Dawros Head. Dr Frank Sweeney looks at tithe problems in Donegal. This is also a reminder of the days of landlordism mainly in the 1830's and the unpopularity of the system. And a few years earlier we had the Battle of Waterloo and Richard Doherty tells us about Rev. William Ó Donnell, known as the Waterloo priest, who is believed to have served in Wellington's army at Waterloo; his ordination followed years after his military career.
Michéal Mac Giolla Easbuic in his article in Irish "An Píolóta Cósta as an Tamhnaigh, Cill Chartha" writes about a ship called Erin's Hope which arrived in Donegal Bay in 1867. However, when she left New Jersey she did so under a different name and 9 days later came the new name.
Finally, John Cunningham casts a backward glance at what was happening in Donegal in 1917. The loss of the Laurentic was the major incident of the year and John describes this incident in some detail.
So, there's certainly plenty in the Annual to interest everyone and congratulations are due to Dr Beattie and his editorial team. The Annual will be launched in Jackson's Hotel on September 23rd at 3 pm by Raghnall Ó Floinn, Director of the National Museum, and he will deliver a short lecture on the medieval shrines of Donegal. All welcome.

Full details of the Society are at

The Manorcunningham field day on August 27th

On Sunday, the Donegal Historical Society held the last of their 2017 field days in the Manorcunningham area. The guide for the occasion was Leonard Roarty who has devoted his life to studying the rich history and heritage of the entire district.

All eras of Irish history have left their influences here and Leonard spoke about the wealth of artefacts still to be seen in the vicinity : churches, standing stones, a Mass rock, a flax mill and a Plantation house to name just a few. In fact, before the Plantation, the area was known as Magheramore - the big plain.

Thankfully, the weather was perfect and so we enjoyed a pleasant walk around the town, visiting the local places of historical interest and admiring the panoramic views of Errigal and Muckish. A bus was provided to take us to the more outlying spots such as the Mass rock and the Plantation house and the bus brought us back to finish the day with welcome tea and light refreshments in the Resource Centre.

The day was summed up by a visitor from N. Ireland who remarked that in almost 40 years driving between Lifford and Letterkenny he never knew until Sunday that he had been passing an ancient standing stone so close to the main road and visible from the same road.

Leonard Roarty, left with Dr. Lochlann McGill, President of the Donegal Historical Society and members of Raymochy Historical Society

Interior of Raymochy Church of Ireland, Manorcunningham

Interior of St. Columba's Church, Drumoghill


Our guide for our field day in Letterkenny was Kieran Kelly, Chairperson of the town's Historical Society and author of "Letterkenny, where the winding Swilly flows", a book which covers the history of the town extensively. We met at St. Eunan's College and Kieran gave us a history of this imposing and magnificent edifice.
Then on to Sentry Hill and one could see from the panoramic vista how it attained that name. A stone monument there informs us that in Penal Times a sentry stood guard at this spot during Mass to warn those present if Redcoats were on their way.

Our next stop was Conwal Parish Church of Ireland and we were invited inside to admire this lovely building (see photo) and Kieran then mentioned some of the more well-known people buried in its cemetery. A stone on the spire is dated 1636 (see photo) and it's believed this spire is the oldest building in the town.

Across the road for our next interior venue, St. Eunan's Catholic Cathedral. Kieran explained the carvings on the interior pillars celebrating the two saints after whom the Cathedral is named - St. Columba's name is rarely mentioned in general reference to the building. (See photo). He also detailed the history of the construction of the cathedral.

Then down to Market Square and we were informed about the various events in the town's history that occurred in the vicinity. Kieran mentioned the Ancient Order of Hibernians' association with the area and produced a sash belonging to his great grandfather. (See photo)

We finished our day with a visit to Trinity Presbyterian Church, Upper Main St. and Derek Fleming, by prior arrangement, played a medley of hymns and light music; this was very much enjoyed by all present. Our President, Dr. Lochlann McGill, finished by thanking Kieran profusely and everyone else associated with the places we visited for allowing us access during our field day. And, as this was a walking tour of the town, we were also most grateful for a pleasant afternoon's weather. =================================================================================================== Old News Reports on earlier activities of the Association can be found in Past Events