In the late 1930s, the Irish Folklore Commission (Irish Free State) began a program to preserve the stories and oral traditions of the people of Ireland. It did so by collecting the reminiscences of the “old folks” by the students of its primary schools. The students wrote the recollections of parent, grandparents, and neighbours in their exercise books, under the supervision of their teacher. These handwritten reports are available at the website www.duchas.ie .
Donaghmore Parish in County Donegal is the parish of my Gallen and Gallagher ancestors. It is principal locale used in my novel, “Donegal Generations.” In my obsession with the history of the parish, I published several posts about Donaghmore here in my website at: www.tomgallen.com . In previous posts, I’ve presented some of the folklore collected by Duchas from some of the primary schools in Donaghmore Parish. In this post, I am publishing a few of the stories collected at the Tievebrack Primary School.
Tievebrack (Taobh Breac) School was in the hills above Crossroads in County Donegal. The name comes from the townland where it was located and it means the “speckled hillside.” The teacher at Tievebrack at the time of the folklore project in the late 1930s was Donnchadh E. Mac Congaile.
Mr. MacCongaile took his assignment very seriously. Many of the entries into the school’s folklore book were written by him personally. His entries include many maps and illustrations of historical artefacts. He also wrote the following stories:
This parish is called “Donaghmore” from a popular belief that when St Patrick was on his way to Aileach he stopped at the place where the present Donaghmore church stands and built his church there. From the numbers of people who gathered from “Magh Ith” it was known as the “Big Sunday” i.e. “Domhnach Mor.”
The church at present there is a Protestant house of worship. People tell of their sires having been buried there, and talk of a certain stone and font, which are to be seen there, the only relics of its former Catholic ownership.
It is believed by Mr. John McMenamin, Egglybane, that when the Protestants were rebuilding the church, they endeavoured to do away with a certain stone by throwing it in the river Finn. On the following day, the building had fallen to the ground. This was repeated several times, until they recovered the stone and put it in the church, after which the building proceeded without mishap. The holy water font has had something of a similar setting. It seems that it was thrown into the river Finn on several occasions but again was back the following day in the porch of the church.
That the church was formerly in Catholic hands there is no doubt, for several Catholics have been buried there. I have found the headstone of a Mr. Richard Gallagher, who is a great grand uncle of the present “Big” Andy Gallagher of Ballybun, inscribed thus:
“Here Lyeth the body of Richard Gallaugher -Died May 14, 1775 Aged 56
O’Neills and O’Donnells -
The Finn was evidently a “No man’s land” alternately overrun by the ONeills and ODonnells. Mrs Doherty, Cornashesk, and Mr. James McLaughlin tell me that ODonnells had their castle on this side of the river at Dromore (i.e. the right bank) on the side of which now stands a ruins of a corn mill. The stones of the castle were used in erecting the mill. A part of the river was diverted to form a moat round the castle, thus leaving the castle on an island. One of the ODonnell clan, neither a warrior nor chief, was called a “man of the field” hence Mansfield – the name of the landlords of Killygordon
Another story from Mr. Noonan, Killygordon, says that a Mansfield eloped with one of the ODonnell Ladies, where she manoeuvred the drawbridge across the moat.
Mrs. Doherty tells me that the Castlefin castle was a stronghold for the Gallaghers who were then a powerful tribe under ODonnell. ODonnell is supposed to have asked the Gallaghers to strengthen the castle against the ONeill invasion. But Gallagher and his followers are supposed to have gone across into the ONeill territory and defeated the ONeills, somewhere in the direction of the Raws, as a sign that he was strong enough. The exact location of this castle is also a subject for divergent opinions. I would be inclined to support the idea that it was on the town side of the Bridge, where an old piece of a wall in the water there is known as the “Castle Wall,” and again at the back of the Railway station is a little waste plot known as the “Castle Garden”. The material of the Castle is supposed to have been used in building the present market house, which starts in the “Diamond” of the village.
The Battle of the Finn by Capt. P.J. McGoldrick as told to him by his father -
The territory of Magh Ith which was originally the mensal land of a branch of the Cineal Owen, the Roy damhnas (?) of Aileach represented all the visible land, toward the south from the hill immediately above Raphoe. These lands passed to the Cineal Conell and was always a bone of contention between them.
Hugh O Neill raided Magh Ith from the direction of Ardstraw on one occasion, his objective being Raphoe. The main part of his army crossed the Finn opposite Carricklee [?]; two other sections crossed through the Alt [?] district where they separated, one headed for Castlefin, the other moving by Cornashesk and Edenamoghill to cross the river at Killygordon. The centre section at Castlefin encountered ODonnell where a bloody battle took place resulting in the victory of O Neill.
The Plantation -
The native Irish were in possession of this valley (before the general confiscations after the Nine Years War) from Welchstown to Strabane. They fled before the arrival of the planters who were mostly of Scotch descent. A clearly defined line of demarcation was established by the fertility of the soil. The boundary between Gael and Scot was evident through its entire length from Sessiaghaneill on the west to the vicinity of Carricklee on the North East. Its course was irregular and ran almost parallel to the river. Generally its direction may be said to correspond with the boundaries of the following townlands, all of which were included in the planted area: Knock Glencovit, Carn Lower, Drumavaish, Ballinacor, Ballinaman, Mounthall, Drumfergus, Ballygonigan, Lisamulligan and thence to the alt and Carricklee.
The newcomers to the valley were of Celtic origin and were known as “Scottish Hungry men” they were in the service of James I and that monarch, in return for services rendered, presented the entire Finn Valley to eleven officers of his army, varying from one thousand to ten thousand acres. Each, in turn installed the soldiers of his command as tenants.
The chief family seats founded under the royal decree include the following:
Woodland and Summerhill (Johnston)
Meenglass (Lord Lifford)
The De Laps of Monellan were of Hugenot origin do not come within this category.
Famine Story -
Mrs. Patrick Kane, Tievebrack, tells how her grandmother described the coming of famine stricken people from Pollyarnon, Co Tyrone (Urney Parrish) to eat the skins or peelings of potatoes thrown out on the street. She tells of a man called Kelly, who owned a shop at the Crossroads, and sold oatenmeal at 3½d a lb. It seems in his avarice he held over a large amount in stock in expectation of rising prices, but the rats came and destroyed it. He had to throw the remainder in the Millburntown Burn (stream).
The Penal Times -
Mrs. Kane’s great-grandmother going to Mass had to cross the river below the present bridge, and go to Mass in a secluded nook somewhere about the “Farmer’s Lane”. Two men had a few planks placed across the river, for the people to cross, on payment of 2d. It seems the lady had no pennies and she too went into the river and walked across. [N.B. There is a scalan or Mass Rock on the present site of the Dromore National School and also in Dan Gallen’s garden at the crossroads].
The Late Charlie Gallen of Gortichar and shooting of the cattle – informant Capt. P.J. McGoldrick -
One day as a small boy, he had been sent to mind the cows on the “skrigs” (rocky ground with dwarfish shrabs). At the bottom of a rowan tree, was a little man, no bigger than a tallow [?] candle. The boy watched the little man steadily, and forgot to bless himself as well as the cattle, and the next thing he saw was the little man skipping over the rocks like a weasel in the direction of a red heifer. The little man had a bow and arrow, no bigger than a pin, and fired it at the heifer, afterwards disappearing ‘neath [sic] the rowan tree. The boy took the heifer home where he told his father what had happened. The father knew the trouble as […] and immediately sent for a local man who had the cure. The man arrived, removed his coat and hat, and proceeded to “measure” the cow using the arm (from the elbow to the point of the middle finger) first girthwise and then from the tail is the point of the skull. When this was completed, he got some hot coals on a shared and held it under the heifer’s head, having plucked three locks of hair from the heifer’s back and thrown them on the coals. The heifer got alright in half.an.hour. The man never spoke until the operation was over.
Hunger Grass -
There were patches of grass unrecognizable in fields, and when walked on after nightfall, made the victim feel terrible pangs of hunger, which rendered him unable to walk or stand. If he could crawl to a house, and get a bit of oat cake he would be cared. From this it was a custom to carry round a piece of oat cake in one’s pocket.
“Strays” were patches of ground over which it was impossible to maintain direction at night on every mountain strays were found. Mr. Charles Mortland ceilidhing one night in Cornashesk, ‘strayed’ several miles away in the Cronalaghey district until morning, where he found himself at least 12 miles from home. A “stray” is located particularly on the Tyrone side of Corlea Hill, in the vicinity of Tom Gallen’s (Vics). In order to survive a “stray,” a wayfarer always noted the direction (in relation to the objective) of the wind, because once afflicted, non of the senses could be trusted particularly. The treatment, was follows: The victim should sit down, shut his eyes, and while seated think of something pleasant. He should turn his coat three times, and having done this, he should open his eyes. If a dense fog appeared before him he should repeat this again, until his surroundings assumed a natural appearance.
The following reports are from the Tievebrack students:
Cures- Written by Hugh Kane with info from Mrs. Kane, Tievebrack
It is only since the great war that doctors knew well how to stop diseases. Before this when anyone got sick in a house the people sent for someone who could cure it.
Patrick Duggan of Tievebrack can cure for the whittle. Ennen Catterson of the green road, Pollyarnan, can cure for the jaundice. James Bradly, Corradoey, can cure for the ringworm. He burns the head of a match and writes with ink a saint’s name round it to keep it from spreading. Mathew Harpur of Carnadore can cure a sprain by rubbing it with his hand. Ellen Mc Menamin of Pollyarnan can cure for jaundice. She cures it with certain herb she boils.
If you go under a donkey and over his back three times it is a cure for the Whooping cough. Before you begin you must bless yourself and also when you are finished. While you are going under him and over his back he must be eating oaten meal. What ever meal falls from the donkey’s mouth is made into a cake which is ate in three mornings before your breakfast. Anyone whose father and mother are of the same name before they are married can lead for the mumps. When anyone is led for the mumps a donkey’s halter is put on them and are led three times round the well. Every time you go round you get a spoonful of water out of the well. There is a little well along the road which runs through Lisnamulligans above James Patton’s house. If you can find it yourself it will cure warts. There is a well in […] Roulston’s farm of the Kiltown which can cure toothaches and headaches. Another cure for a toothaches is if you are opening a grave where there was a corpse buried before and get the skull of the person who was buried. Pull a tooth out of the skull with your own teeth and the (toothache) will be cured.
In the Penal Times – Written by Gerald Carlin with info from Thomas Carlin of Dungormen
There are a good many priests graves and Mass-rocks in my district.
There is a Mass-rock in Joseph Carlin’s field of Belalt. There is another Mass-rock in Mrs. Coyle’s field of Dresnaugh.
Here is a list of priest-hunters . These are nick names that someone put on them. The Crows of the Raws, the Cropies of the Kiltown, the Hounds of Dromore, and the Bagles of the Miltown. Here are other priest-hunters. The Leckeys of Gortnamuck. The Craigs of Lisnamulligan and the Browns of Fern. The Raws is between Castlefin and Castlederg on the main road. The Killtown is on the main road leading from Liscooly to Killygordon. Dromore is on the main road leading from Killygordon to the Crossroads. The Miltown is about two hundred yards above the Crossroads. Gortnamuck is on the main road between Castlefin and Castlederg. Fern is also between Castlefin and Castlederg.
Lisnamulligan is on the main road between Castlefin and Liscooly .
The Mass-rock in Joseph Carlin’s field is beside a brook and it is between two very steep hills. And it is a very quiet place.
There was priest killed at Liscooly. It was a doctor named Meehan who killed him. The doctor put an iron bar up his nose and came out at his ear. The blood of the priest ran into a well.
Another day the doctor was going on a side-car along the same road. He fell into the well and was drowned.
There was a priest buried near Castlederg. The grave is along the main road into Castlederg. It is a very steep place that he was buried and it is a very quiet place also
not far from that there was another priest buried. The grave is covered with white stones and whins. There is another grave in an Hugh Taylors farm of Drumcannon. The grave is covered with long grass.
Fairy Forts – by Patrick Carlin with information from Dan McCormack and Patrick Hugh McMenamin
There are a great many fairy forts or sometimes called knowes [sic] in my district. There are about two forts in every farm.
Some of these forts are studies in antiquity.
There is a field in Hugh Taylor’s farm of Drumcannon. There are supposed to be fairies in this field. There is a certain place in this field where the fairies are supposed to stay. It is risen about two feet above the ground.
There is a story told that someone tried to plough down this height. He ploughed all right [?] for the first day. When he arose the next morning his two horses were dead. The field that he had ploughed, the furrows turned back and became green again.
There is said to be a fairy tree in Willie John McMenamin’s farm of Egaltybane. Long ago there used to be a light in the tree every night. It is very seldom seen now.
One Hallow Eve night a man, – I do not know his name – was walking near this tree. He saw the lights in the tree. There were three lights like candles in a ring. The lights followed him. There was music heard at the tree that night also.
There is another fairy tree in Hugh McMenamin of Belalts farm.
A witch is supposed to have cast a spell on the tree. The tree is rotten. It is said that if anyone cuts down the tree or breaks a branch off it that some misfortune will happen to them.
Famine Times – By Dan Mac Cormack with info from Hugh Mac Cormack, Belalt
There are many stories about the famine.
Here is a story which my father told me. There was a man named Kelly who lived at Crossroads, and who had a shop there. He stored in a great number of bags of oaten-meal. He meant to make money because he got it in very cheap. One day an old woman came in for meal. She had no money to pay for the meal that day but she said that she would pay for it the next day she would be in. Kelly would not give the meal to the woman without the money.
The woman went out of the shop and went in to another shop which was beside it. The woman told him that she had no money. The shopkeeper gave her a stone of meal. About a week after that Kelly had to throw the meal in the river because the rats and mice had it all destroyed.
There is another story told about an old woman and four children. They were coming along the road one day and met a poor man who had some meal with him. The woman had not tasted food for four days. The man gave her some of the meal and told her not to eat much of it at a time. She paid not a bit of heed to the man but ate it all at a time. Next day she was got (?) dead along the road. The children were still living but they soon died too.
Festival Customs – By Patrick Carlin with information from William T. Carlin of Dungorman.
There are a great many festival customs celebrated in this district. The best known of them all is the mummers.
The mummers come around about a week or a fortnight before Christmas. They are a gathering of about thirteen young active men of the district. They have hats covered with all colours of paper. These strips cover the face.
Each one of them has a rhyme of his own to learn. They come in one by one and say their rhymes.
When they have all finished their rhymes they sing a song. Then the people of the house give them about threepence or sixpence.
On Shrove Tuesday, which, in this district is called “Pancake Tuesday” or, “bock [?] Tuesday” two customs are fulfilled. One of these is that the woman of every house should make pancakes on that day and let everyone in the house eat some of them.
The other custom is that the woman of every house should kill a cock on that day. If this is not done it is said that the woman will have no luck with her chickens.
There is a custom in this district that every family should leave out a rag on St. Bridget’s Eve. It is supposed that St. Bridget comes around at night and blesses the rag. It is taken in to the house in the morning and when it is left in the room of a sick person it will cure him.
The St. Bridget’s cross is made in this district also. It is made from rushes and sometimes from wheat straw.
The Bonfire night is celebrated in this district. When it is burned down the people take some half-burned sticks and leaves one in every field in the farm.
Potato Crop – by Lizzie MacMenamin with info from Mr. John MacMenamin, Belalt
There are potatoes grown on our farm every year. Each year there is almost five acres of land sown under potatoes. It is always the men that prepares the land for the potatoes. Some people manure the ground before they turn it up.
The people sow the potatoes in drills about this district. Before the drills are made, the field is ploughed, next it is cross-ploughed, then it is harrowed and after that the drills are made. There are ploughs used for making the drills.
Long ago the people used to work with wooden ploughs. Some people work with them. Before the potatoes are sown someone cuts them. The spades that are now, are bought in shop.
The people around this district help one another to put in the crop. Some people gives [sic] their horses to close the drills. Other give [?] to help to drop the potatoes.
During the Summer months the potatoes are saddled harrowed and next they are grubbed. The people dig the potatoes in Autumn after the corn is cut. Men and women pick the potatoes off the ground. The people dig the potatoes with potato diggers. Then they are lifted by the people
The potatoes are mostly pitted in the fields after they are dug. Some people put the potatoes in a barn.
There are different names of potatoes growing around our districts. Here are the names of the potatoes that grow best in our district. – Kerr pinks, Banners, Chiefs, Dates, Majestics and Suttons.
Long ago potatoes were used instead of starch. The people starched shirts blouses and collars with it.
Life Story of Patrick Kelly, Barryarrel- Born July 19, 1853 – Reminiscences of Mr. Kelly as told to Mr. Mac Congaile, teacher of Tievebrack School
My grandfather came from Corteal He was evicted from there. He hade his money on “stilling” or making “poteen” His cattle were so fine, fat and conditioned from “potlin and grains” (a substance obtained from the poteen residue) that the landlord thought the land had some particularly wholesome effect on the cattle. My father bought this farm in Ballyarrel. He was clerk of the Relief Committee established for distributing grants to the poor. The book with the names, and amounts received by each person, was in the house some years ago, but I burnt them. I remember burning a leather bound copy of an Irish Bible I was at Ardnagannagh hedge school, then at another hedge school in Dan Gallen’s of Arltygort. Miss Boyle was the name of the teacher there. Another hedge school was at ‘the Flush’ at McMenamin’s –‘the Farmer” Francis Boyle was the teacher here, and also at the place where the Crossroads chapel stables now stand. When the National school was erected at the Crossroads graveyard, John Brady was the teacher there.
My sisters were going to a school in Castlefin – three of them, I left Crossroads and went with them there. Tom Flannigan was the teacher. His son was editor of the “Derry Journal” later. The mistress was Teresa Farrell. I was eighteen years of age when I left school.
I married on the 23rd Jan 1894. Became a guardian of the Board.
The first penny I ever got, I bought a box of matches with it.
I remember the landlord sending his agent Mr McFarland and Mr Bailey round before the rent was due. He used to say “Mr Bailey will expect you in ‘on Monday” in a very sarcastic and sinister way. My father paid tithes.
Wheat was grown greatly in my young days. I remember the use of rush candlesticks; we killed cows or pigs and used the tallow to make the rush candlesticks Resin [?] was bought at Dillons of Strabane at 1d a lb. There were black and smoky candles made out of the resin.
In almost every house there were two wheels going, spinning and weaving – flax was scutched and hackled by Patton of Gleneely.
There were forges at Clonamel, Gleneely and Liscooley. The difficult mares were sent to Liscooley.
My father spoke Irish, mostly to people who visited from the Glen district. My mother had none.
The best men I know for work in the district were old Joe McGowan, Ballyarrel, Hugh O Neill, and John Quinn. Joe carried a 32 stone sack of oats on his back over the flooded burn at the Crossroads. When he got across some one asked if he were tired, he said: “I could carry a ½ (?) more.
John Quinn and Hugh O’Neill cut a Cunningham ”acre of corn with “hookes” – (sickles) which was good cutting for 4 men. They also lifted, tied , and stooked it for 8 […] the acre.
In my young days, there was as tea – porridge in the morning, boiled potatoes and milk, and perhaps their own pork or beef-home killed and home-cured.
The Biggest flood, I remember in the valley was at the “Holliday time” in the year 1867. There was a terrible thunder-storm, the bridges at the Milltown Crossroads ‘Gardragh and Robertson’s forge were swept away. A cart was sent from home to take me across the Robertson’s bridge but could not cross. Matthew Nielson was there and took me by the hand, to cross the only span of the bridge that was left and before starting, I remember him saying: “Now, for heaven, hell, or home!”
I heard my father talking about the Big Wind, but I forget what he said about it.
There was so much snow and ice in the year ’68 that I crossed the river on the ice.
The field down there used to be called “The Churchill Farm.” I dug up the fort to plough the field and I got 19 graves round in a circle. The skeletons were buried, their feet towards the centre. I measured the skeletons, and most of them were over six feet in length.
I remember my father telling of Liscooley Bridge being built in the year 1800, the year of the Union.
He told me also how the Duke of Berwick’s horse drank at the well at Liscooley. The house there was named “Berwick Hall” and the well “Berwick’s Well.” He (Berwick) was on his way to the Siege of Derry.
I remember Murrough was the land-valuer in Strabane. I was head of the Land League in the district, and went out during the night putting up bills “No Rent.” I put one on McGoarty’s, the landlord’s, and one on the Barrack door at the Crossroads. Our society was on O Brien’s (William Smith) side. We held a convention in Letterkenny. I was along with Bella Brooks, and in the same class at Castlefin (see the following poem).
The Murder of Bella Brooks by Francy the Fiddler (Francy Kelly)
You tender-hearted Christians, I hope you will draw near,
I claim your kind attention, and I won’t detain you long.
It’s all about a foul murder that took place some years ago.
And how the crime was perpetrated I mean to let you know.
It was about three miles from Castlefin in the County Donegal
There lived a farmer’s daughter, handsome, young and tall
She had received some visits from another farmer’s son
But he was sly and cunning too and soon her favour won.
He took her to his father’s home, a while there for to keep,
One night he gave her chloroform which caused her for to sleep
And when he got her sleeping, he went to his servant man.
They hurried off to execute their wild and wicked plan.
But to continue some wicked deed, this fair maid to destroy
To steal her out alone at night between him and his servant boy.
They dragged her to the water’s edge and cruelly threw her in.
Next morning her lifeless body was discovered in the Finn
And the people were all shocked to hear that Bella Brooks was drowned.
The doctor, – he was sent for, to drag her to the shore
But human aid was useless her life to restore.
The police, – they were sent for and the news soon spread around
The coroner met to cruel end, and the people do me tell,
One night he got his neck broke, when off his gig to fell
If her parents had been living she would have got fair play
They would have had this man arrested, by whom she was beguiled
And have him tried and punished
For the murder of their child.