In the 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: tomgallen.com . I’ve already published some of the folklore reports written by students of Meenreagh, Tievebrack, and Lismulladuff Primary Schools. In this post, I am publishing a few of the stories collected at the Gleneely Primary School.
The Irish name of Gleneely is Gleann An Fhaoilidh. Gleneely Primary School is located up the road that runs from Crossroads to the Tyrone border at Carn Hill. The new school is about 300 yards down the road from the original Gleneely school, one of the first national schools in the area.
Gleneely School was built in 1847 in the middle of the Great Famine on land owned by Henry Bradley. It was part of the Irish National School System begun in 1831. Prior to Gleneely School, there was a hedge school nearby taught by Alexander Craig, a Roman Catholic. Gleneely School drew students from a large area of the surrounding town lands. The original school closed in 1958 and was replaced by the modern school shown in the photos. Note that, other than the photo of the old school ruins, the other photos are stills from a video camera and have poor resolution.
The teacher at that time (1938) of the folklore project was Padraig MacFhinn. I owe a debt of gratitude to Mrgr. Francis Carbine, of Philadelphia for making me aware of the Folklore Project and for publishing a number of the stories reported from the Gleneely School. Msgr. Carbine is a descendant of ancestors from the Gleneely area, principally Cornashesk Townland. One of his relatives, Sean O’Cearrabain, is the author of several contributions to the Gleneely School Collection. Here are some of the stories.
THE GREY STONE ON CORNASHEISK MOUNTAIN –
This huge boulder, shaped like a chair, is the property of Mrs. McMonagle of Corrasheisk, Killygordon. A giant, long since dead, is supposed to have used it as a seat long ago. As an explanation of how the stone got there it is said that two giants over in Lismulladuff Glen – about three miles away- were testing their strength to see which could throw the stone the greater distance. The giant who won the test threw his stone on top of Cornasheisk Mt. and decided henceforth he would live there. A little distance below the stone a huge tombstone marks the spot where the giant lies buried. The tombstone is cut out in the shape of the giants’s own body. Writing can be traced on the upper surface of the stone but it is so blurred that it is impossible to decipher it. Local tradition has it that a great treasure lies buried in this grave.
Reported by J. Reid Prine
THE FAIRY BUSH –
In the field the property of Mr. Frank Bradley, Gleneely, Killyordon, there is a holly bush which is supposed to belong to the little-folk. Different people have seen the fairies playing around it and at times have heard strange music coming from it. It is recorded that children returning home from school began to play around the bush. They hung up their bags and coats on the bush. When they returned to look for them, they found that they were gone. Mr. James Bradley once saw three while sheep grazing around the tree but while he was watching them they disappeared into the tree.
Reported by J. Reid Prine
PRIEST HUNTING –
In the town land of Dromore, Killygordon, there lived a Protestant family who had a servant boy who was a Catholic. Wishing to kill the local parish priest, they asked the boy to pretend that he was ill so that they could ask the priest to the house to attend him. When the priest arrived he asked to be shown to the sick man. When they entered the room the people of the house were astounded that the boy was REALLY dead. Before they could recover from their amazement, the priest was safely on his journey homeward.
Reported by J. Reid Prine
ST. BRIDGET’S WELL –
In the townland of Donaghmore, Liscooley, County Donegal, is a holy well called St. Bridget’s Well. It is situated in a field the property of a Protestant farmer called Taylor. This man does not encourage pilgrimages to the well so that no general assemblies take place. On several occasions he vainly attempted to close up the well but as water persisted springing up at the spot he was obliged to open up the well again or else suffer a large part of his well to be flooded. People here in the locality have great faith in the healing powers of this well and several cures have been wrought which support their claims.
Reported by J. Reid Prine
FAIRY TREE –
When a gang of workmen were engaged in constructing a new road in the town land of Mounthall, they encountered a hawthorn bush directly in their path. The foreman in charge gave orders to some of the men to have it removed. Several of them declined to perform this task declaring that the bush was a fairy-tree and they would be inviting disaster if they interfered with it. One of their number however by the name of Jim Gallen, declared that their fears were only rubbish and that he would prove it by removing the tree himself. He first began to remove the small boulders around the foot of the tree and was rather startled but not discouraged when several white mice emerged. He next proceeded to extract the bush roots and all. When he succeeded in uprooting it, a large bird of weird shape and without ant feathers flew out in his face and disappeared. Then the fears of men were realized. Jim Gallen’s cows suddenly refused to give and milk. This was very strange because they did not appear to be ailing. Things went to such a pitch that in despair Gallen went and planted the tree again near where he uprooted it. He was very relieved the next morning to find that his cows were overflowing with milk.
Reported by J. Reid Prine
HIDDEN TREASURE –
There is a treasure supposed to be hidden at the grey-stone. This stone is situated at the back side of Cornashesk Mountain. Giants long ago made this stone their stopping place. These giants were supposed to have plenty of gold, and to store it, they dug a great hole in the ground beside the grey stone. For fear of anyone getting their money, the giants rolled always this big stone on top of the treasure. When these giants died, it was supposed that the treasure was still there. Plenty of people would have tried to get it only for this heavy stone on top of it. The treasure is supposed to consist of gold and silver. The stone where the treasure is is about [?] miles from the county road. There lived certain people in our district called Connaghans. Once they were cutting turf in the bog of Onagradh. They found a bag of money. In this bag there were a large number of pounds. The “bank” where they got this was about one hundred yards from the road. The bag was in the middle of it and it was about eighty pounds, and it was supposed to be hidden by a man called Otchen. This man was known as a highway robber.
Reported by Gerard Doherty (age 14) , Rushey Hill
MY HOME DISTRICT –
Gleneely is the name of the district I’m living in. The town land of Gleneely is in the Parish of Donaghmore. There are about eleven families living in out district. The the eleven families there are about forty-seven people. The names most common in our district are the Rules and the McCormacks. There are two families of each. There are different types of houses in our district. There are thatched houses and slated houses also. Some of the houses are very small and some are large and there is only one two-story house in our district. There are only two people of over seventy years of age in our town land. They do not know Irish. They are not storytellers either for I never heard them tell a story. There was one old man of over seventy who could have told stories all day long. This old man is Johnny Browne who went away from the district and is still living at the Crossroads. The houses are more plentiful than they are now. Some of the families emigrated to other places. The Brownes were one of the families who went away. When they went away, the house they were living in was tumbled to the ground. Some other people went away to Scotland. There is only one or two persons who went away to America and came back home in a few years. There are many old houses to be seen where people lived. There are two large woods growing near our house. One of them is called Monellan Wood. Monellan Wood is larger than the the other and it contains 100 acres. All the trees in Monellan Wood are cut down, but the trees are growing in the other wood yet. There is a large castle in each of the woods. Our town land is not mentioned in any song or old saying. The River Finn is the nearest river to our house. The land is good and fertile. It is hilly land. Most of the land is cultivated.
Reported by Thomas Wilson (age 15) , Gleneely
VENGEANCE FROM HEAVEN –
Some time ago there lived a minister who was very fond of money. He a large congregation and he was asking them for money every Sunday but none of them wanted to pay anything. he tried all means but did not succeed. He gave money to a few of his old friends to encourage others to pay but that did not make them pay any better. He told them that something would happen to them. he said that they would have no luck whatever with their crops or cattle when they did not pay him. Finally he got tired asking them to pay. At long and at last he thought of a plan. The following Sunday he told them if they would not pay that week he would make God pour down vengeance on them. There happened to be a loft on the church and he paid a man to go up to the loft with an armful of “shows”. He told him when he would call to him to pour down vengeance he was to light the “shows” and throw them down through a hole in the roof. When the burning “shows” began to fall, the people rushed up and began to pay. They were throwing down pounds and ten shillings. The minister was enjoying himself for he was fooling them. He thought that he had not got enough and he called for more vengeance. The man in the loft called down,”my shows are finished.” Then they all rushed up and took their money back again and then the minister had to fly or they would have killed him. My uncle Jim Bradley of Corradoey told me this story.
By Jim Wilson (13) of Gleneely
BURIED BUTTER AS A HEALER –
When I was at home I remember going with another girl to a certain man. This girl’s brother had the “evil”. This man had butter that was found in the bog. He gave a piece of it to the girl to cure her brother and she brought it home and whatever way it was used it cured the brother of the “evil”.
By Liam McMenamin from Mrs. Wilson (Gleneely)
THE FAIRY LIGHT –
This story was told to me by a man named Eddie Connaghan. He is about forty years of age and lived in the townland of Ownagadragh. He said that there used to be a light seen in the mountain of Ownagadragh. This was supposed to be fairies. It was seen for a long time but it was seen in the winter. This light is not seen now. By Sean O’Cearrabain (13) Cornashesk