St. Mary’s Church in Sessiaghoneill townland, just outside of Ballybofey, County Donegal, was built in 1828 as a satellite chapel of St. Patrick’s in Crossroads. It serves parishioners in the western reaches of Donaghmore Parish (Derry Diocese). The chapel was renovated in 1988.
In rural Ireland of the past, families eagerly awaited the arrival of the “mummers” at their doors during Christmastime. The mummers were men who acted out a play which they performed in people’s homes. They dressed in homemade costumes as the characters they portrayed. In some cases, the faces of the performers were covered in straw masks; in others, only the character, Jack Straw, would have a straw mask. Costumes of straw have been used in Celtic ceremonies for centuries. Christmastime mummers should not be confused with the participants at parades on St. Stephen’s Day (Wren’s Day) or at other Celtic celebrations.
Mummery probably arrived in Ireland from England where disguised actors performed at various times of the year such as at Christmastime, New Years, and pre-Lenten celebrations. The players were called mummers, or guisers (performers in disguise), or Christmas rhymers. The dialogue of the play was spoken in rhymes. The characters were usually heroes of old who battled until one was killed. Prince Patrick is one of the good heroes although Brian Boru could have substituted. The enemy hero could be Prince George or Oliver Cromwell representing England. A doctor would show up after the fight scene and bring the dead hero back to life. Money would be collected at the conclusion of the play.
Mummery at Christmastime was performed in Ireland in the early 19th century. It probably continued on and off in Ireland up to the beginning of World War I. From time to time, mummery would re-emerge as interested people resurrected the tradition. (Currently there are several mummer groups performing in Ireland such as the Aghyaran Mummers of County Tyrone.)
From the folklore stories collected by Irish Folklore Commission in the late 1930s (and published online at duchas.ie), comes the following description of this Irish Christmas tradition in Donegal. It was reported to the Commission by a student of the Meanreagh Primary School (Donaghmore Parish (Killygordon), County Donegal). The student’s name is Michael Browne from Tievecloghoge. Michael wrote the story from the reminiscences of Mr. Patrick Gallen (Dan) of Meenreagh Townland. The following is the description of the mummers as described by Michael Brown:
The mummers come around this district about two weeks before Christmas. They go to some house and dress themselves. They start out when it gets dark, and go round the houses until bedtime.
The following are the names of the mummers:
Father Christmas, Prince George, Prince Patrick, Doctor Browne, Big Head, Beljie-Bub, Jack-Straw, Devils-Dout, Master man of the play, and New-Year boy.
When Father Christmas comes into the house he says-
“Here comes I, old Father Christmas. When I come I bring good joy. It was acted on stages and acted on floors, but it never will be acted better than it will be acted inside your door.
Run, run gallant boys give us space to rhyme; we will show you some activity about the Christmas time, and if you don’t believe in what I say I’ll enter in Prince George and he will soon clear the way.”
Prince George comes in and says
“Here comes I Prince George from England. I have sprung with all my noble deeds and valleys to begin. I was seven long years in a prison cage and from that to a grievous home. England is right and Ireland is wrong and where is the man to dare me stand.”
Then Prince Patrick comes in and says
“Here comes I the daring man Prince Patrick with my armour shining bright. I am a noble champion that came out this night to fight. Ireland is right and England is wrong and I’m the man to dare you stand.”
Then the two start to fight with wooden swords until Prince Patrick falls on the floor, dead.
Then Father Christmas says
“Oh George, Oh George what have you done, you have killed and slain my only son.”
Prince George says
“He challenged me to fight and why should I deny it. I cut him in four quarters and there his body lies.”
Father Christmas says
“Oh doctor is there any doctor to be found, to cure this man that is lying bleeding on the ground.”
Doctor Browne comes in and says
“Here comes I wee doctor Browne the best wee doctor in the town. I can cure the plague within, the plague without, if there were nine devils in I could knock ten out.”
Then doctor Browne takes a bottle out of his pocket and cures Prince Patrick.
Then Prince Patrick jumps up and says
“Wonderful, wonderful, what have I seen. Twenty nine devils knocked into nineteen. Eighteen devils knocked into twenty four, and if you do not believe in what I say, I’ll enter in Big Head and he will soon clear the way.”
Big Head comes in and says
“Here comes I that has never come yet, Big head and little wit. Though my head is big my body is small. I will do my best to please you all. My head is made of iron and my body is made of steel and if you do not believe in what I say I’ll enter in Jack Straw and he will soon clear the way.”
Jack Straw comes in and says
“Here comes I Jack Straw, kick the devil through a riddle, through a rock, through a reel, through an old spinners wheel, through a bag of water, through a mill-hopper, and if you do not believe in what I say I’ll enter in Beljie-Bub and he will soon clear the way.”
Beljie-Bub comes in and says
“Here comes I Beljie-Bub, on my shoulder I carry my club and in my hand my dropping pan. I think myself a jolly old man, and if you do not believe in what I say I’ll enter in Devili-Dout and he will soon clear the way.”
Devils-Dout comes in and says
“Here comes I wee Devils-Dout, the best wee devil that ever went out. Money I want and money I crave if I do not get money I’ll sweep you all away to your grave. I’ll enter in Master man of the play and he will soon clear the way.”
When Devili-Dout comes in someone in the house puts money in the box which he has in his hand.
Then the Master man of the play comes in and says.
“Here comes I Master man of the play, pay me the money and let me away. All silver no brass, leather half-pennies won’t pass, and if you do not believe in what I say I’ll enter in the New-Year’s boy and he will soon clear the way.”
The New-Year’s boy comes in and says
“Here comes I the New-Year’s boy, when I come I bring good joy. I bring you joy and I bring you mirth, and I bring you all the best of health.”
When they have the rhymes finished they sing and dance, and the New-Year’s boy
plays a fiddle.
The video below is of a modern day performance of the Aghyaran Mummers at the Killeter Centre in County Tyrone:
St. Columba’s Church, also known as the Long Tower Church, is located outside the walls of Derry in Northern Ireland. It was called the Long Tower Church because it was built near the site of a round tower associated with the old monastery that had once occupied the site. (Some believe that the tower referred to a wind mill, also associated with the monastery, that was used as a bell tower for the earlier churches)
The Long Tower Church is dedicated to St. Columba, who many believe established the monastery near its site around 546 AD. St. Columba was born in Gartan, Donegal, in 521 AD to royal parents and descendants of the chieftain, Conal Gulban. His monastery church was known as Dubh Regles (Black Church) und was made of wood and wattle. Dubh Regles and the monastery were located near present day St. Augustine COI.
From Derry, St. Columba established other monasteries throughout Ireland. In 563, he travelled to the island of Iona (in present day Scotland) and began a monastery that brought Christianity to the native Picts. He died and was buried there in 597 AD.
The Dubh Regles church was burned in 788 and sacked by Vikings in 990. Before being destroyed by fire in 1166, plans were already made for a larger church to be built nearby. Eighty houses were cleared for the building of the Teampall Mor (Big Temple). The church was finished in 1164. It became the mother church of the Diocese of Derry when the diocese moved from Maghera to Derry in 1254. In the 1500s, during the Reformation, many Catholic churches fell into ruin. Teampall Mor was no exception. For this reason, it became common for Mass to be celebrated outdoors. In 1566, the English garrison occupied the church when it was trying to put down rebellions by Shane O’Neill. In April, 1567, the ammunition stored in the church exploded, demolishing the building.
Bishop Redmond O’Gallagher partially restored Teampall Mor in 1590. These were dangerous times for Catholic clergy. The Nine Years War with the English was underway during the time Bishop O‘Gallagher was bishop. He lived under the protection of the O’Donnells in Fahan and only ventured into Derry occasionally. He was eventually captured and killed in 1601. Twenty-one priests were slaughtered when the English attacked during his funeral.
The 1600s and 1700s were difficult times for Catholics. In the late 1700s. the Penal Laws were finally winding down when the Protestants of Derry started feeling a bit sorry for the Catholics who had no place to worship. Mass was celebrated outdoors and in homes. The Parish Priest of Derry, Father John Lynch, said Mass at the Hawthorne tree that traditionally marked the site of Teampall Mor. Father Lynch believed that it was time to raise money to build a Catholic church in Derry and was able to convince the Protestant community to donate money for the project. Funds came from the Protestant Bishop of Derry and even the Council of the City of Londonderry. The building of the new church began in 1784 near the Hawthorne tree and former location of Teampall Mor.
The Catholic Bishop of Derry at this time was Phillip McDevitt. He did not live in Derry but in Clady, County Tyrone where he ran a seminary for Catholic priests.
Father Lynch died in 1786 before the Long Tower Church was finished, but the church was temporarily opened for his funeral. He is buried beneath the Hawthorne tree where he often said Mass. The Long Tower Church was completed in 1787.
Father Lynch was succeeded by Charles O’Donnell as Parish Priest of Derry. Father O’Donnell was the nephew of Bishop McDevitt. He lived in Father Lynch’s home on Ferguson’s Lane where he acquired adjoining houses to establish a seminary. In 1787 he succeeded his uncle as Bishop of Derry. Bishop O’Donnell, with the support again of the Protestant community, enlarged and beautified the Long Tower Church in 1810.
Bishop O’Donnell celebrated Mass at the Long Tower Church every Sunday. He was not loved by everyone in his diocese. O’Donnell was known as “Orange Charlie” for his close ties to the Protestant community and his stance on Irish nationalism. (This is discussed in my novel “Donegal Generations.”) Perhaps his ties to Protestant Derry made possible the many improvements he made to the Long Tower Church during his years as bishop.
Peter McLaughlin succeeded Bishop O’Donnell in 1824. Bishop McLaughlin made many other improvements to the church. Through the years, Long Tower has become a spectacular place to worship with too many features of beauty to point out individually. It is a place that should not be missed by visitors to Derry.
A relic of St. Columba’s time can be found just outside the church where is figures prominently in a calvary built in 1909. It is St. Columba’s Stone which was once located at St. Columb’s Well (down the hill from the church in the Bogside). It bears the impression of the knees of the many worshipers who prayed at the holy well through the 13 centuries since the time of St. Columba.
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.
Cahir O’Doherty was the young Irish chieftain of Inishowen, County Donegal who began a rebellion with the English after the other powerful chieftains escaped Ireland in the “Flight of the Earls.” Those chieftains had just lost the Nine Years War and left Ireland to avoid English retribution. Cahir’s rebellion was brief but bloody.
In the years after 1200 AD, the rulers of Inishowen came from the O Dochartaigh (O’Doherty) clan. They protected their peninsula with a chain of castles. During Ireland’s Nine Years War with the forces of Queen Elizabeth (1594-1603), the ruler of Inishowen was Sean Og O’Doherty. O’Doherty maintained a friendly relationship with the English during the war, specifically with Henry Dowcra, the English Commander stationed in Derry. Sean Og died in 1601. His son and heir, Cahir, was only 14 years of age at the time. This was an opportunity for the Irish combatants to install an Irish ally as chieftain of Inishowen. Red Hugh O’Donnell of Donegal had Sean Og’s half-brother Phelim installed as Lord of Inishowen in February 1601.
Phelim’s reign over Inishowen was brief. Commander Dowcra and English supporters installed Sean Og’s son, 14 year-old Cahir, as Lord of Inishowen in May of 1601. Cahir’s foster father, Phelim MacDavitt, a loyalist, helped Cahir in making decisions. Red Hugh didn’t care for this situation and attacked Inishowen at Pollen Bay, but he lost in a bloody battle.
Cahir’s support of the English gave him the name “The Queen’s O’Doherty.” When the war was over in 1603, Sir Cahir O’Doherty was knighted by Lord Mountjoy.
The Irish Earls departed Ireland in 1607. Cahir was foreman of the jury in Lifford who declared the Earls guilty of treason. The Earls’ lands were confiscated by the English, but most of Cahir’s were not. This created hard feelings with some of the English, who believed that Cahir should have lost more of his land and power. Also, there were rumours of a conspiracy that Cahir was planning to retake Ireland with help from the Spanish. His principal detractor was George Paulet who succeeded Henry Dowcra as Governor of Derry. In one occasion, they argued and Paulet slapped or punched Cahir.
Young Cahir quickly became tired of the hostility from Paulet and the English, and he went to Dublin to plead his case. He was surprised to find that he was arrested there and imprisoned for a number of days in Dublin Castle. He was released after posting a sizable bail.
After all these insults, young Cahir organized a rebellion in 1608 with the help of his foster-father, who was no longer a loyalist. This rash action was probably the result of his anger with his former friendly English allies, and with the confiscation of Irish land which was granted to English settlers.
He and his followers captured and burned the cities of Derry and Strabane. His hated antagonizer, Governor Paulet, was killed in the battle of Derry. He then captured Doe Castle in Donegal from the English.
Cahir’s rebellion was short-lived. He was killed near Doon Rock in Kilmacrenan just three months after the rebellion started. He was only in his 20s when he died. His head was sent to Dublin and displayed at Newgate.
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: www.tomgallen.com . My last post was about the reports written by students of Donaghmore’s Meenreagh Primary School in the late 1930s that were included in the School Collection of the National Folklore Commission. In this post, I am publishing a few of the stories collected at the Lismullyduff Primary School. I’ll continue sometime in the future with posts from other schools of the parish.
The Irish name of Lismullyduff (Lismulladuff) is Lios Mullaigh Dhuibh. It means “black stone fort at the summit.” Lismullyduff Primary School was located on Lismullyduff Mountain. (Lismullyduff Mountain is currently the site of a controversial wind turbine project.) The school closed in 1968 when it amalgamated with the Dromore School located down near the bridge that leads to Killygordon over the River Finn. The teacher at that time of the folklore project was Aodh Mac Giollin Eoin. These are some of the stories from Lismullyduff:
THE BARREL OF OAT MEAL -
Once upon a time there was a woman living in the Glen , and she always kept a barrel of oat meal for her own use. One day when the barrel was half way finished there came an old woman in, and asked her for a bowl of meal and she told her that if she would not tell her husband about it the barrel would always be half full.
Time went on and still the meal was not finished so at last the man began to ask about it and the woman had to tell him all about it. The next time she went to the barrel it was half full of horse manure The woman’s name was Floyd.
Written by Brighid Ni Cheallaigh (student), from her father, Bernard Kelly of Mullaghanery
THE MAN WITH THE HUMP -
Once upon a time a man had a hump and he was out herding one day. While he was herding he heard a voice and it said; “Monday, Tuesday” The man said; “why not say Wednesday” Then the voice said; “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” and the hump was taken off him. Another man had a hump and he was out herding one day. He heard a voice and it said; “Monday Tuesday Wednesday” and he said; “why not say Thursday” Then the voice said “Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday” and the two humps were put on him.
By Roise Ni Gionnntaigh (student) from Annie Brigid O’Brien, Mullaghanery
TOBAR ABHOG -
Tobar Abhog is considered a holy well, it is blessed by the holy Fathers at every Mission, and there was Mass said beside it in the Penal days. It is situated in Lismulladuff, and if you would leave a medal, or beads, or even a little white stone at it and drink some of the water it would cure the toothache or anything of that kind.
The water cannot be boiled. Someone took water from it to the bog one time, and put it on the fire to boil but dried up in a minute. The water is cold in summer and warm in winter. There was a girl took ill at it one time and three drops of the water cured her. Her name was Brighid and the well was named after her.
By Brighid Ni Cheallaigh from Maggie Boyle (age 67), Lismulladuff
THE CHALICE FOUND AT SESSIAGHONEILL -
About sixty years ago a chalice was found between Donegal and Clar[?] at the time they were making the Donegal Railway line.
The name of the boy was John Mac Menamin and he was going with his father’s dinner who was working on the railway when he found it. A Celtic cross was erected where it was found.
It was found at the bottom of a ravine at Sessiaghoneill where it was supposed that mass was said during the Penal times.
By Sean Iseoph Mac Ghionntaigh
THE WASHING -
Once upon a time there lived in Gortichar a family named Mac Goldricks. One day they were washing clothes and they left them out on the hedge to dry. About nine o’clock the mother sent one of her daughters out to bring in the clothes but she did not return. The people in the house got anxious about her so they sent out another daughter and she did not return and they searched until morning but never got them. Fairies were supposed to have taken them.
By Sean Iseoph Mac Ghionntaigh from his granny Bridget MacGinty (age 86)
DONAL SLEVIN -
Donal Slevin lived in Sallywood and he is dead about sixteen years. He was about seventy five years of age when he died and he was supposed to be the strongest man ever lived in this district. On one occasion he went to the bog for a load of turf and when he was coming down at MacLaughlins of Gortichar the wheel broke with him. He took the wheel off the cart and he caught the axle of the cart in one hand and the wheel in the other and drove on home. He used to carry out the full of a creamery can of milk to carts. He also used to carry an iron plough on one shoulder and an iron grubber on the other out to the fields. The iron plough would weigh about three and a half cwts. [?] and the iron grubber about two and a half cwts. He was a brother of Rev. Patrick Slevin P.P. who died in 1929.
By Sean Iseoph Mac Ghionntaigh
Joe Gallen of Meenareagh and James Gallen of Cronalaghy can cure the sprain by charm. They say some prayers and rub the sprain three times. If it is a week from the person got the sprain it will be another week before that person is better.
Patrick Gallen of Lismulladuff can lead for the mumps. The cure of the mumps is: a pair of winkers is put on the person that has the mumps and is lead over a march burn.
By Roise Ni Gionntaigh
A BROZE -
The Irish especially the people of Donegal used to make what was called a “broze.”
They filled a vessel called a “noggin” with oat meal and boiling soup, put salt and pepper on it mixed all together and supped it with a wooden spoon. The “noggin” was also made of wood, and I often heard people say. I have as much in my noggin as I am able to sup.
By Brighid Ni Cheallaigh from her mother Mary Anne Kelly, Mullaghanery.
CNOC AN AIRGIRD -
There is a hill in the town-land of Gortichar called Cnoc an Airgird. This is how it got its name
Long, long ago when the ancient Irish dwelt in raths, a party lived in a rath at Lismulladuff where the Storeen now remains.
An enemy was observed coming from the east and he people in the rath decided on going away. Taking with them their goods and money.
They went in the direction of Ballybofey.
Being unable to travel quickly enough they decided to hide their goods and money.
They buried them in this hill and that is why it is called Cnoc an Airgid.
McHUGH THE ROBBER -
Once Upon a time there was a man whom the people called Mc Hugh the robber. He spent most of his time on the lonely hills of Donegal, and he robbed some of the rich men who passes that way. So anyone who had money was afraid of him.
One day a woman went to the fair with a cow. She sold the cow and got seven pounds for it. As she passed the barrack she thought of leaving the money there. She went in and asked the sergeant to keep it until the rent was due, but he said she was better to take it home, because McHugh would raid the barrack if he knew about the money. The woman took it home and locked it in a drawer
At nightfall a man came and asked for lodging and the woman kept him. He would not go to bed but slept at the fire. about two o’clock a knock came to the door and the woman went to open it. She found a man with a gun standing there. He asked her for the money and stood inside the door while she went to get it. The man who was sleeping awoke at this time jumped up and caught the other. Forced his hands behind his back tied his hands and feet and left him there while he went for the guards. He took them to the house and told them he himself was the robber then he disappeared among the trees. The guards went on to the house and found the man who was tied to be their own sergeant. He was taken away and put in prison for a long time.
By Brighid Ni Cheallaigh from her uncle Patrick Boyle (age 33), Meenahinish
The McHugh in the last story probably refers to Frank McHugh, also known as Proinsias Dubh (Black Frank). He was a highwayman who preyed on travellers on the roads through Counties Tyrone, Donegal, and Fermanagh. Frank was sort of a colourful Robin Hood character who, with his gang, only robbed the rich, never the poor. His career started around 1770 and lasted until he was captured around 1780. He was hanged at Enniskillen Jail in 1782 and buried in an unmarked grave in the Carn Graveyard on the road to Lough Derg. One of my characters in “Donegal Generations” is portrayed as a highwayman in a gang named for Black Frank. His life also ended poorly.
In the 1930s, the “new” nation of Ireland, finally freed from the yoke of Great Britain, established a Folklore Commission to preserve the stories and oral traditions of the people of Ireland. The Irish Folklore Commission collected 2 million manuscript pages and many sound recordings, photographs, and videos. The main Manuscript Collection holds 2400 bound volumes of material collected since 1932. Two-thirds are written in the Irish language.
It is the goal of Duchas.ie to digitize the National Folklore Collection. It recently started digitizing the Schools Collection which contains 740,000 pages of material gathered from 5000 primary schools of the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. This material was written on exercise books by about 50,000 school children. The children wrote stories from the memories of their parents, grandparents, and neighbors.
My novel, Donegal Generations, attempted to portray the lives of the rural inhabitants of Donaghmore Parish (Killygordon) in County Donegal in the 18th and 19th centuries. Because of the research I put into my novel, I have a strong interest in the folklore of that parish. From time to time I will report on some of the traditions of Donaghmore as written by the schoolchildren of its primary schools in my website: www.tomgallen.com
Note that the folklore reports of all the primary schools in the Irish Free State (during the 1930s) will be found at: www.duchas.ie
The first school in Donaghmore that I will write about is the Meenreagh Primary School. It wasn’t the first school in the parish (I believe that Gleneely was the first). Before Meenreagh, the children of the Meenreagh area attended hedge schools or at the Laught National School in County Tyrone. The teacher of Meenreagh at the time was Mr. Anton O’Domhniall. Here are a few of the folklore reports:
HIDDEN TREASURE – Written by Michael Browne (student) of Tievecloghe from informant Miss Ellen Gallen of Meenagoland
It was said long ago that there was the full of an asses skin of gold hidden in a little lough. This lough is all covered with moss and rushes, and the people call it “the blind lough.” Some men looked for this gold, but they never found it. It is said that there are seven men to be lost looking for this gold. Under the big rock on Mick Gallen’s street there is supposed to be a huge amount of gold. This gold is in a crock. John Mc Glynn, Mick’s grandfather, who lived in Glenfinn told about the gold. He told about one night as he was lying in his bed before going to sleep. There came in a red haired woman, who told him that near Mourne water, under a rock on a street, was a pot of gold. She also told him that three men could turn over the rock, but one of them would be killed. Three of Mick’s brothers were going to turn it over, but their mother would not consent. This rock is in the townland of Meenreagh.
There is another pot of gold in the river Derg, below the town of Castlederg, in a place called the Castle Hole. This pot is guarded by a monster eel, with two rows of eyes from its head to its tail. A lot of divers have gone down and seen this monster, but when they saw it, it twisted around the pot so they had to return without the gold. For when this monster saw them it would try to get hold of them.
WEATHER LORE – Written by Kathleen P. Gallen (student) of Meenagoland from Mr. George Gallen of Meenagoland
If there is a storm coming, the sheep all go to the valley. When the weather is going to mend, they go to the hills.
If the hills seem near to us, it is a sign of rain.
A rainbow on a Saturday is a sign of a whole week’s rain.
When there is a storm coming, the robins all sing.
When the crows fly very low, it is the sign of rain.
When the clouds are running across the sky, it is the sign of high wind.
When there is a smoke in a house, it is a sign of rain.
A blue blaze on the fire is a sign of a storm.
If there is a near hand ring around the moon, it is the sign of a far off storm; if there is a far off ring around the moon it is the sign of a near hand storm.
If the wild geese fly near to a house it is the sign of a great storm.
When the cat is washing her face, if she puts her foot over her ear, it is a sign of a big flood.
When the stars shoot in the sky, it is the sign of frost.
When salt gets wet, it is a sign of rain.
The soot falling down the chimney is a sign of a storm.
If the cat sits with her back to the fire, it is a sign of rain.
A donkey roaring is a sign of rain.
A cow shaking herself in the byre is a sign of rain.
A cat scraping with her claws is a sign of rain.
A motor glittering late in the evening is a sign of frost.
A rainbow in the morning is a sign of a bad day.
A rainbow at night is a sign of the next being good.
When the wind comes from the south, it is a sign of rain.
When the wind comes from the north, it is a sign of good weather.
When the fire is very hot, it is a sign of frost.
SEVERE WEATHER – Written by Rose Doherty of Tievecloghe from Mr. Patrick Gallen of Meenreagh
In the year 1812, a great snow storm took place. The storm began at four o’clock on a Monday evening. On Tuesday morning the snow was almost five feet deep. The storm lasted for a week and at the end of that time no one could go out-side because the houses were almost covered with the snow. At last the people had to dig passages to the byres in order to get hay and water for the cows, horses and many other animals.
The Big Wind of 1839 lasted about an hour. It tossed all the turf stacks; it also tossed bushes. A woman named Bridget Gallen lived in a barn. The candles were lighted over her, and when she was dying the wind lifted the roof off the house where she was lying, and let it fall down again without doing the house any harm. It is said that there were people living in Donegal whose names were Fodoals. They saw the devil and he gave them money to come with him. It was the death of one of them which caused the big wind.
One Sunday about 72 years ago there was a great thunder-storm. It happened in the year 1866. There was terrible wind, rain, thunder and lightning. A big thunder bolt fell in Hugh Sweenie’s bog. There was a terrible flood and it went around Brian Dougan’s. Two men whose names were Thomas Gallen, and Patrick Gallen were in Brian’s house and they could not get home till the flood ceased.
OLD SCHOOLS – Written by Patrick J. Gallen of Meenreagh from Miss Ellen Gallen of Meenagoland.
There was a school over behind Corgary planting. The school was an old thatched house and there was no chimney on it. The master used to shake hay on the floor. The children used sods for seats. The master’s name was James Monley. The children used slates instead of books; they wrote their lesson on the slates.
There was a school in Baywood in a farmer’s house, whose name was George Gallen. Irish was taught in this school; the teacher was the farmer himself. The children learned the Catechism all in Irish
Beside our house are the remains of an old hedge-school. It is used for a hen-house by my mother. The school was an old house. The master who taught in it came from Co. Mayo. The master was named John Heggerty. He liked to teach Irish. The children wrote with quill pens, made from the feathers of geese or crows. The master stopped with the people who had children attending the school. He stayed in each house in their turn. He stayed in this district for about two years.
In the year 1841 all the schools were taught in farmer’s houses. The teacher stayed a week about in the houses, and every child gave him a shilling a week. The children were taught in the following way; some one of them would bring an old book which belonged to his parents when they were at school, and he would bring it to the master. The rest of the children wrote out a lesson out of this book every week on a slate. When all the children got the lesson well off they could say the lesson without looking at the slate. When there was no master the best of the scholars used to teach the rest of them. Irish was not taught in these schools.
CURES – Written by Patrick J. Gallen from Mr. James Gallen (both of Meenreagh)
The following cures were carried on by the old people:
If you get a white stone in the bog and carry it in your pocket it is supposed to cure the toothache.
When anyone has the whooping-cough he can be cured by going out between the donkey’s two legs three times.
A person whose father and mother are of the same name can rub for a strain.
A cure for warts is an herb which grows in the corn called the “Seven-sisters.”
If any man has the shaking ague he can be cured by getting weeds growing in the hay and boiling them and drinking them.
A cure for a cough is to boil whins and drink the water.
If you find a little hole of water in a rock and take some of it, it would cure toothache, burns and many other things.
A boy who never saw his father can cure the ferey that a horse takes in his leg.
The cure for sore eyes is to bathe the eyes with black tea.
If a baby gets a strain when it is very young and gets it rubbed he can rub for a strain afterwards themselves.
When anyone takes the toothache the first time, if he rubs his jaw on the donkey he will never take it again.
A person who has kidney disease can be cured by getting a weed called the “golden twine” and drinking it.
In 1832, fifty-seven Irish laborers died while working on the railroad line from Philadelphia to Columbia, Pennsylvania. The workers are believed to have perished during a cholera epidemic at their camp and were buried in an unmarked mass grave. They had been in America for only a few months, having arrived in Philadelphia on the ship John Stamp from Derry in June, 1832. Most were from County Donegal with a few from Counties Tyrone and Derry. They were hired by Irish contractor Phillip Duffy specifically to make a “cut” through a hill and fill in a valley at Mile 59 of the rail line in Malvern, Pennsylvania to level the land. After the tragedy, the area where they were working became known as Duffy’s Cut.
In 2002, two men who grew up knowing the Duffy’s Cut story started investigating railroad documents about the deaths. These men were William Watson, a professor of history at Immaculata University in Malvern (near Duffy’s Cut), and his twin brother, Dr. Frank Watson, a Lutheran minister. The railroad papers written in 1909 seemed to differ from 19th century newspaper accounts of the tragedy. The 1909 report indicated 57 were killed, but the local newspaper reported that only 8 died. It seemed to show that there was some sort of cover-up.
In 2002, The Watsons began a project to find the location of the mass grave. Their project team included Earl Schandelmeier and Jim Ahtes of Immaculata University and Tim Bechtel, a geophysicist from the University of Pennsylvania. Using radar and soil resistivity methods, Bechtel was able to narrow down the search to a small area near the existing rail line (formerly the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line to Pittsburgh…now Amtrak and the Septa commuter line). Digging began in in that area in 2008. The first skeleton was found in 2009 and turned over to Dr. Janet Monge, a physical anthropologist of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. She found that the skull had evidence of blunt trauma at the time of death. Through painstaking research, the skeleton was found to belong to John Ruddy, a teenager from County Donegal.
Over the next few years, a total of six skeletons were unearthed. Of these, two were found to have died as a result of blunt trauma to the skull, and another was found with a gun shot (musket ball) wound to the head as well as what looked like an axe wound to the skull. The deaths at Duffy’s Cut were supposed to be related to cholera. The evidence of death from violence is puzzling.
Were the deaths at Duffy’s Cut caused by cholera or murder? We may never know. Many believe that not everyone exposed to cholera will die of the disease, maybe only half. The others may have been murdered by outsiders when they tried to leave their lodgings at the site to escape the disease. Being alien Irish, the workers weren’t held in high regard in the community anyway. It is known that some tried to leave the camp but were driven back to the valley. They were treated there by a local blacksmith and the Sisters of Charity who came to the camp from Philadelphia. A vigilante group, known as the East Whiteland Horse Company, policed the area in the absence of a constable. Perhaps they were responsible for some of the deaths when they tried to protect their community from those whom they suspected as carrying the deadly sickness with them.
The project is still continuing. The total number of skeletons found so far is 6. One of the skeletons was that of Catherine Burns, a 29 year old widow who travelled from County Tyrone with her father-in-law. Catherine probably was employed at the camp for washing clothes and cooking for the workers. The remains of John Ruddy and Catherine Burns were returned to Ireland for burial in their native soil.
The remains of the others were buried under a Celtic cross at a memorial at West Laurel Hill Cemetery near Philadelphia in March, 2012. Photos of the memorial are shown. The names of the victims at the memorial were determined from genealogical research on the passengers of the ship “John Stamp” and who were certainly members of the Duffy’s Cut work crew.
The remains of the other missing workers were moved to a different site when the railroad line was straightened in the 1870s. It is believed that they are in a mass grave in the vicinity of a stone memorial wall erected by the railroad around 1909. At the present time, no excavation work can be done at that site because of the proximity to the rail line.
Thanks to William and Frank Watson and the rest of the project team for this information. Much more information is available on the internet.
Some videos related to Duffy’s Cut are shown here:
Carrickabraghy Castle is located on an outcropping of rock at the southern entrance of Trawbreaga Bay in the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal. The castle protected a small peninsula in north-western Inishowen known as the Isle of Doagh. (It was an island once in prehistory).
In pre-Viking years, Carrickabraghy (as well as the Isle of Doagh) was ruled by the Cenel Coelbad, descendants of Eoghan (who was son of the Irish High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages). Coelbad was the grandson of Eoghan. Many Irish septs are descended from the kings of Carrickabraghy, including my own (O’Gaillin). From forts located at the site of the present castle, the kings of Carrickabraghy defended Inishowen from attacks.
From the 9th century onward,the land was ruled by the O Maolfabhail (McFall) sept who protected Inishowen from Viking raids and raids by other foreigners.
Sometime after 1200 AD, the rulers of Inishowen came from the O Dochartaigh (O’Doherty) clan. Carrickabraghy Castle was probably built around 1590 by Phelim Brasleach O’Doherty. It was one of a chain of several O’Doherty castles that protected the peninsula. The castle was originally built with a keep and two towers surrounded by a bawn wall. Today the castle ruins has only the keep and part of one tower.
One of the castle’s famous residents was young Sir Cahir O’Dohery, Lord of Inishowen. Cahir took the English side in the Nine Years War with the Irish Earls. At the conclusion of the war, he was suspected of planning to retake Ireland with help from Spain. He began a poorly conceived rebellion in 1608 when he captured and burned Derry City, Strabane, and other English controlled sites before being defeated and killed near the Rock of Doon in Kilmacrenan, Donegal.
This video by Peter Homer is an aerial view of the castle.
In County Donegal today, there appears little evidence that its cities and towns were once connected by rail lines. However in the early part of the 20th century, County Donegal Railways was the quickest and easiest way for passengers to get around the county. When rail service was provided, what had once taken days to travel by horse and cart took only hours by train.
Travel by rail in Ireland started in 1834 when a line was built between Dublin and the port of Dun Laoghhaire (then known as Kingstown). In no time new rail lines connected cities throughout Ireland. Shortly after the Great Famine, a rail line was planned along the River Finn between Strabane in County Tyrone and Stranorlar in County Donegal. This, the first line in County Donegal, opened in 1863. The Finn Valley Railway made stops at stations in Clady, Castlefin, Liscooly, and Killygordon. The next step was to build a branch from Stranorlar to Donegal Town through the Barnesmore Pass. This was completed in 1882 by the West Donegal Railway, although the company had financial difficulties that required them to stop short of the town by 4 miles. Passengers had to get to Donegal Town by horse-drawn cars at an additional cost of sixpence. The extension to town wasn’t completed until 1889.
The Finn Valley Railway and West Donegal Railway merged in 1892 to become the County Donegal Railway Company. Rail lines from Donegal Town to Killybegs and Ballyshannon were added in 1893 and 1909 respectively.
Meanwhile, the line from Stranorlar to Glenties was opened in 1893. At that time, to match the rest of the country, the rail system switched from standard to narrow gauge and changes had to be made at railway stations constructed earlier as well as to the original rail line from Strabane to Stranorlar. A branch was constructed from Strabane to Letterkenny in 1909. Another line from Letterkenny was extended to Burtonport, and another was extended from Letterkenny to Carndonagh in Inishowen with a spur off to Derry City.
After years of steam locomotives, County Donegal Railways became pioneers in using diesel-powered locomotives in the 1930s. However, the automobile was providing more and more personal travel during those years, and the days of train travel in Donegal were numbered. The lines of County Donegal Railways started shutting down in 1949. By 1960, all of its lines were closed. The last train from Stranorlar pulled into Strabane in December, 1959.
Donegal Railways Heritage Centre in Donegal Town has artefacts and historical details of rail travel in Ireland. See: www.donegalrailway.com
In Fintown, part of the line that ran past Lough Finn has been restored and used as a rail tour attraction. See: http://www.antraen.com/
Please click on the railmap above to get a larger image of the map. If you click again, it will enlarge further making it easier to read.