Memories: A picture paints a thousand words

Carrigart Hotel today. (Image courtesy of Donegal Cottages

Carrigart Hotel, County Donegal.(Image courtesy of Donegal Cottage

The Hotel in Carrigart, County Donegal is an iconic building that dominates the village where I grew up. It was an integral part of our young lives as we originally lived in what was an extension of the building and we later moved across the street. The red-roofed structure in this picture was our barn, to the rear of our ‘new’ house.

There have been many reincarnations of postcards of the village in the heart of a tourist area, but very few feature this beautiful building, the probable reason being that the bend in the main and only street, means it is not possible to capture the entire village in one shot.



This beautiful building is listed on the Donegal County Council  Protected Structure Inventory as ”Detached four-bay three-storey Victorian Hotel with dormer windows with elaborate carved detailing to their surrounds. Later extensions to east and west.” 

This photograph was among my late father’s most treasured possessions. I believe it was taken in the early 1950s when the premises was owned by Dermot Walsh. It shows distinctive round steps leading to the main door, a petrol pump and behind it, Walsh’s Bar with Walsh’s shop attached. The bar and shop had separate entrances as can be seen in the photo. I think that the cars are Ford Prefects (any correction most welcome) and would have been crank started. (My Dad owned one of these cars – ours had the registration number of ZL 108.) I particularly like the bicycle in this picture, cleverly and securely parked by placing one of the pedals on the footpath!
At that time this petrol pump was the only petrol pump in the village, although Griffins added one in later years. It was situated in an enclosed gravel area and sometimes for a dare we would run through here. Obviously it was an area that was for some reason out-of-bounds for small people, otherwise we would not have bothered! The petrol pump was operated by a big lever so that the person ‘dispensing’ the petrol had to work hard cranking away until the proper volume of petrol was delivered. My father often told the story of the day an important visitor to the nearby and very posh Rosapenna Hotel stopped by for petrol. He had one of the biggest cars ever seen in the locality. The visitor left the engine running and went into the hotel while the car was being filled up. A small crowd gathered while James Boyce cranked away furiously. After some time, the visitor returned to find that James, in spite of cranking away like mad, had not yet managed to fill the tank. He turned to the visitor and said: ‘She’s bating (beating) us so she is, she’s bating us’, meaning that because the engine was running, petrol was being used as fast as it was being pumped in! In reality it was because the tank was so big, it took ages to fill it!

I have great memories of happy times spent around the hotel…hours spent with Maggie Greer who single-handed did all the laundry. I loved standing with her in the wash-house that smelled of suds as the sheets swirled round in the big washing machines. I went with her to the clothes line where she hung them out on the long lines with her poor gnarled hands. I loved to see all those sheets billowing and flapping in the breeze! I spent more hours with her as she did the ironing, expertly smoothing and folding each sheet into rectangles as though they had just come new from the shop.

To my mother’s annoyance, I also spent time with Tommy Gavigan who bottled the Guinness for the hotel. The huge wooden Guinness barrels lay on their side and he pushed a tap into them from where he filled each bottle. It was then placed on  a machine to be capped and I helped him wet and stick on the labels. In return he would cut a sliver off his block of Plug tobacco for me to chew. It is easy to understand why my mother was not too happy to have a 7-year-old chewing tobacco! Tommy also took care of the cows and did the milking in the byre on his little three-legged stool with a metal bucket to catch the warm milk. Afterwards, he might throw me up on top of a cow to sit on her back as she went back out to the field.

The Carrigart Hotel has stood on this site for over 100 years. It was built by Michael Friel in about 1910, although he had a smaller hotel  prior to this. According to the 1911 Census the hotel boasted 64 rooms with 28 windows to the front and 18 outhouses that included piggeries,stables and a harness room. On Census night, in addition to Michael Friel’s wife and family there were 8 boarders on the premises, including a Dr MacCloskey the local doctor, cooks, servants and a lace instructress!


Friel’s Family and Commercial Hotel

The rather grainy photograph above was taken sometime before the 1930s. The name ‘Friel’s Family & Commercial Hotel’ is attached to the railings that run along the roof. I do not recall these railings or the rooftop ornamentation. In 1934 ownership of the hotel passed to Miss Mary Anne McGuire, who was the sister-in-law of Dr Mac Closkey, recorded as a boarder in 1911 census. Subsequently the hotel passed into the hands of the Walsh Family who operated it until it was sold on again in recent years.

Carrigart now

Carrigart Hotel as it is today

The photo in my Dad’s possession evoked lots of pleasant memories for him, just as indeed it does for me. It is a pity that the hotel is no longer in use, but it is still a place for gatherings in the village, still a place where good memories are made, memories that  hopefully will last as long as the pleasant memories I have, and that my father before me had, of this lovely building.


With special thanks to

Donegal Cottage Holidays  for permission to use their photograph – more beautiful photos can be seen on their site

Petie McGee who sent me the picture of the Friel’s Hotel

Mulroy Drive website posted this picture below taken in 1951 on the hotel steps.

Agnes Duffy McCahill recalls the occasion and listed the names, with thanks to Eileen McDevitt.

”That photo was taken the Sunday evening (1951)that Frank Sweeney who worked in the Carrigart Hotel left to get married to Bridie O Donoghue who worked in Griffins shop. He was waiting for the bus that left Carrigart to go to Letterkenny at 4.50 pm.”


Neil Friel Mickey Duffy Tommy Gavigan Nora Friel Andy Speer Miss Metcalf Frank Sweeney Dr Sharkey -Locum she thinks. Miss Maguire Sophie Mc Groddy Bridget Durnan Danny Mc Elhinney Michael Mc Ateer Jim Gavigan Mary Billy ??? M


Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

33 responses to “Memories: A picture paints a thousand words

  1. Lovely story. Fond memories of working in the hotel as a teenager, I remember Tommy.

  2. What wonderful memories, and beautifully told.
    Though I must admit, I wouldn’t expect anyone to give a 7 year old tobacco to chew, even a sliver. I had to go to the shop to get my Mother’s cigarettes and I hated doing that. Still hate the smell of tobacco and cigarettes…except for my grandfather’s pipe, which I still remember.
    I would have loved wandering in to the hotel and spending time with those people and watching or helping… thanks for sharing your memories.

    • These were different times Chris! We went away all day and came home when we were hungry! The Plug tobacco was bad enough, but what made my mother wild was if I had been taking snuff! Older women used it to clear their sinuses, and we children would be offered a pinch! We led a Huckleberry Finn type of an existence now that I think on it, and chewing tobacco was part of it! Glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I can just see you in a Huckleberry Finn movie… we wandered too, though my brother wandered far more than I did. I was always being sent around town to ask if anyone had seen him…
    My solitude was climbing trees with either a book or my sketch pad, often both…

  4. What beautiful memories!

  5. SV, this is an adorable post. What a beautiful building but the memories are even better.

  6. Irene Gallagher Hegarty Walls

    Hi Angela, only reading your blog at three thirty am, I had shared it but hadn,t fully read it as I was just glancing through and on finding somebody had liked my post I read it through, so when are you going to write the book, we had a unique childhood compared to not only nowadays but to so many folk. Am awake at this time as my mother is very low, at ninety she is fading away slowly, remember her in you prayers😌

  7. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. We had a wonderful childhood holidaying in Granny and Granda’s behind the hotel. Great photos and story.

  8. What wonderful memories! Yes, way back children just seemed to wander on their own in town or in the country. Sheet drying in the sun smelled the best and I sometimes miss that but am grateful for my dryer! One could probably encounter some ghosts drifting along the halls today. It is nice that it has not been torn down and is still used some by the village. What beautiful memories you have written down!

    • They are very special memories and the telling of them have triggered even more that I must write down! It was hard work laundering those sheets: they would have been cotton and Maggie often boiled them in huge pots. She then had to haul the wet sheets quite a distance to hang them out. Quite a job to get them eventually blowing in the wind! Thanks for dropping in…your comments are always most welcome!

  9. Silver Voice – – – These stories and photographs are like a thick, sweet, honey … I have tried to ingest a spoon full of honey, but it is too thick, too intense, too rich. I had to read this post several times. Here is one piece that stood out to me …. “To my mother’s annoyance … spent time with Tommy Gavigan who bottled the Guinness for the hotel … he would cut a sliver off his block of Plug tobacco for me to chew … easy to understand why my mother was not too happy to have a 7-year-old chewing tobacco!”

  10. Martin Morroe

    Just stumbled on this .
    My family spent almost every year from 1968-80 at the hotel.
    Our favourite place on the planet. Took forever from Glasgow to get there.
    I met the same people every year. Still see one of the girls and her family who live in Dublin.
    Memories. -running all over the hotel with a crowd of other youngsters. Upstairs in Boyces for toys. My older sisters chatting up the waiters. Mum and dad really chilled out. Mum playing piano every night until stupid o’ clock. Leo McCaffrey was there singing sometimes with her pkaying.
    Dad with his Guiness. Crick of Gold Bat at the farmhouse after dinner.
    Kids rattling around in the back of the car.
    Alfie Ladley,Mr Waksh , John, hector behind the long bar.
    We were in the 1971 hotel postcard.
    Nearly missed the boat to Glasgow that day.
    Just best holidays ever.
    Dad was always able to relax , which wasn’t possible in Glasgow.
    Unbelievable memories.
    I drag 20 plus folk golfing every year at the Rosapenna.
    Always drop by the hotel. Still busy bar but changed days.
    Represented safe , wonderful holidays.
    Spoke to my dad about it , night before he died.
    Soft smile on his face. Could see him thinking back to his Guiness and the piano nights.
    Great times.
    Still see the hotel in my mind when things get rough.
    The bend in the road coming from Creeslough , first glimpse of the hotel after forever driving from Glasgow.
    Everyone cheering

    • Hello Martin! I saw your original post last night and was delighted that you had such a revival of beautiful memories! Carrigart was quite the holiday destination way back then, and Carrigart Hotel was very popular. We moved away in 1966, but for years before we had an Aunt who returned on the Glasgow Fare with our cousins every summer. When we left my cousin and his family returned and stayed at the hotel for many years. The Crock of Gold I think was McGettigans of Glenree quite a way out of the village on the Creeslough road. Alfie Ladley sadly died last year. The hotel has declined as people now have holiday homes and listed buildings pose problems for modernisation and upkeep. It’s a lovely building and it would be a shame to see it go into disrepair. The rear of the building is not encouraging in that respect, but internally it might be fine. Only the bar was in use the last time I was there! You will have seen the evolution on your annual golfing trips to Rosapenna! My own memories of the interior are of the lovely staircase and the sitting rooms upstairs with the gorgeous views of Horn Head and Errigal.
      I am pleased that your Dad had such warm memories of the place …did you have a local connection? Family?
      Thanks so much for dropping by and taking the time to add your memories…if that building could talk!

  11. Martin Morrow

    Hi-we had no family connection. My dad’s family were from Lurgan-someplace called the Guildford Road They were related to Lavery family/ies from around there.
    My surname is actually Morrow and I am told that was not an uncommon name in those parts?
    No my parents found Carrigart by accident.It stayed with them forever.
    I can visualise every nook and cranny of that hotel.
    Even the scary corridor at the top of the old wing-and the never ending staircase down to the kitchens.

  12. Niamh Walsh

    Such a wonderful story of our family hotel. Amazing to hear of Tommy. I used to call into his house to play the card game ‘memory’. He always let me win !
    The memories another gentleman has talked about in your comments would make dad (Dermot Walsh junior) so proud. So many families came back year after year and made some life long friends. It is what holidays are all about.
    The next time you are here (you mentioned you come to the rosapenna) please do get in touch. I now live back in Carrigart and would be delighted to meet for a cup of coffee or perhaps a Guinness!

    Again, lovely words on the Carrigart hotel, thank you.

    • Martin Morrow

      Hi Niamh,
      Would love to drop by.
      Will be in the area 24-27 May.
      One of the girls that used to play chases in the long corridors of the New Wing was in contact some years ago.
      She was British ambassador to Norway? I think when she contacted me.
      But for 5-10 minutes we were back in the hotel- running around like mad, mothers shushing us in case we woke the babies up.
      Happy days

  13. Hello Niamh. The Carrigart Hotel was always more than just a building. As Martin said above, it was the stuff of dreams and where friends and memories were made! Way back when your grandfather was there it was very much the same, with the same families returning year after year. We locals knew many of them either by name or by sight. But of course it was more than about visitors. It was about the people who worked there, many of them coming from different parts of the county, like Alf Ladley, Mary McGinley, Tommy Gavigan, (and his brother Jimmy who worked in Port na Blath), Miss McGinley who was manageress for years, Annie Ramsay, to name a few. Then the locals who worked there too who became institutions in their own right..Neil Friel, James Boyce, Brid Cullen. Your grandfather was a real gentleman and treated everyone with kindness and was especially kind to my father. It had its own very special place in social history for sure! There’s a book in it for someone!
    Thank you so much for dropping by and I am glad you enjoyed the post. Good wishes to your father, who was also very kind to my father. I hope Martin gets in touch! P.S. I came across a photo of your grandfather the other day. I must post it up. Angela

  14. Martin Morrow

    SV-presumably you have my e mail.Can you pass to Niamh. If she contacts me I will meet up in May.

  15. Patricia Terry

    So lovely reading all the memories of the Carrigart Hotel. I worked there as a teenager in the summer holiday and although it was hard work the memories and craic we still talk about today when I meet up with past members of staff. As we said we could write a book 😊.
    There is a lovely photo of a whole gang sitting outside the hotel in the 50’s which I love as my mother is there in the picture as a teenager with other locals.

    • Hello Patricia – I am glad you enjoy reading about it . It certainly was the centre of the universe for many people. Who is your Mum? I think I know the photo you mean. I have added it into the end of the post – is this the one you mean?
      Thanks so much for dropping by – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

      Neil Friel Mickey Duffy Tommy GaviganNora Friel Andy Speer Miss Metcalf Frank Sweeney Dr Sharkey -Locum she thinks .Miss Maguire Sophie Mc Grory Bridget Durnan Danny Mc Elhinney Michael Mc Ateer Jim Gavigan Mary Billy ??? M

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