Gallaghers of Mulnamina, Glenties

The view from the top of the lane

The view from the top of the lane over looking a misty Gweebarra Bay

Earlier this year I made a return trip to the birthplace of our grandfather James Gallagher in Mulnamina, near Glenties in County Donegal. Our grandfather never knew any of his 14 grandchildren as he had died before any of us were born, yet he loomed large in our lives as we were frequent visitors to his family home, where his elder brother John and his youngest sister Maggie lived for all of their lives and who always had a warm welcome for us.
This was a place of wonder to us growing up, and we loved to visit on warm summer Sundays. Uncle John and Aunt Maggie had never married and were the last surviving members of their family of ten siblings. Situated on the side of a hill overlooking the Gwebarra Estuary, the house was well sheltered from storms and prevailing winds. There was no running water and no electricity and the kettle hung over the open turf fire on a crane. Soon after our arrival a fresh cake of bread, made in a flat oven with embers on top of the lid,was produced for our tea. There was always a choice of  homemade jams too. We piled in on a form at the table (no chairs at the table, only forms) and loved eating the fresh bread covered with beautiful jam, while  sitting there in the flag floored kitchen with the lovely scent of burning turf.

The lane up to Mulnamina

The lane up to Mulnamina

Our car was parked at the bottom of the lane, as it was not possible to drive up the steep hill, so we ran up the rest of the way. We ran across in front of the house next door, through the gate and into the warm kitchen to announce our arrival, and then away out again to explore. There were a few outhouses – a turf shed, a cow byre and a hen-house that I remember, a dog who slept in a fabulously fashioned stone kennel, a beautiful pale donkey and a long path that wound up the hill to summer pasture where the cows grazed and where white heather grew. White heather was said to be ‘lucky’ and Aunt Maggie would send Uncle John with us up ‘the mountain’ along the well-worn cattle path in search of it. Sometimes we found some, sometimes we didn’t, but we always enjoyed the search! And on every visit we implored Uncle John to go up with us, just to look for some.

In later years we learned that this was the house of our great grandparents, Daniel and Isabella Gallagher. As children it never occurred to us that anyone other than the people we met had lived there! So, who were they and what could we discover about them?

Daniel Gallagher son of John Gallagher of Mulnamina and Isabella nee Mulloy, daughter of John Mulloy of Strasallagh, Glenties were married on February 2, 1874. The Roman Catholic marriage register shows that they were third cousins. (With thanks to Peter D Murphy for advising on the relationship).Dispensation had been granted in respect of 4th degree of consanguinity to enable them to marry in the church. The witnesses were Conal and Bridget Gallagher.


The Latin marriage register entry, number 223, for our great grandparents, at the Roman Catholic Church in Glenties.

Daniel and Isabella had 10 children.

Ellen, born December 2, 1874 in Strasallagh. (I wonder if Isabella went home to her mother, as was the tradition in Ireland, for the birth of her first child)

John was born August 19, 1876 in Mulnamina, the place of birth of all subsequent children)

Ann born Jul 18, 1878

Mary born on June 4, 1880

Bridget arrived on June 1, 1882

Catherine born May 22, 1884

James born March 15, 1886

Sarah born September 28, 1888

Rose born August 12, 1890

Margaret born December 28, 1893

The next reference to them we can find is on the 1901 census, which can be seen here.  I remember the extraordinary emotion of seeing our great grandfather’s beautiful writing and his signature on the census return, when I first laid eyes on it a few years ago when the Irish census became available online. We can see that the elder two children, John and Ellen are not at home on census night, and that the family spoke both Irish and English. The household return shows that they had a 2nd class thatched house with three rooms and 3 windows plus 3 out buildings  –  a cowhouse, a fowl house and a piggery.

Ellen, Mary and Bridget are absent on the night of the 1911 census, which can be viewed here. Annie has been married for a year and is now Brennan. We don’t know if she was still living at home or possibly returned to her mother to give birth to her first child, or simply visiting. In this census we learn that Isabella had 10 children during 38 years of marriage and that all are still living. The house is still thatched and a barn has been added to the outhouses.

The house had been slated at some stage, and I certainly do not recall it being thatched, but it is still the original house with its three windows, one in the kitchen and one in each of the two bedrooms. The kitchen was in the middle of the house with the bedrooms at each end. It is odd to think that many were born here, that all of them lived here, and that some of them died here – here in this wee house that we knew so well.

Quorn stones from the house in Mulnamina, used to make flour. These belonged to Daniel and possibly his father before him.

Quern stones from the house in Mulnamina, used to make flour. These belonged to Daniel and possibly to his father before him.

The little house is now unoccupied and is gradually disappearing under encroaching foliage. The first view of it as I reached the gate was so familiar and the fuchsia bushes were looking splendid on what was a very wet day.

Through the gate with bated breath

Through the gate with bated breath

Unfortunately I was not able to get even the length of the house as the vegetation was too dense and as I was alone I did not want to risk having a fall.

It is strange to think that when we played here as children we had no idea in whose footsteps we were walking nor of the family history that had unfolded here. We walked in the same yard and same fields  and paths where our great grandparents had walked and worked and loved and laughed. We had played in the same places where all of our great aunts and great-uncle and grandfather had played, where they did their schoolwork by candle light or by the light of a tilley lamp, where they collected apples and eggs, and heard the sound of badgers and spoke in Irish and English. And we did not know that we were walking on paths made smooth by our ancestors.

The next references to our great grandparents and their family are to be found in death records. Four of those who lived here, also died here.

First was Isabella who died on 16 November 1925, almost 92 years ago. She was 76 years old and had been in poor health for a few years. Cause of death was chronic bronchitis and heart failure. Ellen’s husband Andrew Mc Dwyer was present at death.

Only 9 months later, their 6th child Kate died on 2 September 1926. She had suffered from TB and cardiac failure for several years. Her brother James, our grandfather, who was then living in Carrigart, was present at death. Her death may well have been expected if he made the journey back to Mulnamina in her last days. Kate was 42.

Daniel died on July 16 1929  at the age of 87, after only a short illness of influenza that developed into pneumonia. He died after 5 days. His eldest son John was present at death.

Many years later on February 26, 1966, Uncle John died just five months short of his 90th birthday. The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis and senility.His nephew Danny O’Donnell was present at death.

Uncle John Gallagher c.1964

Uncle John Gallagher c.1964

These four coffins made their last journey back down that lane that we loved to run up. The tragedy is that we do not know where Isabella, Kate and Daniel are buried as it seems no-one thought to ask.  It is very strange also that neither my father nor his siblings remembered these grandparents, although the eldest Aunt May was 12 years old when Daniel died. John is buried in the new graveyard in Glenties with Maggie who died in 1979 in Dungloe hospital.

The lane from Mulnamina

The lane from Mulnamina that took them on their last journey. ‘God rest them all’, as our father used say.


Our father, his sisters and brothers had no idea who their Gallagher Grandmother was, not even her name. They ‘thought’ she may have been Doherty from Lough Finn. They seemed to know nothing about her at all, in spite of the fact that as youngsters they spent summer holidays in Mulnamina. I recall our father asking one of his first cousins, Bella Brennan, if she had any idea who she was and she didn’t know. The subject often came up about who she might have been, but she remained a mystery woman. Fascinating now in hindsight as at least four and possibly five of her grandchildren were named Isabella after her! I am absolutely delighted that my own 6-year-old granddaughter Isabella, proudly carries her great great great grandmother’s beautiful name. I hope she would be pleased!


Filed under Family History, Ireland

33 responses to “Gallaghers of Mulnamina, Glenties

  1. What wonderful memories. It’s sad that the house is abandoned and decaying, but I suppose it would cost a fortune to turn it into a 21st century home. It is strap range how whole generations can grow up knowing so little about grandparents and past generations. My partner’s family is exactly like that and I’ve been researching it for him. Every time I can add some new information or a new person to the tree it feels like a gift I delight in being able to give. That is what you are doing for your family; a very loving gift of knowledge and belonging.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comments..very much appreciated. :). Yes it is sad how things change and decay so we must try to preserve what we can if only on the internet someplace – at least it is saved and with it the memory of those who loved these places. Thanks for dropping by!

  2. That’s a fascinating look into your past. I can relate to the countryside and the old methods of cooking over the open fire and sitting at the kitchen table on what we in the south called ‘the settle’.

    • Love the settle – we had settle beds that were located beside the fire! Such a shame that these old words have gone the way of the old turf fire with the crane hanging over it! I hope you are recording what you know for posterity as it is all great history! Thank you for dropping by!

  3. Oh SV, this is a wonderful post ~ so evocative, full of happy memories, yet poignant too.

  4. How wonderful that your granddaughter carries the name of Isabella. SV, you make me want to write down more of my own Texas history.

    • It is – I love it too! Her second name is Rose for her g g.g.aunt mentioned here too! You really should write down what you know as it is a very unique story! Thanks for dropping by!

    • Gràinne Byrne

      Bridget Gallagher would have been my mother’s grandmother. Danny O’Donnell mentioned in this piece would have been her father. Also the photo included with the children may be her brother James but she not 100%sure. Would very much appreciate who ever wrote this piece could get in touch would be fantastic. Such insight to family history that Iv never hear off but mum was fit too tell me all about them and remembers it fondly.

      • Hello Grainne! Thrilled to bits to hear from you! Yes, our great aunt Biddy was O’Donnell – in fact I went over to look at her house when I was at Mulnamina in June. And you are right James is the older boy in that photograph. Someplace I have a photo of all the O’Donnell kids taken in the mid 1960s. Danny was a 1st cousin of our father. I went by Bridge Cottage in June and I was so desperately sorry to see that it too has become overgrown and abandoned. We always stopped there to say hello when we went to Glenties. I am delighted to hear from a cousin – my name is Angela Gallagher and we lived in Carrigart. Our father was Gerard, son of James, The nun in the icture is May Gallagher a 1st cousin of your grandfather and the other lady is her sister Eileen. Delighted to hear from you! My email is– We might be able to join up a few dots!

  5. Yet another wonderfu insight into past lives… I’m so glad you went back, even if you couldn’t get too much further into or beside the house. Those meories are so precious, thank you for sharing… glad to see you and your cousin are now about to be united… wonderful. May you enjoy reliving the past and buiding on the future…

    • Thanks Chris. It was lashing rain that day and the midges had me eaten alive! I was on a particular mission to find a stone on which my grandfather had carved his initials but I couldn’t get up to it! so I will have to go back again with a bit of help! Delighted to have had contact from this particular branch as I think there is a double relationship there too. Happy days! Thanks for dropping by.

  6. This post is wonderful to me in so many ways. I know this part of Ireland fairly well and can just imagine this special spot where your family lived so long. Also, though, I live near the family farm where my people lived for generations (after coming from Northern Ireland) and it, too, is abandoned and falling back into the earth. SO many memories . . .

  7. Mary McGill

    Hi Angela, my name is James Mc Gill, another cousin of yours. My mother Bella was Danny O Donnell’s sister, she died in August last year the last of that family. In my youth I spent many summers in Mulnamina helping Danny work the farm as best I could. I regularly went over to see uncle John and Aunt Maggie. I love the photo looking out over the Gweebarra from their home, one of my favourite views. I remember your father Gerard, he used to pop in to see my mother, am I right in thinking he moved to England. I now live in Orpington Kent.

    • Hi James & Mary. I am absolutely delighted to hear from you – another second cousin! I remember Bella very well and was sorry to hear that she has gone too. I am glad that my Mulnamina post evoked so many good memories for a few people and I agree that view is amazing! You are right that Dad went to England but they came back again in the 1980s. Did you ever call to them in England? I know some of the cousins did – certainly the Harkins and some Molloys I think. My email is and do please stay in touch! Thanks so much for dropping by!

  8. What a lovely and haunting post SV. It’s great that you have managed to document so many of your ancestors. I know how difficult it can be in Ireland with the loss and destruction of records etc. When you visited it must have awoken so many sensations and memories that you thought were no longer there.

    There are parallels for me with my grandparents’ old cottage outside Dunmanway, numerous aunts and uncles, childhood visits with my grandparents only vaguely remembered. The cottage has since been knocked down in favour of a fine new house *grits teeth, bites tongue*. Following your example I’m going to do a similar post in the near future so that there is some record.

  9. An especially beautiful post Angela, and so evocative. It seems amazing sometimes to us how our immediate ancestors knew so little about their own like Isabella. I suppose, like us in our pre-genealogy days, they just took it all for granted. Like you I have an Isabella…she is a 3xgreat grandmother and is buried near the door of the Kirk in a little Scottish village…I’d loved to have had her remembered with her descendant’s name. Thanks for sharing this lovely story. God rest them all.

    • Thank you very much Pauleen! How lucky you are to know where your Isabella rests. All three of my grandchildren are named for past generations which is a lovely link back to them for sure. Thank you for dropping by!

  10. Very evocative for me. I knew many Gallaghers at school who came from Donegal.

  11. Danny O Donnell

    Hi. Thanks.sharing this page this a son of James O Donnell lots good history about the family tree I was called after my grandad Danny O Donnell. You ever in letterkenny called in for a cup of tea Hope here from you soon


    • Absolutely delighted to hear from you Danny! I had great regard for your grandfather and grandmother as we always stopped by their house when we went to visit Mulnamina. I will let you know for sure when I am in Letterkenny..probably after Easter in 2017. Thanks so much for visiting my page ! Angela

  12. Micheal O'Donnell

    Hello My name is Micheal O’Donnell and Dad’s name James O’Donnell from Mulnamina in Glenties his Dad Called Danny O’Donnell and Mother Called Anne Boyle .

  13. This is why people get “into” geneology so much. Because it’s fascinating. And because there are so many stories. It’s like they’re (our ancestors) still passing them down.

  14. Peter D. Murphy

    Gorgeous site! I am a professional Irish immigration historian and genealogist with roots in south-west Donegal (Cunnea of Kilcar). I am a former Diocesan Archivist. I thought I should point out that a dispensation for 4th degree of consanguinity means 3rd cousins. First cousins is 2nd degree. Ordinarily, the marriage record should have said 4 et 4 . . .
    Peter Murphy (in Canada)

    • Hello Peter. Thank you so much for your nice comment and most importantly, for highligting the reltionship. I had consulted so many different sources and had not made a decision as to what it was. So as third cosins they would have shared great great grandparents. I am happy to alter the post and thank you so much for your input. Interesting that you are an Irish immigration historian – my son is an Irish emigration historian, specifically 19th C and American Civil War. We had a lot of chain migration from this part of Donegal to USA. Thank you so much for dropping by!

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