Category Archives: Irish History

John Boyle O’Reilly: Fenian, Convict, Poet

angela 2014-03-29 022

John Boyle O’Reilly Information Point, Leschenault Conservation Park, near Bunbury (Image ©thesilvervoice)

As Ireland commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Fenian Rising of March 1867, it is fitting to note that thousands of miles away in Western Australia on this coming weekend of March 25th and 26th 2017, the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia will once again pay homage to John Boyle O’Reilly, Irishman, Fenian, Poet, Journalist, Escaped Convict.

Although he was not active in the March 1867 Rising, it was Boyle O’Reilly’s Fenian membership that brought him to Australia as a convict in the first place. He was here for a relatively short time – from January 1868 to February 1869 – but nevertheless he is a hero in these parts and is remembered on an annual basis. The primary aims of the Association are to promote the life and literary works of John Boyle O’Reilly as well as his historical significance to Western Australia and the Bunbury area in particular.

I first encountered the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia quite by chance when visiting the Leschenault Peninsula in Western Australia in 2014 with my friend Leith, who had wanted to show me where John Boyle O’Reilly ‘hung out’ while awaiting his escape from the penal colony. We arrived to discover that there was already a sizeable crowd there being addressed by various dignitaries. They had gathered at the John Boyle O ‘Reilly Memorial site to regale the gathered crowd with quotes and facts from his life and to celebrate his life and the work of the local community in raising awareness of their convict poet.

But who was John Boyle O’Reilly and why is he so revered  in Australia?

“The world is large, when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide;

But the world is small, when your enemy is loose on the other side”

These words were spoken on June 28 1963, by the United States President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). He was quoting from the extensive work of poet, author, journalist and Fenian, John Boyle O’Reilly, who in all likelihood was as little known in Ireland then as now, but not as widely known as he ought to be. Historians and history buffs among us would have been aware of him and of his Fenian Brotherhood activities; others may have vaguely recalled the name from some long forgotten school history book. For a considerable number of us however, the name meant and still means very little.

My first (conscious) encounter with Boyle O’Reilly happened in Fremantle Prison in Western Australia in 2012. Fremantle Prison was the ‘Establishment’ in which convicts transported from Britain to the Colony of Western Australia were held.

Fremantle Prison. Housed convicts transported between 1850 and 1868)

Fremantle Prison (The Establishment) Housed convicts transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868 (Image c.thesilvervoice)

Now a World Heritage listed  building, the ‘Establishment’ had at the time of my visit an exhibition that included a replica death mask of John Boyle O’Reilly that had been donated by the National Museum of Ireland.

Deathmask of John Boyle O'Reilly . A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Deathmask of John Boyle O’Reilly. A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Born in 1844 at Dowth Castle in County Meath, John Boyle O’Reilly began a career as a journalist at the age of 15. He moved to England for a while as an apprentice and on his return to Dublin in 1863 he signed up with the 10th Hussars. Soon afterwards he became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or Fenians, who were rebelling against British rule. He actively recruited considerable numbers of new members from within his own regiment. When he was discovered, he was arrested. In June 1866 he was court martialled and on July 9, 1866 he was sentenced to death for his seditious activities. That sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment and subsequently to 20 years penal servitude. With other Fenian prisoners he was transferred to an English prison.

Boyle O'Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

Boyle O’Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

It was then decided that Fenian prisoners would be transported to Western Australia, and so in 1867, the Hougoumont left England with 62 Fenians among a consignment of 280 convicts on board. This historic voyage was to be the very last one transporting convicts to the penal Colonies of Australia.

During their time on the Hougoumont Boyle O’Reilly and others produced seven editions of a newspaper entitled ‘The Wild Goose’, containing poems, editorials and stories. Boyle O’Reilly later wrote “We published seven weekly numbers of it. Amid the dim glare of the lamp,the men at night would group strangely on extemporized seats. The yellow light fell down on the dark forms, throwing a ghastly glare on the pale faces of the men . .”

The Hougoumont arrived at Fremantle on January 9 1868 after a voyage lasting 89 days. Some weeks later, O’Reilly, prisoner number 9843, was assigned to works on the new road linking Bunbury and Vasse. He soon became an assistant to the head warder, Henry Woodman and he struck up a good friendship with the local Catholic priest, Fr.Patrick McCabe (a native of County Cavan) who offered to help him escape.

In the meantime, Boyle O’Reilly became romantically involved with Woodman’s daughter Jessie who became pregnant. The relationship ended unhappily and resulted in Boyle O’Reilly’s failed suicide attempt in December 1868, and subsequent depression. It was said that ”Boyle, poor Boyle, cried and cried in desperation for help.”  Jessie married a local man in March 1869, probably to preserve her reputation. The fact of her pregnancy has only been confirmed in a letter discovered in San Franscisco in recent years, a letter written in May 1870 by John Boyle O Reilly in which he writes:

“If Cashman, or any of them knows anything about Miss Woodman I wish they would write it or tell you what it is . Was the child born? That’s the principal thing I want to know‘”

Fr. McCabe made arrangements with the captain of the Vigilant, a visiting whaling ship, to take Boyle O’Reilly on board and spirit him away from the Penal Colony. So on a February night in 1869, Boyle O’Reilly slipped away from the convict camp near Bunbury and made his way on foot to a pre-arranged meeting place with two others. From there they rode northwards for an hour and, picking up a rowing boat, they made their way  out of the inlet and traveled northwards for about 12 miles. Here Boyle O’Reilly hid in the dunes, waiting for the Vigilant to leave port. When they spotted her, they rowed out to meet her but were devastated when the Vigilant sailed on, the captain apparently having reneged on the agreement he had made with Fr. McCabe. They had to return to shore and hide again while arrangements were made with another ship. After two weeks, they succeeded in making a deal with the captain of the American whaler Gazelle. O’Reilly and his friends met the Gazelle three miles out to sea on March 2 1869 and  made good their escape. Boyle O’Reilly arrived in Philadelphia on November 23, 1869, one of the very few convicts ever to have escaped from the Western Australian penitentiary.

He settled in Boston and was employed by The Pilot newspaper. He married in 1872, and he and his wife Mary (Murphy) had four daughters. Boyle O’Reilly worked tirelessly lecturing and writing on the Irish question. He became influential and highly respected in the Irish Boston community. Over the next number of years he published, among other works, several popular books of poetry and a novel, Moondyne, based on his life  as a convict.

His connection with Western Australia was not lost however as he was instrumental in planning the escape of 6 more Fenians in 1876. (This will be the subject of my next post).

On August 9 189o he was found dead, apparently having succumbed to an accidental overdose of sedative. He was only 46 years of age.

But his memory lives on in Western Australia where a dedicated band of admirers and scholars celebrate his life and his work, as they will do again this weekend. At the time of our visit in 2014, the Irish Ambassador Mr Noel White was in attendance together with the Irish Consul in Western Australia, Mr Marty Kavanagh.

The Irish Ambassador, The Irish Consul to WA , Ambassador’s son, and the author.

A memorial was unveiled to the late Dr Manea who did extraordinary work to raise awareness and appreciation of John Boyle O’Reilly in the area.

Memorial plaque in honour of Dr Manea. ‘This dreamer will live on forever’

Other West Australians dedicated to the cause are Fred Rea, Tony Costa and Peter Murphy who continue to promote all things John Boyle O’Reilly through their daily work.  It would make you very proud to be Irish when you witness the passion these people and others in the area  have for John Boyle O Reilly, their convict poet.

The Memorial to John Boyle O ‘Reilly at Leschenault

Image ©thesilvervoice

The inscription on the memorial reads:

 In Proud Memory of
FENIAN JOHN BOYLE O’REILLY

Humanitarian, author, poet and lecturer.
Born Ireland 28th June 1844.
Died U.S.A 10th August 1890.
Absconded from a convict
road party, Cokelup Swamp
18th February 1869
and escaped from this area
on the whaling ship Gazelle
3rd March 1869.
Also dedicated to all convicts
who built , sweated and toiled
in this district.

Then here’s to brave John Boyle O’Reilly
who first blazed a trail over the sea
By escaping from Bunbury to Boston
An vowing his comrades to be free

                                                     Catalpa Ballad

Erected by the South West Irish Club and local community

Unveiled by Ambassador Designate to Ireland
Mr Brian Burke, 13th March, 1988.

I am indebted to Ian Kenneally, author of ‘From the Earth a Cry’, a biography of John Boyle O’Reilly for the ‘heads up’ on the discovery of the letter confirming that Jessie was indeed expecting Boyle O’Reilly’s child. His book is an excellent read and is highly recommended.

BE1A17B0-C6D1-4CB7-AF32-8719D6B44E5B-10233-0000082781661F6F

 

Published works of John Boyle O’Reilly

 

References

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaelogical Society, 1969, volume LXXIV

Convict Ship Newspaper, The Wild Goose, Re-discovered by  Walter McGrath quoted

 J. J. Roche, Life, Poems and Speeches of John Boyle O’Reilly, page 68

http://trove.nla.gov.au

http://www.fremantleprison.com.au

http://www.iankenneally.com/

https://jboreilly.org.au

3 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish American, Irish Australian, Irish Convicts, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Transportation

There are raisins (reasons) for everything and currants for bread

The school gate at Mulroy school. Hundreds of children paaaed through this gate while this school was open.

The school gate at Mulroy school. Hundreds of children passed through this gate between 1889 and 1966. (Image Thesilvervoice)

In a previous post  I wrote about finding reference to our family transcribed in the 1930s Schools Folklore Collection for Newtownforbes, Co Longford. I have now taken a look at the collection from schools in the parish of Mevagh/Rosguill where I grew up in County Donegal, to get an overview of what treasures are here, and to take a closer look at the stories from Mulroy school where our grandfather taught. It has been a fascinating journey of discovery at a social and personal level!

There were eight schools in the parish of Mevagh/Rosguill, in north County Donegal catering  for children from the ages of about 5 to 15. The parish schools listed are Manorvaughan, Derryhassen, Gortnabrade, Glen, Carrigart, Aghadachor, Kinnalargy  and Mulroy. (See links at the end of this post).  The collections for Aghadachor and Manorvaughan Schools are all in English, with some  stories in English from the Carrigart school too. All others are in Irish in the old Irish script.

Some of these schools had teachers who were still teaching us in the 1950s and 1960s. Pat McFadden (known as Big Pat) for example was the teacher at Carrigart School when the stories were being collected, and still taught there in the 1960s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plaque at Carrigart School. (Image )

Tom McGinley was the teacher in Derryhassen in the 1930s, and he was still teaching in Gortnabrade School in the 1950s.

21f8ef5a-0fd4-4225-9fd0-75b0188c4f59

Gortnabrade National School extension. The original building is older. (Image Thesilvervoice)

How fascinating to read of significant local events and how people coped with famine and floods; to see names of people who were drowned in various accidents or shipwrecks  – all woven in to local tales and stories. I particularly loved the stories of people who excelled and astonished their neighbours…great walkers, jumpers, runners, swimmers, divers, dancers. A local lady walked to Derry and back the following day in bare feet,(80 miles?)  and someone else who was a great Irish dancer, danced on top of Lackagh Bridge!

lackagh_bridge_-_view_from_north_-_geograph-org-uk_-_1326578

Lackagh Bridge. Co. Donegal. You would not want to fall in here if dancing on the wall!  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

And these stories were recounted by people whose family names were very familiar in the area when we lived there, some 50 years later, such as McGettigans of Glenree, Dennisson from Drumdutton, Hall of Aughalatty, McBride of Tirlaughan, Boyces of Tullagh to name just a few. Much of the collection is beautifully hand written by the pupils themselves with the name and age of the informant usually given at the end of each piece. The pages below for example are the work of Cyril Hall from Aughalatty.

In these copy book pages you can discover that not one but several townlands in the parish seem to have a pot of gold hidden under a rock! Devlinreagh gets particular mention.  (Why would you bother doing the Lottery?). Then there were the super heroes of their day….Danny Coyle from Glenree who could dive 60 feet under water, a man who could cut 3 acres of hay with a hook in spectacular time, William McCorkle from Audhachor who could lift seven hundredweight on his back, two great runners, James McClure from Dunmore and James McBride from Carrick, and John Coyle from Kill who could jump 16 feet over a river! I particularly love the entries that describe names of fields, rocks etc in several townlands, such as seen below from Glen school.I wonder if any of these names are still in use?

Here too we learn of personal tragedies. Kate Boyce of High Glen was killed by a flash of lightning; three McCorkell children drowned on Tramore strand when they were cut off by the tide; John Coyle of Glenereragh died of the big flu in 1918 and the bodies of 5 shipwrecked men were buried in Carrigart. (This last story is new to me and I must get more information about it..can anyone help?)

53a53e05-c440-4247-b004-aeea504c01f8

Mulroy National School where our grandfather James D Gallagher compiled the stories collected by his pupils from older family members and neighbours.(Image thesilvervoice)

When the Schools Folklore Collection was undertaken, our grandfather James D Gallagher was the school principal at Mulroy National School. Rather than have the children write the stories in their own hand, he seems to have undertaken all the transcriptions himself as I recognize his handwriting from the margins of books that used to be in our house. I wonder why? Perhaps he had a deadline to meet? The school closed in 1966. We were pupils  here for some years, with Enda Ward as Principal,  but never knew our grandfather who died in 1944.

One of the more prolific sources of information in our grandfather’s School Collection was a lady named Maire Ni Bhaughan, who was then aged 67. I am not sure where she lived in the 1930s, but during our younger days she was our immediate neighbour at the top of the village. I remember her fairly well as a shawled old lady sitting in the corner in the kitchen and I seem to recall someone saying that she smoked a pipe! She died on July 5 1953, when I was 5 years old.

Mary Vaughan or Maire Ni Bhaughan told of cures, placenames, landlords, how the robin got a red breast and how the donkey got the cross on its back. She told of buying and selling outside the chapel after Mass before there were shops; she gave a recipe for boxty and listed the native animals about the place including badgers, squirrels, weasels, foxes and ‘mada uisce’, the otter.  She told a story of three boys who were at a dance and had to walk through a wood to get home. A badger came out of his den, and one after another 7 more of them appeared .The boys were terrified and ran away. She also tells that there were  two people over 70 at the time (in the village or townland?)  – a McClafferty woman and Peter McBride.

I remain intrigued that so much of the collection from Mulroy school has been provided by Mary Vaughan, and equally intrigued by the fact that there is usually no pupil recorded as the collector, indicating that it is likely that our grandfather spent a lot of time with her listening to her recollections and stories. That he enjoyed them is beyond question as it is possible to see the humour shine through. There is one page in particular that lists local old ‘sayings’  (without attributing to anyone in particular) . Included here is a brilliant ‘Go Pettigo leat’ – To Pettigo  with you – a dismissive phrase apparently that I certainly never heard of.  (Pettigo is a village in the south of the county).

As with all of the Mulroy collection, every word is recorded in Irish  –EXCEPT for a little phrase here in English that says:

There are raisins (reasons) for everything and currants for bread. (Mary Vaughan Carrigart)

duchas-page

From Mulroy Collection..all in Irish apart from ‘There are raisins(reasons) for everything and currants for bread’ The immortal words of Mary Vaughan, Carrigart.

So how special was that to have her own quotation recorded and attributed to her in English?

There is one other spectacular entry attributed to her. It tells of Leprechauns and Fairy Folk.

977468f0-0f9b-4717-89b8-f6c1df911e1a-490-00000182e1b365bb_tmp

P110 Mulroy school. Leprechauns and ? A story from Mary Vaughan

8b92db5e-030c-4e19-b4f9-44d5919e18e5-490-00000182f8b02b2e_tmp

One of Mary Vaughan’s stories – the ultimate in ‘duirt bean liom’ ! Last paragraph:This is the best proof we have that there are fairies:- I myself heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she heard her grandmother saying that she heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she herself saw a fairy. (p111. Image Duchas)

She describes the ‘small things’ with their blue coats and red hats and how a man went off to cut a  stick to make a fishing rod. Taken ill when cutting it, he went home and did not return for some years when he was out looking for a stake to tie his cows. He recognized the  stick as the one he began cutting years earlier. He brought it home and tied up the cow but by morning she was dead. A further 3 cows met similar fates until he threw the stake away and no more cows died. It’s the entry at the end of his story that is so intriguing. Translated, it goes like this:

”This is the best proof we have that there are fairies:-

I myself heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she heard her grandmother saying that she heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she herself saw a fairy”

I cant help but wonder if the first sentence is inserted by our grandfather, and is tongue in cheek, or did Mary with a glint in her eye recite it exactly as written? We will never know!

But what we do know  is that our grandfather and Mary Vaughan spent a lot of time talking and listening and recording her social scene. Little did they know that their efforts would see the light of day decades later and their descendants would have a chance to step back in time and share their times together. Mary Vaughan obviously had a talent for story and tale telling, one that was passed on to her grandson Paddy, who became something of a legendary yarn spinner in his own lifetime and who continues to regale many a listener with his stories still!

What a truly wonderful resource the Duchas Schools Folklore Collection is, and what a wonderful way to learn about our places and our ancestors!

The original school pages for our parish can be seen by clicking the links below.

1078 Aghadachor (Aghador) Aghadachor, Co. Donegal
An Mhaol Rua (Mulray) Mulroy, Co. Donegal
Manorvaughan Rawros, Co. Donegal
Doire Chasáin Derrycassan, Co. Donegal
1079 Doire Chasáin Derrycassan, Co. Donegal
Ceann an Largaigh Kinnalargy, Co. Donegal
Gortnabrade Gortnabrade, Co. Donegal
1080 An Gleann Glen, Co. Donegal
Carraig Airt Carrickart, Co. Donegal
Rosguill & Doe Branch I.N.T.O. ) Rosguill, Co. Donegal

In Memoriam:

James D Gallagher died November 26  1944 aged 59 years

Mary Vaughan (Nee McGinley) died  July 5 1953 aged 81 years

References:

All images from The Schools Collection are by courtesy of Duchas.ie

They can be contacted at http://www.duchas.ie.

Postscript

Duchas is looking for people to transcribe this collection. It could be possible to collate it into a local resource at the same time? To my amazement, many people nowadays are unable to read ‘cursive’ writing. (This issue is often raised on genealogy sites that I follow especially since the release of the Catholic Church and the Irish civil records online). So those of us of a certain vintage need to get at it!

The English cursive writing challenge is one thing, but the old Irish script and spellings from the 1930s pose a different challenge altogether. In my opinion these are best transcribed by native speaking locals who recognize place names and ‘turns of speech’ in common use in the locality!

4 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Irish Folklore, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish legends, Irish Traditions, Local History, National Folklore Collection, Schools Folklore Collection

“They froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

 

Fanad Head lighthouse features regularly on social media because of its splendid location. Whilst it is a major tourist attraction, it has also featured in some dreadful tragedies over the years. One such was the loss of the Laurentic on this day in 1917.

The Laurentic (Wikipedia commons) The Laurentic was an ocean-going liner of the White Star Line and,like their other world famous ship the Titanic, was built at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Launched in 1908 she was considered a ‘magnificent ship’ at 570 feet long and she could ‘do’ speed! She plied the Atlantic operating a regular service between Liverpool and Canada, sometimes calling in New York. In August  1914 before the declaration of World War 1, she was filled with refugees fleeing the European situation. In September of that year she was commissioned as a troop carrier for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and subsequently saw service in Sierra Leone, Hong Kong and Singapore.

On 23 January 1917 she departed Liverpool for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with about 479 people on board. In addition she was carrying a cargo of 3,211 gold bars for the purpose of purchasing munitions in USA and Canada for the war effort.

On 25 January she made an unscheduled stop in Lough Swilly at Buncrana  to disembark a number of men who had contracted Yellow Fever and needed medical attention. While there, it was reported that the officers went ashore to enjoy a meal at the Lough Swilly Hotel and they were all back on board again by about 5 pm to set sail across the Atlantic. They headed out of Lough Swilly and no doubt Fanad Head lighthouse was one of the last things they saw. The weather was bitterly cold at -13c (9f) with blizzard conditions.

Less than an hour after departing Buncrana, the Laurentic struck two German mines in quick succession. The engine room was disabled, power and pumps were rendered useless and the ship listed. Many were killed. In pitch darkness the life boats were launched with some difficulty due to the list. The Laurentic quickly sank in 40 metres of water. Many had been injured as a result of the blasts and those who made the lifeboats rowed for Fanad Head. Newspaper reports stated that many were found “frozen to death in the lifeboats, hands frozen onto oars”.  Buncrana’s Lough Swilly Hotel became a temporary morgue, but many bodies continued to be washed ashore for a number of weeks.

71 were interred at St. Maura’s Graveyard in Fahan, 2 at Cockhill in Buncrana, 1 in Arklow, 1 in Orkney and Memorials to those who died are at various locations including Plymouth in Devon, Chatham in Kent. The wreck that lies in 40 metres of water off Fanad Head is an official War grave site.

And what of the 3,211  gold bars? Between 1917 and 1924 the Royal Navy recovered all but 25 of them. In 1934, 3 more were discovered, so 22 remain undiscovered.

At Downings  pier in north Donegal, near my home village, is one of the guns from the Laurentic, recovered by the Downings Diving  team and presented to them by the owners of the wreck.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic. Sited at Downings Pier in County Donegal.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic, sited  at Downings Pier in County Donegal. (Thesilvervoice)

Next to the gun is a handsome memorial to the 354 men who lost their lives on that bitterly  cold January evening, 100 years ago this very evening.

 

2013-05-19-12-53-11A memorial cannot portray the true horror that unfolded on that January evening, just off Fanad Head. But next time I pass it by, I will recall those who “froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”.

References

http://www.irishshipwrecks.com/shipwrecks.php?wreck_ref=128

Wikipedia.

http://www.irishfreemasonry.com/index.php?p=1_112_HMS-Laurentic

List of burial/ memorial sites:

http://irishfreemasonry.com/list%20of%20burial%20sites.pdf

2 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Irish History, Shipping disasters Ireland, Shipwrecks

Discovering landmarks and Family History on Blacksod Bay, County Mayo

Continuing along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, rain and low grey cloud were my only companions as I headed into this remote Irish-speaking part of County Mayo. Although visibility was reduced it was still possible to enjoy some lovely sights. The Irish-only road signs were something of a challenge at first, even though I am used to our bilingual signs here in Ireland and Irish-only signs in Donegal, and other Gaeltacht areas, these places were not familiar to me. However, once I figured out that ‘An Fod Dubh’ meant ‘Blacksod’ and that therefore ‘Chuan and Fhóid Duibh’ was Blacksod Bay, I chugged along happily in the beautiful Mullet Peninsula that protects Blacksod Bay from the worst of the Atlantic weather.

img_7597

Trá Oilí or Elly Beach

This eye catching beach is one of many big sandy beaches in the area. It sports the Blue Flag, one of the world’s most recognised eco-labels, indicating that it complies with a specific set of criteria on water quality, information points, environmental education, safety and beach management. Raining or not, this is a good beach for swimming!

Tír Sáile – the North Mayo Sculpture Trail –is the largest public arts project ever undertaken in Ireland.  Several of these sites are located here on the Mullet peninsula. This work is entitled ‘Deirbhile’s Twist’ and I like that it was formed by raising large granite boulders already lying around on the ground and arranging them into an eye catching feature. This is located at Falmore which is a beautiful location, even in the mist!

Saint Deirbhile (Dervilla) is a local saint who arrived at Falmore in the 6th Century. Arriving by donkey she was pursued by an unwanted suitor who,so the story goes, was very attracted to her beautiful eyes. Rather drastically she plucked them out to discourage him and he left, heartbroken. Water gushed from the spot where her eyes fell and after bathing her sockets her sight was restored. The ruins of her convent are here near the seashore with Deirbhile’s Well nearby. Modern day pilgrims believe that water from the well can help cure eye complaints and they come here for special devotion on August 15 each year.

Ruins of Dervilla's Monastery

Ruins of Dervilla’s Convent

And then on to the site I was particularly interested in – Blacksod weather station, situated at the end of the peninsula.

This is Blacksod Lighthouse, looking very unlike a traditional lighthouse, perched atop an old granite building that dates from 1864. This is a very significant place because it was from here that a weather report issued on 3rd June 1944 changed the course of history. The World War 2 D-Day landings scheduled for June 5th were delayed because of the hourly weather report lodged by Irish Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney, which indicated that there would be adverse conditions in the English Channel for the following few days. Blacksod was of particular significance because it was the first land-based observation station in Europe where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. Ted’s report on June 3rd mentioned a rapidly falling barometer and strong winds which would have augured badly for the planned invasion. A further report from Ted at 12pm on June 4, said ‘heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900 feet and visibility on land and sea very clear’. This meant that better weather was on the way for the south of England, and so Operation Overlord went ahead on June 6th 1944 with calm clear conditions in the English Channel.

img_0938

Plaque at Blacksod Lighthouse

There is a nice little harbour alongside the lighthouse, Termon Pier, which was almost totally deserted when I was there with only rain and wind to be heard and seen and a few currachs pulled up out of the water.

Winds were picking up the rain was relentless so it was time to leave. I was delighted that I had made the trip out here and discovered a few sights, in spite of the conditions.  Suddenly there was an incredible noise that almost deafened me and for the life of me I could not figure out what on earth it was.  On turning round I saw a helicopter had just taken off from right beside me, as  there is a Helicopter Landing base beside the Lighthouse!

A helicopter lifts off

A helicopter lifts off.

I left here very pleased with my foray into this area, and with the few treasures I had discovered. However, the Mullet Peninsula had one more surprise in store as not far along the road I  came upon Ionad Naomh Deirbhile, a local Visitor and Heritage Centre.

img_1292Although they were about to close I was invited in for tea and a homemade scone and here discovered the story of The Tuke Fund assisted emigrants. It is not always recognized that hunger in Ireland did not end with the famines of 1845- 1852 and 1879. Hunger and deprivation were a fact of life in poorer districts of the western seaboard in particular, with hundreds of families needing relief into the mid 1880s and beyond. James Hack Tuke (1819-1896) was an English Quaker who made it his mission to aid people suffering from starvation and deprivation in the West of Ireland. One of the features of the Tuke Fund assisted migration was that only entire families would be facilitated, thereby freeing up smallholdings for another family. The emigrants were provided with the fare and money to enable them settle in their new locations.  In 1883 and 1884, 3,300 emigrants left North West Mayo and Achill, boarding ships in Blacksod Bay.  They sailed on 10 separate voyages, for Boston and Quebec. There are impressive storyboards at the centre, where descendants of those who left here almost 140 years ago are welcomed. One such family arrived while I was there. It is reckoned that over 2 million people are descended from these North Mayo emigrants

The research on the Blacksod Tuke Emigration scheme was carried out by Rosemarie Geraghty, I believe for her thesis. Rosemarie has researched the 10 ships manifests that carried these families to their new lives in what she describes as the time of the  ‘forgotten famine’  and is absolutely delighted when descendants arrive here in search of their roots. I asked her what the charges are for family research and she said ‘They left here with nothing, we are never going to charge them to know where they came from.’ Rosemarie is ably assisted by Norah Cawley, a superb scone maker who makes visitors feel very welcome indeed. I have been to many a family research centre before, but never one like this – with such enthusiasm, warmth,  passion  and great scone making!

All of this information with family names  is available free to view, and is searchable under various headings, at http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie . They just love to hear from anyone wherever in the world whose ancestors may have left this beautiful place over 130 years ago.

On what was a miserable wet grey cloudy day, how lucky was I to discover such wonderful silver linings at the Mullet Peninsula and on the shores of Blacksod Bay!  More treasures of the Wild Atlantic Way – Beidh mé arais arís!

 

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

References

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/how-blacksod-lighthouse-changed-the-course-of-the-second-world-war-30319681.html

http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/

http://www.museumsofmayo.com/deirbhile.htm

 

10 Comments

Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way:Easkey County Sligo

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Killybegs Fishing Fleet without ‘the ship from hell’

 

Expert Fisher

Fishing expert

Travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way there are many ‘side stories’ that grab attention. Such is the case in Killybegs in South Donegal. Killybegs is Ireland’s largest fishing port, the safe sheltered deep water harbour  located in the waters of Donegal Bay.

Two things surprise me…the sheer size of these boats that go hunting fish for our tables, and the sheer number of them in the harbour, that are not at sea. They are big and they are colourful, and presumably in harbour as they may have already taken their quota of a particular species as allowed under European rules, or because the species they fish may not in season. The size of these boats would make you wonder all the same how long the seas can continue to produce the huge quantities of fish that these super vessels can haul in at any one time.

It is good to know that fishermen at sea are much safer than in days gone by, as these vessels are built to withstand heavy seas and are equipped with an impressive amount of electronics, radar, Internet and GPS systems.

Vehicle of Atlantic Dawn Group

Vehicle of Atlantic Dawn Group

Seeing this service vehicle of the Atlantic Dawn Group on the quay, I was reminded of a shameful period in the history of Irish Fishing. Back in the 1990s a Killybegs fisherman Kevin McHugh, aided and abetted by the Bertie Ahern government and funded by Irish  banks, commissioned and purchased the Atlantic Dawn super trawler. At 144 metres long and 14,000 tons it was and remains the largest and most technologically advanced trawler in the world. Feted by politicians on its arrival as ‘one of the proudest moments in Irish history’ this giant could process 400 tons of fish every 24 hours and had storage capacity of 7,000 tons. There was one problem however, it was so big that it did not have nor could it be issued with a fishing licence for European waters. Amid  much political wrangling and dealing, the Atlantic Dawn was registered as a merchant ship to enable it to side step fishing licence rules. With her nets hundreds of metres wide and sonar systems to detect shoals of fish it soon became clear that she would fish the full annual quota allowed in a matter of weeks. And so a deal was drawn up with the government of Mauritania in South Africa to enable her to trawl there and avoid all rules, regulations and legislation put in place to protect fishing stocks. Atlantic Dawn stripped the fishing grounds of Mauritania depriving hundreds of subsistence fishermen of their livelihoods. They dubbed her ‘the ship from hell’. Following a coup in Mauritania she was impounded and banned from fishing in these waters. Following the death of McHugh in 2006, the Atlantic Dawn was sold and renamed the Annelies Ilena. Ironically she was arrested for overfishing and the case was heard in Donegal courts and is ongoing. Many of the ships tied up in Killybegs are owned by the Atlantic Dawn Group.

The smaller fishing boats are dwarfed by their big neighbours.

 

imageThe pier at Killybegs was upgraded to accommodate these larger vessels and nowadays visiting cruise liners call into Killybegs to allow passengers visit some of the local attractions.

Much of the catch landed here is exported to the continent.

Spanish Truck waiting to load the catch

Spanish Truck waiting to load the catch

At any fishing harbour there is a reminder of how cruel the sea can be and what a dangerous occupation fishing is. This is the Killybegs memorial to those lost in this area.

image

10 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Living in Ireland

The Mill on the Swilly

The River  Swilly in County  Donegal is not a very large river at all, more of a stream in fact. It begins its path to the sea some 24 miles inland and flows into Lough Swilly at Letterkenny. Driving along the leafy Swilly Valley it’s hard to imagine that hundreds of men were slaughtered here at the Battle of Farsetmore in 1567 in an engagement between the O’Neill and the O’Donnell clans.

The Corn Mill at Newmills

The Corn Mill at Newmills

Just a little further along the valley the mental image of a bloody battlefield changes to one of absolute tranquility, for it is here at Newmills that there are Corn and Flax mills, powered by the waters of the Swilly. This very attractive complex of industrial buildings, the oldest of which is said to be 400 years old, are beautifully preserved as National Monuments by the Office of Public Works.

Blue Flax

Blue Flax

The Flax and Corn were grown locally and I love to  imagine great fields of blue flowered flax waving in the breeze. Flax is the raw material for linen and the process of turning it from a tall grass type plant into beautiful fabric is explained at the centre. Flax has been processed at this site since the 17th Century and a Corn mill has been here since the 18th Century. There was a revival in Flax production in World War 2 when the British Government offered grants to producers to supply linen for the war effort.

At the Corn Mill, Oats and Barley were milled.image Both the Flax Mill and the corn mill are powered by the water of the River Swilly flowing over a 25 foot water wheel, one of the largest working water wheels in Ireland.

image

The large water wheel, furthest away in this image, dates from 1867.

There is something very therapeutic and relaxing about watching these wheels in action.

New Mills Flax and Corn Mills are fine examples of industrial archaeology, beautifully restored  to tell a tale of industry in times gone by.

8 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History