Tag Archives: Downings

Mevagh Moments – Old Postcards tell a story

The pandemic lockdown led me down a number of ‘rabbit holes’ sorting old photographs and letters. Among the boxes were a number of old postcards of the parish of Mevagh where I grew up. Postcards were essentially the ‘text messages’ of their time and it was almost mandatory to post one to friends, neighbours and relatives from your holiday resort. Bounded on the east by Mulroy Bay, on the west by Sheephaven Bay and by the Atlantic to the north, the parish of Mevagh, on the Rosguill Peninsula, is a very popular holiday destination and dozens of postcards would be bought, written and sent from here every summer.

There were three villages in the parish – Glen, Downings and Carrigart. My old postcards are mostly of my own village of Carrigart

This is a selection, with some personal memories associated with them. It is interesting to see how the things have changed the years! Most notable of course is the absence of cars.

The postcard on the left shows the street devoid of vehicles and just above the North Star Hotel on the right is what we knew as ‘The Planting’. This was a small wood that was a magical place for children to play. We swung out of trees like Tarzans and and Janes; the bigger boys would dig holes and conceal them with branches and vegetation so that anyone treading on them would fall in; here we played ‘hide and go seek’ and Cowboys and Indians. It was a marvelous adventure playground and amenity in the village.

It looks like these photos may have been taken on two different days, but from almost exactly the same spot at the ‘bottom’ of the street, outside of what would become the North Star Ballroom. Of interest is the figure sitting on the summer seat at Andy Speer’s house – I wonder who that was? The Lucan Ice Cream sign was at Diver’s shop who sold wafers and ice cream sodas made with ice cream and soda in a tall glass. This lovely little shop also had a library where we could borrow books. Julia Diver was very generous with the size of the ice cream wafers. At this time the only other shop that sold ice cream was Walsh’s at the top of the street and they had a metal device that marked the HB block of ice cream into threepenny portions. Pure misery for children. (Especially if it was my Dad who was dispensing it in Walsh’s, they were particularly mean- or so we thought!)

The postcard on the right records a ‘tour or excursion bus’ being in town. Usually these arrived in July and August when the ‘marching season’ in the north of Ireland was at its height and catholics would go on excursions to avoid the often sectarian marches in Derry. The tourists took tea and refreshments at the North Star before moving on. Often more than one would arrive at the same time. The only time I ever recall our front door being closed was when the tour buses were in town. We had a number of strange incidents where total strangers felt entitled to walk straight onto our house just because the door was open!

A postcard on which it is stated ‘Actual Photograph by ”Nuviews” Dublin

This next postcard features a photograph taken outside from what was then McElwees shop, McElwees sold newspapers. Patrick and sister Annie operated the shop. In later years, a sister Maggie Ellen came to help out in the shop when Annie was in poor health. I remember this shop especially for the tins of biscuits with glass lids, that could be lifted up to select your biscuits and put them in a paper bag. They also sold bars of French Nougat (or nugget as we called it).

Next door was Kiely’s, another shop. I recall it as a dark place with a distinctive smell. Madge never seemed to be in the best of humour, but it was worth risking her bad form to get a Peggy’s Leg.

The car (an Austin A 40?) is parked opposite McGettigan’s. They sold spirits and when I was growing up the shop was run by sisters Birdie and Mary Rose McGettigan. This shop had a beautiful old wooden counter. They also sold ‘conversation lozenges’ – a type of hard sweet with messages written on them. I don’t recall any of the messages, but they were good value and a bag would last ages as they were so hard!

Next door, with the shop sign just visible, was Martha Speer’s. This shop was heaven as it was here that we bought our comics – Dandy, Beano, Beezer,Topper, Tiny Tots, Victor – and magazines every Wednesday. It was this shop too that first sold potato crisps in the village – the plain ones with sachets of salt in a little blue bag. We used to go there to buy them and if she had none, Martha Speer would tell us that there was a shortage of the right kind of potatoes, or even that the potato crop failed.

One of the McClafferty’s is sitting on the window at their butcher shop with a bike parked alongside. Joe McClafferty had a butcher shop her with a big wooden chopping block. We spent much time in McClaffertys as my brother was friends with Cathal. Their kitchen was always warm and Sarah was very welcoming. She had a washing board and I remember when she got a modern glass one that would rip your knuckles as well as cleaning the linen! When I think of her I think of her washing board and Sunlight soap.

McCoach’s lovely ivy covered house is beyond that surrounded by the hedge and with some trees growing in the front garden.

In the distance is a building with a corrigated roof – this was the Chemist shop. Paddy Doherty was the chemist when I was very young and he spent a lot of time in our house. When he moved on, Miss Greene was the pharmacist. This was the place where babies were weighed on the scales with a big straw basket. She invariably offered children a Glucose twist out of a big jar on the counter.

There are delivery vehicles at the North Star Hotel and the lovely ‘Planting’ dominates the street.

Another Postcard published by Wm Doherty & Sons Bridgend

This is a very strange postcard indeed! Who would want to send a postcard like this from your holidays! The woman sweeping the street beside the picket fencing is Mary Josie Griffin Sweeney. Griffins shop sold all sorts of drapery, including Donegal Handwoven Tweed. They had a beautiful display of Beleek fine bone china is the window too. This distinctive and almost translucent china came in very interesting shapes.

The interesting features of this postcard is the man with the shovel mixing something and the man crossing the street with a plank. There seems to be a pile of sand deposited near the railing of the Celtic Cross Leitrim memorial too. I wonder what was being constructed ? The Ford Prefect is parked outside Walsh’s Bar which was adjacent to the shop.

A composite of some of the previous cards, again published by Wm Doherty and Sons, Bridgend.

On the bottom right of the card, alongside the picket fence, is Griffin’s display of beautiful Donegal Tweeds. Griffins Drapery and Speers Drapery next door, displayed their tweeds outside at the front of their shops in the tourist season. Both shops also had upstairs showrooms. I think I see a display of postcards on sale at Griffins too. This was taken on a busy day in town!

In the centre of the postcard is the Carrigart Hotel. An iconic building in the village dating from about c 190, it had distinctive semi circular steps at the front door and . It was attached to a bar and grocery shop. This was an Esso petrol pump – the only one in town. This lovely original building is listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage here.

Carrigart had its own professional photographer in John McClafferty. John sadly died at a young age in 1981. John produced several postcards of the village.

The postcard on the left, probabaly shot on another day of tour buses, shows a busy street. McCoach’s ivy clad house with trees as seen above, has been replaced by Boyce’s Supermarket, Martha Speer’s shop is selling ice cream as well as comics and other groceries. The postcard on the right is probably the first attempt at showing off some of the lovely architecture of teh parish. The Carrigart and Rosapenna Hotels, a fine view of the beautiful Holy Trinity Church and a streetscape that shows the design of the estate village with uniform roof lines. Two more petrol pumps have arrived in town outside Griffins, together with some street lighting.

This set of old sepia postcards were produced by The Irish Tourist Association Photo – Copyright. Printed in Eire, they have ‘Ref./A and Ref , B on the reverse.

They feature scenes of Mulroy Bay, an important and beautiful feature of the parish of Mevagh.The image to the left is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the bay, on the top right is the causeway into the Leitrim Estate at Mulroy and the bottom right photo seems to be taken from a house near Bunlin. All these views are within a few miles of the village.

Another composite card with a few extras. Produced by CTC Ltd

The scenes on the right are as in the previous images. The top left view is of the Needle’s Eye – a rock formation near the shore of Downings Bay. Interestingly this does not seem to feature on modern cards at all. It was a popular spot for us years ago. The bottom left seems to be a view of Mulroy Bay from Cratlagh Woods and the centre piece seems to be a view from the Cranford area.

A postcard from Irish Scenes by A.E Dickson, Londonderry. Copyright . British Manufacture

This is rather lovely after all the black and white offerings! Mulroy Bay is an absolute treasure -a sheltered waterway with many lovely wooded islands. Sadly the fabulous views of Mulroy Bay from the Mevagh side have become obscured by vegetation in recent decades. I think this may be a view from near Cranford.

A very distinctive and unmistakable John Hinde Ltd Postcard.

The legend on the back of this postcard is an advertisement in itself! It reads: ‘Mulroy Bay is one of the most beautiful of all the bays around the Irish coast. Along its shores tiny peninsulas run into the sea- some richly clad with fir and pine and gorse- protecting the snug little coves between. From the high ground magnificent views are obtained of the bay, with its numerous wooded islands and much-indented shores. The beauty and charm of County Donegal will cast its spell over you and draw you irresistibly.’ And of course, lots of Foxgloves in summer!

The remainder of my collection are local views.

Published by Margaret Joyce Ltd, Dublin, successor to Valentine & Sons Dundee & London

I like this one as it has the stooks of corn in the fields. Nothing much would have changed here except for the method of farming.

This one is by Dickson’s ”Irish Scenes”- Copyright and Guaranteed Real Photograph

I like the stacks of turf here – I wonder if the turf was cut here or merely stacked here ?

Irish Scenes by A.E Dickson Londonderry, Copyright

I wonder is this from a painting or is it a photograph that has been coloured? The things to note here are that the road is not tarred and the Youth Hostel is not shown. So this may possibly be from the end of the 19th Century

A Valentine’s Card

This is among my favourites. The An Oige Youth Hostel was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens as a hunting lodge for the Honorable Robert and Mrs Phillimore of London c 1907. After her husband’s death, Mrs Phillimore continued to visit the area. In 1910 she had the Cross erected so that the poor people could pray here and not have to walk two hours each way to the chapel in Umlagh for Mass. Canon Gavigan who was parish priest at the time, refused to bless it or have anything to do with it. No doubt he so decreed from in front of his warm fire very near to the chapel. In 1937 the Lodge was gifted to the An Oige Association and is in use ever since as a Youth Hostel. It remains a listed building.

My final two postcards are of the Boatyard on Fanny’s Bay which is in turn on Mulroy Bay. The boat building yard was established in 1910 by the Congested Districts Board. This area had a thriving herring fishing industry and Downings remains a significant landing port to this day.

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“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:

Click to access list%20of%20burial%20sites.pdf

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