Dead Man’s Island.

Donegal Vindicator May 11th 1935.  Circulating in Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Leitrim and Sligo.  Price one penny. 46th year.

The Dead Man’s Island – a tale of Lower Lough Erne –reprinted from the Donegal Vindicator dated June 1st 1889. John McAdam, founded this paper in Ballyshannon at the behest of the Irish Land League in 1889. It ceased to publish in 1956.

In the lower lake near Roscor is a small island or islet designated by the country people “The Dead Man’s Island.”  Why it came to be so-called is told in the following tale.  In writing it I wish to state that I have done it in as impartial a spirit as possible, not desiring to offend against the prejudices of any party but as a historian rather than a partisan.  All the legendary lore associated with that part of the country extending as far as Bundoran I have tried to weave into the narrative but I must regret, along with many other is, that the tale ends so tragically as tradition relates.  Whilst the outlines of the story is strictly true I am not very certain if I have given the correct names of the two rebels one of whom was shot as I could not accurately ascertain them.

On the 13th October 1799 the date preserved in an old song in the remote mountain valley named Glenalong in view of Lough Erne, three young men armed with guns but very weary and foot sore after travelling several successive days arrived in a mountain cottage the natal home of one of the young men named Duffy.  They were three stout young fellows athletic and brave, possessing a light patriotic spirit, the enthusiasm of which had led them to join the United Irishmen.  They had fought at Ballinamuck and narrowly made their escape from the dreadful slaughter of their countrymen that had taken place there.  Then wandering about and concealing themselves in the cottages of the peasantry – afraid to return to their own part of the country, but still preserving their arms against capture.  A whole year had passed away ere they could venture from the disturbed state of the country and the watch after fugitives to return to their homes.

On the night of their arrival in the house of Peter Duffy, father of one of the young men, there was much joy on the occasion of the safe return of his son.  The companions were also warmly welcomed.  Their natal homes lay north of Lough Erne near the mountains of Donegal and they were impatient to reach them.  Young Duffy, in reply to the interrogation of his friends related much of what they and their companions had suffered in the late rebellion, their privations, fatiguing journey’s and narrow escapes from death. When I think upon it said young Duffy the narrator of all we endured, of the cold blooded butchery of Ballinamuck perpetrated by the savage soldiers it makes me shudder; wild beasts could not have exhibited so much ferocity.  My comrades and I as soon as we saw the field lost and the carnage begun made our escape and pursued by the soldiers who sent a shower of bullets whistling around our ears.  How we escaped when I think of it now was a pure miracle.  In one instance that hat was shot off my head: I then real reasoned that the soldiers fired too high and in a sloping position each of us ran until we got out of range of their balls.  The dragoons over took and sabered numbers but we ran to soft ground to a bog convenient where their horses could not follow us.  After effecting our escape how far we travelled on that day I cannot well remember but towards evening we received hospitality in a farmhouse.  Afterwards disguised in the daytime in old clothes supplied by the farmers and the laborers in the fields we escape detection in the hunt that took place by the yeomen after fugitives (rebels).  How close was the watch and pursuit after us you may guess when it occupied us a whole year assuming various disguises to return home.

“Alas” said old Duffy “for poor Ireland!  What its valiant sons have suffered for its freedom and have not gained it.  Yes said a man, a guest named McNamara, it is wonderful to reflect what patriotic blood has stained its sod.’  ‘Let us change the subject’ said young Duffy ’it is too painful – Mr. McNamara it is a long time since I heard you sing and I never saw one of your name and kindred but was a good singer.’  ‘Do please sing’ said one of young Duffy’s comrades named McGoldrick ‘and my friend and companion in danger Hugh Ward will give us another for like the McNamaras I never saw one of his name who was not a good singer.’  ‘The family obtained the name Ward’ said old Duffy ‘from the fact that there they were bards and poets in old times and played on the harp and composed songs and sung them.’  ‘And the faculty of song’ said young Duffy ‘like the wooden leg has long run in the blood.’  ‘At all events Mr. McNamara I request you to sing.  I was once amused by your ballad of the fishermen – your own composition – please have the goodness to sing it.’ Mr. McNamara began.

THE FISHERMAN AND THE FAIRIES –  A LEGEND.

A peasant stood at a mountain lake

And fishing long was he

But never a fish could that peasant take

Till the sun went down on the sea.

 

Then came a change –it was joy to see

What fish on the shore he flung:

On gads he made of the rowan tree

The speckled trout he strung.

 

Then his home he sought in the mountain wild

With a bosom of hope and joy

To meet with a wife and prattling child

And the fish on the fire to fry.

 

As on he went in the solitude

The moon shed her light on the scene

Till on the pathway before him stood

A boy with a jacket of green.

 

Beware of the fairies good fishermen

Said the boy with the jacket of green

They follow to take them every one

At a lake forbidden you’ve been!

 

O, never looked back no matter what noise

Of menace of harm you hear,

O, never looked back said the fairy boy

Or you’ll mind it all days of the year

 

As a glimpse of the Moon that has come and fled,

As a meteor bright is seen,

He came and he passed with his scarlet head,

That boy with the jacket of green.

 

The noise of a cannon is very loud

Of Belleek the waterfall

But the noise made by an invisible crowd

Was louder than them all.

 

Look round they shouted you rogue and thief

You thief, you rogue, look round

Or we cut off your head in a moment brief

And fling it on the ground.

 

But on to that house in the mountain land

The fishermen hastened still.

Nor flesh nor blood this abuse can stand

He said and look round I will.

 

Because he was near his cottage door

His courage waxed bold

He turned him round with the load he bore

And what did he then behold?

 

Ten thousand fairies in fighting mein

Each urging a fierce attack;

But the little boy with a jacket of green

Was trying to keep them back.

 

Why did he look round like one of old

And the warning disobey?

His brain was as weak as his heart was bold,

As he knew in an after day.

 

The fish on his back that his hands had strung

Say whither are the gone?

Their heads alone on the Rowntree hung

For their bodies they now had none.

 

The fairies had taken them every one

Away to their home afar;

And since at eve doth the fishermen shun

The lake of Lough Na-na-vhar.

‘Long life to you Mr. McNamara’ said old Duffy, ‘I knew the man well who lost the fish.  His name was Luke Ward.  He lived in the mountains.  It was wrong you see to fish after sunset in the fairy lake and he should have taken that fairy’s advice.  That fairy was a cousin of his own who had been taken away by the good people.’  ‘It rarely ever was good to look back’ said McNamara, ‘think of Lot’s wife.’  ‘True,’ said Duffy, ‘except one has some good reflection of the mind to look back upon or recollection of an meritorious action.  But in going a journey, I never look back or turn back except I meet a redhead woman or a hare crosses my path; then I never proceed on my journey as it would be unlucky to do so.’  ‘You are quite right Peter’ said McNamara but this is different to disobeying a command like the cases we mentioned’.  ‘I know that James.’  I’ve only been thinking in another way.  But I believe on the whole ‘tis better to look forward than back; and in the language of the poet : –

‘Never looked back when onward is the way,

Duty commands.  They err who disobey.’

The two young men, Duffy’s two companions were homesick and notwithstanding the pleasantry of the fireside anxious to go away particularly as the silent hours of night formed  the safer time in which to travel through Whealt as yeomen were on the lookout there in the daytime and frequently passed through it at night visiting any papist house in which they saw a light with a view to discerning dissatisfaction or ferret out the haunt of a rebel as the panic in the North excited by the rebellion in the South had not yet completely passed away.  The two young men accompanied by Duffy made their way to the shore of Lough Erne with intention to cross in a boat.

In a cottage north of Keenaghan Lake (not far from Lough Erne) and in the shelter of the Donegal Mountains on that night in a warm room with a cosy fire, two females sat in conversation. One, the younger woman of the house, named Mary Ward, and the other a guest named Ann McGoldrick, the sweetheart of Mary’s brother Hugh Ward. ‘Mary’ said Ann, ‘is there any truth in dreams’ I dreamed last night I saw your brother Hugh, coming home from the war very glad looking. His face was smiling, his cheeks like roses, and he attired in a new suit of broadcloth with a white rose in the buttonhole of his vest, and I dreamed more than that – and Mary, I’ll not deny it of you – I thought he and I were going to be married tomorrow – poor Hugh! He is long absent; do you think he will return or is my dream good?’ ‘I do not know Ann, I fear it is not. I would rather you had seen him come home sorrowful, as I dreamed I saw your brother Patrick returning. It is curious we were both dreaming of the two on the same night. God grant that nothing may happen to add to our sorrow for we have had enough of it since Hugh went away and persecution too on his account by the landlord. ‘The very same with us, as you know Mary.’ While this conversation was going on in a room of the cottage between the female friends, two men, one of them William Ward, the owner of the cottage, and a Mr. John Daly, a schoolmaster from Bundoran sat at a good fire in the kitchen smoking their pipes and relating stories of incidents of the past. ‘So John, you told me your side of the common playing match at Finnard Strand.’ ‘Certainly, because we took the right steps and gave plenty of poteen to Flairtach – poured a libation to him as they call it.’’ And isn’t Flairtach the king of the fairies at Finnard and how did you give him the whiskey; did he stand up like a man to receive it?’ ‘Not at all. This is the way we do it. There is a large pillar stone standing alone on the hill between Bundoran and Finner; we bring our liquor there, either in bottles or a jar; we break the vessels on the stone spilling the liquor upon it and let it flow down the sides of it on the ground; and happy is the party of common players or any other match, who is there first and pours the libation; they are sure to win that day. It was I broke the last jar of whiskey upon it on Easter Monday. The Sligo side and Donegal had to play against each other on the Finner Strand. We were at Flairtach’s stone first and no doubt Flairtach himself would be more friendly to us than the Sligo people, except that we neglected to pay him the offerings – his due. Well, well, sir we gained the day, for when we met on the strand each side tossed up for a position, North or South. The Sligo men gained the toss but it did them no good. A strong gale was in their back, blowing from the south but as soon as the first ball was struck the wind changed and a fierce blast blew from the North raising a cloud of sand and blowing it into the eyes of our opponents; we then beat them easily. At horse-racing also at Finner the same thing takes place. Whoever sacrifices first to Flairtach is sure to win.

‘I’ve heard something before about him,’ said Ward. I’m sure you did sir, he can do a good turn or a bad one.’ On one occasion half a dozen soldiers were billeted on a rich innkeeper in Ballyshannon. When he saw the the large number he got frightened, as the fellow was a miser. He said he had no place for them, but there was a gentleman named Flairtach residing between that and the sea in a fine castle and said he told him to send any soldiers to him as he had a large castle and a cellar of drink that never goes dry. ‘By Jove’ said they, we’ll go.’ They were strangers and set out towards Finner thinking they were going to a gentleman’s. On the way they met a man on horseback; they stopped him and asked him the way to the house of the gentleman Flairtach. ‘Who sent you there,’ asked he. Mr. McBrearty of Ballyshannon they said. I’m Flairtach, said he, and do you proceed to a large white stone, and near it you will find a castle, where you can stop for the night, sure enough, and be accommodated with plenty of meat and drink, but it will be at that miser’s expense.

They proceeded to the great tall stone and beside it they saw a large castle. They entered, laid aside their guns and took off their belts in the hall and were then conducted to a spacious chamber. A long table stood in the centre with deal forms around it on which they sat down and in a short time the table was covered with liquor, jugs and glasses and an excellent dinner of bread and beef – enough for fifty soldiers – was left before them. They ate and drank as long as they were able and then fell into a heavy sleep of drunkenness. In the morning they awoke and where did they find themselves, do you think? Lying on the grass beside the stone, their guns and bayonets lying beside them. But the tale does not end here. The miserly innkeeper in Ballyshannon had not one drop of liquor in his store the next morning, not one loaf of bread in his shop, or one fat heifer, out of half a score on his farm outside the town – all were gone. He deserved it said Ward. ‘Sure no one was sorry for him but all glad because he was a miser.” “Flairtach treated the soldiers well,” said Ward. “It was only to punish the niggardly inn-keeper he did so, but if he was of my mind he would not love the soldiers, from all I saw and heard of their conduct—alas!” and here he felt a spasm of acute feeling, as the thought of his son away in the rebellion, and perhaps murdered, occurred to him.

“I do not love soldiers,” he said. “I have heard so much of their raids, forays, and cruelty in this part of the country. In my father’s early days the religion was so persecuted that the priests had to meet with their congregations, in remote valleys and glens the soldiers often making a descent upon them while they were employed in public devotion, and causing them to run for their lives. The good Sir James Caldwell, pitying them in the winter, when they had to stand in the wind, rain and snow, gave them the use of his “bullock house” as a shelter, but afterwards finding that they were an inoffensive people, and persecuted he gave the use of an upper storey of a barn at Castle Caldwell, thereby disappointing the soldiers, who hunted through the glens on Sundays in search of them.”

“Bad as things are now,” said O’Daly, “there is much more improvement from the former state of things.” “But think” said Ward, “of the glory of ancient days, the prosperous state of religion, the wealth of its ministers in olden times—before the days of persecution began. A splendid abbey stood on the shores of Keenaghan Lake and another at Castle Caldwell—the present castle erected on its ancient site, the subterranean or lower chambers of the abbey still remaining. Both Abbeys belonged to the Franciscan Order. The present estate of the Johnston’s comprises the lands assigned for the support of Keenaghan Abbey, and the lands adjacent to it belonged to the other abbey. The Johnston’s had taken as their family crest the “Wing and Spur,” to show that they made their conquest when riding on horseback. From each abbey to the shore of Lough Erne is an ancient pass or highway, the one from Keenaghan named the “Friar’s Pass,” and the one from the place now named Castle Caldwell, the “Dean’s Pass.” We know those ancient roads and look on them with reverence. Before the words were cleared or roads made along the shores of Lough Erne the Bishop of the diocese, when making his tour through the parish was carried on a litter by strong men, to whom was given a respectable support for their labour, consisting of so many graces of poultry, so many loaves of bread, &c. Then the people were free, obedient and happy. They are obedient to their pastors still, despite the persecution and robbery. Some freedom has been obtained, but, alas, not enough. Our religion is still enfettered, we need emancipation, and it only remains with God to know if it will ever take place.”

“God grant it,” said O’Daly. “Amen’ said Ward, “it is still a time of sorrow and persecution; we all had hopes of gaining the freedom of this country by the sword, as no other method remained to us; but alas in that hope we have been woefully disappointed. British gold undid us; it purchased the treachery that undid our cause. How many a brave patriot has been disappointed, how many a valiant soldier fighting for Ireland has fallen?” and thinking of his son, perhaps dead, as he conceived, in the field of battle, his spirit groaned and tears stood in his eyes, and conversing in this manner the night passed on As related the two young men, Ward and McGoldrick, accompanied by Duffy left on that night the cottage in the mountain valley of Glenlough, and travelled to the shores of Lough Erne. There they called in the house of a relative of one of them and obtained a boat. Ere they separated they stood some time on the shore together, indulging in feelings of affection and emotion. Urged (not wisely, but too well) by a feeling of patriotism they had embarked in the same cause, travelled and fought together, suffered defeat and braved danger, bore hunger, toil and outlawry, and were closely united together by strange ties of fraternity, friendship and love.

“Farewell, old comrades, may God conduct you safe home,” said Duffy. “Many a long journey we have taken together, many a danger passed through—-and thanks to the Almighty, we have escaped with our lives. We will, I hope, soon meet in better times when the sorrows of poor old Ireland will have passed away.” and taking each by the hand with tears in their eyes, he said—“Farewell, old comrades. May God be with you.” Then they parted, Ward and McGoldrick entered the boat and rowed over the lake.

The moon and stars shone brightly, the air was thin and clear, a keen frost was prevailing. As they rowed along the moon and stars were mirrored in the calm lake beyond them, and the shadows of tall trees fell adjacent to the neighbouring islands. It was a scene of beauty, of silence, of solemnity, and in a short time they crossed the lake and landed on the shore, not far from Devenny’s Point at Castle Caldwell. The night was now advanced and they expected the dawn, but were, afraid of foes, and having forgotten that they had not charged their guns when setting out, as they chanced to pass by the door of a small cabin situated in the hills above the lake, they thought proper to enter and see to their guns and ammunition. The family were asleep. A door made of wickerwork was on the cabin. They removed it, entered and raked out the coals on the hearth, put on a fire and with its light charged their guns and divided their ammunition. Then sitting at the good fire, and being without sleep for some nights previously, they fell into a sound slumber.

Then the owner of the house who had been awake and listening, stole out of bed and gave word to the sergeant of the Castle Caldwell Yeomen stating that two rebels were in his house armed with guns &c., and that they had  plenty of ammunition, and he did not  know what they intended to do, &c. An alarm was raised, and bugles sounded. The yeomen assembled, and as the sun arose they marched down Lowry Hill, towards the cottage where the poor fugitives lay asleep. The woman of the house knew what had taken place, and with feelings of humanity peculiar to women, she told them to fly for their lives. They got up frightened, and the hill was covered with yeomen. Leaving their arms behind them, as they knew they were useless against so many they fled, McGoldrick taking one path and ward another. McGoldrick by some means escaped but ward was met in his flight and almost surrounded by the yeomen. He could not proceed without breaking through their ranks and he turned reverting his path and ran towards the lake, the yeomen in a body pursuing. The race was pretty long and he gained ground rapidly upon them. He was a fine young man, tall, vigorous and athletic; they admired his agility and in the race some were near enough to shoot him but they hesitated.

The chase was exciting, some of them shouting aloud in order to deter him, but that only had the effect of quickening the steps of the fugitive, he gained the shore, cast his eyes on the island (Roscor), and being an excellent swimmer, jumped into the water and swam fast forward. Some say they fired in the air, not with intent to kill, and some say they commiserated with him and did not fire at all. However, among them, as it has often happened, was one murderous wretch, who fired, but the by-standers did not think it was with intent to kill. Missing his aim, he knelt on one knee, put the gun to his eye a second time took sure aim, drew the trigger and shot the poor fellow in the water. His comrades cried, “shame,” and with heavy hearts returned to their homes. The wretch who shot him, hoped by the good of it to gain the favour of Sir John Caldwell, but the contrary was the fact. He censured his conduct, considering it an act of great inhumanity, and ever after the neighbours of the murderer nauseated his presence, and their descendants to this day desecrate his memory.

The remains of poor Ward were taken up in the lake and buried in an islet opposite the island of Roscor, and ever since it has been called, “The Dead Man’s Island.” McGoldrick as related, escaped and gained his home, but the joy of his arrival was only transient, for the news of the murder of his brave comrade, Ward, eclipsed the joy with sorrow.

The dream of Ann McGoldrick, as most dreams turns out “contrary,’ and to her, by the loss of her sweetheart, might be applied the words attributed to the bereaved Scottish maiden, who lamented her slain lover when his dead body was found in the waters of the River Yarrow:—

 

‘The tear shall never leave my cheek.

No other youth shall be my marrow.

I’ll seek thy boy in the stream.

And then with thee I’ll (sleep in Yarrow.

M.

Some believe that Ward’s body was taken up and buried in Keenaghan Graveyard. A man named Quinn was reputedly the Yeoman who shot him.

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