1847. The issue of January 1st records a classic tale that ought to be filmed for it has all the ingredients of high drama or perhaps more accurately melodrama. On Christmas Eve a schooner lay just inside the Bar at Ballyshannon. The Bar is a high sandy ridge four miles down river from Ballyshannon that constantly threatens to block the exit of the Erne to the sea and the schooner was sheltering here waiting on a favourable wind. The ship was bound for Liverpool later with bacon and lard and had been charted by Mr. Edward Chism of Ballyshannon (Food was constantly being exported from Ireland during the famine). After a time a boat owned by Mr. Wade pulled alongside the vessel and men who claimed that they were from the saltworks at Ballyshannon asked to come aboard to light their pipes. (The real salt workers would have had to row outside the bar (sandbar) of Ballyshannon estuary) to the open sea to get saltwater which was then evaporated at Portnason, Ballyshannon, to get the salt for preserving the fish and meat exports from the area). Several men came on board and then produced guns, overcame the captain and crew and took a large quantity of bacon and lard from the ship. This is the Irish famine equivalent of Bob Cratchet’s Christmas turkey, especially when (as it turned out later that) it was hogsheads of ham and bacon that were on board. Many a starving household must have had an unexpectedly happy Christmas as a result of this piece of local piracy. By Christmas day the police recovered some of the booty buried in the nearby sand dunes and the soldiers were out combing the area. Three were arrested. Scarce a night passes by without a robbery in town or the vicinity, the paper reports.
1847.January 8th. There is great distress in the area. One man died after just being admitted to the Ballyshannon Workhouse. People won’t come in for aid until the last moment. The dead from the famine are not being buried properly in the Abbey graveyard in Ballyshannon as the graveyard has not deep enough soil. A man on his way from Ballyshannon to Donegal heard the sound of lamentation from a house along the way. Going into the house he found a girl of about sixteen dying and her parents trying to keep her warm. He gave money for food, etc., in the tradition of the good Samaritan, but the girl died in a short time.
January 22nd reported that Colonel Conolly and his family were staying at Cliff for the winter in order to give aid to their tenantry and a terrible increase of poverty, sickness and death was recorded by the paper. Unfortunately and damningly for the paper the above words were all they reported. It says volumes for their social attitude and incomprehension of the situation that they could write: “The details are too horrid to be published.” From Fermanagh the paper reports the action of the Rev. Grey Porter, whose principal estate was at Lisbellaw and who had brought in 150 tons of Indian meal at Derry per the ship Peru. He had bought in the grain at £10-10s-6d per ton and was going to sell it to his tenants at cost price which he hoped would be less than £12 per ton. This compared with £24-10-0 for Indian meal or £30 for oaten meal at market prices. Robberies for money, cattle or arms are a nightly occurrence.
On February 19th the Ballyshannon Herald published a very long letter from John Hamilton of St. Ernan’s near Donegal Town. This man was estate agent for the Conolly Estate around Ballyshannon and possibly for the Leslie Estate of Pettigo and other estates as well. In his own way he seems a man sensitive to the situation and practical for the future, although badly lacking in short term solutions. He seeks to combat apathy and fatalism in the tenantry which is admirable, if the person has the energy to look some distance ahead, but useless if starvation is a matter of days away.
John Hamilton begins by asking everyone to work hard in order to hold on to their tenancies. “Stir yourself and be doing. Drain a rood of ground and dig it eighteen inches deep and you will be paid for it if it done right and get many years to repay this money” (not a generous bargain and in the same vein) “seed will be provided and can be paid for later. Sow corn and not potatoes in rows nine inches apart and the seed two inches apart. This requires two stone of seed and repays 200 stone if the !and is well dug or well ploughed and is dry”. Tenants will be allowed to burn as much as they like and he (John Hamilton) will say nothing for this season (burning the dried sods of the land gave a short term fertility but was ultimately ruinous and absolutely forbidden normally). Tenants were urged to burn as much as they liked on black land i.e., bog land and to cart it to other ground to grow turnips. Sow “pease” (sic) and barley and field and garden beans (and mangle wozzels. Come to him for help. Uncommon work is required and he will not help anyone who holds land but will not work it. He, Hamilton, works hard himself and expects others to do likewise.
In the same issue Colonel Conolly has imported 500 tons of rice and one ton has been sent to the Bundoran schools and two to the Ballyshannon Relief Committee. The columns were illuminated by a row between the Vicar of Drumholm Mr. M. G. Fenwick and a local land agent. Alexander Hamilton, on the question of who should be allowed to get a place on the Relief Works. Should a man who has paid his rent get on the Relief? — if he is able to pay his rent does he need relief work? (as long as you managed the rent you could do what you liked afterwards and if you hadn’t the rent you could work until you could pay the rent — either way the rent was sacrosanct and Catch 22 was born long before Joseph Heller).
From now until April the Famine cannot squeeze into the Ballyshannon Herald and on March 12th we are informed that Fermanagh is improving and that petty thefts and slaughter of cattle had completely ceased, according to the Erne Packet. The reporting of the Donegal Assizes on March 12th at Lifford hints at what the newspaper doesn’t report. Bartley Loughlin, a former bailiff to Mr. H. Coane of Waterloo Cottage, Higginstown, Ballyshannon was alleged to have sent a threatening letter to Mrs. H. Coane saying that their family would be blown up with gunpowder for their oppression of the tenantry. Laughlin had been bailiff for Coane for fifteen years and his handwriting was familiar to his former master. In his capacity as bailiff Laughlin had been ordered to serve notice to quit on thirty tenants and ordered to distrain those persons who had not paid — as far as the landlord was concerned it would not be hard to seize fodder in lieu of rent. For inability or unwillingness to carry this out Bartley Loughlin was sacked. Councillor Doherty defended the ex-bailiff and demolished the case by asking if Laughlin’s handwriting was so well known to Coane then why would he be so stupid as to write the letter in his own hand? A not-guilty verdict was returned. In the next case a John Donald got seven years’ transportation for stealing sheep from Michael Ward, but a woman, Rebecca Brack, (Brock?) was found not guilty of exposing a child to die at Finner, near Ballyshannon.
1847.In an echo of the Christmas Eve piracy in the Erne Estuary, James Currie, was accused of receiving a ham knowing it to be stolen. The ship’s name is now given as The Confidence and its Master as Joseph Davidson. The ship had been boarded by two boat’s crews and nine bales of bacon and hogsheads of ham had been stolen. Sub-Constable Davis arrested Currie walking through Ballyshannon on Christmas day carrying a ham. Currie said that he had found it in a hole in the ground among the sand dunes. He was found guilty with a recommendation for mercy and got nine months hard labour.
At Fermanagh Assizes at this time Daniel Nealy was convicted of stealing valuable property, plate, etc., from J. C. Bloomfield at Castle Caldwell. He was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. For a similar crime in the same area, the breaking into the house of Launcelot Corcoran near Castle Caldwell on the previous December 27th the following were tried:- James Mulrean, Maurice Connor, Peter Gallagher, Francis Gallagher, Maurice Lannon, William Lannon, George W. O’Connor and Edward Muldoon. All were found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation except the last four, who got seven years’ transportation.
The March 26th issue details a brutal occurrence in the Pettigo area which happened on March 23rd. George Allingham with one Patterson and “the notorious Melanefy, the bailiff” came to the house of John McCrea of Clonaweel. Their purpose seemed to be to execute on order upon the person of John McCrea who wasn’t present. Only his two sons were there and after some persuasion they managed to get the three intruders out of the house. They seemed rather inebriated and threatened the sons and finally Melanefy fired at young Edward McCrea “wounding him dreadfully” in the head. Melanefy has run off and the countryside is now in pursuit!
By 2nd April, 1847 things have got so bad in the area as to force its attention upon this blinkered newspaper. It reports that the poor house is crowded to excess and fever and dysentery are spreading alarmingly. “Deaths are frightfully numerous. A fever hospital is urgently needed and its building would give employment to the poor.”
- April 23rd:- Captain Fortescue has arrived to take charge of the Commissariat Department, i.e., to give out food for the starving. A vessel with breadstuffs for this town and Enniskillen is waiting for a fair wind to get into port. It is hoped that she will get in today as the people discharged from the workhouse are in great distress. There is plenty of food coming in from America, but it is still at famine prices. Captain Lang is to superintend the public charities. Arrangements are in hand to setup a public soup kitchen to the plan of Mr. Sayer (but the paper notes with unaccustomed concern). “We fear it will not answer the purpose.”
Between Garrison, Derrygonnelly and Holywell many hundreds of acres wilt be left without crops because of the utter poverty of the people. Farmers and graziers cattle are being stolen nightly.
April 30th: There is a great fever sweeping Fermanagh especially in the country districts and arising largely from those who have left (or been sent out) of the workhouse and had now gone home and infected their friends who had generously but fatally taken them in.
- May 7th: Reports the hanging of Samuel Crumrner at Lifford. He was hanged for the murder of his father. His wife had also been sentenced for the same crime, but the sentence was commuted to transportation for life. It was the first hanging in Donegal for fourteen or fifteen years and about a thousand people came to watch. On the scaffold Crummer said (the name was not printed) swore his life away for small money in these times. He was a big man of 6’-2” and he said goodbye to his wife and children from the scaffold, although they were not present, before he was launched into eternity.
The steamship Albert under Commander Geary arrived in Ballyshannon with breadstuffs. It also towed in two ships which had been waiting outside the Bar for a favourable wind. The Albert is 147ft long, 42 feet wide, can carry 600 tons and has a capacity of 200 horse power. Many people have been shown over this ship.
On May 14th it is reported that the deaths around Clones, Co. Monaghan, are “inconceivably great”. In Enniskillen the poor and starving rushed the Board of Guardians meeting and all had to be admitted. Colonel Conolly has given his tenants eight tons of rice this week free plus free turnip seed. John and William Tredennick (local landowners between Ballyshannon and Belleek) are reducing their rents by 40% to 50%.
1847.May 21st reports the melancholy death of Captain Drake of the 92nd Regiment and a young local man, Henry Lipsett of Ballyshannon, who were drowned when their sailing boat was upset in the estuary.
Hundreds of the poor are being provided for by the Johnstons of Magheramena Castle near Belleek and their rents are reduced also.
There is great fever in Fermanagh and the well known Dr. Collum has recently succumbed. “God knows who will be next sacrificed on the altar of pestilence and death”. This last item is reprinted taken from the pages of the Erne Packet.
- May 28th: reports great fever in the locality of Ballyshannon and all classes were affected. People are warned not to feed beggars at their own door, especially strange ones. Heaps of manure must be removed from thoroughfares, lanes and alleyways as otherwise the Committee of the Ballyshannon Board of Guardians will cause them to be removed and prosecute the offenders. This is signed by M. Davis J.P., chairman.
In the June 11th issue the fever has greatly moderated and not a single death has been reported last week. There is a huge plague of snails affecting crops and people are advised to gather them as they are very suitable for feeding pigs.
June 18th: issue contains a very indignant letter protesting about a pauper with fever lying on Ballyshannon Bridge since Sunday last. The Board of Health should have put him in a lodging house and had a doctor visit him. Only one death has been reported in the past three weeks and that was of Matthew Donohue, an inoffensive, industrious man who kept a public house in Main St., Ballyshannon. There are very good prospects for the harvest. Enniskillen jail is said to be the most crowded in the kingdom.
At the Donegal Petty sessions reported on June 25th a little boy pleaded guilty to stealing a few ship’s biscuits from Messrs Bradshaw of Donegal Town. He was given six months’ jail. He cried as he was led away. Mary Ward got two months jail for stealing two hens.
Sept. 17th: reports that no rot can be seen in the potatoes and that a great fever rages about Enniskillen. The news from Fermanagh continues in the Oct 1st newspaper as it reports on the dissolution of Lowtherstown (Irvinestown) Poor Law Union. The immediate cause was the raising of the salary of the R.C. Chaplain to the Workhouse. In the row that followed the Protestant Chaplain’s salary was raised. Further rows caused the dismissal of the master of the workhouse and finally the Board of Guardians themselves were dismissed! This is the newspaper version of the dissolution of Lowtherstown P.L.U., but in fact there were much more grievous reasons why this
Union was taken over by a Government appointed Commissioner. The Guardians failed to levy anywhere near sufficient funds to support the poor and starving of the locality, thus causing the effects of the Famine to be even worse than need have been and the Workhouse which they were in charge of was very badly run. An inspector who visited Lowtherstown Workhouse wrote that he found people half naked dying in their own vomit and excrement, lying on the floor. He said that Lowtherstown was the worst workhouse that he ever visited. (See Parliamentary Papers: Irish Famine).
October 15th: reported the dissolution of Ballyshannon P.L.U. Commissioners and the appointment of a new government inspector. November 19th sees a letter saying that the people of the country are living on turnips and nothing else. The Gentlemen of the country must unite to stave off famine as they did last year.
The final note of 1847 reports the death of Mr. William Hassard of Garden Hill near Belcoo in Fermanagh. He was shot in the leg and died later. Suspicion pointed to one Creagh, (probably a Mc Grath from the Irish rendering of the name Mc Creigh) but there was insufficient evidence. Creagh’s father had been jailed by Hassard for non-payment of arrears of rent and had died in jail. (This is the type of indirect evidence of the Famine and its effects which makes one wish that this paper had made any decent attempt to write about the momentous events it was living through).
1846 January 2nd 1846:— Mr. W.H. Brown was in Ballyshannon on Wednesday last, having made all arrangements for a bill in Parliament to improve Ballyshannon Harbour and provide a rail link to Belleek. This was announced at a big dinner given in Mr. Brown’s honour by the local merchants and traders. In an affray with Molly Maguires at Ballinacarrig, Co. Leitrim, two are reported dead.
January 9th:— Two brothers, Fitzpatrick, in Enniskillen Jail on suspicion of shooting Mr. Barton J.P. One of them, James Fitzpatrick, was now dead of fever in jail and the other still protesting their innocence. They had always been thought to be loyal Protestants, according to the paper, and they were claiming that they just happened to be on the road at the time of the shooting.
January 16th:— The rival railway companies were in contention and Mr. Brown, the promoter of the Ballyshannon and Lough Erne Railway and Steamboat Company, was being disowned by the Marquis of Ely and Dr. John Shiel of Ballyshannon, who declared that they only supported the Dublin and Enniskillen Railway Co. From Belleek came the melancholy story of a man called McLaughlin, a long time servant of Mr. Christy Johnston of Belleek. (This paper has a fine disregard for Christian names and invariably they miss those of the “lower orders”.) McLaughlin had been discharged by Johnston for dishonesty, said the paper, and been re-employed and sent to the local mill in Belleek with oats to be ground. He was ordered to stay overnight for the security of the oats. During the night Johnston caught McLaughlin carrying away a sack of grain and arrested him and the police conveyed him to Enniskillen. When the prisoner arrived in Enniskillen he excused himself (presumably to go to the toilet) and his handcuffs were removed and the poor man promptly jumped into the lake and was drowned. This item was followed up the next week with a letter signed by Porteus Johnston and his brothers, Christopher and James. (I believe these to be the Johnstons who owned the Hotel Carlton in Belleek — which was already in existence.) They wrote of the suicide of Terence McLaughlin, their servant, and objected to the previous newspaper report (raising interesting speculations as well). Their letter says that Terence McLaughlin had been their servant for eight years and was always honest and they don’t believe that he could have been stealing a 28 stone bag of oats when he was only eight stone in weight himself. They say that they had taken him back after he had been accused of stealing oats and he was working as usual when he was arrested on a warrant issued against him without summons or hearing. McLaughlin had resided less than two miles from Belleek and Christy Johnston had warned the Keenans not to proceed against McLaughlin in law. Thus the letter enigmatically ended. In relation to the Barton shooting two men called Burnside and a man, Irvine, and his wife were in jail in connection with the crime.
The January 30th issue refers to the expected arrival soon of the first ever steamship in Ballyshannon and that there will be public demonstrations to mark this event and the issue of 27th February 1846 commemorates this. The steamer Unity recently visited Ballyshannon, it said, with a cargo of barley for the local distillery and on its second visit brought pigs to Messrs O’Brien of the town, saving an entire week driving the pigs and the consequent injury to the animals. It is hoped to have steamers from Liverpool shortly.
- It is March 6th before the famine is mentioned and only to say that people were flocking to a certain priest in Co. Cavan to fill bottles of water at a holy well in order to sprinkle their potatoes to stop rot.
On April 3rd recipes appear in the paper for using with Indian corn (maize imported as a substitute for the potato and detested by the Irish). April 17th announces the first emigrant ship of the season leaving Sligo. It is the ship Drumahair, owned by Mr. Kernaghan (Enniskillen) and from its name obviously a local vessel.
Horse racing was recently held at Magheramena, the home of the Johnston family near Belleek. (Magheramena Castle was not yet built). A large crowd attended and “spolleen, poiteen, jug of the joke and lemonade were much in demand.” There was a dinner afterwards for invited guests. A horserace was also reported on Tullan (or Finner) Strand near Bundoran.
It is now getting round the summer bathing scene at Bundoran and the latest arrivals at Gallagher’s Hotel, Bundoran, on last Saturday (before 22nd May) were the Dowager Marchioness of Ely, Lord Henry Loftus, Lady Anne and Lady Catherine Loftus and the Rev. Loftus Reed and Miss Reed.
On May 28th a big disturbance is reported in Enniskillen because of a “forestaller” who was buying loads of potatoes to take them to Co. Monaghan. (A forestaller was a type of profiteer who bought up potatoes). The people objected to the potatoes being sold out of the area and potato sacks were slashed. This account was being carried from an article in the Erne Packet (Enniskillen paper), and that newspaper was in sympathy with the “anti-forestallers.”
19th of June reports the death of Charles French, second mate of the American Brig Camilla which was anchored in Ballyshannon Harbour at “the Pool”. He jumped out of the ship for a swim and was drowned and later interred in Ballyshannon. July 3rd saw a report of a near drowning when one Henry Connolly drove his horse and cart into the sea at Bundoran to refresh the horse and quench his thirst. A wave swept all away, except that with a struggle Connolly saved himself. His horse and cart are described as his only possessions.
July 24th reports the trial of those accused of the attempted murder of Folliott W. Barton, the Pettigo J.P. Accused of the shooting was Robert Burnside and accused of harbouring him were James and Margaret Irvine. Barton had been coming on horseback from his relations’ house, Barton’s of the Waterfront, also near Pettigo, through the village to his own home at Clonelly on the Kesh side of Pettigo. After coming through Pettigo Barton had been shot at Crummer’s Gate at Aghalaan. He was wounded in the right breast but rode on to the house of John Chute, a mile and a half from his residence. A James Armstrong gave evidence of seeing Burnside with a gun and following him to Irvine’s house and listening at a window while Burnside told of the shooting. Despite this impressive-sounding evidence the jury retired and brought in a not guilty verdict after one and a half hours.
As we shall see later there is obviously much misery and hunger abroad in the land but escaping the notice of the class for which the Ballyshannon Herald is produced. August 14th chronicles the arrival of Colonel Conolly, M.P. and his suite at Cliff House near Belleek and that Lord and Lady Longford are soon due to arrive. (Conolly was the principal landowner in the Belleek/Ballyshannon/Bundoran area). This social chit-chat continues with the readers of August 21st being told that Coburn’s Hotel, Ballyshannon, was doing very well this season and that Bundoran and Donegal Town were packed with visitors. But there were many outrages reported and many people were being beaten up and robbed especially on the road between Ballyshannon and Donegal.
The 92nd Highlanders were moving out from Ballyshannon and Belleek and causing much regret since the area would be deprived of the amateur theater which they had set up. They were replaced by detachments of the 26th Cameronians. An incident in Ballymagroarty near Ballyshannon is reported, in which a man, Johnston Corduct, had vitriol thrown in his face by a woman called Gallagher who had since fled the country. He had seduced her, but would not marry her, even though she had given him thirty shillings. He had spent this on other girls.
August 28th hears the first complaints of “a very scarce season” and many disturbances in the locality. Employees of Messrs Bradshaw and Co. of Donegal were beaten up near Pettigo after delivering coal to Barton’s of the Waterfoot Estate. Their assailants rushed out of the bog with blackened faces.
James Credan, a local merchant, advertises the landing of timber, etc. at Ballyshannon from the Charlotte of Warmouth, Nova Scotia, and from the Margaret. A few passengers can be accommodated on the Charlotte to St. John’s, when it sails on September 10th. September 4th catalogues more outrages and men beaten up on the Pettigo-Laghey road. One man, Jenkins, only saved his life by leaving his horse and cart and running away.
It has taken a long, long time for the reality of the poor and starving to force its way into the columns of this local paper, but by late 1846, even a paper with as much sensory handicap as this one has to acknowledge the existence of the famine. September 11th reports for two and a half columns on a meeting in Donegal courthouse on the subject of the relief of the poor. Loans and grants are craved from the Government to employ the poor of the Baronies of Tyrhugh and Bannagh and Boylagh. All these baronies report great distress of the poor. The paper carries an advertisement for the Ballyshannon Destitute Sick Society which is going to make its own local contribution to help alleviate the situation. By September 25th the paper, which has carried little or no reports of a situation which has obviously been building up for a long time, suddenly discovers “the poor in this town and vicinity are in a wretched state of destitution.” “Potatoes are too dear at 6d or 3d per stone and not a plateful sound”. Indian meal is now one shilling five pence a peck. “How are they to live?” “People are not able to raise enough money from working as the price of food is so high.” A family (obviously not an ordinary family) bought a ton of Indian meal in Sligo last week for £12 and could now make £5 profit on it if they wished. A poor, honest tradesman with 12 children is applying for aid. No one in his house has eaten for forty eight hours. “Something must be done.”
Sir Thomas Hort is reducing his rents in Magheraboy (West Fermanagh) after a personal visit to the area. This issue ends with a report of a pathetic procession of the poor through the streets of Ballyshannon — following a man carrying a loaf speared on a pole.
October 2nd carries the news of a presentment of £20,000 for the Barony of Tyrhugh to be spent on roads to give work for the poor. On the road from Ballyshannon to Bundoran £1,000 is to be spent, £800 on the road from Belleek to Ballyshannon, £500 to be spent on the streets of Ballyshannon and on leveling the Fair Green, £100 to be spent on the new road from Pettigo to Ballintra and £100 on the old road between the same places and there is an extensive list of further schemes in the paper.
- October 30th carries the story of the breaking into the Abbey Mill and two tons of meal being stolen from the owners, Donaldson and Connolly, two hard working, struggling men. The stolen meal was conveyed by boats across the Erne estuary and no one has been caught. Ballyshannon Committee for the relief of the poor of the town and vicinity have raised a large sum to purchase wheaten meal and will soon be able to sell it at a reduced price. Sir James Stewart, Bart., is now visiting with the Col. Connolly at Cliff and the Colonel is to reduce his rents on his Donegal Estate by 25%.
- November 13th publishes a further list of subscribers to the Ballyshannon Poor Relief Committee and the list is headed by Colonel Connolly with £600 (a very substantial sum in 1846). The Committee’s meal store in College Lane is now open from November 13th and each subscriber of money to the fund will be able to give tickets to the needy for reduced price meal in proportion to the sum they subscribed. Every subscriber of £1 will be able to give three tickets for a half stone of whole meal each twice a week. Each lender of £18 to the fund will be able to give three tickets as above and so on in proportion for each £6 lent.
November 27th gives news of the arrival of the ship Colonist at Richebucto, New Brunswick, on November 17th. Under its Captain Charles Dorning the Colonist had sailed from Ballyshannon and endured terrible storms, but all the ship’s passengers from Ballyshannon and Killybegs were landed in good health. An attack was reported on a local man called Stephenson, a farmer who had formerly belonged to the Donegal Regiment. His gun and his money were demanded, but with his servant, McCann, (all these unchristened people) they drove off their attackers and one man was stabbed by McCann with a pitchfork. This man has since died and been privately buried. Colonel Conolly’s rents are now reduced by 50% for those paying less than £5 p.a., reduced by 40% for those paying under £10 p.a., 25% for those whose rent is less than £15 and reduced by 20% for those paying over £15.
December 18th reports that Edward Allingham has had five bullocks killed and carried away during the night. (This seems a common crime to surround, kill and dismember an animal and carry it away). A pig had been stolen from a poor man in Belleek (a more serious crime, since the pig usually paid the rent for the Irish poor). Some meal had been stolen from the store of the local Poor Relief Committee and the town was full of “strange mendicants” (Beggars). It is impossible to feed them all”. A bleak outlook as we leave 1846 but as the next delightful tale has it for some people, the year had a brighter ending.
The Ballyshannon Herald. 1845-1850. John B. Cunningham.
The student of local history is often drawn to local newspapers in his search for historical material. This search, however, is more often than not rather unrewarding as the nature of local newspapers in the past was very different from today. Nowadays a local newspaper concerns itself with the events of the newspaper’s circulation area and rarely does a national issue get much coverage and still less an international issue or event, unless it has some local involvement. In the middle of the nineteenth century the local newspaper had a completely different concept of its role. The vast majority of what the newspaper printed concerned national and international issues; accounts of wars in remote parts of the world, disasters on land or sea, famous murders, murder trials and executions and social events and royal visits. Around 90% of the newspaper was taken up in this fashion and local events had to creep into little two or three inch columns and were seldom given a heading. It follows therefore that searching for snippets of local history in this type of newspaper is a very time-consuming, laborious process, involving great concentration and patience and inevitable eyestrain. However, the temptation is always too much for the nuggets of information that can be procured are invariably worth the effort.
This article is an account of the local information obtained from the Ballyshannon Herald between 1845 and 1850 and it was undertaken principally to garner information on the effects of the Great Famine in the counties and towns adjacent to Ballyshannon in this period. Other newsworthy items were also included, however, and what follows is a cross-section of the life and times of this area while the Great Famine raged through the land.
The Ballyshannon Herald was published and printed in Ballyshannon between 1831 and 1884 while in the ownership of the Trimble family. It sold at the sizeable price of four pence per issue, sixteen shillings per annum and at this price could only be afforded by the wealthy. This readership obviously influenced the editorial policy and the paper in present day parlance would be described as rigidly Establishment-orientated. It is through its eyes that we see this period. While absorbing the facts it reports we don’t necessarily have to embrace its conclusions.
1845. We begin with the issue of January 3rd. 1845 which carried an account of a kidnap attempt upon a girl of fourteen in Ballyshannon. She had been seized by two men who struck a plaster over her face and tried to abduct her, but however failed to carry her away. It was alleged that the men were trying to “Burke” her, i.e. after the notorious Burke and Hare, suppliers of corpses to aspiring surgeons. The town was in uproar and a man who lived near the Abbey graveyard said that he had heard muffled cartwheels going past in the night. He didn’t investigate as he thought that it was the “dead cart” going past carrying spirits from one house to another and so he blessed himself and remained indoors. There were rumours of graves at the Abbey being disturbed. The same issue noted the arrival in the port of Ballyshannon of the Dispatch and Sarah from Liverpool and the Steward from Bangor. Men from Irvinestown were in town selling hens and eggs to be exported to England (a very early reference to a practice which continued until recent times). The March 21st issue tells of Margaret Eves sentenced to six months hard labour at Enniskillen Assizes for stealing oats. This is one of the many major sentences which we will see for trivial offences. (Ed. an Eves relative of my own)
March 28th tells of Garrison Races and of a “Common Play” on Tullan Strand; (The word “Common” is an anglecised form of camán, meaning the Irish game of hurling). There were nearly 300 players on each side and some 2,000 spectators. The paper thought it worthwhile to write down that no riot occurred and that the strand was cleared by 6.00 p.m. This same issue has an account of a major drowning tragedy when a sailing cot was upset on Lough Erne and six people perished. The men were on their way with a load of turf to an island to do some illicit distilling and were named as William Beaty, John Burnside, Thomas Horan, Christopher Foster, John Foster and William Farrell. They were travelling in a Lough Erne cot when their boat struck a rock.
June 27th:— A new R.C. Church was being built at Ballintra and a large stack of turf was on the site with which to burn lime. A man called Travers was set to guard the stack (as turf was being stolen in the night) and a man called Magee was found in the act, but however, escaped. The following day Travers went to apprehend Magee and had his arm severed when Magee resisted with a scythe. The countryside rose in pursuit of Magee. During the pursuit a man called Stafford who was “weakminded”, took a gun from Mr. Colville’s house. Colville pursued Stafford who turned and fired at him and fortunately the gun missed fire and Stafford continued to run. Sergeant Jeffers of Ballintra saw this occurrence and he began a pursuit of Stafford who turned again and fired wounding the Sergeant in the thigh. The policeman however caught his man and held him until help arrived, but shortly afterwards the sergeant died. The sergeant left a wife and eight children. Travers’s life was also being despaired of and Magee was still at large.
The old fortifications at Belleek (Belleek Fort) were being investigated by Col. C.B. Lewis of the Royal Engineers and his staff with a view to restoring them so that they could once again hold troops. The paper said this was because of the great amount of civilian disturbance in Fermanagh.
July 4th:— The 38th Regiment of Foot is stationed in Ballyshannon in the Old Artillery Fort on the Rock and it is hoped that a new barracks will soon be built. The present barracks can only hold one hundred and fifty men. The famous Mr. Robert Stephenson, of railway construction fame, had just finished his map and estimate for a railway from Ballyshannon to Belleek. (This is a mention of a very long running saga of canal versus railway to connect the Erne river system to the sea. Canal proposals had begun as early as the latter half of the eighteenth century and some sections had even begun. Now the railway was competing for the task of circumventing the last four miles of the Erne, which because they could not be navigated, deprived the Erne of direct sea communication). Unrest was spreading in the locality and nightly meetings of the peasantry were reported in the vicinity of the town, i.e. Ballyshannon and a large picquet of soldiers nightly scoured the countryside for some miles around. Following on from the events of the previous issue Sergeant Jeffers was buried and Magee, the fugitive, was arrested by Sergeant Maglade of Ballintra. Hundreds of people crowded into Ballintra to see the arrested man in “disgraceful scenes of triumph at the arrest”, and despite the doubts, the injured Travers was mending.
July 11th reports the arrival of a detachment of the 5th Fusiliers in Belleek under Captain Spencer and Lieutenant Hamilton and the soldiers were billeted in the Market House and in Rose Isle House. (This latter building has now vanished under the foundations of the present Belleek Pottery and had been built circa 1750 for the Dowager Lady Caldwell).
August 15th saw the publication of the prospectus of the rival railway companies, the Lough Erne and Ballyshannon Junction Railway and the Dublin and Enniskillen Railway. August 29th issue had notice of a reward of £1000 for any information regarding Molly Maguires or Ribbonmen subversives in Fermanagh. Information could be given to any Resident Magistrate. September 12th reported on ships arriving at Ballyshannon and also gave the cargoes and ships’ masters. These are all ships that have arrived and since they can hardly have come all at the one time it must be a record of ships over the previous month or more.
Ship Master Cargo
The Gote Bothe George Matzy Timber
The Victory David George Slates
The Venerable of Barmouth James Jones Slates
The Ardent of Whitby Zachariah Fletcher Coal and grindstones.
The Henry Volant of Ballyshannon Scotch bar iron, coal, castings.
The Jessey John Morrison Oak staves, coarse and salt butter.
The Sarah of Ramsey William McKinnon General cargo, plates, glass,
tarpitch, oakum and cordage.
Ships expected were – The Birman James Cann Deal, battens.
The Tafvale Bar iron, tin plate.
The Fearnot Mahogany, firebrick and windows, glass, salt and butter.
September 26th gives the first mention of blight when it tells its readers of reported potato crop failure in England. Locally it comments upon the abundance of herring this year and that prospects for the harvest look good, although some, the paper said, did complain of a partial disease. This minor notice heralded the beginnings of the famine in the Ballyshannon area and it was soon to be followed on November 7th by a report which regretted that a great rot had set in among the potatoes, even those that had been carefully stored. Unrest in the area was still prevalent and £100 reward was being offered for the assassin who had made an attempt upon the life of Mr. F. W. Barton J.P., who had been on his way home to Clonelly near Pettigo when he had been shot and wounded. More is to follow this story in the New Year and much more on the famine now poised to strike.