April 2013

History Selection

William Molyneux, born April 1656
Thomas Emmet, born April 1764
John Thomas Romney Robinson, born April 1792
Charles Gavan Duffy, born April 1816
Liam Cosgrave, born April 1920 Seamus Heaney, born April 1939

On this Day: April
1st 1919 - Second meeting of the Dáil Éireann; de Valera elected Príomh Aire.
1922 - British government ordered the release of all Irish prisoners convicted of political offences.
2nd 1761 - Fifty militia men and forty soldiers descended on Tallow to arrest Levellers.
1902 - John Redmond was awarded the freedom of the city of Dublin.
1925 - An Garda Síochána founded from the Civic Guard and Dublin Metropolitan Police.
1972 - Raidió na Gaeltachta went on air.
3rd 1895 - Oscar Wilde launched a libel case against the Marquess of Queensbury.
1931 - Floods in Cork.
1970 - Garda Richard Fallon murdered in Dublin.
1990 - All-party support expressed in the Republic for a motion to abolish the death penalty
4th 1900 - Queen Victoria arrived in Kingstown and travelled to Dublin.
5th 1915 - National Volunteers convened at Mansion House where John Redmond praised their response to the Great War.
6th 1927 - Dan Breen proposed that the Oath of Allegiance be removed from the Irish Free State constitution. President Cosgrave opposed this.
7th 1801 - The trial of United Irishman Napper Tandy began.
1922  - The Special Powers Act was introduced in Northern Ireland.
1941  - A Luftwaffe bomb killed 13 people in Belfast.
8th 1706 - Irish dramatist George Farquhar's celebrated comedy 'The Recruiting Officer' was first performed in London.
1886 - Gladstone introduced a Home Rule Bill to the House of Commons.
9th 1912 - Orangemen converged on Balmoral Showground to declare their opposition to Home Rule.
1934 - The US Minister for Ireland, W. W. Dowell, died at a banquet in his honour.
10th 1923 - Liam Lynch, IRA irregular, captured.
1998 - Good Friday Agreement.
11th 1912 - A Home Rule Bill introduced to the House of Commons.
1951 - Dr Noel Browne, Minister for Health, resigned and his Mother and Child Scheme was overturned.
1966 - The Garden of Rememberance in Parnell Square was opened.
1971 - The GAA lifted its ban on members playing 'foreign games' like football, rugby and cricket.
12th 1792 - The 'barring out' incident occurred at Belfast Academy, which had opened seven years previously. Ten boys armed with pistols and gun powder locked themselves into a classroom. The boys were afterwards expelled.
1912 - Sinn Féin opposed the Home Rule Bill.
1935 - Rath Cairn Gaeltacht established.
13th 1829 - Catholic Emancipation Act became law.
14th 1912 - The Belfast-built Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.
15th 1642 - Battle of Kilrush.
1941 - The Belfast Blitz.
16th 1782 - Henry Grattan declared the independence of the Irish House of Commons.
1970 - Ian Paisley won a by-election in Northern Ireland.
17th 1783 - The Renunciation Act was passed by Westminster, acknowledging the exclusive right of the Parliament of Ireland to legislate for Ireland.
1949 - A 21-gun salute on O'Connell Bridge, Dublin, ushered in the Republic of Ireland.
1969 - 21-year-old Bernadette Devlin was elected MP for Mid-Ulster.
18th 1608 - Governor of Derry, George Paulet, killed by the chief of Inishowen, O'Doherty.
1689 - Siege of Derry by the Jacobite army began.
1918 - Military Service Bill, which includes conscription in Ireland, became law.
1927 - Celtic Park opened in Belfast.
19th 1887 - Gladstone delivered a speech on 'The Irish Question'.
1919 - At their Ard-Fheis, Sinn Féin proposed an Executive Council of the Irish National Alliance which would challenge the right of any foreign parliament to make laws for Ireland.
1939 - De Valera announced that all references to Great Britain and the King would be removed from new passports.
1951 - The Northern Irish Attorney General said that 'Ireland is really ruled by Maynooth'.
20th 1879 - First of many 'monster meetings' for tenant farmers held in Irishtown, County Mayo.
1918 - Irish Parliamentary Party met to oppose conscription.
1954 - Michael Manning became the last man to be executed in the Republic of Ireland.
21st 1916 - Roger Casement arrested at Banna Strand for smuggling ammunition.
1938 - Douglas Hyde selected as the first President of Ireland.
1965 - Liam Cosgrave became the new leader of Fine Gael.
1970 - The Alliance Party was founded in Northern Ireland.
22nd 1694 - In Kilkenny it was ordered that each inhabitant was responsible for paving the gutter before their doors, while the city would pave the rest.
1916 - Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers, tried to cancel all planned manoeuvres.
23rd 1916 - The military council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood met at Liberty Hall to plan a Rising. Proclamation of the Republic signed.
24th 1916 - The Easter Rising began.
1924 - Boundary Conference in London ended in deadlock. A Boundary Commission was established.
25th 1914 - Larne Gun Running Incident.
1916 - Martial law declared in Dublin.
1983 - 2000 people demonstrated in Dublin against the Pro-Life Amendment Bill.
26th 1893 - Edward Carson called to the English Bar at the Middle Temple.
1904 - King Edward VII and his Queen arrived in Kingstown.
1916 - Summary executions of three men including the pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington.
27th 1653 - The last Irish forces surrendered at Cloughoughter to the Cromwellian army.
1880 - Royal University of Ireland founded.
1916 - Major General John Maxwell arrived in Dublin. 12,000 British troops were now fighting the Rebellion.
1921 - De Valera accused the Sinn Féin delegation to London of having ignored the Dáil's instructions
28th 1969 - Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O'Neill resigned.
29th 1916 - Unconditional surrender of leading rebels in the Easter Rising.
30th 1937 - New Constitution of Ireland introduced.
1952 - The Adoption Bill made provision for the adoption of orphans and illegitimate children.

Maud Gonne

Maude Gonne with her children

Maud Gonne making a speech

English-born Edith Maude Gonne was brought to Ireland as a child, where she went on to become a political activist, the muse of William Butler Yeats and the estranged wife of John MacBride, who was executed for his role in the Easter Rising. Gonne was quoted as saying 'I have always hated war and am by nature and philosophy a pacifist, but it is the English who are forcing war on us, and the first principle of war is to kill the enemy'.
Book Review

Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People

Author:     Susan McKay

Publisher:     The Blackstaff Press

Date published:  2000

Northern Protestants by Susan McKay

It was not long after the Belfast Agreement, and controversy still blazed around Drumcree when Susan McKay set out to record the Protestant voices of the North. In a series of interviews she spoke to hardline loyalists and respectable middle class ladies; to people in north Belfast who self-censored for fear of paramilitaries, and to those living in the danger zone of South Armagh; to members of the upper class, to Orangemen, trade unionists, and a 'Lundy' in the SDLP; to artists, writers, academics and children. She asked everyone the same questions. What did they think of the Good Friday Agreement? Were they aware of much social injustice in the past? How did they feel about the current situation? She looked at the status of the scapegoat, the siege mentality, and the role of hellfire religion. Although the violence had quietened by the time of writing, sectarian murders were still claiming victims such as the Quinn children - acts which met with a wall of denial. The book presents such a broad and diverse spread of opinions that it is hard to draw any overall conclusions, except perhaps two: that the situation still bristles with tension, and that political progress is slow but unevitable.

Romantic Inishowen: Customs and Superstitions

Harry Percival Swan

Hodges Figgis & Co, 1947

Boys and goat in Inishowen


A HIGHLY FASCINATING STUDY IS THAT OF SUPERSTITIONS AND STRANGE beliefs. Throughout the world the lore exists in plentiful supply. But our own land is particularly rich in it – myths, spells, pishogues, lucky and unlucky charms, superstitions and odd customs in great variety. Most of these have reached us by tradition, relics of the pagan creeds of long ago – the sun worship, nature worship and Druidism of our Celtic ancestors. It is surprising to what an extent they have refused to be blotted out and forgotten amidst the mutations of a changing and matter-of-fact world, where education and science are even on the onward march. These lingering old customs and beliefs are not only interesting in themselves, but when studied and rationalised are found to contain many beautiful and arresting meanings.
Celtic cross

“Touch Wood”, you exclaim when you have just congratulated yourself on an escape from some undesirable consequence. Why should you touch wood? To primeval man a tree was a god; it had life; it was a symbol of knowledge. When you touch wood you resurrect a belief that was current 5,000 years ago. In days gone by it is said there was growing near St. Patrick’s Well at the Grianan of Aileach a tree which was stuck over with rusty pins placed there by pilgrims. What was behind this practice?


It involved not only tree worship, but metal dread, and was first instituted by a non-metal using people to ward off the magic of newcomers who knew the mystery of bronze and its power in warfare. The same idea is at the bottom of belief in the iron horse-shoe as a luck-bringer – one of the most common superstitions in Inishowen, as elsewhere. By the way, where horse-shoes are fixed (as to a door or a cart) the ends are pointed upwards and not down. Evil was supposed to travel in circles, and when it reached the ends of the upturned horse-shoe it was frustrated; but if the ends pointed downwards, it could drop to the earth and find a victim.


And why is a black cat lucky? The belief goes back to ancient Egypt when the cat was worshipped as the goddess Bast or Bubastis. A cat can see in the dark and, if black, cannot itself be seen, hence creating a ghostly illusion.


White heather, found on many of the Inishowen hillsides, is also considered lucky for its wearer and is much sought after. The belief grew up because white is a token of goodness and purity of life. For instance, we read that the Druids performed their rites standing under an oak tree, clothed always in a pure white robe, symbolical of perfection.


Another rite practised by the Druids was the worship of water as represented in wells. It is mentioned in the Book of Armagh that the heathen worshipped water as a god. Indeed at one time well worship prevailed all over Europe. This may help to explain the old superstition that if you “muddy” the well at the top of Slieve Snaght you will break the weather, and be overtaken by fog or rain on your way home. And, by the way, those who climb Slieve Snaght are supposed to carry a piece of bread in their pocket. Otherwise it is said that if they happen to tread on “Hungry grass” they will faint by the way. Hungry grass or Feur Gorta is a white coarse grass like Keab (ciob).


Stone objects also were venerated in pagan Ireland. It is considered highly unlucky to interfere with a standing stone, cromlech, dolmen, or megalithic monument of any sort. This is a very fortunate superstition indeed, as it has prevented many a farmer from removing suchlike from his land. In the map of Borlase’s Dolmens of Ireland, 85 megalithic monuments are shown as still extant in County Donegal. Most of them, doubtless, owe their preservation to superstitious fear of the consequences of their removal.


Speaking of lithic objects reminds me of the custom for passers-by to add a small stone or pebble to the cairn beside the ancient well in Mamore Gap. This is believed to bring luck to the wayfarer and to prevent tiredness. It is likewise thought to be lucky to place a pebbe on the top of Cooley Cross when you visit it. This is a very old custom, the underlying idea, doubtless, is that your act is a sacred acknowledgement or votive offering.


Another old custom, that of kindling large fires on the evening of the 24th June is believed to be a survival of Baal worship or sun worship. Beltine, .i.e. lucky fire (bonfire) consisted of two fires which used to be kindled on a hilltop by the pagan lawgivers, accompanied with great ceremony and incantations. The people used to drive their cattle between these fires to guard them against disease. This practice is forbidden in a verse of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not pass thy seed (children) through the fire to Moloch.” Sir William Wilde in his book, Popular Superstitions, suggests that the lighting of these fires carried out in pagan times on the 1st of May was transferred by St. Patrick to St. John’s eve in honour of St. John the Baptist. You may still see these fires in many of the villages in Inishowen on that night – “Bonfire night”, as it is called. It is considered lucky for young men to carry away burning brands from the fire when they leave for home, and such brands are sometimes thrown into the fields to bring luck to the crops.


There is said to be luck in odd numbers, and the mystic number seven is regarded as being particularly lucky. Many reasons suggest themselves: the seven days of Genesis, the seven days of the week, the seven metals known in the ancient world, and the seven golden candlesticks of the Apocalypse.

Again, a very common superstition tells us that it is unlucky to sit down to a meal with thirteen at the table. If you do, the consequence is that one of the party will die before that day twelve-month. This belief arises from memories of Judas and a tragic supper table. Of somewhat similar origin is the superstition that Friday – the day of the Crucifixion – is by sailors regarded as an unlucky day whereon to begin a voyage. Householders dislike removing on a Saturday – “Saturday flit, short sit”, also Saturday is for a wedding “no day at all.” Mention of a wedding brings to mind another custom, namely, for brides to wear for luck “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”, and for them to send their friends a piece of wedding cake “to dream on”. Again an old shoe is frequently thrown after newly-married couples for “happy travelling” on the honeymoon.


Wells or springs that had been formerly pagan were often blessed by the saints. Perhaps that is the origin of the old custom, that diseased cattle were plunged into the deep part of the river near Culdaff, and the aid of St. Buadan invoked in curing them. On June 9th, St. Columba’s day, it was the custom to swim cattle where St. Columba’s Well flows into the sea in order to protect them from disease. At Clonmany on the right side of the road leading from the chapel to the church, if a circuit is made round a little hillock there, earth taken from it will cure disease. The circuit must, however, be made in sunwise direction (or “tempadeasil”, not anti-sunwise (or “widdershins”). Similarly, whenever you visit a circular monument such as the Grianan or Aileach, the Walls of Derry or Bocan stone circle, you do so sunwise. It is supposed to be lucky to walk round sunwise, i.e. in the direction of the hands of a clock. When visiting a farmhouse where the churning of milk is in process you should bless the work and take a spell at the churning yourself. If you fail to “take a brash” the butter, so it is said, will be slow in coming or else be poor in quality.
You, my reader, may claim that you, being a wise and practical person, are not superstitious, but you will doubtless prefer to be at any rate on the safe side, like the young ladies in the following story:-


The members of a learned society were on one occasion visiting Ballyiffin and were taken to see the “Cathair-an-Tholais” (locally pronounced kiro-tallas) or “Chair of Leisure”. They were told the legend associated with this natural stone chair, which is to the effect that any unmarried lady who sits in it will never be wedded. Amongst the party were a large number of educated and sophisticated young ladies, many of whom were graduates of Universities. These young women doubtless would scorn being labelled superstitious. But when the leader of the party called for volunteers to sit in the chair, would they? Not one of them. On no, thank you – they were taking no risks – there might be something in this old legend after all!


One of the old customs of Inishowen consisted in all, or nearly all, the grown-up boys and girls of the six surrounding parishes meeting on Heatherberry Sunday at the spring-well called Suil-a’-Tobair near the top of Slieve Snaght (the highest mountain in the peninsula). Heatherberry Sunday was the Sunday before the “Gooseberry” fair day of Buncrana (26th July). Met ostensibly for the purpose of gathering heather-berries, the boys and girls when they came together on the mountain, turned the event into a social occasion. They danced, frolicked, sported and generally enjoyed themselves. Amongst the games played were Leap-frog and Rounders, but “Duck” was the most popular game. As a sequel to these chance meetings and mountaintop flirtations many weddings resulted. The period of courtship usually continued from Heatherberry Sunday till “Runaway Sunday” or “Galloping Tuesday” as the Sunday before Lent and Shrove Tuesday were popularly called. A country wedding was then generally a big event. It ended with feasting and merrymaking and a “Ceilidhe” lasting into the small hours of the morning. The origin of Heathberry Sunday (which was not confined to Inishowen) is lost in the mists of antiquity. But fashions have changed, and this old custom has in recent years almost entirely died out. I myself was for many years a regular attendant until the year 1909.


Beside St. Columba’s Well at Slavery, near Buncrana, there is to be seen an interesting example of a shallow double bullaun or basin stone. Double cavity stones of this type are commonly called Gloonan Stones (from the Irish word “glun” meaning a knee). Tradition tells us that they were used by the saints to kneel on. Local examples are rare, but a somewhat similar stone is to be seen outside Long Tower Church, Derry. It too is associated with St. Columba, and is called St. Columba’s Font. Dr. Macalister thinks it probable that such double basin stones were used primarily to hold water to be consecrated for curative purposes, and later they were adapted as “kneelers”.


Local tradition has it that St. Buadan blessed the port of Bunagee at the mouth of the Culdaff river, and it is said that a fishing boat putting out from that port was never lost. So strong was this belief that new boats used to be brought overland from Malin and other places to be launched at Bunagee, so as to have the benefit of St. Buadan’s blessing.


The practice of blessing the boats is not yet obsolete. Columba blessed the boats at the entrance of Lough Foyle.

Steersman: Let us bless our ship.
Crew:  God the Father bless her.
Steersman: Let us bless our ship.
Crew:  God the Son bless her.
Steersman: Let us bless our ship.
Crew:  The Holy Ghost bless her.

Save us and shield us and sanctify us;
Be Thou, King of the Elements, seated at our helm,
Lead us in peace to the end of our journey,
With winds, mild, kindly, benign and pleasant;
Without swirl, without whirl, without eddy;
That would do no harmful deed to us.
We ask all things of Thee, O God,
According to Thy own will and word.


The making of St. Brigid’s Crosses on St. Brigid’s Eve – the 31st of January – is one of the customs that have been faithfully preserved in Inishowen. Perhaps in no district in Ireland is this custom and the beliefs attached to it so well preserved in town and country alike.

Green fresh rushes are carefully sought and selected. At night time the women of the household peel, prepare and boil a pot of potatoes. The water is then drained off, salt and butter are added, and each person takes a turn at pounding the potatoes with a “pounder” or “beetle”. The mashed potatoes are known as “poundees”. The rushes are strewn on the table after the manner of a table-cloth and each member partakes of the “poundees”.

Now commences the work of making the crosses. This is a work of art, in which old and young vie with each other in making the nicest and best. Usually the older ones score, as the years have given them speed and perfection in their craft. The cross, when completed, is of the four-armed type – a tightly interwoven square with sides produced in lateral order. When a sufficient number of these are completed, more artistic ones still are made of oat straw and fir “spales”. A cross is formed by the fir rods or “spales” and straw is rolled round them bandage-fashion. In the centre and at the ends straws are interwoven to form diamond-shaped figures. On the morrow – St. Brigid’s Day – the 1st of February, one will be placed above the entrance door of the dwelling-house and one over the entrance door of each of the outhouses – and remain there until taken down and replaced on next St. Brigid’s Day.


During turf-cutting operations on a bog at Drumley, Gleneely, Moville, in June, 1943, Mr. George McLoughlin came upon a circular wickerwork receptacle which fell to pieces when disturbed. It was found to contain, in one solid mass, about 28lbs of the fatty substance known as “Bog-butter”. The butter was yellow in colour but turned pale after being exposed to the air for some time.

Hitherto, the finding of “Bog-butter” has been rare in the north, and this was the first recorded instance of its discovery in County Donegal. The custom of burying butter in bogs is of very great interest, although the period of origin of the custom is unknown.

Various historians have put forward different theories to account for the practice; some that it was buried for preservation until the annual winter shortage; others that it was buried in order to acquire a flavour in the absence of salt; and more that the custom had a religious significance, being offered as a thanksgiving to the water-gods, for cures to milch animals such as cows and goats. When we remember that our bogs were originally lake-bottoms, and that the “butter” has been found throughout Ireland in containers of wood, bark, skin and cloth, as well as wicker, we are inclined to believe the last-mentioned theory.

Mr. George McLoughlin very kindly presented his find of “Inishowen Bog-Butter” to the National Museum, Dublin, where it now is.


West of Moville in the townland of Lecamy on Mr. Elkin’s lands near the base of Crocknammerragh there is to be seen an example of an ancient Sweat House. According to Joyce, Sweat Houses were used in Ireland from the earliest times down to the early in the 19th century for the cure of rheumatism. This one, called the Lisnalecky’s Sweat House, is a roughly-built round structure beehive in shape, with corbelled roof no longer complete. The building is 7 ½ feet in height, with a circumference at the base of 40 inches, and there is a low lintel-covered little door through which one must creep. According to Joyce, Sweat Houses were used in this way: A great fire of turf was kindled inside till the house became heated like an oven; after which the embers and ashes were swept out. Then the person, wrapping himself in a blanket, crept in and sat down on a bench of sods, after which the door was closed up. He remained there an hour or so until he was ain a proper perspiration; and then, creeping out, plunged right into cold water, after emerging from which he was well rubbed till he became warm. After several baths at intervals of some days he commonly got cured. In Germany a Turkish bath is called an Irish bath, as the idea is said to have come from Irish Sweat Houses.