Dúchas Thír Chonaill

Donegal Heritage

Owen Boyle and the Fairies

Owen Boyle lived with his mother near Kincasslagh, and worked as a carpenter. One Hallow Eve, on his return home, he found a calf was missing, and went out to look for it. He was told it was behind a stone near the spink of Dunathaid,

and when he got there he saw the calf, but it ran away and disappeared through an opening in the rock.

Owen was at first afraid to follow, but suddenly he was pushed in, and the door closed behind him. He found himself in a company of fairies, and heard them saying: “This is good whisky from O’Donnell’s still. He buried a nine-gallon keg in the bog; it burst, the hoops came off, and the whisky has come to us. “One of the fairies gave Owen a glass, saying he might be useful to them that night. They asked if he would be willing to go with them, and, being anxious to get out of the cave, he at once consented. They all mounted on horses, and away they went through Dungloe, across the hills to Doochary, then to Glenties, and through Mount Charles to Ballyshannon, and thence to Connaught. They came to a house where great preparations were being made for a wedding. The fairies told Owen to go in and dance with any girl who asked him. He was much pleased to see that he was now wearing a good suit of clothes, and gladly joined in the dance. After a time there was a cry that the bride would choose a partner, and the partner she chose was Owen Boyle. They danced until the bride fell down in a faint, and the fairies, who had crept in unseen, bore her away. They mounted their horses and took the bride with them, sometimes one carrying her and sometimes another. They had ridden thus for a time when one of the fairies said to Owen: “You have done well for us to-night.”  “And little I have got for it,” was the reply; “not even a turn of carrying the bride.”  “That you ought to have,” said the fairy, and called out to give the bride to Owen. Owen took her, and, urging his horse, outstripped the fairies. They pursued him, but at Belcruit Strand he drew with a black knife a circle round himself and the bride, which the fairies could not cross.

One of them, however, stretched out a long arm and struck the bride on the face, so that she became deaf and dumb. When the fairies left him, Owen brought the girl to his mother, and in reply to her questions, said he had brought home one to whom all kindness should be shown. They gave her the best seat by the fire; she helped in the housework, but remained speechless.

A year passed, and on Hallow Eve Owen went again to Dunathaid. The door of the cave was open.


He entered boldly, and found the fairies enjoying themselves as before. One of them recognised him, and said: “Owen Boyle, you played us a bad trick when you carried off that woman.” “And a pretty woman you left with me! She can neither hear nor speak!” “Oh!” said another, “if she had a taste of this bottle, she could do both!” When Owen heard these words he seized the bottle, ran home with it, and, pouring a little into a glass, gave it to the poor girl to drink. Hearing and speech were at once restored. Owen returned the bottle to the fairies, and, before long, he set out for Connaught, taking the girl with him to restore her to her parents. When he arrived, he asked for a night’s lodging for himself and his companion. The mother, although she said she had little room, admitted them, and soon Owen saw her looking at the girl. “Why are you gazing at my companion?” he asked. “She is so like a daughter of mine who died a twelvemonth ago.” “No,” replied Owen; “she did not die; she was carried off by the fairies, and here she is.” There was great rejoicing, and before long Owen was married to the girl, the former bridegroom having gone away. He brought her home to Kincasslagh, and not a mile from the village, close to Belcruit Strand, may be seen the ring which defended her and Owen from the fairies. It is a very large fairy ring, but why the grass should grow luxuriantly on it tradition does not say.


The Mine at Ballymanus 1943

Oh weird and wild the wail of woe now borne

Upon the startled night-winds from the west-

Deep gasps of grief and soul-sighs from men torn

By death, grim hideous unbidden guest-

From where great breakers piling on the shore

Awaken eerie echoes o’er the dunes.

Fell waves! Foul, treacherous for-ever more-

While lethal-laden, chanting age-old runes.

Not more decit the steed that enter Troy

And dumped destruction dire within her walls!

Ye bore to Braide that deadly dark decoy

Its victims now lie ‘neath their eighteen palls.

Brave lives, all full of youthful faith and fire.

Strangers to fear, all anxious more to learn-

And hence inquisitive, in deep desire

To probe at things unknown-for knowledge yearn.


Unto the flotsam of that baneful beach

They saw it sail and wondered what it was…

Then rushed along in headlong haste to reach

Their coming destined doom-their tomb, alas!

Wild howling winds begat a drear banshee…

The gruesome monster slowly sought the shore…

A blinding flash! A thund’rous crash    The sea 

Rose up in rage and pain around its roar.

Some to the land were flung, and some to sea…

Some to the skies-to fall in mangled mass:

A silent lull… then shrieks of agony

Now rent the echoes o’er that gory grass.

Three vacant chairs in two once happy homes,

Two widows weeping nigh their orphan’d weans

How suddenly God’s visitation comes!

How swiftly pleasure turn to poignant pains!


Kincasslagh holds eleven tombs to-day,

While seven rest in peace at Annagry:

The goom at eventide when skies are grey

Is deepen’d by this tearful tragedy.

All Irishmen of every creed and class

Now sympathise with those lone folks forlorn:

For those who live, their grief may slowly pass!

For those now dead, new hopes of life be born!

Author unknown

Genealogical Reviews

Whilst thinking about my Irish ancestry well, I decided to see if I could find out the facts and confirm those tales that I had heard over the years. Having seen the service for family reports advertised on the Donegal Heritage site on Facebook, I thought I would give it a try. A tentative enquiry with Jimmy Duffy started a conversation which explained the services on offer and helped me determine what it was that I was really considering. The two main options, a full family history or a ancestral tree and their differing costs were carefully explained with respective costs and, armed with that information, I made my decision to proceed with an ancestral tree.
During the process, contact was maintained and Jimmy continued to keep me informed of progress. This helped greatly as I live in England and was able to maintain contact via the internet throughout. The whole process took about a month, at the end of which I received my ancestral tree, which confirmed the information I had been given as a child. The tree comes printed on an image of the recipients choice; mine was a view of Kincasslagh which invoked childhood memories. Also included are birth, marriage or death certificates where available. The package comes in a sturdy tube for protection.
Anyone wishing to find out further information about their Donegal roots and have a family tree to adorn their wall can rest assured that they will receive a great service from Jimmy Duffy at Donegal Heritage.”
Mike Latham
West Yorkshire


“Would like to thank you Jimmy , For doing my family tree ,and for all the hours of research that you put into it. You have done a fantastic job , I am delighted to find out so much information of my Donegal family history , dating back to 1670. It is fascinating to learn of ancestors who left Donegal to go to America and Australia. To work and live and to start a new life there. Also to find out that I am connected to so many people around the Rosses that I never knew I was connected to , The family history book that you produced for me is fantastic Jimmy so well documented , and laid out in a format that i am able to understand , The book itself is of great Quality Jimmy thank you once again for a brilliant job , I’m sure my granny Gracie Sharkey from Mullaghduff will be happy in heaven that you have done this for me.”

Agnes Taylor Connelly

Ayrshire, Scotland


“I came to County Donegal, to the area called the Rosses, to seek some connection with my Harley ancestors, though I knew it would be a long shot. Taking the advice of my husband’s cousin I spoke with lots of local people about my search. Everyone was friendly and tried to help and nearly everyone suggested I should talk to Jimmy Duffy. So I did. He clearly knows his sources – more than I knew existed – and he is full of local knowledge being from the area. He was a wealth of information spanning practically a millennium and though he could tell a number of stories, when it came to genealogy he stuck to facts, which made me trust him. Though we weren’t able to crack my particular question, I think we will get there in the end thanks to DNA tests being increasingly popular with family researchers. And who knows, we may learn that 200 years ago our two families were next door neighbors.”

Shelley Lanser
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma                                                                                                                 14/5/2016

Woe at Doe

Turlough Óg O’Boyle was the son of Count O’Boyle, Crannógbuí, Ardara. His residence at Faugher gave him facilities for hunting and fishing in the neighbourhood of Doe Castle, the residence of Maolmuire MacSweeney. Aileen, the daughter of MacSweeney, evinced a strong affection towards O’Boyle, which so displeased her father that he sought the life of Turlough Óg. In his deadly displeasure he succeeded, but too well, as the following lines show…


Wild are thy hill, O Donegal, that frowning darkly rise.

As if to greet the mist that falls upon them from the skies;

Dark, dark thy hills, and darker still thy mountain torrents flow,

But none so dark as Maolmuire’s heart in his Castle Hall of Doe.

Fair are thy plains, O Donegal, and calm thy winding streams,

That gently flow by hut and hall beneath the bright sunbeams,

But plain or stream or meadow green or flower upon the lea,

Were not more mild than Maolmuire’s child, so sweet and fair was she.


Stout grows thy oak, O Donegal, and straight thy ashen tree,

And swift and tall thy sons so tall, thy country’s pride to see;

But oak or ash or young men all that sprung from Irish soil,

Were not more stout, swift, straight and strong than the Chief of Clan O’Boyle.


He was the pride of Faugher side, near the hills of Ballymore,

For feats of strength none equalled him from Fanad to Gweedore;

And he would go through frost and snow on the merry Christmas Day

With ringing cheer to hunt the deer from his haunts in dark Glenveagh.


In his little boat O’Boyle would float a fishing he would go,

With hook and line to Lackagh stream that runs near Castle Doe.

High in the Castle tower his loved one lay confined,

And on its lofty battlements in sorrow deep she pined.


At the Castle strand two boats lay manned to wait the rising tide,

Maolmuire there in chief command right cowardly did hide.

And when O’Boyle his homeward course steered by the Bishop’s Isle,

They were waylaid and a prisoner made of fearless young O’Boyle.


They brought him to the Castle, in strong irons he was bound,

And by Maolmuire was confined in a dungeon underground.

But in a few days after inside the graveyard wall

Four stalward ruffians bore a bier wrapped in a funeral pall


Poor Aileen in her tower above beheld the mournful scene,

In mute amaze she cast a glance on the Castle graveyard green,

All pale and death beside a mound of freshly risen soil;

The pall removed she there beheld the features of O’Boyle.


Then with a shriek she madly leaped from the tower to the ground,

Where by her faithful waiting maid her corpse it cold was found.

And in Doe Castle graveyard green, beneath the mouldering soil,

Maolmuire’s daughter sleeps in death with Turlough Óg O’Boyle.


Biddy Duirín (1863-1933)

The National Education System finally came to Carrickfinn in 1898. The building which housed this school was recorded in the Ordnance Survey of 1835 and was inhabited by Edward Sweeney at the time of the Griffiths Valuation of 1858. The first teacher was Mrs Bridget Diver, known locally as Biddy Duirín. Biddy nee Durnin was born in Bunbeg in the neighbouring Parish of Gweedore where her father Hugh and his brother James worked as shoemakers. After her marriage to John Diver (Tharlaigh Mhicí), she taught in the National School in his native Gola Island. John died early in life as did their two young daughters. Heartbroken, she left for a new life in Canada. Soon after arriving, she found that life there didn’t suit her there, so she returned home to Bunbeg.

Biddy got the Head Mistress position in the new Carrickfinn National School which opened on May 5thth 1898. She rowed her currach across the narrow but hazardous estuary that separates Carrickfinn and Gweedore.

Carickfinn School 1898
First day roll call at Carrickfinn N.S 5th May 1898

When the days were short and inclement she stayed in Carrickfinn where she is recorded in the 1911 census in Tammy Alcorn’s household.

April 2012 ...A Carrickfin Farm with Gola Island in the background
Tammy Alcorn’s home where Biddy was recorded in the 1911 census.  Her former home in Gola Island in the background



Mrs Diver a well qualified and experienced teacher had children coming from surrounding areas to avail of her tuition. She taught only in the medium of English and one of her sayings was “who owns these rags” while holding a pupil’s coat up with a stick.

There were eleven boys and seven girls recorded on the first roll call on this historic day. The oldest pupil was Patrick Doherty (Phádraig Airt) a fourteen year from the neighbouring island of Inis Shionnaigh while five years old John Boyle (Mhicí) from Carrickfinn was the youngest.

Boyle, Ed, Cecilia, Patrick, Jimmy, Kate
Two first day pupils Edward and Jimmy Boyle (with dark ties) pictured with their brother and sisters in St Louis, Missouri, USA in the 1920s. Photo kindly given by their relative Diane Hurd McBride

When Mrs Diver was off on sick leave in 1915, a young teacher who had just graduated temporarily filled the position. His name was Jimmy “Fhéimidh” Greene from Ranafast who later was to become the most famous Gaelic novelist of the twentieth century under the penname Máire or Seamus Ó Grianna.

There are no records for the rate of the teacher’s pay but it could have be less than the £17 13s 8d per quarter, the principal of the two teacher Annagry National School received.

On July 19th 1904 an indenture was signed by Victor George Henry Francis Marquis of Conyngham of Slane Castle, Connell Gallagher Tenant and the Most Rev Patrick O’Donnell Bishop of Raphoe. The contract was start of a process which would see Carrickfinn Island getting the first purpose built National School.

The school was built on a site given by Connell Gallagher, a tenant of local Conyngham Estate and was supervised by Rev James Walker, Parish Priest of Lower Templecrone in which Carrickfinn Island was a part. The cost of the building was £228 stg, a grant £152 stg was given by Westminster to the Commissioners of Public Works while the remainder was raised within the Parish. Hughie McCole from the Hills was the stonemason that built the new school.

1-School painting original
Carrickfinn School 1905-1968 Artist: Kim Sharkey

Biddy and her pupils left the old school on the opening of the new building on March 28th 1906. She continued to teach there until the end of term in 1923, when she retired after 45 years of service. She was replaced by Seán McColgan who had assisted her from 1916. She spent her retirement with her sister in Rathmullan where she died on 26th March 1933.


Written by Jimmy Duffy 15th May 2016

Kim Sharkey Art

Multi-media Artist Animator, Kim Sharkey, lives on the North-West coast of Ireland in Co. Donegal.

Check out her work here

The Runaway Fair

The fair day held on or close to February 4th in Dungloe (the fair wasn’t held on a Sunday) each year was an infamous one. It was a particular favourite with couples who, without the blessing of their parents, could ‘runaway’ to get married. The decision to get wed at this time of year was influenced by a Church law forbidding weddings during lent. This fair more commonly known as the “Runaway Fair” was also remembered for all the mishaps and tragedies that happened on this day. While some of these were accidental, others occurred naturally or were acts of God.

See below for details of two of these calamities.

A similar fair in Meenaleck

The following verses tell the story of the “Runaway Fair.”


  (February 4th)

Oh, come from the castle, the cabin and hovel,

Get on your best suit, socks and tie,

Throw way the oul spade and the graip and the shovel,

Then oft to the fair we will hie.



For this is the Runaway Fair o’ Dungloe,

Wi’ tinkers and’ tailors and highclass and low;

Wi’ soldiers an’ sailors and sellers o’ clothes:

The folks will be gathered round staneens in rows,

For this is the Runaway Fair o’ Dungloe.


Though Mary loves Peter for many a season,

Her mother for Peter don’t care:

And as she won’t listen to love or to reason,

‘Tis off to Dungloe with the pair.

‘Tis off to Dungloe, but they don’t go together,

The secret between them is planned:

Sure Peter went early-a calf on his tether-

And Mary cross’d over the Strand.


At four the two meet down beside Mrs Brennan’s:

They stroll round town for a while:

At five the pair part at the door of Mulhern’s-

On both their young faces a smile.

Now Peter goes one way, and Mary the other-

A second sly couple come, too:

‘Tis Big Charlie John and wee Bella McCrudden,

The chapel’s their set rendezvous.


The priest is awaiting: the papers a-signing-

They witness each other in turn:

As Mary smiles shyly at Bella behind her.

A blush on each beauty doth burn.

Two rings are produced, and two pairs get a blessing,

But singly once more each departs:

No time for emotion or kiss or caressing-

Yet four leave with love-laden hearts.


Next day there’ll be talking and gossip in plenty-

What couples came here from Gweedore?

From Acres and Ardveen and far-away Glenties?

From Crolly, Croveigh and Falmore?

Then tighten yer trousers, oul’ Andy Neece Owen,

Ye’ll not yet be sixty till spring:

Put soft sort o’ ‘spake’ on yer Kitty McKeown-

And tell her ye’ll buy her a ring.



For this is the Runaway Fair o’ Dungloe,

Wi’ tinkers and’ tailors and highclass and low;

Wi’ soldiers an’ sailors and sellers o’ clothes:

The folks will be gathered round staneens in row,

For this is the Runaway Fair o’ Dungloe.

Composed by Dominic O’Kelly. Londonderry, February 4th 1942 and 

Published in Donegal Democrat. Saturday February 14th 1942

Disasters that happened on February 4th

Three lifelong seamen lost their lives close to their Gola Island home while returning from the “Runaway Fair” on February 4th 1943. (Larne Times)
prior to 1946
The interior of St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, Annagry before it was seriously damaged by lightening on February 4th 1946.

Republished with kind permission from Irish Newspaper Archive

The Banshee Stone

The Banshee Stone stands by the road
Near Mullachderg Strand
Beneath it lies a fair young maid
She is buried ‘neath the sand
This story it was told to me
By Peggy Mhicí Owen
About a maiden turned to Banshee
Who lies beneath the stone.

1-FB Mullaghderg Waves 6
Mullachderg Strand, looking west to the Old Kincasslach Tower

A loving couple had their home
Near Lovely Mullachdubh
They dearly loved each other
Each day their true love grew
Their romantic bliss was ripped apart
The young maid’s heart broke in two
The Atlantic claimed the young man’s life
Fishing just off Mullachdubh.

Fishing off the coast of Mullachdubh

Fair hair down o’er her shoulders
Her eyes like diamonds shone
The young maid clung onto a rock
She wailed from dusk till dawn
She cried out for her lover
Who was lost in the raging sea
Her cries were heard in Tory, Arranmore and Innisfree

A view of Innisfree and other islands including Tory in the distance from Mullachderg Strand


The young maid turned into a Banshee
Her wail like a wild wolf’s call
Her screeching screams would wake the dead
In each grave in Donegal
The Parish Priest on horseback came
He blessed her and she lay dead
Beneath the rock they buried her
‘Her soul was lost’ he said


If you ever pass the Banshee Stone
Stay quiet and lend an ear
The wailing of the Banshee
They say you’ll sometimes hear
The maiden with the long fair locks
Peggy Mhicí Owen said it is true
She lies beneath the Banshee Stone
Near Dear Old Mullchdubh.

Composed by Neil McGinley

St Brigid’s Eve Remembered



rambles 2
with kind permission from Irish Newspaper Archive



The townland of Thorr was mentioned last week as the ‘end of the line’ into the very heart of the Highlands-across Sliabh Sneachta (only three miles as the crow flies!) lies the upper or eastern end of the Gweebarra Valley. Had we gone sea-wards from Crolly, the ‘end of the line’ would be located in the vicinity of Carraig Mheadhbha (Meave’s Rock) near the Tragh Bhán or White Strand at Tóin Rann na Feirsde (Bottom of Ranafast).



Tóin Rann na Feirsde (Bottom of Ranafast) to the right of the picture


The most Gaelic-minded community in all Donegal is to be found here-a fountain-head of folklore and a reservoir of resurgent nationalism. This is the rugged rock-strew peninsula which gave to Ireland Séamus (Fheilimidh) Mhac Grianna, known to, at least, three succeeding generations of language-learners and literati as “Máire.”

Father Murray, energetic and enthusiastic revivalist, travelled Tír Chonaill in quest of an ideal environment for the Irish college which he had then in embryo. He found his beav ideal at Rann na Feirsde (the Promontory of the Sea-Ford). And here he founded the now-famous Colaiste Bhrighde. Its emblem is St. Brigid’s rush “crosog” inside the circumscription “Brat Bhrighde Orraibh.”

On the night of Monday next, the last day of January, that old custom of the “rush-crosses” (on St Brigid’s Eve) will be observed in Rannafast and, indeed, all over The Rosses hinterland. The children may be seen at dusk, hooks in hand, down along the banks of some sweetly murmuring stream looking for the longest and most luscious green rushes that grow there.

A full fat sheaf of rushes ready for cross-making

A full fat sheaf of them is bound and brought home-to be placed standing against the gable (binn a’ toighe) until the supper and the festivities of oidhche-choinn-féile are over.

Binn a’ toighe (the gable end)


Among the Big Days of the Christian Year in the Gaeltacht of Tír Chonaill, Christmas, Patrick’s Day and Easter are the most outstanding-and for them much preparation is made, even in the poorest of homes. Who would sup sorrow to such dregs as:

‘Lá Nodlag Mór gan im,
Mairt Inide gan feoil,
Domhnach Cásca gan uibheach:
Sé d’fág mé ‘sileadh deor’?

[Christmas without butter,
Shrove without meat,
Easter without eggs: no wonder I weep!]

The Big Nights, that we look-forward-to during the bleak darkness of the winter in the wilderness, are Hallow E’en, Christmas and Oidhche Fheil’ Bhrighde. Though Samhain is synonymous with the beginning of a spell of ease-by-day and áirneal by night, St Brigid’s Eve is a harbinger of newborn hope-with lengthening daylight, early flowers and, later on, the lambs that frolic in Spring where frozen pastures pined and perished in the icy ear of wind and rain.

But the áirneal or cearbhachas (card-playing) is finished for the night. The big delph tea-pot is purring in the white turf embers. A speckled scone of currant-cake is being cut. And other appetising nuaidheachtaí add a fresh fillip of anticipation to hunger that youth seems ever blessed with! “Sé’n féasta is blasta a thigeas go h-annamh” (the sweetest feast is that which is seldom sampled).
The Man o’ the House has now gone for “Brigid.” He carries the sheaf to the doras mór (front-door) with the exhortation: “Gabhaighidh ar bhur nglúine, fosglaighidh bhur súile agus leigigidh isteach Bhrigid!” (Go on your knees, open your eyes and let in Brigid!”-to which all inside give welcome with: Sé beatha! sé beatha!” Similiar salutations are exchanged at the back-door, and then once more at the threshold. The third response from the kneeling household is:
Sé beatha! sé beatha! sé beatha na Mná Uaisle! (sometimes Brighid Bheannaighthe), ie., The Lady of Blessed Brigid. The sheaf is temporarily deposited under the table until the meal is partaken-of.


After supper, the whole family sit around the humble hearth and set about weaving those wonderfully variegated rush-and-straw crosses that are seen in both the houses and the byres attached to every Gaelic homestead in The Rosses.

Cross-making on St Brigid’s EveCapture 2

Holy Water is sprinkled on them next morning (Lá Fheil’ Brighde) before being placed on high as a protection against all ills and evils of the coming year.
In “olden days of undefiled belief,” each member of the family left some garment, e.g., a scarf, cap or handkerchief, out-side in a basket or creel all night. On the following morning it was collected and treasured as “Brat Bhrighdhe”-to be carried on journeys or in times of danger.
At the final night of the ‘Misiún Mór” over fifty years ago, the gallery in Dungloe chapel was overcrowded and sagging dangerously. A woman from “The Hills” tore off her silken head-dress and waved it “Brat Bhrighde idir sinn agus an urchoid.” No one was injured.
Sophisticated city-folk of to-day may feel inclined to scoff, perhaps; but the Rannafast foundation has become and remains the foremost Gaelic College in all Eire-“faoi Bhrat Bhrighde,” i.e., under the aegis of our Mary of the Gael.

Et floreat!

From a series of articles that appeared in the Derry People in 1949

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