From a series of articles that appeared in the Derry People from January to March 1949
To the prosaic passerby with even the smattering of Gaelic, all that Mullaghderg might mean would be something like “The Red-Headed Hilltop” or that sort of translation. On the map it does not look much, either. A commercial traveller speeding along from The Rosses to Gweedore might tell you that he spotted something like a Martello Tower somewhere in the vicinity of Kincasslagh. But to the aesthetic eye and the folklorist soul of the historically-minded Gael, this bare and barren headland is rich in reminiscence as in archaeological wealth.
TO THE TOWER
I left the road between Kincasslagh and “The Red House.” It runs up to the left. A steep road, but interesting as each yard of height reveals a new and more intriguing horizon. At the top it is not so much what there is, as what there is to be seen.
The little village of Kincasslagh (“The Head of The Creeks”) lies below, but far and away, by land and by sea, the eye could never tire of this seemingly unending vista of wild wave and ever-recurring range of mountain-edging and widely-scattered moorland. The far-flung Rosses is laid bare before us. Not since our stand on Caravan Brae have I viewed such a panorama.
AND CRUIT “ISLAND”
Just across is the strand and creek that separates this Martello-towered outpost of the Lower Rosses from the so-called tide-in-only “island” of Cruit. Mullaghderg may be storied land, but Cruit goes further back still. In a modern history of The Rosses, Cruit could easily and authentatively claim to be an Island of Scholars. And of saints, too, for in and around Cill Bhrighde a store of tradition lies buried.
The Turas is still performed here twice annually over a period of a week-on La Fheili Muire san Earrach (twenty-fifth of March) agus san Fhoghmhar (fifteenth of August). With the particular prayers we are not so much concerned just here, but it is of interest to realise that they connote a Franciscan origin dating back at least over three centuries. It is also worthy of note that the two main centres of intercession are Tobar Brighde and Tobar Muire (indicating a very early language-structure in that there is no aspiration of the initial consonant of the personal name in the genitive case, following a masculine name).
Here, too, we have Leac na hAthchuinge or the “Request Flag” and also the Leachta Beag where the Turas is completed with five Paters and Aves for the souls of the dead.
How many more memories of the grand old days of Erin’s hallowed history might be resuscitated on Mullaghderg! Aye, and of our resurgent struggles to live “our own way of life” (what all modern wars would appear-in propaganda-to be fought for?)
Out behind these golden sand-dunes is the Spaniard’s Rock, where the flagship of the Armada, under Commander Laviniero, was wrecked in 1588. These surrounding acres of Mullaghderg and Mullaghduff (the Red and Dark Headlands) were rented in 1620 from Lord Annandale by Col. Myles Mac Sweeney of Doe (who later lost all-through O’Carroll’s treachery-for the part he had so nobly played in Owen Roe’s campaign).
Outside this hoary headland Wolfe Tone decided to stay aboard the La Hoche and face the fate that awaited him-on the twelfth of October, 1798. These dark hills to the south resounded to the echo of our I.R.A. guns on the night of the now well-remembered Meenbanid Ambush of almost thirty years ago.
AND MODERN AMENITIES
One could pause and ponder many pleasant prolific hours on the height and horizon of Mullaghderg. But, to a rambler through The Rosses, matter more mundane (and materialistic) than monastic or martial reminiscence make inroads on reflection. Not the least of these is a hunger for the hospitality of “The Red House.” To meet Owen of Clann O’Donnell and his sister, Norah (Mrs MacGinley)-and her intellectual husband, the head –master of Mullaghduff School.
Somebody once facetiously referred to Mullaghderg people as “The Redheads” (from the Gaelic name of the place). In the same jocular vein, the residents of Mullaghduff might be called “The Blackheads”! But they have all good Irish heads and names-O’Duffys, O’Donnells, O’Boyles, O’Sharkeys and MacGinley mostly
A LAKE THAT WAS!
After leaving Mullaghderg’s Martello-tower and golden sand-dunes-and finding rest and refreshment at The Red House, I proceeded eastward along by the football field that has been the cradle of so many prominent Lower Rosses players.
Sitting for a while on that natural grandstand of granite rock at the far-away end, I viewed the pitch, the lake and the chimneys of Kincasslagh’s stately homes.
The lake is now partly dried-up and that accounts for the high bridge at Kincasslagh “Cope” referred to as the “The Canal.” Not even a child’s toy-boat could sail up this narrow, deep-dug, rock-edged waterway. Its purpose was the draining of The Lake, and, to a certain extent, the objective was achieved. But whether it was of much material benefit to the surrounding district is a moot point-highly controversial, indeed. At all events, it gave employment-like the Dungloe “Dry Land Pier”! And that is a great matter (as Paddy Óg would say).
“THE SILKEN LADY” !
A beautiful place by day these undulating dunes between the placid lake and the ever-moaning sea. But not so nice at night, at least, not to anyone who ever heard of Bean A’ tSioda-the Silken Lady whose husband, a sea captain, came into residence on a promontory not far north from here.
It is a long story, too long for these columns. Anyway, she disappeared-at all events, in the daylight! And believe me, there are few young people who do not feel “the hair standing on their heads” if they find themselves having to travel alone along by Mullaghderg Banks late at night! So, as twilight was in the air, I, too, decided to head for some more hilarious environment.
ON THROUGH MULLAGHDUFF
The road through Mullaghduff is made pleasant by the many little tricky braes and sequestered glens, so different from those flat tracks usually found along the sea. Beautiful high land here. The sun glints on the windows of Rannafast’s red-tile-roof’d Gaelic College across the winding creek. A full half-mile of shadow-dappled sand-hills extend northward to where the breakers crash on the rocks of Ballymanus.
I knew not why I was so sad. This is the place where it happened. On a sun-bathed afternoon six years ago-the 10th of May, 1943, they saw “the unknown” riding the waves from the northwest. The war was then at its worst. Ships had been seen in flames far out at sea.
One of those deadly boat-traps broke loose from its moorings-and was washed on the rocks. The waves were not powerful enough to blow-in its “horns” and, so, it was mistaken for a harmless barrel of oil or such useful commodity. The sequel had best be left to a Memoriam composed at the time by a Rosses poet.
THE MINE AT BALLYMANUS
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.
Tree 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!
The dregs of this disaster seem still to saturate the placid pastoral atmosphere around Mullaghduff-like the atomic residue of the Hiroshima holocaust. FANAIDHE