Dúchas Thír Chonaill

Donegal Heritage


July 2016

Thatch Cottage Construction 1909

I [Henry Morris] saw the founding of a new house near Dungloe about the year 1909. The bride, about nineteen years of age, had been selected, the match made, and the day of the wedding appointed. One morning, I saw an unusually large number of men building a house. These had been at the wedding early that morning, had come back to the bride’s house, where they got a good meat breakfast, washing it down with a couple of glasses of whisky. Then they tackled the house-building for the young couple. The site was a small space cleared in the heather, convenient to the road, on land belonging to the bridegroom’s father or father-in-law. In the wedding group were three or four masons for every third or fourth man in Donegal is a stone-mason! A couple of the group were carpenters, and those unskilled in either trade made up mortar and attended the masons and carpenters. I should state that the bridegroom and his friends had previously collected stones, sand, lime and some timber on the spot. The house grew like a mushroom.

An original thatch house from the mid 1800s still in use in Miullaghdubh

The carpenters had the door case and window cases ready when the masons had the walls built high enough to receive them, and when the walls had reached the eave course the “couples” and the roofing timbers were ready. When these had been set up they were covered with “scraws”, tough sods of old lea cut very thin and rolled up. This also had been done in advance. It was a short winter’s day, but before the daylight faded the shell of the house was complete. The workers then repaired again to the bride’s house and were rewarded with another good meal, and more uisge-beatha drunk to many wishes of good luck for the young couple. The bridegroom bade his bride good-bye and went home to his father’s house. During some weeks he visited the house almost every day, put in a door and window, thatched the roof with straw, prepared the floor, plastered roughly the inside of the walls, and generally made the house habitable, while the air dried the walls. Then a night was appointed for “dragging” home the bride. She was supposed to be unwilling to leave her parents’ abode. This event was attended by all the neighbours and friends of the young couple. No one attended without bringing a wedding present, all practically useful in an empty house. One brought a pot, another a kettle, a third some delph, and so on. Except a bed and a kitchen table, the bridegroom had nothing to buy in the way of furniture and equipment. The bride now entertained them all in her new house, and a very jolly night was spent, rivalling the wedding day.

Mary Sharkey knitting while her son Patrick repairs the thatch roof of their home in Mullaghdubh Mountain in the 1960s (photo by Time Magazine)

A couple of months go by, and the bridegroom goes off to Scot land, while the bride brings her sister or some other female relative to stay with her. All the summer and harvest the young fear-a’ loighe toils in Scotland, and then comes home for a few months in the winter. In this way a young pair, who perhaps had not £5 when they got married, will live and rear a family of a dozen or more children, fine hardy boys and girls, their cheeks bronzed by the air of the heather all around them. When the boys reach nine or ten years of age they hire out in the neighbourhood for herding, and then after the age of twelve or thirteen they hire out with farmers (mostly Presbyterian) in Derry and Strabane. Later they go to Scotland with their father, if he is still alive, and about the age of twenty they marry like their parents, and thus life goes on.

Author(s): Henry Morris, Seamus Ó Duilearga and Domhnall Ó Cearbhaill.  Béaloideas, Iml. 9, Uimh 2 (Dec1939), pp. 288-298

Published by: An Cumann Le Béaloideas Éireann/The Folklore of Ireland Society

Murder in the Glen; Scailpe Mharcuis

Told by Eoghan Mac Fionnghaile, Mullach Dubh, Ceann Caslach aged 86 years in 1938, Eoghan heard it from his father Domhnaill Ruadh Mac Fionnghaile (McGinley) from Mullach Dubh (Mullaghduff) in 1862.

Just the other day I have past an island in Mullaghderg lake and they call it Óilean Seán and it brought back to my memory when about 75 years ago I had passed the same island along with my father. I asked my father the reason for the foundations of a mud-cabin which had been built there and he told me the following story.

Scailpe Mharcuis

Once there was a man called Seán Ó Domhnaill and he lived in the townland of Baile Mhanuis or Mullagh Dubh Irish

a ruin close to the Ó Domhnaill home in Ballymanus

and that occupation was hunting and fishing.One day he was at sea fishing and his wife was at home, when who should come into the house but a beggar man looking for some help. Sean’s wife rose and gave him plenty oaten cake and some water to drink with it. The beggar said nothing but ate the bread and drank the water. Then he wished to God that she always would have plenty oaten bread and water. Seán’s wife took this prayer very highly, as it was the people’s notion at the time that whatever prayer the beggar would ask he would get from God. The beggar then left. It was not long after the beggar left when Sean came in and his wife was crying. Seán asked her the reason she had for crying but his wife did not like to tell him, but Seán said at last that he would surely kill her if she would not tell him what was wrong. So as last she told him. So after Seán took some bread and water, he rose and got on his hat, took his sword, and asked his wife, which end of the house did the beggar pass when he left. She told him he passed from the west and that meant by Kincasslagh road. So off went Seán and it is said that he came up with the beggar at a place called Cruit Strand. Sean and the beggar fought a duel there but having only a dagger, Sean got the better of the beggar and killed him there and then. Seán came home then after killing the beggar and told the wife all about what happened. Sean’s wife was grief stricken about what happened.

It was said that the beggar was a Connaught man. All the Connaught beggars at that time used [to] frequent Donegal and the Donegal beggars used [to] frequent Connaught. That was all the communication was between Donegal and Connaught. It was not long until the news went to Connaught that this beggar was killed by Seán Ó Domhnaill and Seán got word also that the Connaught men were going to have revenge on him. So Seán prepared and built a mud cabin in Oileán Sean which gave the name Oileán Seán to the island ever since that time. When the mud cabin was built Sean and his son Marcus went to live on the island. They got in contact with the Dohertys of Belcruit and the Dohertys of Meenbannad. The Dohertys of Belcruit were to watch the sea side of the island and the Dohertys of Meenbannad were to watch the mountain side of the island. If the Dohertys of Belcruit were to see the enemy coming from sea, they were to signal to Seán and his son to take the mountain side for safety. The Dohertys of Meenbannad were to signal Seán and his son to sea, if the enemy was coming from the mountain side. So when the enemy did come the Dohertys of Meenbannad waved on Sean and his son against the enemy.

Seán had a currach on the island. When he got the signal himself and his son went into the currach and made by way of Glenmore.

Glenmore today

That night the enemy saw the currach coming up the lake. They divided themselves into two squads, one party staying close to the lake and the other party farther off from the lake. So when Sean and his son landed on the shore the party nearest to him went between him and the currach for fear he would get on the lake again. Seán and his son had to run for their lives. They did run for when the enemy got Sean and killed him there and then. The son being strong and supple went farther up the glen, until he reached the second party who stopped him. Marcus the son had to make for the cross glen. Once in there he thought he was safe as there is a very high spink (cliff) in this glen.

scailpe map
The Blue line is the boundary line between Belcruit and Mullagherg Mountain Pastures. It also show the route taken by Marcus from Oileán Sean at the startof the blue line to Glenmore or Áilt Seán Ua Domhnaill

Marcus got his back to the spink and faced his enemies but none of them had the courage to come closer to him. It was then getting late in the day and they did not know how they would get him rooked (chased) out of glen. At last they thought of rolling a big stone off the top of the spink on top of Marcus.


The spink where off the Connaught men tossed the large stone over to kill Marcus

This stone killed him at once. The enemy then covered Marcus’ body with tons of stones so that they would be sure he would not rise from the dead again. And I am sure myself that it would be impossible for him to rise under the weight of stone that were built over his body. Because it is not “hear say” (rumour) with me about the stones that were built over Marcus’ body. I saw the stones hundreds of times as I used to be looking after cattle and sheep in my young days. I remember to be very many times sitting on top of the wall of stones built over Marcus, and I was not afraid that Marcus would be able to rise. The wall of stones over his body at that time was about two feet high, two feet wide and seven feet long.

There is now a public road passing over Marcus’ body. The place is now called “Scailpe Mharcuis” and the glen is now called “Áilt Seáin Uí Domhnaill.

scailpe 1
The public road  at Scailpe Mharcuis which passes over the final resting place of Marcus Ó Domhnaill

Notaí … Áilt Seáin Uí Domhnaill is a big glen situated between the townlands of Belcruit and Mullaghderg Mountains.

Scailpe Mharcuis  is a narrow glen which crosses the larger glen at right angles. Through this glen runs one of the roads leading from of Belcruit and Mullaghderg Mountains.

Oilean Seán an island in Mullaghderg Lake

Recorded by Pádraig Ó Domhnaill O.S (Teacher) as Béal na Cruite, Ceann Caslach for the School Folklore Collection on 30th March 1938

This story is set towards the end of the 18th century. The following are some historical facts that supports this time frame. The Dohertys came to live in Cruit Island and Belcruit around 1750, and it would be another 10 years before they would have be trusted with such an important role as ensuring the native Seán Ó Domhnaill’s safety. I say that Seán was a native, but local genealogical knowledge would show that the Seán or a generation before him would have came from one of the islands off the Rosses’ western coast.

Oaten bread was the main fare in Seán’s household. This event may have taken place in the days before the introduction of Indian Meal (Maize) to Ireland to alleviate hunger in the early years of the 19th century.

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