First appeared in Derry Journal 16th October 1953
Judged from the viewpoints, the 19th century wasn’t indeed the greatest of centuries; but of course, for those of us who enjoyed its twilight and grew up in the dawn of the century to follow, it naturally has an appeal and fascination of its own. Some of its characters we know intimately; others we heard so much about, as to regard them as near acquaintances. For our forebears in Ireland, the 19th century was of course, the century of the “Famine,” the age of despotic landlordism, etc; but for all that it was too, the century of Emancipation in name and in reality.
Across the water in Britain truly great after the Napoleonic collapse, the last century was hailed as the Scientific Age, but Catholic Ireland had but little interest in the world of Lodge, Stephenson, etc; for them it was the era of school-building and church-building. Not a few of the churches and schools of rural Ireland date back to the post-Emancipation period and little wonder that to-day, a century later, most of them call out for replacement and renovation.
In the course of this article it is intended to treat of a rather obscure happening which took place in the remote Rosses of 1854. Even to-day, the Rosses is sometimes referred to as “the back country” by the people of East Donegal, and if the term is justified even to-day, how much more apt was it 99 years ago!
I would say that rather few of the shore-dwellers of the Rosses at that time saw beyond the natural confines of sea and mountain which seems to hedge them in. 1854 was the year of the Crimean War but I’d think that the Rosses folk at the time were more interested in their own struggle for mere existence than, say in Britain’s victories around Sevastopol. 1854, too, was a memorable tear in the Catholic world, being the year of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and of the founding of Newman’s University in Dublin; but education was only beginning in West Donegal then, and I doubt if the great Cardinal had many admirers in the Rosses!
Amongst the few schools in existence in the parish at that time was a humble thatched building that passed for a school in the townland of Keadue. Built by An Sag-Rua, Rev. James MacDevitte P.P. (1835-1848) this crude educational structure wasn’t a lot to look at but the educational value of such places shouldn’t be judged by their outward appearance or by the amount of glass in their windows. The teacher at Keadue at the time was Paddy Ward and the fact that his name is still revered in these parts assures us that not all the good he commanded was interred with his bones, which lie buried in Kincasslagh cemetery, with a simple granite monument bearing the inscription “Padaí Maighistir” to mark his final resting-place.
On the 29th of November, 1854, the schoolchildren of Keadue had an unexpected holiday. There was no compulsory education those days but, nevertheless, learning was always prized in the Rosses and the children attended school well during the winter months when there was no work to be done at home. As I have said, the comforts of the Keadue Old School were indeed few, and yet it is said that a Bishop once attended it-viz., Most Rev. Dr. James MacDevitte, nephew of the Parish Priest, mentioned above, who became Bishop of Raphoe during the year 1871-1879. It is said that as a boy, the future bishop stayed for a while with his uncle at Mín –Chonchubhair- Duibh in Keadue and attended school there.
On 29th November, 1854, the fury of the elements rendered school impossible. Everywhere men could be seen moving about with bundles of sugáns trying to secure their thatched cottages. The Gaeltacht and CDB housing grants were then undreamt of and that time very few slated houses at the time around the coast.
COMING OF “SALACIA”
At mid-day, when the men of the Rosses had got the situation in hand a ship appeared on the scene which gave them something to talk about for generations to come! She was the “Salacia” and a rock and a strand in the Rosses bear her name to this day. “the Year of the Salacia” (1854) was a milestone or social landmark in the Rosses for many a day and seventy years afterwards Pension Officers were tired of the story; “I have no birth certificate but I was –years when the “Salacia” came to Keadue!”
A sailing ship was no unusual sight in Rosses waters those days, particularly as the sands of destruction hadn’t yet swallowed up the glory of Rutland and Rutland Harbour; but when it was seen that this strange ship was taking the unusual course through the rock-strewn waters of Keadue, men, women and children crowded the hilltops!
One man in Cruit thinking it impossible for the “Salacia” to reach Keadue Strand without being smashed to pieces, bekoning to the captain to steer for a relatively safe cove along West Cruit; but as the man in question used a red handkerchief for signalling, the captain of the “Salacia” interpreted his signals to mean danger and kept the ship off the shore. Miraculously enough, the “Salacia” managed to escape all the shoals and breakers of Keadue Bar but struck the last remaining obstacle on the way, i.e, the Salacia Rock a few yards off the shore! The Master of the “Salacia” did almost the impossible; he steered his ship through waters where a local pilot would in nine chances out of ten, have failed!
Keadue Bar is one of those places of which the “Irish Pilot” advises mariners that it would be futile to steer on a chartered course and that entry is by no means to be attempted without somebody aboard having a local knowledge of the dangerous shoals. How the master of the “Salacia” got so far is still a mystery because with heavy seas running a gale of wind, Keadue Bar breaks right across so that no channel is discernible. It has been said that he followed the movement of Cormorants, a sea-fowl which, it is believed always keeps out on deep water. “The Salacia” despite the great seamanship of her master, Captain Forrest, was left “high and dry” on the Salacia Rock beside Oilean-Carragh not knowing what moment the terrible sea would swallow her up.
KEADUE PEOPLE TO RESCUE
The good people of Keadue in that age of illiteracy and poverty rallied to the rescue and fortunately all the crew were saved. The Coast-guards at Innishcoo were quickly on the scene, but for reasons best known to himself, it is said that Captain Forrest refused them permission to board the ill-fated vessel. It is thought that his refusal under threat to shoot, resided in the fact that he had some unacustomed goods aboard-whiskey and tobacco presumably-which he distributed among the local residents when nightfall came.
The “Salacia” bound from Quebec to Glasgow with a cargo of timber, was still in danger of breaking up and it was decided to salvage the cargo first in order to refloat the ship. The man entrusted with the task of salvaging the cargo and ship by the Collector of Customs and Excise at Derry, was a certain Capt. Coppins, of Derry, who had been engaged on similar jobs all around the coast of Donegal about 100 years ago. Indeed, the name Coppins is still remembered in the Rosses to such an extent that some people think that Captain Coppins and not Captain Forrest was the ship’s master. The master and the crew of the “Salacia” were taken to Burtonport by the Coastguard where they were fitted out with clothes in the premises of Mr. Keon to enable them leave the Rosses.
Capt. Coppins maust have spent some weeks salvaging the cargo of the “Salacia” before towing away the damaged vessel by means of a paddle tug to Derry. While in the Rosses, Capt. Coppins stayed with Charles O’Donnell of Lower Keadue, one of the leading men in the parish in his day. One night in a shebeen in the Rosses, Captain Coppins met a local resident who came to the premises in order to get a drop of spirits to celebrate the birth of his newly-born child. The child’s name was Nancy and the fact that Capt. Coppins attending the christening party explains why she was afterwards called “Nancy Coppins” by the people of the neighbourhood. A native of Glenahilt, her proper name was Nancy Bonner. She has been called to her reward many years ago.
ST MARY’S, KINCASSLAGH
The “Salacia” timber was taken to Innishcoo Island as Rutland Harbour was then the headquarters of Coastguard and Customs in the Rosses.
It was later anchored by the Customs Officer at Innishcoo and the principal buyer was the parish priest, Father Dan O’Donnell, who wanted the timber in order to build a new church at Kincasslagh. It is said the Father Dan got the timber rather cheaply as the only opposition received came from a local Protestant resident who bid at the sale in order to ensure that the timber wasn’t sold to cheaply, from the Customs point of view. This timber was put to various uses in the construction[sic]. The pine beams and pillars used for the gallery of the church were always said to have come from the “Salacia.”
St Mary’s Church, , Kincasslagh, which was opened in 1856 and accidentally destroyed by fire is the subject of a fine article in Irish by the late Niall Mac Suibhne, O.S., Meenamara, in the “Irish Press” of December 1932 or 1933.
Years ago Lloyds of London were asked to give the date of the “Salacia” shipwreck by people from the Rosses who were born around 1854 and who wanted the exact date in order to appy for the Old-Age Pension; but Lloyds weren’t in a position to supply that information. N.B. The “Salacia” had always been called or pronounced “Silecia” in the Rosses and again Lloyds demand that at least the year and the name of the shipwreck be given before they cause a search to be made in their records. The following reference to the “Salacia” is to be found in “The Derry Journal” files dated 6th Dec.,1854. “On the 29th November, the barque “Salacia,” Captain Forrest bound for Glasgow from Quebec, laden with timber, was wrecked in the Rosses on the North-west coast of Donegal, in a heavy gale of wind. The crew were all saved. The vessel, it is feared, will become a total wreck.”
HEARD ENGLISH FOR THE FIRST TIME
For days afterwards, the Keadue school-children watched Captain Coppins and his men at their task of salvaging and heard the then official language of the school (English) spoken for the first time in their young lives by those strangers to the locality! The Rosses, it will be remembered, was 95% Gaelic-speaking in 1854, but I doubt if it would be even 10% Gaelic-speaking in 1954! I only make that remark casually, as it were, but, nevertheless, there is much food for thought in these regrettable facts. 1854, or rather 1847, to be more precise, marked the high-water mark of the Gaeltacht and when or where may we ask will the low-water mark be fixed? The terms high-water or low-water levels as applied to the Irish language are indeed ill-becoming as they presuppose flow to follow the ebb. Will that flow ever come? Time wil tell, and 2054 should have the answer although we won’t be alive to see it!
Leaving this digression of thought let us return to the “Salacia” and the fun of the school-children in a remote country without a bus, car, train, radio or newspaper! The present writer remembers first hearing about the “Salacia” from an old woman who watched Capt. Coppins and his band of workers salvaging the timber from the stricken ship. This old lady told how, as a girl of 12, she sat on Oilean-Carrach watching the operation and especially the killing of huge rats from the beached vessel as they attempted to escape! The sailors, she told me, clubbed these rats, and one sailor at least seemed to derive satisfaction from hanging up bunches of dead rats on nearby spars. Some of those rats escaped but whether or not naturalists can trace Canadian rats in Keadue still I cannot say!
I stair tíre is beag le rá é 100 bhlain ach i sceál parráirte dé, teitear dúinn é bheith na tréimhse fada go loer. Tá trí gluíne daoine imithe uainn ó bhí aimsir an tSalacia ann. Tá said na luí i “n-Acra Maire” agus reiligeacha eile na Rosanna ag fanacht leis an scairt chun Eiseirghe agus guidhimid eiseirghe ghlormhar go raibh aca uilig. Go dtugaidh an Bainrion A Tógagh Ar Neamh céim ard daofa uile go le measc Noamh na Fódhla
No author given, but it is thought to be the work of the late Pádraig Ua Cnáimhsí.
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