From an article that appeared in the Derry Journal in 23 September 1938.
AT RUTLAND ISLAND
In the “Irish Press” of the 20th inst.[September 1938] there appears a beautiful article containing certain reminiscences of Mr. James F. O’Donnell. ex-Co.C.. of Burtonport. who is described as “the grand old man of the place.” One can unhesitatingly assert that no more absorbing historical account has been written on the literary page of this high class daily since its inception. With the celebration of the ’98 Commemorations throughout the country at present, this revival of a memory of Napper Tandy and ’98 possesses a special appeal for all Gaels, but particularly for us in Tír Chonaill. What a pity that there are not more of the type of Mr. J. F. O’Donnell, who takes such pride in his ancestry, and in the storied past of his native Rosses. Another scion of this illustrious clan was telling me the other day that he is building a modern bungalow on the sea-shore site where his grandfather’s great-grandfather had a cabin and cabbage-garden in the dark and evil days of the Penal Code. My own children oft-times play around a hill-top site overlooking the Gweebarra, a seventh generation there of those who verily represent the survival of the fittest. It is also worthy of note that Captain Timothy O’Boyle, whose grandfather is mentioned in the Rutland reminiscences as nearly having been hanged for piloting Napper Tandy’s brig the “Anacreon.” in 1798, himself gave a gallant son to the struggle for Irish freedom during the days of the Black and Tans, in the person of the present Supt. Bernie O’Boyle of the Garda Siothchana.
PLANTED BY SASSANACH
In treating of Rutland Island, so named after the then Lord Lieutenant of Eire. the Earl of Rutland. but locally known in the Gaeltacht as InIs Mhic An Duirn. Mr. “J. F.,” as he is familiarly called, could not have chosen a more intriguing historical subject. Owing to its strategic position. it was seized and utilised by the Sassanach in the years immediately following the Great Plantation of Ulster—the aftermath of the Flight of the Earls from the shores of Lough Swilly—that ill-fated, creek-coasted Lake of Shadows which witnessed as well the capture of Red Hugh and the doom of Tone’s expedition of liberation. The island of Inis Mhic An Duirn was “planted” and we are told that the Marquis of Conygnham erected a bawn there about 1618. Large grants were expended later on in constructing buildings. saltpans. etc. for the development of the fishing industry.
It partly succeeded at first. for we are informed by Lewis that in each of the years 1874 and 1875 the people of the island realised £40,000 from the herring fishery. Co:. Conyngham speculated £50,000 on the building of houses and salipans and stores, and the establishment of a town here for the benefit of the Planters. About this same period, circa 1760, a grant of £400 was allocated for the slating of the old monastery church at Templecrone near Maghery, three miles west of Dungloe. It was here that “Croine Bheag. Virgin of Teampul Croine [sic] . . . of the race of Conall Gulban” (cf. Donegal Martyrology) had founded her nunnery two generations after the time of Colmcille. The splayed sixth-century window still remains to be seen in the eastern gable. The church lands were in Protestant hands now, and the then Marquis of Conyngham had a rectory and vicarage built there at Maghery in 1763.
NAPOLEONIC WAR DAYS
To return to Rutland, however, we note that its importance was greatly enhanced during the American War of Independence and the consequent initiation of the Irish Volunteers. But it was really with the advent of the Napoleonic Wars, at which time the Martello towers at Crowhey Head and Mullaghderg were erected, that Rutland Island became a key-position on the North-West seaboard. The nearest military posts were at Letterkenny, some thirty miles away, and at Ballyshannon forty miles distant. The prosperity of Rutland had, by now, begun to decline, and the “Parliamentary Gazeteer” of 1884-5 refers to it as the “site of an unsuccessful fishing establishment. Of the houses built in 1788 there existed a few years ago a . . dilapidated inn, a custom-house. a surveyor’s house, seven good houses in one street. and sixteen occupied dwellings in another street, and a few other structures of various characters.”
FADING OF MUSHROOM GLORY
And so the beginning of the end had set in for “phantom prosperity ot this garrison metropolis of the Rosses.” From 1785 till 1840 Rutland had reached the zenith of its mushroom glory. Through its post-office all correspondence for the Rosses and Gweeddore was transmitted. This flourishing island village possessed a quay, a custom-house. hotels, saltpans, stores, an inn. and many private houses in several streets, besides a strongly-fortified military barracks capable of housing over a hundred men. Yet. mirabile dictu, in the short space of less than half a century after Napper Tandy’s raid on this British outpost on Sunday, 16th of September 1798, there was not a vestige visible of all its insular greatness.
Lord George Hill. writing in 1847 “Hints to Tourists,” p. 33) describes how Rutland “forty years ago was a beautiful green island. with a military station—a most gay place. But what is it now! —a desert scarcely habitable, a little modern Pompeii. the blowing sand proving a surer though a slower agent of destruction than the flowing lava ” Sic transit gloria mundi.
Dr. Maguire in his “History of the Diocese of Raphoe” Pt. I, Vol. II. p 256) very aptly epitomises its fate in the following words:—
“Rutland, though it was long the garrison metropolis of the Rosses, never had a Catholic church. Nature herself protested against this exotic plantation, and its pampered ascendancy was buried in the indignant sands. The Fosters of the post-office and the Maxwells of the custom-house were mere mushroom gentry, like the mule they possessed neither pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity; and the indigenous O’Boyles have regained some portion of their inheritance. The last alien’s house was purchased by Father Dan O’Donnell for the proverbial song” The swan-song or those who oppressed our unfortunate ancestors.
“Thus shall memory often in dreams sublime,
Catch a glimpse of the days that are over,
Thus sighing look through the waves of time
For the long-faded glories they cover.”
The forging thus of real live links with the more or less tangible past of our own particular localities in, indeed. a far more valuable form of folklore-collection than the intricacies of that recommended national teachers by Dublin civil servants. For those of them who were with us in the Gaelic “push” of over twenty years ago there is respect due. For true-hearted Gaelic-speaking, Gaelic-loving men of the old stock, like Mr. J. F. O’Donnell, of Burtonport, not only admiration but a nation’s gratitude.
By DOMINIC O’CEALLAIGH.