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NIGHT OF THE BIG WIND IN THE ROSSES

NIGHT OF THE BIG WIND IN THE ROSSES – THE LOSS OF THE ‘ANDREW NUGENT’ 

First appeared in the Derry Journal in July 1955.

 

 

“Along its wild indented coast,

     There were frequent heavy losses;

The “Andrew Nugent” went down in Thirty-nine,

     The Big Wind Night in the Rosses.”

There has been many fierce storms in the course of the nineteenth century, but amongst all these one seems to stand out in broad capitals in the memory of the Irish countryside, namely, that of January 6th, 1839, or the Night of the Big Wind, as it has been popularly called. The stories about that dreadful hurricane were told by the Irish seanchaidhes until the last of them was called away; and, even to-day, echoes of that memorable night are yet to be heard although naturally the details now are becoming more vague and blurred with the passage of years. The purpose of this article is to put on record some facts and experiences of the Night of the Big Wind in the Rosses in order that the present generation, and especially the younger generation, should know them and, as it were, pass them on to posterity. As the Big Wind swept in from the Atlantic and howled across the country from the west, its full force was felt along the bleak western seaboard, stripping the poorly constructed thatched cabins in its path. Little wonder, then, that Oiche Na Gaoithe Móire, La An Bhriste Mhóir (Tone’s Last Fight Off The Rosses) and tales of the Great Famine were the main topics of seanchas along our coast for the century just past. 

Social and Political Background

A word about the social and political background of the year of the Big Wind. The lot of our forefathers in 1839 wasn’t a lot different from what it had been in the dark century preceding it. It was the Ireland of the Tithe Agitation, of Father Mathew and the recently-established “Poor Law” The latter was but a superficial remedy for the many ills of the time. The conditions for a national calamity were already in existence, and it only required the culmination of tragic events In the years immediately following to bring about the catastrophe commonly referred to as The Great Famine. The landlords were still the ruling class of the day but if they only stoped to think they could even then have seen for themselves the writing on the wall. Around that time somebody reminded them that property had its duties as well as its rights and privileges but all this they, of course, ignored. It was the age of Fintan Lalor whose teaching fore-shadowed the Land War of later in the century and whose sound principles no present-day system of government can afford to ignore. It was the era of rack-rents exacted from tenants-at-will reduced to a state of abject poverty so vividly described in the Report of the Devon Commission. After 39 years of Union the people of Ireland had yet, to see its benefits. Instead of the prosperity it enjoyed under the Dublin Parliament it now was on the brink of economic and social ruin. The country was worse off than ever. 

Coming of the Wind

January 6th, 1839. the Feast of the Epiphany, was a Sunday. The wind began to rise about six o’clock in the evening it increased to gale force around bedtime and by midnight it had become a hurricane. For six long hours, from midnight until six o’clock in the morning, the storm raged. It was generally stated that the wind was westerly but that is not strictly correct, it was a point north westerly. A contemporary report for instance, describing the storm in Enniskillen, states that the direction of the wind changed from N.W. to West at six o’clock on Monday morning, January 7th. when the storm moderated somewhat. Whether westerly or north-westerly, the force of the wind was felt in no small measure along the coast of the North-West. In the towns of the South and Midlands slates were ripped off and chimneys came tumbling down, causing whole towns to blaze. Eighty-seven houses were burned to the ground in Loughrea; half of Kells was reduced to ashes, while Navan also suffered severely. Before morning the countryside was like a place devastated by a modern bomber force using both high explosives and incendiaries. A newly-built church was left roofless in County Galway while great damage was caused to tree plantations, and housing in the towns of Kilkenny, Moate, Belfast and elsewhere. In towns no one stayed indoors as the fear of falling masonry and slates kept them off the dark muddy streets. The skies were further Illuminated by the dazzling beams of the Northern Lights which added to the terror of the grim spectacle. As one might expect, there was little rain but where showers fell it is said that the force of the raindrops broke panes of glass as they were lashed against them by the driving wind! This would be unimaginable in the Donegal Gaeltacht at that time, because the windows in the houses then (where there were such) had very small panes. There were no housing grants then. 

Men, Woman and Children Pray

The Night of the Big Wind struck terror into those living along the exposed coast from Malin Head to Erris Head. At that time there were scarcely any slated houses and the frail thatched cabins swayed and trembled under the pressure of the wind. Men, women and children prayed in the flickering light of the turf-fires or the rush-candle in an age when the E.S.B. and modern pressure lamps were unheard of. There were no storm lanterns at that time and the men-folk had to stay indoors as they could do little to secure the roof, etc., in the darkness of a winter’s night with a gale of probably more than 100 m.p.h. raging. Even they had had flood-lighting there was little they could then do. Boats were smashed to pieces on the beaches all along the coast of Donegal, much to the discomfort and loss of their hard-pressed owners. It is said that the spume and spray from the sea was carried miles inland by the wind, rendering the water in wells, lakes, rivers, etc., salt for weeks afterwards. No place seems to have escaped. Great shipping losses were incurred in Liverpool and in Cork harbour, as well as elsewhere around the coasts. The destruction was general. 

Previous Storms

There seems to have been other great storms earlier in the century, too, particularly in 1802 and later in 1819. In the Rosses the seanchaidhes told us about Oiche Na dTor Buidhe and Oiche Sheain Mhic Shomhairle but Oiche Na Gaoithe Moire seems to stand out by itself. It was, or has been, a milestone in that age of illiteracy which had yet to know the usefulness of both a clock and a calendar! When the Old Age Pension was introduced in 1909 the Night of the Big Wind was adverted to in order to fix or determine an applicant’s name. “Do you remember the Big Wind?” was a stock question with pension officials in those days, as certainly anybody who had remembered that night would have been well over the seventy mark by 1909! 

“The Night of the Andrew Nugent”

In The Rosses the Night of the Big Wind was commonly referred to as the Night of the “Andrew Nugent.” The present writer remember asking a Rosses seanchaldhe once if he heard anything about the Big Wind and he replied that he didn’t, strangely enough, but at the same time he could tell me the story of the “Andrew Nugent” from beginning to end. No blame to him he didn’t know that “The Night of the Big Wind” and “Oiche An Andrew Nugent” were synonymous. Wasn’t there a character In Moliere who had been speaking prose for a lifetime without being aware of it? The Andrew Nugent”?  After a long night of terror there was a sigh of relief when day dawned on the morning of January 7th, 1839. Neighbours helped each other in their difficulties and exchanged tales in Gaelic by their firesides regarding their experiences of the night before. (Incidentally, one could count on one hand the households that spoke English in the Rosses of 1839, but to-day, alas, the position is almost the reverse). The storm was not yet over, but its fury had abated somewhat, since six o’clock in the morning. Losses were assessed and houses and haggards were fortified and put in readiness for possibly a worse night yet to come. It was a short, dreary day, of anxiety and dread with dark clouds racing across an angry unsettled sky. The folk In the islands and on the mainland of the Rosses were settling down to yet another night of fear and anxiety when a ship rounded the head of Arran, making towards harbour and, as they thought, safety after having battled for two long days with the fury of the Atlantic. She was the ill-fated ‘Andrew Nugent,’ a brig of some 300 tons owned by Messrs. Scott & Patrickson, of Sligo, and bound for London with a cargo of bacon, butter and general provisions. As nobody aboard her survived to tell her full story, it can never be told. But it is well to piece together whatever information has come to hand. 

She had left Sligo the previous morning (Sunday) and had thus been two days at sea, as can be learned from the following brief despatches from Lloyds’ agent at Sligo to the head office in London: 

“SLIGO, Jan. 7. 1839- It was a very heavy gale last night and this morning from W.N.W. The *Andrew Nugent’ -sailed yesterday morning, for London, and it it is hoped she got round Tory Island before the gale commenced.” 

“SLIGO. Jan. 11. 1839 – The ‘Andrew Nugent,’ Crangle, from hence for London. is totally lost with her crew at Arranmore.” 

It was about four o’clock in the evening when the “Andrew Nugent” sailed into Arran Roads. Whipped up by the terrible wind of the previous night, the seas then ran mountains high. Had she been fortunate enough to make land a few hours earlier her fate might have been entirely different. As the position then stood, it was a race against time and storm as the shades of night were falling fast and the problem was could she be safely moored before darkness would set in? 

Beacon Fires Lighted

The residents of the islands perceiving that she was steering on a dangerous course —probably towards Cruit and Keadue Bar—decided to light beacon tires to direct her on a safe course to the anchorage between Arranmore and Rutland. With this object in view, a fire was lighted on Pollawaddy Hill in Arranmore, and some say a second fire was lit in Eighter. The fires were successful for after they were lighted the “Andrew Nugget” tacked and sailed across the North Bay until she was near the shore off Pollawaddy in Arranmore. Although far from being safe, she yet had probably her first respite from the storm since the previous evening. Rutland Harbour was still in its hey-day at that time and piloting was a career, so to speak in the islands then. There were two pilots living in Pollawaddy (Arranmore) at that time; one Tom O’Donnell and another whose surname (Coll?) is now unknown. but who is remembered by his nick-name, Slip-on.” There was a certain amount of rivalry and jealousy it is said between these two men of the same calling, but for once, at any rate, they joined hands in face of the common danger! They both put out in the same boat to reach the “Andrew Nugent.” The heavy seas made it almost impossible for their small boat to come within safe distance of the distressed vessel. After much manoeuvring however, Pilot O’Donnell managed to get aboard by taking advantage, I suppose, of a lull in the storm and clambering on to the ‘Andrew Nugent’s” fore-rigging. Immediately Tom O’Donnell managed to get aboard, “Slip-on” and his boat-mates rowed back towards the shore in Arranrnore leaving the pilot to his unenviable charge. Tradition has it in the Rosses that the ship’s steering was by that time defective and that on hearing this, O’Donnell decided to return to his island home. He called to the pilot-boat to return for him. but his calling was in vain. Night was falling and the men in the pilot-boat realising their perilous position decided to get to safety.  O’Donnell was left aboard the ”Andrew Nugent.” 

Pilot O’Donnell’s Bravery

It remained for the Pilot O’Donnell then to bring the ship to the anchorage south of Calf Island in Arran Roads where there would a reasonable hope for her safety if conditions did not deteriorate entirely. At any rate there was no time to lose. They set sail again and negotiated the narrow channeI between and Meallagh Beacon and Calf !stand on their way towards the anchorage. With the conditions that prevailed and their ship probably damaged from her two days in the Atlantic, this part off the operation was dangerous, especially for a sailing vessel. Local tradition in the Rosses has it that when she was midway through this channel a dangerous reef known as The Blind Rocks broke over her washing most of her crew off her deck!  There will be something further to say about this later on. Despite this set-back, Captain Crangle and Tom O’Donnell succeeded in bringing the “Nugent” to the anchorage in Arran Roads where they dropped anchor for the night. Had they be in a position to do so, they would have taken the ship probably to Rutland Harbour but the elements robbed them of any opportunity of doing so. There should have been sixteen men aboard her for the night- her master, Captain Crangle, her crew of fourteen and pilot Tom O’Donnell, but, as it will be shown later. most of these may have been drowned beforehand.

The Last Struggle

  At nightfall with heavy seas running the “Andrew Nugent” seemed to have been riding the storm safely, but before dawn things were different. The wind changed from west to north during the night and both sea and wind combined, tore the ship from her moorings so that she drifted on the rocks. She was buffered southwards before the tide, wind and heavy seas and carried to her doom. She struck at Duck Island and her wrecked hull was carried farther southwards before the elements before finally settling on the beach west of Rutland. She became a total loss and everybody aboard perished. Her remains can still be seen there at low tide and only a few weeks ago the “Derry Journal” carried a report that part of the wreckage was washed up there. When found, the wreckage had fifteen fathoms of chain attached to it.

  The “Andrew Nugent” was built in Portaferry, Co Down in 1826, and the “Belfast Newsletter” of the 31st January of that year tells of her launch there. She was built at Thomas Gelston’s yard and the account of her launch gives a description of her build, design, etc., and says the “ as a specimen of naval architecture few excel her.” There is a proverb in Irish which say: “Deireadh gach long baitheadh” and though its truth does not apply to modern ships, it certainly was true of the great majority of the old sailing ships. The Nugents were and still are Lords of the Manor in Portaferry and this, I take it, explains the ship’s name. 

Captain Crangle

 Her master. Captain Crangle, was a Co. Down man according to tradition in the Rosses, but it is obvious that his domicile prior to his death was Sligo. His body was washed up on the beach at Innishinna, a little island north of Innishfree in Dungloe Bay, his remains were left over-night in St. Peter’s, Dungloe, and later buried in Templecrone. The writer remembers hearing from an old man in the Rosses that “the church was lighted the night the remains were there” while the residents of the town or village as it was then, came in to say a prayer for the brave Captain’s soul. 

  The shores of the ‘Rosses were strewn with wreckage for weeks to come. Some, it was said, prospered by the calamity. There were an old ballad which ran: 

“Many a drowsy merchant has built an awful shop. 

   For they have got fat from greasy pots. 

     All by the wreck the ‘Andrew Nugent:” 

The authorities did their best to salvage the wreckage but times were hard in the Rosses at that time and those that found butter, etc., were loathe to hand it over to the Receiver of Wrecks. A lot of butter, etc., it is said was buried temporarily in bags to be dug up weeks later. 

Ship Owner’s Report

The “Sligo Journal” of January, 1839, has this interesting account of the disaster: 

“It is our painful duty to record the total wreck of the ‘Andrew Nugent; the well-known trader of Messrs. Scott and Patrickson, of Sligo, commanded by Captain Crangle, whose body has been washed ashore, and all on board perished. The ‘Andrew Nugent’ was wrecked at Rutland, on the coast of Donegal, and as soon as the distressing intelligence reached Sligo, John Scott, Esq., of the respectable firm of Scott and Patrickson, immediately proceeded to Rutland. The following is an extract of a letter written by that gentleman, dated, Rutland 15th January, 1839: 

“I saw the spot on which the body of poor Crangle was found; he had on only his trousers, vest, shirt, and stockings, no shoes or jacket, but his cap on his head. He could not have been dead when the vessel was wrecked. He has been the most respectably interred in the graveyard of Templecrone by Priest Mac Devitt—the captains of the vessels here (Rutland), the coast-guard, etc., attending. It was impossible to procure a leaden coffin here, otherwise I would have had the remains conveyed to Sligo.”

“None of the crew has as yet been found. I have reason to believe that the vessel must have been run into at sea by some other vessel and disabled or she would not put back. Between the chains there is a piece of plank with canvas under it, nailed on, where she would appear to have been stoved in by a vessel running into her. I understand she did not appear to have had hands sufficient to work her when she came into the Sound, round Arranmore. It was about four o’clock in the evening with dark and heavy squalls. She appeared to have been taking the wrong course, and a light was put up in Arranmore. She then tacked—a boat went off and put a pilot aboard. with the greatest danger. This man was also lost. The men in the pilot boat say that they could not see more than two or three men on board the brig.”

“Shortly after she got into Arran Roads between Arranmore and Rutland Island, the anchor was let go and she appeared to be riding safely, but no boats from Rutland could approach her, the sea was so heavy. It became awfully dark, with heavy squalls, and during the night she must have dragged on the rocks, when all on board perished. In the morning she was found with her decks blown up, all the masts and rigging gone and the shores strewn with wreck.” 

“Nine hundred and ninety-two casks of butter and about one hundred and eighty-two casks of provisions in a damaged state were saved. We are happy to learn that the owners of the “Andrew Nugent,” Messrs. Scott and Patrickson, are fully insured both for vessel and cargo.”

This letter makes no mention of the Blind Rock Reef breaking over the ship. It is possible that the damage he attributes to a collision with another ship or floating object at sets was caused by the ship damaging her under-structure somewhere in this locality. She may have been leaking after the anchor was dropped and that the canvas was then tacked on to staunch the leak. 

Captain Crangle, it is said, was a very strong swimmer. It has been said that his brother (?) later visited the scene of the disaster and could not understand how the captain was drowned in such a short stretch of water as there is between where the ship foundered and where his body was found. The visitor (Mr Scott (?) was stated to have said that thought Captain Crangle could swim the whole length of Boylagh Bay. It would be hard for even the best swimmer in the world to have made shore from the “Andrew Nugent” in the place and at the time she was lost. 

 

Tragic and Pathetic Story 

The story of the “Andrew Nugent” is both tragic and pathetic. For twenty-four long hours, she battled with fearful odds against probably the worst storm of the century and then, having sought refuge and safety, she only met, tragedy and doom. Captain Crangle and his men must have come through a terrible ordeal off the Donegal coast the previous night. The fact that they survived it is, indeed, proof of their great courage and superb seamanship. They must have come through death on one of the worst coasts in Ireland. It is quite obvious that they had not passed Tory Island or Captain Crangle would have made for Lough Swilly. Instead, he turned back to Arran Roads where he met his doom. 

By Carraig-an-Ime

First appeared in the Derry Journal in July 1955.

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Liam Clarke and Arranmore Island’s First Resident Doctor

Dr Josephine (Josie) Stallard Clarke was the first dispensary doctor appointed to Arranmore Island. She was doctor there from 1929 to 1935. Dr Josephine Stallard Clarke had no car when working as a doctor in Arranmore and travelled around to see her patients on a horse belonging to a local shopkeeper Barney Mc Gill. The Clarkes lived in Ballintra in a house owned by Barney Mc Gill that is now a public house owned by Neil Gallagher. All doctors on the island after Dr Clarke had a car or access to a car. Liam Clarke when in Arranmore had great need of Morphine as a pain killer. It was apparent to some of the islanders that he came in contact with that he was probably addicted to the drug. He died in 1941.

Captain Liam Clarke, a Dublin man, was in the General Post Office Dublin as the head of E Company, 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers on Easter Monday 1916. This was the company that was made up of the pupils and former pupils of Patrick Pearse’s Secondary College St Enda’s at The Hermitage, Rathfarnham, County Dublin (Pearse’s Own). Liam Clarke had taken part in the Howth in and Kilcoole gun landings in 1914.  The yacht Asgard, skippered by Erskine Childers, landed guns into Howth, County Dubliin and the yacht Kelpie skippered by Conor O’Brien brought the guns that were landed at Kilcoole, County Wicklow to the Irish Sea for transhipping to land at Kilcoole. Conor O’Brien was an architect and designed the Cope Hall in Dungloe that was demolished a few years ago to make way for the new road into the Public Car Park. He late sailed his yacht Saoirse around the world. The photograph of men with guns below is one of the few photographs taken inside the GPO. On the afternoon of Easter Monday 1916 Liam Clarke received a serious head injury when a ‘homemade’ canister bomb exploded. According to Joe Sweeney, who was also in the GPO, the hand grenade or canister bomb had been left too near to a radiator and because of the heat from the radiator it destabilised and exploded. However, Joe Sweeney did not see the incident although he saw Liam Clarke being taken away injured. Another account of the same incident said that the canister bomb exploded in Liam Clarke’s hands and makes no mention of it being affected by a radiator. Liam Clarke was treated by Cumann na mBan nurses in the GPO and then was taken to a hall that was used as a first aid station and later to hospital but lost the sight in one eye. He was not arrested after the 1916 Rising but had to go on the run when the British authorities came looking for him at the hospital he was in. He helped reorganise the Irish volunteers after the rising while posing as an organiser for the Prisoners Dependents Fund. He became addicted to morphine arising from his treatment for his injury using that drug as a pain killer.

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Tynan Collection. National Library of Ireland

 

The above photograph shows the 59 foot yacht, Asgard at Burtonport in May 1970. The Asgard visited Burtonport the same week-end that the Donegal Historical Society unveiled a plaque in memory of James Napper Tandy who came to the Rosses on the French Frigate Anacreon a gun runner in the 1798 Rebellion. The photograph is part of the Denis Tynan Collection in the National Library. Tynan was a professional photographer from Glenties. The late Neil Boyle of Leabgarrow, Arranmore is playing the bagpipes in the aft of the boat.

In late 1916 while in Kilkenny City re-organising the Irish Volunteers Liam Clarke met a medical student Josephine Stallard who lived there where her parents had a shop. He encouraged her to join Cumann na mBan the female wing of the Irish Volunteers and she did that in Dublin.  She said he was lame when she first met him and he was also blind in one eye. She had during the Troubles to meet with him on a regular basis to carry messages from Cathal Brugha (who was Liam Clarke’s immediate superior) to others through-out Dublin and Ireland and once to Liverpool. She sometimes dealt directly with Cathal Brugha. She was a secret member of Cumann na mBan. It was felt that she could more effectively work for Cumann na mBan if it was not known generally that she was a member so although she was a member she never attended any public meetings of Cumann na mBan.

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Herdman Collection

The above photograph was taken by Jack Herdman from Sion Mills, County Tyrone from the top of Nelson Pillar, O’Connell Street and looking down inside the ruined Post Office sometime after 1922 when the Metropole Hotel to the left in the photograph was rebuilt and before 1929 when the GPO was rebuilt. The photograph is part of the Herdman Collection in the National Library.

Joe Sweeney who was from Burtonport was a member of E Company as well and knew Liam Clarke well. Liam Clarke later remained a close friend of Joe Sweeney although they had taken different sides in the Civil War, he the Anti-Treaty or republican side and Joe the Pro-Treaty or Free State side. They had, as I have said, both been at St Enda’s and probably knew each other too well to fall out although many who had been friends did fall out over the ‘21 Treaty. Joe Sweeney may have played a part in Dr. Josephine Stallard being appointed a doctor in Arranmore . In general Anti-Treaty activists were not employed by the State although this ban may not have been applied by Donegal County Council (her new employer) in 1929.

Liam Clarke was arrested by the British in May of 1921. He was imprisoned first in Arbour Hill where he was kept in a padded cell in case he would injure himself as he could not cope without the morphine. He was later imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail and got on better health wise in Kilmainham. When the British arrested Liam Clarke they later the same day arrested Josephine Stallard in the Red Bank Café on D’Oliers Street, Dublin where they met every day. She was taken to Dublin Castle in an armoured car and strip searched but was generally treated well. She was asked if she was Liam Clarke’s secretary. She thought her interrogator was probably English as he pronounced Liam as Lyam. She told her questioner that she was Liam’s fiancée but this was untrue.  She was released the same day. The Truce between Britain and Dail Eireann came on the 11th of July 1921 but Liam Clarke was not released from prison until December ‘21. He married Josephine Clarke when he was on ten-day parole for medical treatment from Kilmainham Jail in September 1921. It seems he proposed marriage to her the day before they married.  She said that the reason why he was married in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers had to do with the fact that he had no other suit of clothes at the time. Liam Clarke took an active part in the Civil War was imprisoned for twelve months from September 1922 to September 1923.

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The Clarke Collection. Bureau of Military History

Dr Josephine Clarke filed this photograph with the Bureau of Military History in 1952, that is on-line, as the wedding of Dr Josephine Clarke and Commandant Liam Clarke, IRA.

Doctor Stallard Clarke said the following in relation to her husband in the document that she filed with the Bureau of Military History in 1952 now on line;

“He had several operations for the wound in his head and in 1918 Mr Mc Connell for the first time operated on him and this was actually the first time Mr Mc Connell performed an operation for gasserian ganglion on anybody. He gave him morphia to kill the pain and this led to the morphia habit which he never could give up. It was when England stopped the supply of vital drugs to Ireland in 1941 that Liam had to be admitted to the Richmond Hospital again under a friend of mine Jerry O’Brien. The hospital even could not allow enough morphia as their supply, which was limited, had to be divided amongst all of their patients and it was spinal anesthesia that Dr O’Brien gave him until he died. He died from lack of morphia which his system could not do without. He never complained though he must have suffered always. I used to give him the first couple of doses of morphia in the morning. After that he administered himself.”

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Easter Rising Collection. National Library of Ireland

The above photograph that was taken inside the GPO is part of a collection to do with the Easter Rising held by the National Library. It shows I believe Liam Clarke wearing a peaked cap and standing at the rear second from the left although that is disputed. The person sitting on the right is I believe the 16 years old Eunan Mc Ginley. Eunan Mc Ginley was the son of Cu Uladh (Peadar Toner Mc Ginley from Glenswilly originally but then living in Dublin with his family). He had attended St Endas Rathfarnham and was in E company as well. The man standing to the left of him may be his brother Eunan but that is disputed as well.

Written & Researched by Seán Boner 2016

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Templecrone ; An Interesting Donegal Parish

Templecrone.  An Interesting Donegal Parish. The Irish Monthly, Vol. 58, No. 683 (May, 1930), pp. 258-260. Published by Irish Jesuit Province.

Look at the map of Donegal and study the physical features of the districts which lies, secluded and remote, between Gweedore and Gweebarra on the North-West coast, fringed with the islands. This is the parish of Templecrone, more familiar to the modern ears as “The Rosses”.

The Island of Tory raises its grey crags and giant cliffs away to the North-East, while Arranmore looks defiantly seawards, the largest island on the Donegal coast, high-turreted, long and lone. The long stretch of bog and moorland, mountain and plain on the mainland opposite is Templecrone. It is a district of a scattered population, having a topographical character peculiarly its own. Grey granite boulders obtrude their massive proportions like the bones of some pre-historic giant, and rocky peninsula raise their heads serenely above the storm. A deeply indented coastline of magnificent grandeur presents itself and numerous islands of surpassing beauty adorn the rugged coast.

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The Rosses coastline sheltered by majestic Arranmore

Templecrone takes its name from St Crone, a contemporary of St Columbkille, who built a monastery in the sixth century some three miles south-west of the present town of Dungloe, the metropolis of the Rosses. Her feast occurs on the 7th July, and the Fair of Dungloe, held on the 4th July, is known as “Aonach na Féile Cróine,” from association with the Saint. Michael O’Clery has the following entry in his “Martyrology of Donegal’ concerning the Saint: “Little Cróine, Virgin, from Teampall Cróine in Tír Chonaill; she was of the race of Conall Gulban, son of Niall.”

The great St. Columbkille knew the district and loved it well. The beauty of its rugged coast and the majestic grandeur of the mountains which surround it must have appealed with particular force and charm to his poetic nature. Templecrone has always been associated with the Saint, and from Columban days even to the present, “Columbkille’s Blessing on the Rosses” has been piously recited in the vernacular with the beauty of phrase and picturesque diction. Nothing could better describe the physical character of the Rosses than the phrase-not half expressive in English as in its Gaelic original-occuring in his “Beannacht” on the district: “…O Rosses of wild heath and many white strands.”  Standing on any of the numerous eminences of this remote and rugged land the eye can sweep a vista of silvery strands upon which white-foamed breakers fall in the sullen roar.

The recent destruction of the fine old parish church at Kincasslagh, for generations the ecclesiastical centre of Templecrone, has excited an interest in this remote Gaelic-speaking parish of Raphoe.

chapel 1927

The first church erected at Kincasslagh was built in 1786; the church recently destroyed by fire was erected by the late Father Dan O’Donnell in 1856. Father Dan O’Donnell, whose death occurred in 1879, is still affectionately remembered in the Rosses by the older generation.

On the Island of Cruit, opposite the parish church of Kincasslagh, are two holy wells dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St Brigid, respectively, and a Shrine dedicated to the memory of St Francis. There are evidences of some monastic remains here, and there is a strong local tradition, supported by the researches of the late Very Rev. Dr. Maguire in his “History of the Diocese of Raphoe,” that the Franciscan Friars had a monastery in Cruit Island in pre-Reformation days, disappearing probably with dispersal of the Franciscan Order from the Monastery of Donegal in the seventeenth century.

Two at least of the vessels of the Spanish Armada were wrecked on the rocky coast of Templecrone in 1588-one at Mullaghderg and another at Port an Chaisleáin, near Burtonport. The ships recorded as wrecked here were the Baron d’Amburg and La Trinidad Valencia, and the remains of these vessels have frequently been seen at low ebb embedded in the sands at both Mullaghderg and Port an Chaisleáin. It is asserted, more or less vindictively, in the State Papers of the period, that a thousand of the sons of Spain lost their lives on the rocks and strands of Templecrone, but this statement is obviously much exaggerated.  Many of them were rescued from the angry waves by the O’Donnells and O’Boyles of the Rosses, and sent back in safety to their native land after that ill-fated expedition which strewed our Western and North-Western shores with the corpes of many of the bravest and noblest of the sons of Spain.

Dr. John O’Donovan, who visited the Rosses in 1835, has much interesting and informative material appertaining to the district in his Letters, which are now deposited in the Ordnance Survey Office, Phoenix Park, Dublin. There are occasional references to the territory of Teampall Cróine in the “Annals of the Four Masters,” and in O’Donovan’s notes appended thereto.

A holy well at Calhame, in Lower Templecrone, associated with St. Dubhthach, is mentioned in Manus O’Donnell’s “Life of Columbkille.”

Rannyhual Holy Well
Holy Well dedicated to Saint Dubhthach recorded by Manus O’Donnell in the 16th century

 

It is interesting to note that Manus O’Donnell, one of the heroes of the ’98 period, was of Rosses extraction, and that James Napper Tandy landed at Inis Mhic an Dhuirn, now called Rutland Island, off Burtonport, in 1798, and thence escaped to France. On the Island of Arranmore is a cave called to this day “Uamhach an Air,” or the Cave of Slaughter, where some seventy persons, natives of the island, were butchered in Cromwellian days, as recorded by O’Connell in his “Memoirs of Ireland, Native and Saxon.”

True to its ancient traditions, Templecrone is a veritable stronghold of the native tongue. It is a district teeming with old-world traditions of a Gaelic past. The Rosses people are homogeneous community, poor, struggling farmers and fishermen, descendants of a heroic race driven to this barren, inhospitable shore after the Defeat of Kinsale. There are memories here which link the golden age in Ireland’s story to the living present-memories stimulating and imperishable.

Written by Eoin Ó Searcaigh as Oilean na Cruite (Cruit Island) in 1930

 

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