Dúchas Thír Chonaill

Donegal Heritage


tory island



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.

Niall Ó Donaill agus Lá An Briseadh Mór

La bataille de l’île de Toraigh, huile sur toile de Nicholas Pocock, 1799.  The Battle of Tory Island –oil on canvas by Nicholas Pocock, 1799. This painting is now in the Ulster Museum.

Na Glúnta Rosannacha, a history of the Rosses, meaning The Generations of the Rosses, by Niall O Donaill was written in 1952. One of the historical events it deals with was the 12th October 1798 Battle of Lough Swilly or what is called in the Rosses in Irish Lá An Briseadh Mór/Lá An Briste Mór, meaning the day of the Great Defeat. The French call it La Bateille d’Isle de Toraigh or the battle of Tory Island. It is also referred to as the Bompart Expedition as Jean Baptiste Francois Bompart was the French Naval Commander on that expedition. The French also refer to it as the Third Irish Expedition, the first being Bantry Bay in 1796 and the second being the Texel, Holland in 1797. The Bompart Expedition was an attempt to land a French army numbering 2900 men or thereabouts in Ireland to come to the assistance of the United Irishmen an Irish revolutionary movement at the end of the 1798 Rebellion. It was part of the same Third Irish Expedition as General Humbert and Napper Tandy but Humbert and his Irish allies had already been defeated at Ballinamuck in County Longford a week before the Bompart force sailed and Napper Tandy had gone back to the continent on the Anacreon before the Bompart  was on route.

Theobold Wolfe Tone (1763 – 1798)

Theobold Wolfe Tone the leader of the United Irishmen had travelled with the Bompart Expedition on the Hoche. General Jean Hardy commanded the French soldiers and Sir John Borlase Warren was the British Naval Commander in charge of the British Fleet on their Flagship “The Canada”. The French squadron had one schooner “La Biche”, a man of war their flagship called “the Hoche”, and seven frigates. L’Hoche was named after Lazard Hoche the leader of the Bantry Bay Expedition of 1796 and the second in command at Texel and the great friend of the revolutionary Irish but by 1798 dead at the age of 28. The English squadron although one less in number had a stronger force being made up of four heavy ships, of men of war class/ships of the line, and four frigates. And, of course, the British were not carrying soldiers whose safety had to be a major concern for Bompart. Often in Na Glúnta detailed and attractive description is used to explain events and happenings. In others such as in the piece below events are dealt with in a purely factual, with a minimum of detail. The battle occurred in a heavy swell and the French Flagship L’ Hoche’s 80 odd canon fire power was reduced since she had to close her lower gun ports to stop the seawater coming in as the heavily laden vessel pitched and plunged in the heavy swell. The French knew they were beaten and implored Wolfe Tone to board their fastest vessel, the schooner Biche, to escape capture and likely execution and thereby live to fight another day. The Biche long, narrow beamed and well clothed with sail, the French believed, could out sail the heavier British ships and could not be caught. And the French were right as the Biche never looked back until she was home in Brest. L’Hoche was captured and towed into Lough Swilly, repaired and became ‘The Donegal’ when sailing under the British flag. It reputedly carried the Duke of Wellington to Spain and the Peninsular Wars and historic immortality. The French Officers were taken to Lord Cavan’s quarters in Buncrana were they were given breakfast. Wolfe Tone was recognised there by Sir George Hills (or his brother according to Sir George Hill), suffered the minor indignity of having to eat alone separate from the other French Officers, then paraded through Derry on horseback in chains and eventually sent to Dublin where he was court martialled for treason and sentenced to death by hanging notwithstanding his remonstration to the Court that he should be shot like a soldier. Tone cut his own throat with a shaving blade (or maybe a penknife according to his son William’s account) on the 11th November 1798 the night before his planned execution in an almost botched attempt at suicide, ‘ I am but a poor anatomist’, to cheat the hangman. He did cheat the noose but died eight days later from his self- inflicted wounds. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

  • Ag imeacht do Napper Tandy as na Rosa bhí Wolfe Tone ar a bhealach ag teacht.  Ach ba seo fear.  ‘An mbeidh sé le rá liomsa gur imigh mé nuair a bhí na Francaigh ag troid chatha mo thíre?’  Lá an Bhriste Mhóir ar an Fharraige adúirt sé an focal sin, ar aghaidh na Rosann ó thuaidh.

As Napper Tandy was leaving the Rosses Wolfe Tone was on his way coming. But this was a (great) man. ‘It will never be said to me that I fled leaving Frenchmen fighting for my country’s battle? The day of the Great Defeat on the Sea –  he said those words, out north from the Rosses.

  • Ar an 12ú Deireadh Fómhair, 1798, troideadh an Briseadh Mór – nó ‘Cath Loch Súilí’ mar thug na Sasanaigh air.  Casadh an Hoche agus a mionchúrsóirí ar Chabhlach Loch Súilí an mhaidin sin taobh thiar de Thoraigh, amach go maith san fharraige.  Bhí na longa Francacha ag bualadh aniar as an aigeán agus na longa Sasanacha ag cúrsáil anoir.  Tháinig an teangmháil leis an lá gheal.

On the 12th October 1798 the Great Defeat was fought – or The Battle of Loch Swilly as the English called. The Hoche and her light frigates met the Lough Swilly Fleet that morning west of Tory Island well out into the sea. The French vessels were coming in west from the ocean and the English vessels were cruising from the east. The engagement occurred at day break.

  • Rinneadh míthrácht go minic ar chúrsa an chatha seo.  Ar an ábhar sin is cóir a rá nach raibh na cabhlaigh ag béal Loch Súilí nó i mBéal Thoraí in am ar bith den lá.  Troideadh dhá aicseán:  cath an Hoche ar maidin siar ó Thoraigh, os coinne Chnoc Fola amach: cath na gcúrsóirí tráthnóna siar os coinne Árann.

There has been much misreporting on the course of the battle. For that reason it should be said that at no time were the fleets at the mouth of Lough Swilly or in Tory Sound at any time in the day. There were two actions fought, the battle of the Hoche in the morning west of Tory Island off Knockfola, and the battle of the frigates in the evening to the west off Aranmore.

  • Sir John Warren a bhí i gceannas ar longa na Sasana.  Nuair a thit sé isteach le scuadrún na Fraince, dúirt sé, bhí na Rosa san aird theas-thiar-theas, cúig léig uaidh.  B’ionann sin is go raibh sé tuairim ar chúig mhíle dhéag as Árainn nó Uaigh – ar na hoileáin thiar a bheireadh lucht loingeas na Rosa san am – agus go raibh Toraigh ar a chlíbhord thoir.  Tráthnóna lae an bhriste chuir Stiubhart Dhún Fionnachaidh scéala chuig Lord Castlereagh go bhfaca sé cath tréan á throid an mhaidin sin, ‘amach ó Thoraigh,’ ach go raibh na longa comh fada siar i bhfarraige is nár aithin sé na scuadrúin óna chéile le gloine láidir.

Sir John Warren was in command of the English vessels. When he engaged with the French squadron, he said, the Rosses was at a point five leagues to his south west. That was to say that he was approximately 15 miles from Aranmore or Owey, the western islands so called by the seafarers of the Rosses at the time and that Tory was on his eastern gunwale. The evening of the defeat Stewart of Dunfanaghy sent word to Lord Castlereagh that he saw a battle fought that morning, ‘out from Tory Island’ but that the ships were so far out in the sea he could not identify the squadrons from one another with strong glasses.

  • An oíche chéanna sin scríobh tuairisceoir in Inis Mhic Duirn cuntas do Faulkner’s Journal ar an bhriseadh.  Bhreathnaigh sé féin agus captaen loinge an cath as sean teach solais Árann, dúirt sé.  ‘Amach ó Stacaí Uaighe’ a troideadh an chéad aicseán.  Bhí gaoth aduaidh ann agus theith na cúrsóirí siar-siar-ndeas.  Troideadh cath an tráthnóna os coinne theach an tsolais, fá dhá léig den chladach. 

The same evening a reporter wrote from Rutland an account of the defeat for the Faulkner Journal. He said that himself and a sea captain viewed the battle from the old lighthouse on Arranmore. It was out from the Owey Stags the first action was fought. It wind was from the north then and the frigates fled west-south-west. The battle of the evening was fought opposite the lighthouse about two leagues from the shore.

  • ‘Bhí lá glan ann agus d’aithin mé gach urchar beagnach dá ndeachaidh i gceann.  An méid nach ndeachaigh i gceann chonaic mé iad ag déanamh sciod-ar-uisce san fharraige.’

It was a clear day and I recognised every cannon ball almost that struck the target. The ones that did not hit the target I saw them water skid on the sea.

  • Chruinnigh cathlonga na Sasana timpeall ar an Hoche i dtús teangmhála.  Chomhraic sí ar feadh na maidne iad, go dtí go raibh a crainn briste, a seolta ina scifleoga, a stiúir caillte, a taobhanna ag tarraingt uisce, a ceithre fichid gunna as gléas, agus a hiomluchtóirí ina ndramhaltach i gcosair chró.  Bhí Wolfe Tone i gceannas ar bhataire de na gunnaí.  Throid sé, dúradh, mar bheadh sé ag tnúth lena bhás.

The English warships gathered around the Hoche at the beginning of the engagement. She fought them for the duration of the morning, until her masts were broken, her sails in strips, her rudder lost, her beams drawing water, her eighty guns inoperative, and her occupants trampling on a bed of gore. Wolfe Tone was in charge of one of the gun batteries. He fought, it was said, like he courted his death.

  • Rinne sé a éacht deireanach ar muir, an mhaidin sin ar shleasbhord na Rosann.

He carried out his last deed on sea, that morning off the shore of the Rosses.

An artist’s impression, showing a former French frigate towing the captured Hoche, that is travelling under rolled sails and sporting its new flag The Union Jack, to Lough Swilly in the Year Of The French 1798.

Niall O Donaill’s reference in Na Glúnta Rosannacha to an account in the Freemans Journal, a Dublin newspaper of that time, 1798, was to an account of the battle given by a Joseph Sproule who witnessed the battle from Arranmore Lighthouse then just opened. Sproule owned a large house on Inishcoo Island and another house on Rutland Island. Both islands are off Burtonport. William Tone in his book about his father, the Life of Wolfe Tone, painted a linguistic picture of the French flagship, the Hoche with his father on board, surrounded and gallantly battling against the odds. Although Niall O Donaill used different language to describe the same event I think that he relies heavily on the image crafted by William Tone of the Hoche fighting to the end out from the Donegal’s coast.

An artist’s impression, showing a former French frigate towing the captured Hoche, that is travelling under rolled sails and sporting its new flag The Union Jack, to Lough Swilly in the Year Of The French 1798.

There were with Wolfe Tone and the Bompart Expedition at least three other Irishmen and possibly a fourth. William Henry Hamilton was amongst the prisoners and was questioned by the British on suspicion of being Irish but his fluent French and the fact that he wore an ear ring helped to convince them that he was French and he was later released as part of a prisoner exchange. Thomas Corbett was also with the Expedition. He was one of the founders of the United Irishmen in Belfast and was once editor/manager of the United Irish journal the Northern Star.  His brother William came to Rutland with James Napper Tandy almost a month earlier. Thomas Corbett passed himself off as French as well and was later exchanged. He had a lucky escape as the temptation to execute him would be very great on the part of the British. He was a very capable man and had a successful career as a French government administrator later, serving first the governments of the revolution and later the governments of the restoration. He was kept on as they say, as all good people should be. A third man with the Expedition was a called McGuire according to William Tone and he was also exchanged. A possible fourth was called Colonel Waldryn. He said when captured that he was the pilot of the Bompart Squadron and that he was an American although the British had their doubts about that. Waldryn may have spent time in America that would allow him to more easily pass for an American but French records of that time noted that he was from County Armagh. He was recommended to the French as a pilot for the expedition by among others Munroe, presumably the American Ambassador to France, because he had a good knowledge of the Donegal Coast. He was not executed either and eventually released with the other under prisoner exchange.

The Anson Takes The Loire 16th October 1798 by Nicholas Pocock – Maritime Museum, London. HMS Anson was itself badly damaged but nevertheless with the assistance of the HMS Kangaroo engaged the Loire near the coast of County Mayo successfully forcing its capture.

The Bompart Expedition was for the French and their four or five émigré Irlandais a fairly desperate throw of the dice. The main theatre of war for the French was then, in the Autumn of 1798, Egypt where Napoleon Bonapart had headed with his army in late May/June of 1798. Ireland at this point had become a side show of no great importance to the French although they probably felt a moral obligation to help out arising from their earlier encouragement of the Irish to rebel. Had the Bompart Expedition sailed with Humbert and Napper Tandy in May 1798 when the rebellion commenced in Ireland and succeeded in landing it could have had some hope of success. With 2900 men with Bompart/Hardy men with Savary/Humbert, 100 with Blankman/Tandy and 1000 on the second Daniel Savary trip to Killala that never landed, the total of 5100 men might have had sufficient success in establishing a bridge head to have encouraged the French to send the other 9000 men under General Kilmaine that were held in reserve for the Expedition. The Batavian Republic (Holland) that was allied to France also sent two vessels that were captured as well but it is not clear how many men were on board. The failure of the French to coordinate and ensure that the Bompart/Hardy squadron (it sailed from Brest, Brittany on the 16th September 1798) sailed at the same time as Savary/Humbert ships (they sailed from Rochesfort, Charente Marine on the 6th August 1798) and Blankman/Napper Tandy (the Anacreon sailed from Dunkerque 4th September 1798) is difficult to explain without risking being uncharitable to General Humbert in particular. Of the nine French vessels that sailed from Brest only three made it home safely, the schooner Biche already referred to and frigates Semillante and Romaine. The Bellone, Coquille, Immortalité, Résolue, Loire, Embuscade and L’Hoche were captured. The Romaine probably left one of its anchor in Donegal Bay after trying to put men ashore at Mountcharles who it seems refused to disembark, and same is now on the quay there as an historical feature. All in all, the Third Irish Expedition seemed to have been an expensive failure in terms of ships and men for the French. However, the huge French war machine at the time was inured to its casualties, and when compared with the ship losses at the Naval Battle of the Nile 1798 or the deaths and injuries in that battle and in its four year war with the Ottoman Empire, the cost of the Irish Expedition of 1798 at about 600 could be presented as relatively inexpensive. They could lose that number of men, in a morning, on one of their successful days fighting with the Ottoman Empire or its tenacious allies never mind what they would have lost on one of their more disastrous days.  If the Bompart Expedition ensured that many tens of thousands of British soldiers and some of British ships were tied down in Ireland for the duration of the war with Britain that could only be to the benefit of France and the Expedition could be justified in those terms. The British lost no vessels although one or two were badly damaged. The British victory off Donegal probably did not get the respect or acclaim it deserved in Britain. The noise of the victory was drowned by news of the competing success of the Horatio Nelson’s naval victory at the Battle of the Nile (1st August 1798). A greater number of French ships and better ships had been captured or destroyed in that battle than was the case in the Bompart Expedition, 13 in all (11 of them ships of the line) as against 6 (one of the line – the Hoche, in the Bompart Expedition). The crowning glory of the British success at the Battle of the Nile was that Napoleon Bonaparte, already for the British the great bogey man of his age, was as a result of the Battle of the Nile stranded in Egypt, locked in a bloody struggle with the Ottoman Empire that he would not lose but could not win. And he had no ships to resupply his army from France or even to allow them withdraw from Egypt. Still, undaunted, the bogey man was nothing if not driven by blind ambition and back to France he duly came the following year without his army. In Niall O Donaill’s account of Lá An Briseadh Mór he borrowed, as I said, extensively from the description of the engagement of the Hoche given in Tones Diaries entries. The British records suggest that British vessels when they engaged the Hoche subjected it to strafing.  Strafing involved sailing past the Hoche at an angle from behind so that, initially they the British could bring almost all of their cannon to bear on the stern or aft part of the L’Hoche causing maximum damage as the cannon balls went right through the ship from stern to bows wrecking much and killing and injuring many within. At the same time the Hoche could only bring its few aft guns to bear on its attackers and had to wait until the enemy vessels came more broadside before the full force off the Hoche’s cannon fire could be brought into action.

The Stags of Owey (Na Stacaí Uaighe), locally known as ‘Na Trí Mhicí gCorra’

The battle involving the French frigates was a running one that took place over a considerable distance from the Stags of Owey (Na Stacaí Uaighe) to the Coast of France. The French frigates put up dogged resistance near the Uaigh Stags (Na Stacaí Uaighe) and that fight was viewed from the lighthouse in Arranmore. The British record of the battle gives the spelling of Owey as Uay. This was the pre 1835 Ordnance Survey spelling that was used on the Mackenzie Chart that the British would have had at that time. Uay would have been a better spelling for the Ordnance Survey than Owey as it equates in sound more accurately to the Irish language Uaigh.

Ach bá seo fear – the Wolfe Tone monument by Sculptor Eddie Delaney erected in 1964 at the corner of Stephens Green, Dublin 2.

Ná Gluntá Rosannacha is for the Rosses, a significant historical record for a number of reasons. Firstly, because Niall O Donaill availed of a diversity of primary sources, state papers, annals, books, newspapers and archive material to support the case for the historical assertions he made and the measured conclusions he came to. Secondly he accurately, in a structured way, relying on well-established historical research methodology, placed on record the folk memory of the Rosses Generations but rather than defer to the accuracy of that folklore he stressed and tested that collective recall against more concrete evidential sources and against his own unique assessment of what likely happened here in the past.  It is not that Niall O Donaill disbelieved folklore, he very much did believe in it, but he also recognised the value of assessing and testing the accuracy of it. And last but not least, he crafted in Na Glúnta Rosannacha an Irish language book to tell that history of the Rosses that had its own intrinsic value in linguistic and idiomatic terms.

Na Glúnta Rosannacha le Niall Ó Domhnaill (Baile Átha Cliath, 1952)

In the Upper Rosses, Forbairt Na Rosann/Ionad Teampall Chroine Community Groups, An Mhachaire Le Cheile and Rosses CDB we are the local organisers in a national language plan for the Gaeltacht (Pleán Teanga do an Ghaeltacht) whereby we seek to make people in the Rosses aware of their Irish language heritage and  other cultural aspects associated with that heritage. As part of that process Forbairt would like to translate parts of Na Glúnta Rosannacha so that Na Glúnta will be available to a wider readership. The Pleán will be implemented in conjunction with other local community groups, the local schools and others that share similar ambitions to contribute to the process that I referred to.

Written by Seán Bonner, Meenmore, Dungloe (26th October 2017)

The Pikeman Monument at Ballinamuck, County Longford.

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.

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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