Dúchas Thír Chonaill

Donegal Heritage



Big Herring Harvest of 1916

From an article that appeared in the Irish Standard on April 8th 1916

The fishing community of Donegal has had a remarkably successful season. Up to August things were little better than average years so far as supplies went, but, of course, more advantageous in the better figures realized. Then towards the end of the month shoals of herrings appeared unexpectedly in the fishing grounds, and the whole fishing population was immediately astir.


The Congested Districts Board was apprised of the prospects, and arrangements were forthcoming for making available the motorboats and sailing boats provided by the Board along this section of the coast. In due course a contingent of Scotch and Irish buyers appeared on the scene, and, with keen competition, the Donegal folk have been able to reap a splendid herring harvest. There were times during the season when the price of herrings went up to as much as from £3 to £4 and £4 10s a cran, and even higher. Reduced to a more easily understood basis, the higher quotations mentioned worked out at as much as 2d apiece for the fine qualities which are attracted to these Northwestern grounds, and the fishermen, as might be expected, rejoiced in their luck. The Board’s steam-drifters were requisitioned by the Admiralty.
The New Motor Boats
One of the developments which has accrued to the fishing interests in the district is concerned with the matter of the provision of the motor-boats and steam-drifters by the Congested Districts Board. Up to 1894 only open boats of the Greencastle yawl type
had been in use by the Donegal fishermen.

Greencastle Yawl at Greencastle Maritime Museum, Co.Donegal

In that year a number of large decked sailing boats, known as the “Zulu” type, were introduced by the Board for herring fishing at Downing’s Bay and other centres. These boats were worked by crews on the share system, a boat and gear being handed over to a crew of six as joint owners, subject to a repayment to the Board of about one-third of the net earnings. The system worked satisfactorily for many years, and the Board were repaid the entire cost of the boats and gear originally supplied. There were still several others of these craft, however, in respect of which considerable sums had yet to be discharged before the debt to the Board would be cleared off.

In 1907 a big change had to be met. Steam-drifters, which had been introduced into Scotland and England, took part in the Donegal fishery, with the result that the crews of the local sailing boats were discouraged by their inability to compete with the steam vessels which were able to land large catches both in stormy weather and in calms when sailing boats had to remain in harbour. Even when sailing boats were able to go out, the steamers could go farther out to sea where the best fishing grounds are and get back sooner to harbour, thus securing better prices. The Donegal fishermen, therefore, urged the Board to provide them with steam-drifters and motor-boats, so that they might share upon equal terms in the fishery off their own coast. With the aid of a loan from the Development Commission the Board acquired some steam-drifters and motor-boats.


Changed System                                                                                                                                    
New conditions suggested to the Board that it might be well to vary the terms for repayment for these boats and gear. Under the share system the length of time before repayment in full could be made and caused the crews, after a number of successive poor seasons, to lose sight of the prospect of becoming owners, and men changed from one boat to another. In
many instances, too, the crews did not maintain their boats and gear-in good order, and it was quite evident that, in the interest of the fishermen as well as of the Board, nothing short of ownership would stimulate the crews to take care of their boats and gear. It was, therefore, decided that the Board “would sell each boat and gear on the loan system to some one or more fishermen. The present value of the boats and gear was ascertained, and these
amounts were treated as having been lent to approved applicants, the advances to be repaid by half-yearly instalments. The initial cost of the boatswith gear ranged from £1,000 to
£2,000 each for motor-boats, and present values were fixed according to the condition of the craft, with a discount of 20 per cent for cash paid at the time of sale. The prices of the sailing boats and gear were, of course, very much less.


Activity at the Centers
The principal centers of the industry are at Downing’s Bay, Kincasslagh, Gweedore, Burtonport and Killybegs. Each of these places is a port where the fishermen keep their boats and where buyers attend, and the marketing conditions, influenced by the scarcity existing in the chief centers across the Channel, have been such as to assure fair ruling quotations at
every center. Buncrana, on Lough Swilly, which used to be the chief market, and in years back was the biggest and most important fishing base in the North-West, has suffered
because of the Admiralty Order closing Lough Swilly tor fishing, except in a restricted way within certain local limits, and the principal market is now at Downing’s Bay in Sheep Haven. Here a very large quantity of herring has been cured for export, and at the other centers mentioned the season has been scarcely less busy. At Killybegs in August, 1915, herrings of extraordinary fine size and quality were landed. Only a relatively small proportion of the catches was dispatched fresh to the markets.
Donegal Salmon Fishing
An interesting story appertains to the very appreciable development in the salmon fishing which has taken place off the West Donegal coast in recent years. It was not known that
salmon, when proceeding from the deep water to rivers, followed the same course year after year. To the late Father Bernard Walker, of Burtonport, is due the credit of proving this theory, and that, too, in the most incontrovertible manner. During some boating trips well outside the islands which fringe the Rosses, his observation was directed on a few occasions to the splashing of salmon, as he conceived it to be, and curiosity tempted him to try his luck with a salmon net along a course where he had seen salmon rise. His acumen and his enterprise were rewarded in a fine capture, and his initiative was quickly followed by the fishermen of the West Donegal coast, who found in the new grounds a successful area of operations.

A Trip to Sea

The following is taken from an manuscript that documented the memories of Johnny “Susan” Forker from Dunmore, Carrickfinn in his own words. It was compiled just before his death in 1993 aged 88 years.

In 1912 a motorboat called the Summer Star came to Bunbeg. She was built in Botan’s boatyard in Mulroy, by a man called George Botan. The Summer Star was manned by a crew mainly from Carrickfinn. The names of the crew were Big Frank the Sailor, Jimmy Duffy and his brother Mickey,

Jimmy Duffy at the helm of the Summer Star's lifeboat c1950
Jimmy Duffy at the helm of the Summer Star’s lifeboat c1950

Paddy Duffy (Paddy John Owen) from Braade, a cousin of the Duffy’s, Charlie Gallagher the engine driver and two men from Gola-Joe and Dan McBride. The Summer Star fished for herring all along the Irish Coast.

CDB Fishing grounds map

In Ardglass in County Down, Howth in Dublin, in the Isle of Man and in Stornaway, a place on the coast of Scotland.

Orient Star
Orient Star LY 917 at Bunbeg Harbour,  the wheelhouse of the Summer Star LY 930 can also be seen 

The Orient Star came to Bunbeg a year earlier. She was manned by a crew from Gweedore and skippered by Owen Doherty.

The Spring Star belonged to Gola men-the McGinleys.

The Twilight Star was manned by the O’Donnell’s of Inismeain. The engine driver was John Bán Gallagher from Carrickfinn and his brother Owen . He also drove the motor boat for Archie Dunlop called the Little Flower. This boat was also owned by Charlie Friel and his brother Joe.

I must recall how these motor boats played a part in the lives of the Donegal people.

At that time there was trouble between this Country and Britain. There was a war being fought. The roads were all cut and blocked and big boulders of stone were put on them to block the British lorries. The train was derailed and ambushed at Crolly Station and parts of the railway lifted.


Because of this no food stuffs could come in from Derry. Food stuffs were in short supply so the motor boats came to the rescue of the people of the Rosses and Gweedore and the rest of Donegal. The Donegal people should never forget the motor boats- The Summer Star, The Twilight Star, The Orient Star, The Spring Star and the Little Flower. Also the ? (name missing) from Kincasslagh, the Gweedore skippered by Ned Sharkey, and the boat owned by Big Anthony McGettigan from Downings. All these boats brought two cargoes a week from Derry. Men like Muiris O’Donnell from Mullaghduff, Charles Dunleavy from Calhame, Anthony Sharkey from Annagry, Charlie McBride from Annagry, Paddy Óg from Crolly Bridge and Donie Coll from Gweedore all went on these boats. They had plenty money and the merchants in Derry welcomed them and they got all the goods they wanted.

These boats and their crew ran a big risk for submarines and mines were all around our coast, but thankfully nothing happened to them.

Most of these motor boats are now lying useless down in Mulroy Bay and parts of the Summer Star are to be found in fences in Carrickfinn; a sad end, and the crew are buried in graveyards in Annagry, Kincasslagh and Magheragallon. May they rest in peace. The Scotch men said of them- “They were iron men on wooden boats”.

I would say I am the last surviving crew member of the old Summer Star.

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Johnny Tom’s Bazaar

I’m going to sing a simple song just listen to the same

It’s all about a big bizarre that started in Calhame

T’is run by one called Johnny Tom who travel from afar

And soon upon the signboard be Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Johnny puts the spindle round and Tom conducts the gun

McFadden minds the bagatelle until the match is won

Doogan is the bandmaster and Byrne runs the bar

We  all enjoy the merriment at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Now Johnny leads a pleasant live and goes from place to place

Whatever his tent is pitched he finds a jolly face

But no jollier lads can be found from here to Zanzibar

Than the lads who assemble in Calhame at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Now Johnny’s games are fair and free from fault no method has he

You may win a prize by posting a small fee

the beggar can chance his luck just like the Russians mighty Tsar

a penny often wins a pound at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Eoin Antáin as we all admit is a crack shot at the gun

and when he enters for a match the boys all know he’ll win

for the others might as well try to hit the polar star

as to try to beat our sniper Eoin at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


McGee took up the gun this night he found it wouldn’t go

Tom shouted mind your eyes my boys and then he called for Joe

Joe came in and asked what’s wrong? And Tom did get his jar

This gun requires oiling at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


The gun went accidently off and hit poor Johnny John

He raised his hands unto his face and shouted “boys I’m done”

The doctor came and dressed the wound but still there was a scar

All caused by an accidental shot at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


When Jamesty heard that Johnnie John had got a damaged face

He feared upon Calhame it would bring disgrace

he drew his coat upon the floor and he began to spar

and swore he was the champion at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


The fun was going on gaily when Master George came in

He forced his way up through the crowd with many a laugh and grin

But Jamesty hit him on the eye and made it as black as tar

and Seoirse rolled upon the floor at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Frank Braighnidh went there on the night some prized for to win

But when he saw his red haired girl his heart it was struck dumb

And when he went to leave her home a call came from the bar

Won’t you join in the merriment at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.




Con Bonner’s got the pandy clock t’was won by Paddy Eoin Bhig

And when he won it he danced an Irish jig

But if he put on a khaki rig it would suit him better far

than posting pence on pandy clocks at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


The boys a disappointment got and felt it too full well

The night the lever watch was put upon the bagatelle

T’was won by a young sportsman who came all the way from Kilcar

To speculate a pound or two at Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Jimmy Bride has got some cash on hand since Christmas night

He means to buy some booze and put the boys all tight

But I suggest we collect it by motorcar

And drive the boys the country round with Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.


Now Johnny’s left the town the boys will miss the game

Some other sport will have to be found around about Calhame

So we’ll drink a health to John and Tom and short life to the war

And we may soon again see young Johnny Tom’s Bazaar.

                                                                             By Hugh J. Maguire


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