ballyshannon, donegal, irish newspapers online, ireland, irish history, irish literature, irish famine - Linking Canada and Ireland - Linking Canada and Ireland

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"The Friendly Town" is the third volume in a trilogy written to support the Internet-led Campaign to restore the Falls of Assaroe, an historic and famous salmon leap at the mouth of the River Erne in the town of Ballyshannon, in the County of Donegal, Ireland.

Its title, like that of the second book in the series, "The Kindly Spot", is taken from William Allingham's poem "The Winding Banks of Erne", wherein he describes his birthplace as "the kindly spot, the friendly town". The title of the first book, "The Hawk of the Erne", comes from the musician Carolan, whose "Seabhac na hEirne is Bhéal Átha Seanaigh" ("The Hawk of the Erne and of Ballyshannon") was written to celebrate the marriage of the daughter of Colonel Moore of Westport to one Charles O'Donnell.

What is the fascination that Ballyshannon has held for poets, musicians, writers and travellers down through the ages? Foremost is its history. The stories in "The Hawk of the Erne" were based largely on extracts from "The Annals of the Four Masters" in which references to the Falls, the tiny island of Inis Saimer in the Erne estuary, and to various fords spanning the river at Ballyshannon cover a period extending over four thousand years. Small town though it may be in size, the inhabitants of Ballyshannon and their ancestral riverside dwellers have no mean history compared with much larger centres in Celtic and pre-Celtic Ireland.

Anyone wishing to trace the unembellished annalists' accounts may find the great majority of them in Chapter 14 of "The Kindly Spot".

More recent history of the town can be found in contemporary records published throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. These show a stark contrast between the great wealth of the salmon fishery, extending into the 20th century, and the condition in which it languishes ever since the river was dammed and its water diverted from the Falls of Assaroe into a man-made trench blasted into the former river bed.

Leaving aside all other considerations, the significance of such contemporary records cannot be overly stressed. Hence, some extracts from a number of them are given in a separate chapter headed "More Ballyshannon Gleanings", forerunner to a projected work, "Ballyshannon--Past, Present, Future". Meanwhile, to "The Friendly Town" goes the age-old Irish prayer, "Mo bheannacht leat a sgríobhinn".

John Ward
Cois Rideau

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