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More Ballyshannon Gleanings

As one who grew up within the sound created by the Falls of Assaroe and who saw the salmon leaping the Falls on their annual migrations from the ocean upriver to their spawning redds, the author's pen may be influenced in its description of their scenic charm. Accordingly, he cedes place to previous writers and travellers who have left their impressions to benefit past and future generations.

Arthur Young, an English farmer and journalist, made a tour of Ireland in 1776, and on August 11th of that year he wrote:

"Viewed the salmon-leap at Ballyshannon, which is let for 400 a year. The scenery of it is very beautiful; it is a fine fall, and the coast of the river is very bold, consisting of perpendicular rocks, with grass of a beautiful verdure to the very edge; it projects in little promontories, which grow larger as they approach the sea, and open to give a fine view of the ocean. Below the fall in the middle of the river is a rocky island, on which is a curing house, instead of the turret of a ruined castle for which it seems formed. The town [is] prettily situated on rising ground on each side [of] the river.--To Sir James Caldwell's; crossing the bridge, stopped for a view of the river, which is a very fine one, and was delighted to see the salmon jump, to me an unusual sight: the water was perfectly alive with them."
The above quotation is from "A Tour of Ireland" by Arthur Young (1780), reprinted by Irish University Press, Shannon, Ireland, (1970).

"A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland", second edition, vol.1, London, M.DCCC.XLVII, by Samuel Lewis, at pages 158-59 has an extensive entry which reads:

"BALLYSHANNON, a sea-port, market, and post town, the head of a union, and formerly a parliamentary borough, partly in the parish of Innismacsaint, but chiefly in that of Kilbarron, barony of Tyrhugh, county of Donegal, and province of Ulster, 35 miles (s.w.) from Lifford, and 102 miles (n.w.) from Dublin; containing 3513 inhabitants. In remote ages this town was called Athseanaigh, and the chieftains of Tyrconnell had a castle here, in which Hugh O'Donnell, prince of Tyrconnell, received his son, Hugh Roe, after his escape from the castle of Dublin in 1592. In 1597 the neighbourhood was the scene of the most important military operations of the period. An English force, consisting of 22 regiments of infantry and 10 of cavalry, under the command of Sir Conyers Clifford, crossed the Erne by a ford, although vigorously opposed by O'Donnell's troops, and succeeded in establishing their headquarters at the monastery of Asharaough. Here they received heavy ordnance from Galway by sea, and then laid close siege to the castle of Ballyshannon, but met with unexpectedly strong resistance, and many of their best officers and men were killed or wounded. After continuing the siege for five days, the English were compelled to make a precipitate retreat, closely pursued by O'Donnell and his allies, and being unable to cross the Erne at the ford by which they had advanced, they tried another that was seldom attempted, where many were killed or drowned. Thus, one of the first expeditions into this long independent territory terminated very disastrously. On the grant of James I. of the earldom and country of Tyrconnell to Rory O'Donnell in 1603, he reserved the castle of Ballyshannon and 1000 circumjacent acres. The castle was taken in 1652 by the Earl of Clanricarde.

"This town is situated at the head of the harbour of the same name, at the mouth of the river Erne, which is here crossed by a bridge of fourteen arches and divides the town into two parts; that on the south side, in the parish of Innismacsaint, being called the Purt of Ballyshannon, and contains 688 houses, of which the greater number are on the right bank of the river. Here is an artillery barrack for about 40 men, with stabling for 40 horses. On the left bank of the river are salt-works, and a distillery is carried on extensively. The exports are chiefly corn and other farm produce, and the imports are coal, slate, iron, bark, groceries &c.; there is a small custom-house. In the Erne is a fine salmon-fishery which produces from 60 to 80 tons annually. The town is favourably situated for commerce and manufactures, having a large population, and a fertile country around it; it is within four miles of Lough Erne, which embraces an inland navigation of more than fifty miles through the richest part of Ireland; and for the purposes of manufacture the river Erne, in a course of four miles, affords numerous sites for mills, having a succession of falls amounting to 140 feet. The surrounding district contains much mineral wealth; a mine of zinc has been discovered at the Abbey, a lead-mine near Bundoran, and rich specimens of copper in the vicinity. The harbour, the entrance to which was formerly obstructed by a bar, has been rendered accessible to vessels of 250 tons' burthen. This great improvement, which will probably render the place a respectable port, was made at the sole expense of Colonel Conolly, who formally resigned any claim on the loan of 5000 sanctioned by the Commissioners of Public Works in furtherance of the undertaking, and who in an exemplary manner has promoted to a great extent the making of roads and the carrying out of other improvements throughout the entire district. The navigation of the river is stopped abruptly by a grand cascade called the Fall, where the whole body of water descending from Lough Erne, in a stream about 150 yards wide, falls about 16 feet with a tremendous roar down a steep cliff into a basin forming the head of the harbour. This cascade is seen to most advantage during the winter, when the river is swollen by rains; and at the recess of the tide the noise of the descending water may be heard many miles off. Plans have been suggested for opening a communication with Lough Erne; among others it has been proposed to avoid the falls, not by cutting a canal, but by forming a railroad to Belleek, which, however, has not been carried into effect. The market is held in the market-house on Tuesday and Saturday, for potatoes, pigs, oatmeal, &c., and fairs are held on the 2nd of each month, except September, when it is held on the 18th. A branch of the Provincial Bank has been established, and a chief constabulary force stationed here: in the excise arrangements the town is situated within the district of Sligo.

"The town was incorporated by charter of James I., dated March 23rd, 1613; and the corporation was entitled "the Portreeve, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Town of Ballyshannon." From the time of its incorporation till the Union, when it was disenfranchised, it returned two members to the Irish parliament, and the 15,000 compensation was paid to the Earl of Belmore. Since 1842, the town has been managed by commissioners appointed under the act 9th George IV, cap.82. A court of record was created under the charter, but has fallen into disuse. A seneschal's court is held once in three weeks under the lord of the manor, having jurisdiction in the amount of 40s.; it was established by charter of James I., dated April 9th 1622, granting large possessions to Henry Folliott, Baron of Ballyshannon. Petty- sessions, also, are held generally once a fortnight. On an eminence called Mullinashee, adjoining the town, stands the parish church of Kilbarron; and there are two Roman Catholic chapels, two places of worship for Methodists, and one for Presbyterians. The workhouse, on a site of five acres, was completed in 1842, at a cost of 5389, and is constructed for 500 paupers. A small portion of the ruins of the once celebrated castle of the O'Donnells, earls of Tyrconnell, is in the town; and near to it, on the road to Belleek, are a few vestiges of the ancient church of Sminver."

The first edition of Lewis's work put the population of the town in 1840 at "3775 inhabitants, of which number 1390 are in the Purt." The annual production of the distillery was given as "about 100,000 gallons of whiskey annually."

A brief, but not entirely accurate, observation is to be found in vol II of "Ireland: its Scenery, Character, &c." by Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall, published in 1846. At page 273 they record the following:

"Of the town of Ballyshannon and its magnificent salmon leap we have already spoken. It is neat, clean, and comfortable; and has an air of business. Its situation on the northern border of Lough Erne, and within a few miles of the sea, renders it advantageous for commerce. The Erne is here crossed--into Fermanagh--(sic) by a bridge of fourteen arches. The adjacent scenery is exceedingly picturesque and beautiful; and its famous fishery supplies great attraction to the angler--who is, however, subjected to unwise restrictions which considerably detract from his enjoyments and prove highly detrimental to the interests of the town."
The latter assertion, almost a throwaway, speaks highly of prudent fishery conservation management in the 1840s.

Thanks to the Internet, the discovery of a bronze artifact in a rath near Ballyshannon, in 1834, is once more receiving archaeological attention. Web page author Brian Walsh, of Cobh, Co. Cork, has for some time been placing extracts on the Web from "A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland" by P. W. Joyce, President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, Ireland, published in 1908. In chapter XXIII, titled "Measures, Weights and Mediums of Exchange", Joyce wrote:

"From numerous references in the old writings we learn that the ancient Irish had balances of different kinds and sizes. The most usual Irish term for a balance in general, and also for the beam of a balance, was meadh (ma), which is the word in use at the present day. A puincearn (punkern: meaning 'notched beam') was a sort of steelyard, i.e. a balance having a single weight moveable along a graduated beam from notch to notch, which by its distance from the suspension point indicated the weight of the commodity--identical with our modern steelyard.

"As bearing upon this point, it is well to observe that an old steelyard of bronze was found in 1834 in a rath near Ballyshannon in Donegal, ornamented and carefully graduated: the material--bronze--indicating great antiquity."

In 1951 a book on a specialized subject, "The Town in Ulster", by Gilbert Camblin, M.Sc., F.R.I.C.S., A.M.T.P.I, was issued by Wm. Mullan & Sons (Publishers) Ltd., Belfast.

At page 67 Camblin details the construction of country manors during the Georgian period and, in passing, sheds light on the development of the Port of Ballyshannon in these words:

"Some of these mansions cost enormous sums of money, as, for instance, Castle Coole in County Fermanagh, which was erected between the years 1788 and 1798 at a cost of 54,000. This mansion, one of the largest in Ireland, was built with Portland stone, and this was brought by boat to Ballyshannon, where a quay was specially constructed for its reception, the blocks of stone being then conveyed by bullock cart to Lough Erne, thence by barge to Enniskillen and again by oxen from that town to the site, two miles distant."
Readers are advised that further gleanings may be added to this page in coming months.

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