2024 : Field Day, Letterkenny

Sunday 9th June 2024 : Meet at County Donegal Museum, High Road, Letterkenny @ 3PM

The County Donegal Historical Society will host their first field day of 2024 with a talk to commemorate the centenary of the strike that took place at St. Conal’s Hospital in 1924.

It will take place this Sunday 9th June at 3.00pm in the

 A “walk and talk” will take place around the grounds of St. Conal’s Hospital from 4pm with Hugh Devlin as guide, to talk about the history of the hospital.

This is a free event and everyone is welcome to come along.

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Our other planned Field Day events for 2024 are listed here: https://donegalhistory.ie/events/

Membership subscriptions for 2024 are still welcome in order to support the work of the Society and to register for your copy of Donegal Annual 2024.

Details of how you can subscribe are available on the Society’s website https://donegalhistory.ie/membership/

2024 : Field Days Announced

Sunday 9th June 2024 : Letterkenny

Your guide: Hugh Devlin

We will meet at the Donegal County Museum, High Road, Letterkenny @ 3PM

Sunday 21st July 2024 : Lifford

Your guide: Seán Boner. We will meet in the public carpark in the Diamond @ 3PM

Tea will be available afterwards in the Old Courthouse.

Sunday 25th August 2024 : Ards, Creeslough

Your guide: Charlie Gallagher. We will meet in the carpark of the Ards Capuchin Friary @ 3PM

Sunday 25th August 2024 : Ballyshannon

Your guide Anthony Begley. This will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of poet William Allingham. We will meet at the Abbey Centre @ 3PM

Sunday 8th September 2024 : Donegal Town

Your guide: Seamus O’Doherty. We will meet at the harbour carpark @ 3PM.

Field days are free and open to members of the public.

Please check final details of all the above events nearer the date, on our website / local newspapers / Facebook, as some may change or vary slightly.

Inquiries: Email: donegalhistoricalsociety@yahoo.com

Donegal Annual 2024

Donegal Annual 2024

Front cover

Muckish River, County Donegal (detail)

George K. Gillespie, RUA


After retiring, Gillespie was inspired to paint by the rugged scenery of Co. Donegal and the Atlantic coast.

5Inishdooey and it’s Ancient Church
Brian Lacey, Aodh MacGairbheá, Peter O’Toole
14Teelin Coastguard Station 1873-1921
Pat Lavelle
20Ordnance Survey 1824-2024: Inishowen
Dr Karen Rann
23Ramelton Man Scaled Heights in “Gilded Age” in US
Martin McGinley
31Cruit Island: W. H. Caswell: Soldier, Seaman and Pilot
Shannon McGaffin
33Donegal’s First Match at Croke Park: a Missed Opportunity
Martin McGonigle
39John Simí Ó Dochartaigh
Rev. Dr. Pádraig Ó Baoighill
43John Gwyn: Philanthropist and Visionary (1755-1829), Muff
Ruairí Gallagher
Archaeological Excavations near Glenties, Co Donegal
Graham Hull
55Drumboe Forest: Donegal’s Civil War Executions
Dr. Seosamh Ó Ceallaigh
68Letterkenny-born Outstanding Educator: Emma Saxelby
Dr William Roulston
73Conall mac Mhícheáil Uí Bhréisléin, Glengesh: Last Hereditary Keeper of Bearnán Conaill
Tomás G. Ó Canann
88West Donegal Walking Tour (1886)
Rev Raymond Blair
92From Vienna to Ballyshannon: a Jewish Refugee’s Story
Margaret Wynne
101The Life of Thomas Ainge Devyr, Donegal Town
Helen Meehan
106“The Harp that Once…- the History of Harp Music in Co. Donegal
Dr Seán Beattie
118George Vaughan, M. P., (1693-1763), Buncrana
Olwen Gormley
126The Ulster Plantation on the Inishowen Peninsula:
A Hiberno-British Colony
David Heffernan
131Donegal Town 550, Dún na nGall:
the First 135 Years as the O’Donnell Capital
Darren McGettigan
135Eulogy: Unveiling of Aodh Ruadh 1 Statue, Donegal Town, 2007
Eunan O’Donnell
139Book Reviews
143Donegal Bibliography 2023-24
Una Mathewson
155Executive Committee 2023-2024
Volume 76 : 2024

Donegal Annual 2024 News

Bernán Chonaill, the bell of St Conall Cae

One of the exceptional collection of articles in the Donegal Annual 2024 is by Tomás Ó Canann. The article focuses on one of the great artefacts of Donegal, held by the British Museum – Beárnan Chonaill, or St Conall’s Bell, and its last keeper, Conall mac Mhícheáil Uí Bhréisléin of Glengesh. 

The contents of Donegal Annual 2024 are listed here.

Membership Renewal / New Members Form (2025) 

Annual membership subscription is due in January 2025.

Membership forms will be available for 2025 after the launch of the Donegal Annual 2024.

Donegal Annual 2024 Launch Event

Donegal Annual 2025, Volume 76

The County Donegal Historical Society will be launching the  Donegal Annual 2024 (No. 76)  at:

Donegal Castle Donegal Town

Friday 24th May 2024 @ 6PM

To reserve a place, please email Hugh Devlin, Secretary, donegalhistoricalsociety@yahoo.com

Wreck and Rescue, The Stowijk, 1940

The rescue of the crew from the wreck of the SS Stowijk from Carraig Na gCrubog (Crab Rock), Inishbofin.

The SS Stowijk was a Dutch steamship that was travelling in a convoy S13 from Canada to Britain in December 1940.

The Dutch ship Stolwijk steaming in calmer waters..
SS Stowijk

It was driven too hard in a gale and its rudder lines snapped. The vessel drifted rudderless towards Inisbofin and eventually struck a rock called Carraig Na gCrubog (Crab Rock) behind Inishdooey. Shortly before it struck the rock a large wave washed their Radio Officer from the deck. He was the first to die. Another nine died when they jumped into the water and swam to a ships lifeboat that had been washed overboard. The lifeboat was swept away. The other eighteen stayed on board and were taken off by the Arranmore Lifeboat using a breeches buoy the following day.

Seán told us ofthe award of a gold medal awarded by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and the Royal National Lifeboat Medals to his grandfather Jack Boyle, coxswain of the Arranmore RNLI lifeboat for that rescue and about award of medals to the rest of the crew. 

There was an inquiry into the loss of the ship back in the Netherlands in 1941. Jan Wallet the chief Engineer gave evidence. His assessment was that the vessel had been drive too hard in a gale and this placed too much strain on the rudder lines until they snapped. He also provided a sketch of the broken rudder line.

Paulus Vierkant, the Radio Officer of the Stolwijk who was washed overboard by a huge wave minutes before the vessel struck the rocks.

Paulus Vierkant, the Radio Officer of the Stolwijk who was washed overboard by a huge wave minutes before the vessel struck the rocks.

A breeches buoy transporting a sailor on rope rigging between two ships at sea.

One of the sailors fell out of the breeches buoy but he held on for dear life and they dragged him through the water to the lifeboat.

The crew of the Arranmore Lifeboat. The man at the back far left Johnny (Bán) Byrne was not on the Stolwijk ‘run’ but he was in the photograph because he was the Launch Manager on the day of the Stolwijk. His two sons, Phil beside him and Neilly far right at the back were on the lifeboat that day. The photograph was taken in 1946 at the presentation of the medals at Letterkenny.

The man with the overcoat is the mechanic Teague Ward. The front line is left to right Brian (Nellie) Gallagher, Paddy (Chondy) O’Donnell, Jack (Charlie) Boyle, Joe (Annie) Rodgers and Phil (Charlie)Boyle. Jack and Phil were brothers and Joe (Annie) was their nephew.

Jerry Early from Arranmore wrote a song about the rescue called I’ll go.  https://earlys.bar/ill-go-song/

Constable Charles McGee, RIC

Constable Charles Mc Gee a young man in his early twenties from Inishbofin Island who was a member of the Royal Irish Costabulary (RIC) and who was killed at Castlebellingham, County Louth on Easter Monday 1916 on the first day of the Easter Rising.

Constable Charles McGee in his usinform of the RIC

He cycled into the village of Castlebellingham that day where he found a group of Irish Volunteers under the command of Belfast Engineer, Seán Mac Entee who was later a T.D. and a Government Minister in a number of Fianna Fáil governments. A number of cars had been commandeered and the Irish Volunteers were about to move off in those cars.

There were a few policemen held prisoner by this group of Irish Volunteers. Mac Entee was getting into one of the cars and as he did so at least two shots rang out. Lieutenant Dunville was shot but not fatally. Charles Mc Gee was shot and died at the scene. Mc Entee should have not got into the car until the others were already in the car.

The group he was in charge of had already proved to be undisciplined and had discharged a gun that almost shot one of their own. Seán Mc Entees daughter, Maire Mac An tSaoi, who was an Irish language poet of great reputation, said in an interview she gave towards the end of her life that the killing of Charles Mc Gee was something that troubled her father all of his life. Both Charles Mc Gee and Lieutenant Robert Dunville were prisoners and unarmed. Lieutenant Dunville, of the Dunville Whiskey family in Belfast, died in his late 20s and his death may have been hastened by the injury he received at Castlebellingham.

Séan Boner from our Field Day to Inisboffin Island, 2023

Inishbofin Island Fishing Tragedy 1929


On the 19th June 1929 four men, Thomas Coll, Denis Coll, John Coll and Patrick Coll left Inisbhofin Island to go to fish salmon in a Drontheim yawl. Only one man, 25 year old Patrick Coll, survived that night to tell the tale of what happened when their fishing boat was involved in a collision at sea with a steamer.

The Drontheims were wooden clinker planked double endersailing yawls and were usually between 22 feet and 27 feet in length with one or two main sails and jib. According to Anthony Begley of Balllyshannon who is familiar with the history of the Allinghams, the first yawls were imported to Ireland from Trontheim in Northern Norway by a young Norwegian who met and married one of the Allingham family from Ballyshannon about 1820.

A photograph of a model of a Drontheim yawl courtesy of National Museum of Ireland, Folklife.
A model of a Drontheim yawl courtesy of National Museum of Ireland, Folklife.

He could see that the yawls they had in Norway would be ideal for the North coast of Ireland and importing them to Ireland for resale would be a good business venture for himself. The yawls were relatively long and narrow beamed and punched the waves before going over them. They could be easily hauled up on to the shore by a small number of men where there were poor harbours. They became the fishing boat of choice on the north coast of Ireland from Blacksod Bay in County Mayo to the Glens of Antrim and beyond to Islay in the Inner Isles of Scotland (Na hOileain Aistigh).

The name Trontheim is pronounced as Drontheim in the Norwegian language and this explains their name. They were also called, sometimes the Greencastle yawl. Many of them towards the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century were not imported from Norway but were made by a family of boat builders called Mac Donalds who were based mainly in Moville and Greencastle but also built Drontheims in other places further afield like Burtonport and Killybegs.

This expansion was largely at the encouragement of the Congested District Board a development agency established in 1893 that felt that the development of a fishing industry would be greatly to the benefit of the congested regions of the West Coast of Ireland. The yawls were often delivered around the coast on the decks of steamers to their new owners.

The Inisbofin men went out to the north west from the island that evening in June 1929 shortly after 8.00pm and shot their net probably at an angle almost perpendicular to the shoreline off Bloody Foreland. The nets were set about six miles from the shore according to the survivor. The weather was fine and there is no record of haze or fog that night.

Shortly after midnight they saw a steamer approaching from the West. They had a lantern that Patrick Coll held up in the hope that the steamer would see it but it seems that the steamer did not see the light and bore down on them. They tried to haul the salmon nets and leave the path of the vessel but the steamer collided with them breaking their fishing yawl in two.

The steamer hit them mid vessel on their port side. The oldest of the men on the boat, 65 year old Thomas Coll, was injured in the collision and had blood on his face according to the survivor. He died about 4 hours after the collision. Denis Coll, 28 years of age, disappeared shortly afterwards.

That left just two men still alive and clinging to the wreckage of the boat and nets. Then about 5.00am, John Coll, the youngest man on the boat at 22 years of age, said he could not stick it any longer and died. Patrick Coll said he said a prayer for the soul of John Coll. There was only Patrick Coll now alive holding on for dear life to the floating wreckage. He lost hope and believed that his end was near. He tied himself to the wreckage in the hope that the timber would not sink and in this way his body would be found to bring closure to his death for his family. However, he did not die and after nine hours in the water he was picked up by a steamer called Briarthorn, under Captain R. Griffiths, travelling from Westport to Liverpool.

Photo of Patrick Coll, Inishboffin Island, the only survivor of the tragedy. Photo taken after his arrival in Derry.
Photo of Patrick Coll, Inishboffin Island, the only survivor of the tragedy. Photo taken after his arrival in Derry.

By then Patrick Coll was in an almost dying state and lost consciousness when he was brought on deck of the ship. Captain Griffiths and his crew did great work in getting him on board and revived him over a two hour period. Patrick Coll told the Captain that a steamer had passed near him during the night but he did not have the strength to hail it. They landed him into Portstewart in County Derry.

He was after a short period none the worse physically for his ordeal although he was probably ‘well shook’ mentally. He made his way to Derry City where he spent the night at the Gweedore Hotel in the city owned by a Sweeney man and then went home.

The body of Thomas Coll was found on the 5th July 1929 floating in the water off Leenan Fort on the eastern shore of Lough Swilly by a local farmer John O’Donnell and members of the Civic Guards at Clonmany and British Army men based in Leenan Fort brought the body ashore. James Coll the son of Thomas Coll identified the body of his father for the inquest.

He said that he last saw his father alive on the evening of the 19th June at about 8.00pm. He said that it was not intended that his father would go to fish that night because he himself was the crew man on the boat. However, he had a sore hand and for that reason his father took his place.

It is not clear from the newspaper reports if the bodies of Denis Coll and John Coll were ever recovered.

Folklore recalls that a steamer put into Derry on the morning of the 20th June 1929 and that paint marks similar to the paint that had been on the yawl was to be seen on its bows. The accuracy of this assertion is probably impossible to verify, now, so many years on from that tragic night.

All four men survived the impact and if the steamer had stopped it would have been able to come to their rescue. Why the steamer did not stop will remain a mystery. It is inconceivable that a steamer could hit a yawl and make two bits of it and not know that the steamer had been in a collision.

A fund was established to assist relatives and Dr William Mc Neely the Bishop of Raphoe commenced the donations on behalf of the Diocese with a £20 donation about €1500 in today’s money. The boat was owned by a man on the crew that night. The nets were leased from a supplier in Manchester. The dead left a number of dependent children.

Seán Boner

Treasure Each Voice Award 2023

Rev. Raymond Blair, former President of the Society, was presented with the Treasure Each Voice Award at the Frances Browne Literary Festival in Letterkenny on Thursday evening.

This annual award announced on the first night of the festival was given to recognise the research that Rev Blair has carried out upon the life and writings of this Irish poet and novelist.

Raymond is the author of “The Best of Frances Browne: Poems, Stories and Essays by the Blind Genius of Stranorlar.” He has also written many articles for the Donegal Annual including his contribution “ Frances Browne and the Legends of Ulster” Donegal Annual 2008, pp 134.

Pictured here with Rev. Blair is Karen Murphy of Murphy Media and Communications who sponsored the award, a lovely piece of Derryveagh Crystal.

Our new website

Welcome to the new website of County Donegal Historical Society. You will have been redirected here from our old website at donegalhistory.com

Bookmark us : Use ctrl+d to save our new address to your Internet browser’s Favourites folder.

Website Legacy : We recognise that the previous website has been able to garner a range of information on the Society and its members over many years so we have transferred all of the information from the old website to our new site. Use the Search function on each page to search our new site.

More updates : this new format will be more flexible, allowing our members to contribute articles and so that we can provide you with more updates on the work and events run by the Society.

Index of Annuals : as part of this new website, we have included the table of contents for each Donegal Annual published since our foundation in 1946. Use the Search function that you will find on each page to search for keywords that are of interest to you.

Security : Our new website will provide a more secure way for us to communicate with you; notice the padlock 🔒 next to our website name in your browser.

Accessibility : The overall “clean” design for this phase is to make this site accessible by using plain black text and white background with medium sized-fonts for easier reading by all visitors. Some photos have descriptions added for screen-readers and more will be added over time, this is work in progress. The design is also chosen so that the website contents can be read without change on any device whether PC, tablet and smartphone.

Membership : With a more secure website, we have been able to introduce electronic forms for membership allowing both our new and current members to register and pay for membership online.

Future Plans : We have many plans for this new website for the near future. Come back to see how things progress.

Feedback : We hope that you enjoy this new facility, send your comments to us at info@donegalhistory.ie

2023 : Field Day, Ballindrait

Our final field trip of 2023 was to visit to Ballindrait, near Lifford, on Sunday 3rd September. Belinda Mahaffy was our tour guide for the day.

Participants met up at the Ballindrait Presbyterian Church at 2.30pm where Belinda Mahaffy give a background to the area from earliest days, high lightening the importance of Croaghan Hill and its ancient burial chambers. She spoke of the origins of the Presbyterian church and the various Ministers and families from the local area who were associated with it.

Participants then moved on to the historic Ballindrait bridge to hear of various battles between the O’ Donnell’s and O’ Neill’s in this area, and the journey of Hugh O’ Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and his entourage crossed the bridge here while enroute to Rathmullen in 1607 for what would become known as the Flight of the Earl’s.

The group then moved on to “Guystown House”, Tamnawood, with owner Vincent Gallagher who give a fascinating history of this residence and the families who resided here. Perhaps it is best associated with the Porter family from 1720-1850 of whom the Rev James Porter is best known. He was the only ordained Presbyterian clergyman to be executed for alleged involvement in the 1798 Irish Rebellion at Grey Abbey, County Down. He was born here in 1753 and educated locally. Vincent has a number of title deeds to the house going back to the 1700’s on display.

The group then headed to Raphoe for a brief talk by Belinda on the history of the local area and families. We then went into the COI Cathedral for a talk on its early history, and some on the famous individuals buried in the adjoining graveyard.

The weather was beautiful and added to a wonderful afternoon. Thanks Belinda and Vincent.