The Stowijk was a Dutch ship that was travelling in a convoy S13 from Canada to Britain in December 1940. 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.
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.
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
THE INISHBOFIN ISLAND SALMON FISHING TRAGEDY OF THE 20TH OF JUNE 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.
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.
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.
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.
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Inishboffin Island, Sunday 23rdJuly 2023
Another great day out to Inisboffin Island with our host Seán Boner.
We set sail on the Boffin Ferry, Saoirse Na Mara (Freedom of the Sea) from Machaire Rabhartaigh (Magheraroarty) on the 10 minute trip to the island.
Owner, Harry Coll skippered, with his brother Owenie Coll as deckhand. The boat was suitable for those of restricted movements as you could walk on board without having to climb over the gunwale. The fare is €12 for over twelves and €5 for under twelves.
Arriving at the harbour on the island, the bright sunshine provided a magnificent view back across the water from the coast at Horn Head, the Derryveagh Mountains with the Errigal as it’s crown, Muckish Mountain and west to the Bloody Foreland.
A short stroll to the west of the village, past an example of the houses built with funds from the Congestion District Board, larger that you would see in the rest of Donegal as funds were more generous for the islands.
At the far west of the village is the ruins of the National School.
Our guide, Seán, spoke of the standard design for a National School but how unsuitable a design for the weather conditions here on the island; with over-hanging eves and the door leading straight into the single classroom.
Modifications had made the school less prone to the weather with a chimney to allow a fire in the classroom and a partition to create a hallway to prevent the Atlantic winds from cooling the legs of the children unlucky to be seated at the back of the class.
The Island Field System
To this day you can see the fields laid out in long strips of land, this was the replacement of the rundale field system. Rundale on Inisbofin involved a village in the North East of the island that now no longer exists.
After a short stroll back to the harbour and onto to the east end of the village, we met at the church.
Arthur Kingsley Porter
Sean told the story of Arthur Kingsley Porter seen in his passport photo above with his wife Lucy.
He had a holiday home on the island and he disappeared there on the 8th of July 1933. He was a Harvard Professor who owned Glenveagh Castle and Estate. He was a troubled soul arising from the fact that he was gay but a married man who took a male lover Alan Campbell at the suggestion of his psychotherapist Doctor Havelock and with the agreement of his wife. The new relationship did not seem to work. Kingsley Porter probably committed suicide by drowning but his body was never found.
The Island Church
We visited the Church, Muire Na nGras (The Virgin Mary of the Graces), on the island. It is a simple and attractive church. It could have been designed by an Architect who believed in Architectural Minimalism who had the mantra that ‘in minimalism less means more’. A local man Gerry Gallagher designed the church and we imagine he was more constrained by what money was available to build the church than any desire to build in a minimalist style. Nevertheless, it turned out very well.
The commencement of the building of the church began in December 1963 and was done, dusted and blessed on the 23rd of June 1965. The driving force behind the building of the church was the Parish Priest of Gort A’Choirce, Canon Shields and he is spoken of with much affection by older people from Inishbofin. And by all accounts deservedly so.
There seems to be a definite interest in Lourdes and the apparation of Lourdes. Canon Shiels probably had been to Lourdes. There is a photograph of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes and the Stations of the Cross are in French as well as English. They may have been bought in Lourdes.
Constable Charles McGee, RIC
Sean spoke of 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.
We have more on Constable Charles McGee in Further Reading
Daring Rescue from the Stowijk, 1940
While our views today across the water to Magheraroarty and beyond are indeed scenic, these waters are treacherous in bad weather with many lives endangered in these waters. Seán told us the story of the Stolwijk a ship that was grounded on a rock near Inisdooey.
Seán was to tell of the hard life here on the island with no turf of their own, it was all carried from the bog beyond Magheraroarty and then by row boat to the island; at a time before the harbour was built. Although with the right spring tide, you can walk to the island on the stone beach causeway but local knowledge is essential.
There were no more than 120 souls on Inishboffin in the 1960s before they melted away to take up residence on the mainland; well before the harbour and church as we see them today were built.
After a short stroll over the island to admire the sands of the east beach we returned to the harbour for our ferry trip back to Magheraroarty.
Many thanks to Seán Boner for introducing us to this island, it’s history and the story of the people that called this home.