Wreck and Rescue, The Stowijk, 1940

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.

Ballindrait Field Day

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.

Hugh

Field Day : Ballyshannon 2023

The field trip last Sunday 20th August to Ballyshannon was an excellent event. There were two parts to the proceedings. First, Anthony Begley conducted a Commemoration ceremony for the nineteen orphan girls who were shipped to Australia from the Ballyshannon Workhouse in 1848. The story was poignant, yet the sense of connectivity to the area was excellent. Each girl’s personal story was related, and a Rose placed in their honour at the Orphan Girls Memorial, interspersed with songs both local and from Australia.

You can read the personal stories from Anthony’s book which is out of print but available online: https://ballyshannonfamineorphanmemorial.wordpress.com/

The second part was a talk delivered by Anthony in the field in front of the old school adjoining the Workhouse, where he related the history of various buildings, churches, homes, and warehouses that could be viewed across the Erne valley on the opposite side. A large crowd were enthralled with his local knowledge. Thanks Anthony.

Field Day : Inishboffin 2023

Inishboffin Island, Sunday 23rdJuly 2023

Another great day out to Inisboffin Island with our host Seán Boner.

‘Cúl a chinn’ view of Harry Coll at the wheel of the Saoirse Na Mar
‘Cúl a chinn’ view of Harry Coll at the wheel of the Saoirse Na Mar

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.

Boffin Ferry have an excellent website

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.

National School

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

Passport page of Arthur Kingsley Porter with his wife, Lucy.

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

https://donegalhistory.ie/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.

A memorial to those who lost their lives in these waters.

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.

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