The following historical information has been graciously provided by John Cunningham, local historian, tour guide and author of Erne Heritage Tours
That Ireland has a great maritime tradition is largely unknown to most people today except in little bits and pieces. As an island the earliest settlers here had to arrive by sea and communicate with other settlements around the coast by the same means. The communication network via water was so extensive, through time, that the Roman historian Tacitus c. AD 56–c. 120 says, “The soil, climate and manners of the inhabitants (of Ireland) are not much different to those of Britain, and in a higher degree, the approaches and harbours are known through commerce and merchants.” In the 2nd century the geographer Ptolemy gives a detailed description of Ireland in his map naming rivers, headlands and towns. In the fourth century the Irish high kings, Crimhthan the Great (366 A.D.), Niall of the Nine Hostages (379 A.D.) and Daithi (405 A.D.) led Irish fleets to raid the Roman Empire. Niall was killed on the banks of the River Loire and Daithi by lightning in the foothills of the Alps. These were names, which stuck fear into Continental tribes and many paid regular tribute to Irish kings. These people had their own navies and obviously the skill and knowledge to navigate. In the ancient Brehon Laws vessels were classified variously as Ler-longa or large sea-going vessels suitable for long voyages, Barca or coastal vessels and Currach the hide-covered, oared small vessels. Other examples of Irish seafaring could be given but this is sufficient to draw attention to Irish harbours and seafarers as a largely unknown or forgotten area of study. There are two major rivers flowing into the Atlantic on the west coast of Ireland, the Erne and the Shannon and all through history these have been major highways into the interior of the country. Everybody who has been anybody in Irish history has passed along the Erne and left traces of their influence on the local landscape from the Stone Age through the Bronze and Iron Ages, the early Christian missionaries, the Vikings, the Normans, the O’Muldorrys and the Maelrooneys of pre-medieval times, the medieval Irish princes, O’Donnell and Maguire, the Plantation settlers of the 17th century and the innumerable emigrants of the mid 19th century and before. All of these peoples used the Erne in war and peace. Stone, Bronze and Iron Age remains can be found around the Erne Estuary, which provided these people with an almost unlimited supply of food. There were eels, salmon and trout in the river. There were lots of fish in the sea and if all other sources failed there was always shellfish or seaweed on the rocks to be had in times of scarcity.
Ballyshannon grew up as a port entrance to a major Irish river and as a fording place of the same river. It was the equivalent of a crossroads where one of the roads was a river. Unfortunately for the development of the town the river falls about 50 metres from Belleek to Ballyshannon. This four-mile section full of rapids could not be navigated and peoples pressing inland from Ballyshannon had to carry their craft and goods the intervening four miles to get above the falls of Belleek before resuming their travels. This along with the sand bar at the mouth of the Erne were the two greatest obstacles to the development of Ballyshannon and the Erne as major Irish trading arteries.
The seasonal bounty of eels and especially salmon harvested by numerous weirs was a valuable source of food providing more than enough for local consumption and when dried and salted an important trading commodity. The early Christian monks travelled extensively by sea and by land and their animal hide covered boats took them on incredible voyages. They also secured a share of the local salmon bounty from the local chieftains. This was later included in the rights of Abbey Assaroe. This Cistercian foundation was built c 1184 by Flaherty O’Muldorry.
The Vikings bore down on the Irish coast and according to the Annals; Inishmurray was the second place they attacked in Ireland after Lambay Island near Dublin in the year 795. Later they used the Erne to strike inland burning Devenish Monastery in 822 and the Annals of Ulster record that in 836, "all the churches of Loch Erne, together with Cluain Eois (Clones) and Daimhinis (Devenish Island) were destroyed by the gentiles." Again in 923, the Annals note” a fleet of foreigners on Loch Erne and they plundered the islands of the lake and the territories round it to and fro" and again likewise in 961.
The Normans marched to Ballyshannon from their major base at Sligo and Bishop de Grey of Norwich ordered Gilbert de Angulo to built a castle at Belleek in 1211 while another was begun at Clones. Additional stores probably came by ship. This was an attempt to control Lough Erne with fortifications at either end of the waterway and followed a crushing defeat at Belleek or Cael Uisge – the Narrow Water, as it was then known, the previous year. In 1210 Hugh O’Neill and Donal O’Donnell had united to defeat the Anglo-Normans, killing FitzHenry, the younger and dividing their enemies baggage and booty among their men. The Belleek castle was destroyed in 1213 and de Angulo killed. Aedh O’Neill stormed Clones in the same year. In 1252 Maurice Fitz Gerald again built a castle at Belleek and although it survived a little longer these were abortive attempts at controlling the Erne. While there is little or no evidence of Norman traffic on the Erne the existence of the place names of Strongbow Island and nearby Clareview Townland in Lower Lough Erne suggest they did so.
The Erne has formed a natural boundary between northwest Ireland and the rest of the country and has been an area of friction since the time of early man. The northern chieftains raided south of the Erne and then retired behind the Erne shield with their booty. Natural defensive positions looking down on the river have been added to with fortifications and garrisons in all eras down to the present day. The Irish Army Camp at Finner and Belleek Joint R. U. C., British Army Barrack are today’s embodiment of garrisons along the Erne.
It is difficult to find concrete evidence of trade with what we now call France and Spain in early times but favourable west and south west winds aided ships travelling to Ireland bringing brandy, wine, port and silk where these items found a ready market. Emissaries from these countries and from the various popes were able to reach the O’Donnell chieftains in Donegal and their principal export made the O’Donnells known on the continent as the Prince of Fishes. The Elizabethan court was amazed on meeting, what they considered, barbarous Irish chieftains of the north west of Ireland. Instead of being dressed in skins, furs and homespun cloth they found men and women dressed in the height of European fashion of the time. Just because people lived far from Dublin or London did not mean that they did not have access to the best society could offer at the time and their continental trading links saw to that.
However ports have often been the entry point of disease. In 1478 the Annals recount that a great plague was imported by a ship, which entered the port of Ballyshannon, and this pestilence spread through Fermanagh, Tirconaill and far and wide through the province of Ulster. The cholera plague of 1832 is reputed to have been introduced through Bundoran via a smack calling for salmon. This ship was from Liverpool and the cholera spread to Ballyshannon and many other places including Clones. In Ballyshannon 93 died and 152 recovered from the disease.
The Erne crossings between Belleek and Ballyshannon were defended from the earliest times and the subject of numerous attacks, skirmishes and battles. A maritime angle appears in 1420 when Brian O’Connor was opposed by the O’Donnells in building his castle at Bundrowes. His forces suffered a reverse at the hands of the O’Donnells but got their revenge in a night attack on Ballyshannon. The O’Connors crossed the Erne while the sons of O’Donnell were at Portnalong on the northern bank – the port of the ships - indulging in wine. Donal son of Turlogh O’Donnell was killed and his brother Niall escaped by swimming out to a merchant ship in the channel. Ballyshannon Castle was built by the O’Donnells in 1423 and attacked by Sir Conyers Clifford and an Irish force under Lord Inchiquinn in 1597. Canon for the siege of the castle were brought into Ballyshannon by Tibbot na Loinge Burke (Tibbot of the ships)
Ballyshannon Harbour again had a role in military affairs in 1690 period. The “Patriot Parliament” of 1689 attainted Sir James Caldwell of Castle Caldwell near Belleek. He was an ardent supporter of King William and provided his son Hugh with a troop of horse, which aided in repulsing the Duke of Berwick after he attacked the town of Donegal. Another son Charles rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in Major General Cunningham’s Regiment during this conflict. When General Sarsfield came north from Connaught to force the passage of the Erne at Belleek and Ballyshannon he was opposed at Belleek by Sir James Caldwell and others who had fortified the fords there and by Colonel Lloyd and his Inniskilleners. The two sides prepared for battle across a little stream called the Drumavanty River close to Belleek in a narrow pass between the River Erne and an extensive area of bog, which was thought impassable to the Williamite cavalry. This was a strategic misjudgement on behalf of the Jacobites as, with the help of a local informant the Williamites could be seen moving through the bog and outflanking their opponents. Panic quickly set in and Sarsfield’s poorly trained and equipped army was soon in full flight. Many escaped through marsh and forest but the rest were cut down by the cavalry. Between one and two hundred were killed and about 60 sought refuge on Inis Saimer Island in Ballyshannon Harbour.
In June of 1689 Sir James and others set out for Derry to acquaint Major General Kirk of the situation around Ballyshannon and along the Erne and to seek arms and reinforcements. Kirk was supposed to be engaged in relieving the Siege of Derry but had shown little enthusiasm for the task and took about a month before deciding to reinforce the Williamite forces about the Erne. Eventually he sent professional military officers to command these largely amateur forces and 1,600 muskets and firelocks plus eight fieldpieces and a plentiful supply of powder and shot, which were landed at Ballyshannon. Many of the officers took prominent positions in the final defeat of King James in Ireland beginning with Battle of Newtownbutler soon after which marked the turning point of the war. Many of the Williamite troops over wintered in the Ballyshannon/ Belleek area before the decisive year of 1690 and were the cause of much complaint. They “plundered” the locality of food, timber, iron, horses etc. and Charles who was a substantial merchant in Ballyshannon claimed that he lost £800 worth of salmon, mutton and beef taken to feed the troops quartered there.
After the war many of the military units that had fought in Ireland were employed in Flanders fighting in another of King William’s wars there. Hugh Caldwell now served in Lieutenant General Ross’s Regiment and embarked from Ballyshannon for this campaign and served under the Duke of Marlborough there. In time he became a Lieutenant Colonel but was wounded by a gun shot at the siege of Mons in 1710. He refused to have his arm amputated and died soon after. Henry Caldwell another son of Sir James Caldwell made a substantial contribution to Ballyshannon in erecting a fine Customs House there in the early 18th century which has unfortunately fell to the developer’s hand in recent times.
One of the most successful entrepreneurs ever connected with Ballyshannon was Tom Barton. In 1720 Thomas Barton (French Tom) emigrated to France to take advantage of the ancient trading links between Ballyshannon and Bordeaux eventually being in a position to buy numerous estates in various counties back in Ireland. He set up business as a wine factor and with his brother William became very wealthy. Sir James Caldwell, a neighbour from near Belleek estimated their wealth in 1744 at £60,000. He stayed three months with then at that time and the extent of their business is indicated by the fact that they could give Sir James letters of credit to trading friends in Toulouse, Montpellier and Marseilles. Despite occasional rows regarding money Caldwell had borrowed from them they remained in contact. A letter from Tomas Barton of 21st, December 1754 tells Sir James that he is sending him two bags each of oak acorns, chestnuts and walnuts on board the ship Everina (first known named ship to Ballyshannon) bound for Ballyshannon with Henry Dickson, Master. Dickson is almost certainly a member of the ancient Dickson family of Ballyshannon. The letter adds that it is too late to send him “cork tree ackerns.”
The Barton’s home was in the townland of Curraghmore, on the banks of Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh near Pettigo. From Bordeaux Tom Barton gives instructions re improvements to the house so that he might better entertain his guests. His ease of manner regarding travel or transport by sea is indicative of his frequent usage of this form of transport. (This letter has been altered to modern spelling leaving out a large number of capitalised words.)
Mr John Keys
I wrote you two letters the 20th of last month with a copy to Messrs Ogles of Newry letter to me concerning their taking part of the Killmore Estate. that out of lease & also a copy of my letter in answer to them on that subject to which refers I sent them letters by way of Ballyshannon to be sent you from them by express by cousin Thomas Dickson & refers you to the contents of them - I received no letter from you since which surprises me. I have not anything farther to add concerning the Killmore Estate (later the Clonelly Estate near Pettigo) but that I am resolved to agree with & give leases to Messrs Ogles of Newry on any reasonable terms.
As I foresee that I shall be greatly stinted at Curraghmore for lodgings & room for my self & servants & friends that may come there to see me. I beg the favour of you that as soon as you receive this letter that you will order deal boards from Ballyshannon & carpenters & get first the little room off the parlour at Curraghmore floored well & the window in the room made larger to give light to that room that done to get the two rooms off the kitchen likewise well floored with deal boards & make them as handsome as possible or that time will permit - & if time will permit it to get the windows made a little larger with fireplaces in each room & as there is no proper place for servants to lodge set about on receipt hereoff the building a good wall cabin on the north side of the house as long & large as convenient. with two wattle & clay partitions in it & a fireplace in the middle where meat may be dressed if occasion & beds on rushes may be put at each end of the cabin for servants to lie on large enough for a bed on each side of each little room this I leave to your own invention & management & if you have not time to make the good wall you may make the side walls with any ordinary timber ash or oak & cover the little rafts etc. with scraws (?) to keep out the wind & rain to do you may cut ash or ...... in the orchards racks or where you please for those rafts etc.
? cannot be got at Ballyshannon they may be brought by sea from Sligo to Ballyshannon & by boat from Ballyshannon to Curraghmore. Cousin Thomas Dickson or Cousin James Dickson Junior. On your desiring it will get this done for you if needfull. In short my Dear Mr Keys I leave all to your management & shall be pleased with everything that you do & to get everything done as soon as possible I wrote Captain Barton to buy 4 beeds blankets sheets & curtains etc. to send to Curraghmore knives forks table linen & chairs which no doubt he will doe as soon as possible. I have desired him to send brother George a suite of clothes & another suite for Brother Anthony but I will not have anything by any means to come to Curraghmore for I will not see him on any account he disobliged me greatly - do not write me any answer to this letter for I shall get outo for London before I can receive any answer to it from you - My Love to all friends I am sincerely
Dear Sir your Very affectionate
There were other Irish migrants to the Continent who also got involved in the liquor industry. This was so much so that they came to be called the “Wine Geese.” These Irish traders on the Continent supplied a home market of wealthy landlords and merchants and in the case of Ballyshannon an important military presence in the town. With an infantry barrack and a cavalry barrack there was a large circulation of money in the locality and under the patronage of the officers large quantities of port, sherry, claret and brandy were imported. Archibald Murray is the earliest known of the extensive locally based merchants to supply these markets. Before banking came to the town money remittances were made by the purchase and transfer of bills of exchange, which were obtained by the remitter from some outside party, and seldom represented the exact sum to settle the transaction. Consignments of wine from Bordeaux and elsewhere were occasionally paid for in kind by a return cargo of butter and grain. It was not until 1835 that the Provincial Bank of Ireland established the first bank in Ballyshannon. This was followed by the Belfast Bank in 1869.
St. Anne’s Church of Ireland was erected on Mullaghnashee in 1745 and apart from its religious function it was the principal landmark for vessels entering the harbour. There are numerous other examples of churches serving a similar purpose. Along the east coast of England sailors used the shapes of the church towers as their navigation aids. St. Anne is an unofficial patron saint of sailors whose churches tend to be grouped around the Mediterranean and near ports and major waterways. Murray proposed improving the harbour in 1778 and it was costed at £2,000 at that time.
Mr. Abbot touring Ireland in 1792 writes of Ballyshannon and mentions the proposed improvements. “The town is large and tho’ poorly built yet thriving; it occupies both sides of the river; its square towered church makes it very distinguishable at a distance. Beyond it the river flows into the sea between high sand banks. The chief objects in the view are a range of mountains broken into three [word not deciph.] promontories along the coast of Sligo.
From the bridge the scenery is extremely picturesque. On the upper side, the river is seen rippling down some shelving rocks; it then forms a still pool over which the bridge is laid and three hundred yards lower it tumbles down a considerable cascade to the level of the sea. Exactly below the cascade is a rocky island in the middle of the channel. The banks of the river during the rest of its course are low and green, broken into sharp points as far as the sand banks, which make the bar. It was too late in the season for me to see the salmon leap up the water fall; but whilst I was for a few minutes upon the bridge I saw them continually leap up clear out of the river to catch flies and disport themselves. The fishery is let for £500 a year, but the eels alone are supposed to pay the rent with a profit frequently of £2,000 from the salmon. Trees only are wanting to embellish this singular and picturesque scene. Twiss’s view of the place [one or 2 words not deciph.] accurate representation.
Mr Connolly is lord of the soil. He has built some houses here. Mr Dickey[Dickson], the member for the place, has granted land in the town rent free to others who have built good houses. The Custom House & Barrack are both respectable buildings and below the waterfall a new storehouse is built where the new canal from Lough Erne is to fall into the river. There are only four or five ships belonging to the port, but there is trade in fish and grain and timber that brings a considerable number. Yarn is made in great quantities about this place but no cloth. Salmon, which used to be sold fresh at a penny-farthing per pound, is now sold at two pence halfpenny per pound.
Labour is 6pence halfpenny a day besides victuals or one shilling and a penny without, that is in the summer season for harvesting, &c. Of late years Bundoran, 4 miles from hence, has been much frequented for sea bathing.
Emigration as most people understand it has been to the United States and Canada. The earliest Ballyshannon emigrant lists to America are from 1804. This first known list of emigrants is for the ship, Jefferson, bound for Newcastle and Philadelphia, which set sail from Ballyshannon on May 15th, 1804. Daniel Knight, a citizen of the USA was captain, suggesting an American ship and it had a crew of six plus one cook. The passengers were:- (The first six all from the Barony of Lurg, County Fermanagh) Francis Maguire, 38, a labourer. Brigid Maguire, 36, Edward Thompson 34, labourer, John Thompson, 24, labourer, Mary Thompson, 22 and Edward Thompson, Jun. Aged 8. (From Resinver) Patt Conolly, 33, labourer, Rose Conolly, 31, Francis Cullen, 16, labourer, Daniel Tiffany 24, labourer, (From the Barony of Tirehugh, County Donegal) Charles Stephenson, 29, farmer, John Stephenson, 27, farmer, Margaret Stephenson, 22, Thomas Diver, 25, chapman (pedler), Mary Diver, 26, (Donegal, County Donegal) Robert Johnston, 15 clerk, William Stephenson, 20 farmer, (from Drumcliffe, Sligo) John Connor, 20 labourer and from Ballyshannon, Hugh Mc Partlan, 23, labourer and Mary Mc Partlan aged 22.
Another ship which departed this year seems to have most of its passengers from Donegal Town and Killybegs. This is the Roll of Passengers to be received on board the Ship Catherine of Dublin, 170 tons burthen as per Register, George Thomas, Master, now in the Port of Killybegs and bound for New Castle and Philadelphia. Sworn at Ballyshannon, 9th. June, 1804.
All from Monargin in Killybegs:- John Conyngham 55, Farmer, Isabella Conyngham, 49, William Conyngham, 26, Isabella Conyngham, 23, Alexr. Conyngham , 21, Labourer, James Conyngham, 18,Labourer, John Conyngham, 15, Labourer, Catherine Conyngham, 12, George Conyngham, 49, Schoolmaster. All from Lochris in Mishue (Today Loughros, the peninsula between Portnoo and Glen Head opposite the Maghery caves) :- Andrew Conyngham, 34, Farmer, Elitia Conyngham, 34, John Conyngham, 12, Andrew Conyngham, 6, Robt. Johnston, 15, Donegal, (May be in here for some reason) Robt. Henderson, 45, Farmer, Elenor Henderson, 44, Elenor Henderson, 18, Jane Henderson, 15, Prudence Henderson, 13, George Henderson, 11, Ann Henderson, 8, Alexander Henderson, 6, Arthur Fawcet 19, Labourer, John Porter, 43, Farmer, Elitia Porter, 44, Catherine Porter, 22, William Porter, 20, Alexr. Porter, 18. From Carrick East, Drumhome:- William Harran, 37, Elizh. Harran, 37, Ann Harran, 15, Jane Harran, 13, John Harran, 10, Alexr. Harran, 7, Matthew Brown, 18, Labourer. From Carrick Breeny, Drumhome:- William Harran, 37, Farmer, Jane Harran, 32, Barbera Harran, 11, Jane Harran, 8. Thomas Grier, 30, Big Park, Drumhome, Jane Grier, 23, Big Park, Drumhome, John McCrea, 24, Labourer, Lignanornan Drumhome, Catherine Fawcett, 21, Mt. Charles Inver, Drumhome, Elinor Devenny, 2, Benro in Killartie, Archd. Scott, 26, Farmer, Tullymore in Misheel, Elinor Scott, 20, Tullymore in Misheel, Wm. Scott, 20, Labourer, Ardara in Killybegs, Jas. McDade, 22,Labourer, Killarhel in Misheel, Andw. Lamon, 18, Ardegat in Misheel. From Meenhallu in Killymard:- Patt Kennedy, 52, Farmer, Susan Kennedy, 52, Edward Kennedy, 24, John Kennedy, 19, Labourer, James Kennedy, 13, Labourer, Charles Kennedy, 11, Labourer, Biddy McCafferty, 20, Daniel Sheerin, 24, Ardara in Killybegs, Michael Carlain, 26, Donegal, George Maxwell, 24, Raferty in Killartie. From Bractcia in Killartie:- James Syms, 45, Farmer, Mary Syms, 40, Samuel Syms, 6, Elizh. Syms, 4, Tera Allis, 30, Drimahy in Donegal. James Allis, 14, Labourer, Drimahy in Donegal, From Glen, Donegal:- Owen McGloghlin, 29, Farmer, Nelly McGloghlin, 30, ??McGloghlin, 5, Patt Gillespy, 35, Pegy Gillespy, 24, John McClosky, 25, Labourer, Drimreny in Inver, Rose McClosky, 19, Drimreny in Inver, John Syms, 30, Glen, Donegal, Cath. Syms, 21, Glen, Donegal
Trade and emigration from Ballyshannon was several times projected by another of the Caldwells of Castle Caldwell. Henry Caldwell had been an aide-de camp to General Wolfe when he was killed at the battle of the Plains of Abraham. This battle broke French power in Canada and Henry greatly increased his wealth in succeeding years. He acquired grain and timber mills along the St. Lawrence and about 600,000 acres around Quebec, the Richelieu River and parts of New York province and proposed sending grain to Ballyshannon c 1790. This idea was put on hold on account of the then current proposal to remove the sand bar at the mouth of the estuary and deepen the channel to the Ballyshannon Quays. With this out of the way Ballyshannon was also to be linked to Belleek by canal thus overcoming the second barrier to the navigable Erne. Correspondence regarding these proposals can be found in the Caldwell Papers as far back as 1750. Henry Caldwell’s nephew the second Sir John Caldwell is now in possession of the family estate and although he writes that he cannot afford the £1,600 it would cost to build a mill at Belleek despite its favourable situation as a source of water power he intends to press ahead with a smaller mill at Garvery Bridge which will cost £200. He adds, “I contemplate this undertaking, however limited, with pleasure as the flour for every morsel of bread eaten in this country is ground at Sligo mills, and is often extremely bad.”
Earlier in 1774 Henry had tried to interest prospective emigrants in his vast lands. He promised leases for ever for lands of from 100 to 2,000 acres at a rent of less than three pence per acre with payment to begin five years after the date of the lease. The terms may have been attractive but Henry was an unusually blunt emigration agent. Apart from a few labourers for his own lands “... no person need apply that has not a sufficiency to pay the usual passage to America, to set themselves up in a little way as farmers, and maintain them for a year after their arrival, as before that time they will not be able to grow as much grain and potatoes as will support them; which will require a capital to each family of from £30 to £40 ..... Major Caldwell would not, on any account, wish to bring indigent people over there, as he cannot afford to give other encouragement but in the cheapness of his lands; and both time and industry will be required before the new settlers can maintain themselves.” (Belfast News Letter, 11th February, 1774) Unfortunately this initiative failed to succeed because of the lessened pace of emigration at the time, the limited class he was appealing to and perhaps most of all due to the bluntness of his advertisement.
One of the great unknowns concerns smuggling along this stretch of coast but its existence is undoubted. Legal and illegal trade always flourished along the west coast of Ireland according to the political situation of the times. The danger of a French invasion was uppermost in the minds of the authorities in the 1798 period and the possibility of French predation on shipping. The following from the Belfast Newsletter July 29th, 1779.
A Letter from Ballyshannon, July 23rd, says, “This coast swarms with American Privateers; scarce a vessel ventures to sea but are taken. Our harbours are full of ships, waiting for the expected convoy; if it does not arrive soon, many people must suffer by it, as the merchants will not send their ships to sea without protection. Our merchants and manufacturers have suffered very much by the delay of Chester Fair.
In George Ormerod's 'History of the County Palatine and City of Chester', 2nd ed. (1814) it states: "There are three fairs. One held on the last Thursday in February, relating chiefly to cattle, was granted by royal charter. The others are held at Midsummer [5 July] and Michaelmas [10 October]. On the two first days are sales of cattle and horses; but the principal business of the fair includes the sale of an immense quantity of goods of every description, although chiefly consisting of Irish linens (which are exhibited in a building set apart for that purpose)."
Until the silting of the River Dee, Chester was the major English port for Dublin and the Royal Mail sailed from here. So Chester Fair in July 1779 was delayed for some reason, and Irish linen merchants were greatly inconvenienced as a result. Ships sailed in convoys in these unsettled times. Ballyshannon did have a linen market from the early part of the 19th century where an Inspector and a Stamper employed by the Board of Trustees of the Linen and Hempen Manufacturers. Their job was to prevent fraud and their stamp was only to go on perfect pieces of linen. If their stamp was found on a defective piece then they had to pay compensation. In 1824 those in charge of Ballyshannon Linen Market were Mr. Robert Caughran, Inspector and Mr. Stewart, Stamper. This Board was disolved in 1828. Presumably Ballyshannon had cargoes of linen to export but they certainly had the usual staples of salt fish, mutton, pork and beef and these would have found a ready market in Chester both locally and as ships provisions since Chester was the major port of this locality before the rise of Liverpool.
Ballyshannon traditionally provided ships’ provisions to Cork which was one of the great chandler ports of the British Navy. In times of peace between France and England Bordeaux could be an equally important market as this port was the base and provisioning center from the French West Indies Fleet. In the 1770 Henry Caldwell of Castle Caldwell was able to receive butter from home in Ireland and be able to send back pineapples to be cultivated along with grapes in the heated greenhouses of Castle Caldwell. Other wealthy families in the locality had similar greenhouses and Portnason House, Ballyshannon, is advertised for sale in 1824 with a “grapery.”
It is obvious that the pickling or salting of Erne salmon was flourishing from a very ancient date. In the early Plantation period the harvesting of the salmon and eels here and all the way to Lower Lough Erne was granted to the Ffolliott Estate. This was strongly contested by the Caldwells about and above Belleek but in a sort of compromise the Caldwells operated the weirs and paid for the privilege to the Ffolliots and later the Connolly Estate. In the records of the Connolly Estate there are numerous records of the operation of the local salmon fishery and of interest is the period of John Daniel who found out that lack of local knowledge was a serious deficiency.
John Daniel had leased the Ballyshannon Fishery from the Connolly Estate and began working it in 1797-98. He laid in a supply of salt, vinegar, barrel staves and hoops in preparation for preserving and packing the salmon. At the end of the season the preserved fish were shipped to Cork and from there to the Caribbean. Unfortunately for Daniel his first cargo came to grief in a fashion very reminiscent of how Ballyshannon’s existence as a port came to an end. The ship for Cork set out on a windy Sunday evening in September but got no more than two miles down the channel before running aground on Wardtown Strand. The ship seemed quite damaged and her skipper was apprehensive of getting her off. John Hanly was the pilot on that evening and Daniel was naturally furious with him and suggested that any other pilot would have taken her out successfully. Local people from the area and people of the locality helped in removing the fish but were soon clamouring for recompense for their labours. Daniel was suspicious of connivance between the pilot and the local people but could prove nothing. He was so harassed by these people that in the end he though it better to stay as much as possible indoors. Finally he had to sell the damaged cargo to the insurers at a loss. In December of 1799 a ship with a cargo of beef and butter ran aground in much the same spot as before but this time he employed others to salvage the cargo. This time he was not insured and his term harvesting the Erne came to an end soon after.
The Norwegian ship Hawkerman captained by Captain Throw was wrecked at Ballyshannon the 27th of March, 1812. It is almost certainly carrying timber to Ballyshannon. As we enter the modern newspaper age we get more information re shipping and shipping losses. In the Erne Packet of January 8th, 1824 it states under the heading of - THE LATE STORM - The effects of the late storm have been severely felt on the Western coast, and we learn from some of our correspondents, that considerable damage has been sustained. Several parts of wreck have come in at Bundoran, and at Rossnowlagh Strand, below Ballyshannon. At the latter place, a barrel of flour in good order, and at the former, part of the stern of a vessel. The masts and part of the hull of a brig, are visible near to Mullaghmore, midway between Ballyshannon and Sligo, supposed to be a brig that left Sligo some days before for Liverpool, laden with oats.
On the 24th ult. The Triton from Whitehaven, coal laden, was wrecked at Ballyshannon. She got safely over the Bar about three quarters of a mile, and was proceeding up the channel, when she grounded. Before the next tide after, the storm set in with such violence that she was drove among a reef of rocks where she became a complete wreck; but we are happy to add, that none of the persons on board perished. About sixty tons of the cargo were saved.
A flute, tambourine, and several other articles have been cast on shore below Mount Charles, in Donegal Bay, supposed to be from the Arab, sloop of war, lately lost off Broadhaven.
Now we also begin to get some idea of the port traffic of the time and of the chief mercantile families who used the port of Ballyshannon. The Erne Packet - May 19th, 1824 - T. KERNOHAN - Begs leave to inform his friends and customers, that he has this day landed at Ballyshannon, by the Ragnhild, Thomas Thompson, Master, a cargo of 8 feet PLANK and BATTENS, which, with CROWN, MEMEL TIMBER, (Memel timber from East Prussia/Lithuania) and every article in the building line, he is determined to sell for Ready Money, lower than they can be had from any other port. Enniskillen, May 19th, 1824.
Likewise the Erne Packet, October 21st, 1824 - The following ships have arrived in Ballyshannon for James Mc Gowan – MERCHANDIZE - The subscriber has arrived to him the following vessels, viz. - The Anne Captain Anderson from Dumbarton & Glasgow with a Cargo consisting of R. C. and C. C. Crown Window Glass, 10 gross wine bottles, a quantity of Metal Ware of different kinds and 40 tons Malting coal. The Eagle Captain Williams from Liverpool with general cargo consisting of British Bar Iron of different scantlings, Nail Rod, Horse Nail and Sheet Iron, Iron Hoops, Chains and Back bands, Sheet Lead, Patent Shot, Tin, Tar, Oak Staves, Oils and Colours, earthenware, crockery ware and 70 tons of best Wigan coal. The Diamond, Captain Turner, from Bangor with a cargo of slates consisting of – Queen, Ton, Duchess’s & Ladies’ slates. He has on sale a quantity of , Red and Yellow Pine Timber, Black Birch, 8, 12, 14 feet plank etc. JAMES MAGOWAN, Ballyshannon 9th, October, 1824
Emigration and improved prospects for trade emerge from The Erne Packet of July 10th, 1827. We are much pleased to learn that there is every prospect of improvement in the trade and business of Ballyshannon. There never have been so many vessels at the quay at one time as during the past week. On Friday the Mayflower sailed from the port for St. John’s with passengers, and on the Tuesday the Martha, with passengers also for the same place.
A butter market is established in Ballyshannon, to be held on Fridays. It is to be free of all market charges to the sellers until the first of January next, to which time premiums will be paid to the purchasers of the first, second and third largest quantities on each market day. There are also to be four new fairs in the year held in the town – on the 2nd of August, 18th December, 13th of February, and 14th of May, which will be custom free for one year. The coach from Derry to Sligo, we are happy to learn, is doing tolerably well.
However the butter market did not get off to a good start. From The Erne Packet July 26th, 1827. The new Butter Market of Ballyshannon commenced on Friday last. There were upwards of 300 casks offered for sale, but the prices demanded being greater than the purchasers could reasonably afford, a large quantity remained unsold. The prices given were for firsts, 9d per pound, seconds 81/2d, thirds, 71/2d.
Poaching has always been a feature of any major fishery and down the centuries the Erne has been no exception. One recently deceased Ballyshannon veteran declared that he never had a suit that did not come out of the river. The ongoing war between the owners of the commercial fishery at Ballyshannon and the local Ballyshannon poachers can be seen in the The Erne Packet of July 10th, 1827. Outrage – On Saturday night last, some ruffians removed a boat belonging to Simon Shiel Esq. Of Ballyshannon, from her mooring near the distillery of this town, and conveyed her to Pottora stream, where they cut a large hole in her bow, filled her with stones from the quarry at that place, and sunk her. The mast which appeared a few inches above the water led to her recovery. After some labour and difficulty she was emptied of her contents and raised. This boat has been used by the water-keepers and Superintendents for the preservation of the Fish in this neighbourhood, and is supposed to have been sunk by persons against whom prosecutions have been brought for poaching. There are well grounded suspicions of the perpetrators, who may expect, and who we hope will meet with, due punishment for such a flagrant offence. The word “Portora” used here may be an alternative name to Portnamarbh i.e. the port of the dead. The dead were brought to this point on the south bank to be conveyed across the bay for burial at Abbey Assaroe. Lamentation began at the Abbey but proceedings here were in silence. In this case Portora may translate as the port of prayer. A similarly named spot near Enniskillen was similarly the beginning of the deceased’s journey down the Erne for burial on Devenish Island.
A second abortive scheme to improve Ballyshannon Harbour is seen in the Ballyshannon Herald on February 1st 1833. The celebrated Mr. Stevenson, the Engineer reported on his plan to improve the Harbour of Ballyshannon. This plan intended simply to deepen the Bar and “Patch” to the extent of three feet, and the removal of a portion of the Black Rock. This was estimated to cost about £5,500 with an extention to the quay to cost about a further £400. A connection to Belleek was to be made by a tramway at a cost of £18,000. Among Ballyshannon’s industries at this time which the new facilities would cater for were, fish salters, bacon curers, salt manufacturers, brewers, distillers, soap boilers, gun makers, confectioners, nurserymen, breeches makers, dyers, weavers, linen dealers, iron exporters, direct wine merchants and tobacco and snuff merchants. An early distillery operated at the head of the town and later a better situated one began in 1827 on the site of the Old Manor Mill near the bridge. In full operation this produced almost 100,000 gallons annually. Ropemaking which was an important maritime industry was carried on by the Gillespie family whose relations in Letterkenny carried on the same business.
Salt was manufactured at Portnason and across the estuary at Milltown beside Abbey Assaroe. Boats could be sent out to collect salt water and it was also brought in via large barges towed by horses plodding or wading along the edge of the sands. Kelp made from seaweed was much used in glass making and salt-boiling and later in the production of iodine. The seaweed was collected and dried in the open air generally across low stone walls and then burned in a kelp kiln, generally a rough circle of stones. The melted alkali collects in a hard bluish deposit at the bottom of the kiln. Seaweed was also taken and used as a fertiliser by local farmers all round the Irish coast.
All of this trade required a large Custom House Staff which operated from the premises built by Sir Henry Caldwell in the early 18th century. A house near “The Boat House Hole” was where bonded goods such as sugar were stored was approached by what was termed “The Dirty Causeway.” There were other “Bonding Yards” and stores along the Mall. In 1831, 61 coasting vessels and 12 foreign vessels entered the port with a total tonnage of 5,600 tons.
Ballyshannon was never a major emigrant port and many more local names than those on surviving ship’s lists are seen on emigrant lists out of Derry or Sligo. When there was no local emigrant ships those searching for a better life had to “foot it” to wherever ships were available. Some marked their rite of emigration with tears and lamentations while others marked it with the bottle and fist as noted in the Ballyshannon Herald - April 2nd, 1833. - MARTIAL LAW IN BALLINTRA. On Monday last a number of persons left this town (Ballyshannon) on their way to Donegal and Derry to take shipping for America; they were accompanied by a vast concourse of friends, as a convoy, and it being a holyday they indulged freely in the native. (meaning poiteen) On arriving in Ballintra, the spirit moved them, and they commenced a regular battle – those about to take shipping in Donegal challenging those for Derry. In a short time the street was literally covered with the wounded on both sides. “The Ballintra Boys” imagining there had been enough fun for one day came out to make peace, but they were assailed with hisses and groans; they, however, seeing that the quarrel was confined to strangers, declined taking any further part than to order the “Town Marshall” to clear the street of the rioters; which he commenced to do very dexterously by knocking down a few who were so drunk as to be hardly able to stand, and within a few minutes this very useful officer had the town completely rid of the rioters without even reading the Riot Act; he then marched through the town, followed by his friends huzzawing for the Marshal and his law. No lives were lost but several were dangerously wounded; the street was red with blood. We learn that when they got to Donegal they had another set too but were put down by the police.
James Mc Gowan’s, the substantial Ballyshannon merchant, owned the “Mayflower” which made two trips to America in 1831 and one one of these trips made her crossing in 18 days which was the equivalent of the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing then. She has been in operation since at least 1827 and is still taking emigrants in 1833. The traditional view of the lamenting emigrant is challenged by the above account as it is indeed with the following from the Ballyshannon Herald - May 10th, 1833. - THE BRIG MAYFLOWER. - On Monday morning last, this beautiful vessel cleared out of our Harbour with passengers for Quebec. She had, we understand, her full compliment, all of whom appeared in high spirits on leaving their native shore. The vessel, as usual, was well supplied with fuel and water, and the berths were fitted up in the most comfortable manner. Many mechanics have gone out in her to seek that support denied to them at home – while we regret to see such a useful class of persons leaving Ireland – we rejoice that there is an asylum for them where their labours will be compensated.
The MAYFLOWER had a story but otherwise uneventful voyage as her captain recounts after their voyage of four weeks and a day. There was no sickness and obviously not one of the so called, “coffin ships.”
Ballyshannon Herald - July 26th, 1833. - The following is an extract from a letter received from the Captain of the Brig Mayflower of this Port which sailed with passengers on May last. - Quebec 20th June 1833.- Sir, I take this opportunity to inform you of our safe arrival after a passage of 29 days, to the Quarantine ground, where in consequence of the good health and clean appearance of the passengers, we were released after 24 hours detention; I am now landing the passengers. I never experienced such severe weather as on this passage; indeed, the Mayflower astonished me by her well doing.
I am Dear Sir,
The letter was addressed to Mr. James Mc Gowan. (Ballyshannon Ship owner)
In terms of surviving records, the Brig Zephyr and the year 1833 are important for Ballyshannon. The Zephyr sailed from Sligo and collected additional passengers at Ballyshannon. Depending on the weather and the size of the ship it may have stayed outside the Bar and had its passengers ferried out to it.
Port Sligo - Ballyshannon April 10th 1833. A list of passengers allowed to proceed on board the Brig Zephyr of Liverpool Burthen 161 Tons Navigated by 7 men Hugh McDonnell Master for St. John New Brunswick.
Galagher James, Labourer. Galagher Fany, Spinster. McHugh Andrew, Labourer. Duffy, Hanah, Spinster. Camble James, Labourer. Mealy Cathrin, Spinster. Boyle Patrick, Labourer. Magee John, Labourer. Dean Sally, Spinster. Gorman Miachel, Labourer. Quvan? James, Carpenter. Baird John, Carpenter Branan John, Carpenter. McCawley William, Labourer, Galagher Jane, Spinster. Calaghan John, Labourer, McGroity? James, Labourer. McKinet Mary, Spinster Daly Francis, Labourer. Daly Mary, Spinster. Willson Mary, Spinster. McCoulogh Robert, Labourer. Dannan Connell, Labourer. Danan Mary, Spinster, Vance? John, Weaver. Daily Francis, Labourer. Daily Kitty, Spinster, Lipset Christopher, Labourer. McDonagh William, Labourer. McDonagh Margret, Spinster. Kirkpatrick Andrew, Labourer. Long James, Labourer. Quin Cathrine, Spinster. Kirkpatrick Susan, Spinster. Thompson Crissey, Spinster. Diven? Bryan, Spinster?? McBriety Fanny, Spinster. McCawley John, Labourer. Elas Hugh, Labourer. Gallagher Patrick, Labourer. Gallagher Rose, Spinster.
The classic emigration vessels carried timber from America and passengers on the return journey as seen in this passenger list the second of the season for the Zephyr. The ship’s arrival in Ballyshannon is recorded in the Ballyshannon Herald of August 9th, 1833. - Arrived – Zepher – Master, Captain Mc Donald with a cargo of timber. Ten days later the ship sailed for New Brunswick having used some of its timber to erect makeshift bunks and other accommodation on board. Its outgoing human cargo is listed below:
"A list of passengers allowed to proceed on board the Zephyr of Donegal, burthen 161 tons, navigated by seven men besides Hugh McDonald, master, for St. John, N.B.
McCafferty Thomas Labourer. McCafferty Anah Spinster O'Donnell Jane Spinster. Quigly Farrell Labourer Harkin Susan Spinster. Harkin Mary Spinster Harkin Margaret Spinster. Harkin John Labourer Lynch Mary Spinster. McKee Elinor Spinster Dougherty John Labourer. Galaghan Jiles Spinster Galaghan Margaret Spinster. Galaghan Elinor Spinster McManus Kitty Spinster. McGarigal John Labourer Griffith Ellen Spinster. Kerrigan James Labourer Kerrigan Biddy Spinster. Galaghan Mary Spinster McGready James Labourer. Harkin Kitty Spinster McConaghan Peggy Spinster. Armstrong John Labourer Clark Francis Painter. Clark Ann Spinster Meghan John Painter. Callaghan Hannah Spinster McAnasser Thomas Carpenter. Burk Edmond Labourer Cassedy John Painter. Duggan Phillip Labourer Toms Mary Spinster. Doyle Molly Spinster Galagher Catherine 12 Child. Mulloney Daniel 13 Child Galgher Margaret 5 Child. McBriarty Daniel 6 McNealy John 6. Clark Elizabeth 5 Clark Ally 4. Clark Francis 3 Clark Henry Child
Crew:- McDonald Wm, (Hugh above), Master. Fitzpatrick Hu, Green John, Dowling Hu, Cunningham Jas., Tehan Danull, Jones Hugh. Custom House Ballyshannon 19 August 1833. Signed, J. Folinsbery, Coll.
Many ships picked up part of their emigrant cargo from a selection of ports which either the ship called at or the emigrants walked to. People from the Laghey area went to the little harbour at Mullinasole and were taken out in a rowing boat to join their emigrant ship at the Hassans. The Zephyr was obviously well known about this time with the following list probably containing some Ballyshannon names. Although the list is not dated three of the crew have the same names as above and suggest that this is a sailing from about the same time. List of passengers on board the Brig Zephyr from Donegal to St. Johns NB
Davys James, 20, McCafferty Thomas, 21, McCafferty Wina, 22, O'Donnell Jane, 23, O'Donnell Mary, 24, Harkin Susan, Harkin Margery, 25 Harkin Margaret Lynch Anne, Dougherty John, Gallagher Jiles, Gallagher Margret, Gallagher Mary McGarigal John, Carrigan James, Carrigan Mary, Griffith Elenor, Gallagher Margrett McCreedy James, Harn Catharine, Cunningham Margrett, Callaghan Hanah, Mulowny Rose, Hammond William, Gallagher Catharine, 6, Gallagher Margaret 5, McBreerty Anne, 6, Reid Robert, 6.
Ships Company:- McDonnell William, Master. Hughes John, Mate. Bruce William, Seaman, Fitzpatrick, Hugh. Green, James. Dunleavy, Frank. McCaddin, James. Armstrong, John, Cook. Note: No Date was shown in the original
Ballyshannon also had a shipwreck in 1833 when the Rose from Liverpool was wrecked on the 17th of January of that year. Hugh Allingham in his History of Ballyshannon in 1879 mentions the ship Josephine carrying a large number of emigrants in 1834 and of the brig Jane in 1836 with 100 passengers who were all industrious mechanics and farmers. This was a comfortably berthed and provided ship. In the same year the brig Hope and Charlotte (400 tons) left for Saint John, New Brunswick and in 1835 the Samuel Freeman and the Elizabeth sailed for the same port. The Charlotte is still sailing in 1846 for Mr. James Creden bringing timber to Ballyshannon.
St. John on the Bay of Fundy figures large in the history of Ballyshannon emigration. The reason why so many Ballyshannon ships sailed to St. John, New Brunswick was that many of them were built there originally. In addition ships had to a have a cargo in each direction to be economic and so Ballyshannon’s need for Canadian timber was matched in terms of cargo by numerous eager emigrants. Through time links were built up between St. John and Ballyshannon families settling there but primarily Partridge Island at St. John, New Brunswick was the first North American Quarentine Station more than 100 years before the better known Ellis Island etc. Immigrants had to pass through this before making their way to other parts of Canada or to the United States. It operated as a Quarentine Station from about 1785 until 1938 and over an initial 20 to 30 year period more than two million people passed through this checkpoint hoping for a better life. It is estimated that, in the early years, probably half of the people in Canada and the United States were first cleared at Partridge Island. In 1847, 600 hospitalised immigrants died here and more than 2,000, Catholics, Protestants and Jews are buried in the island’s six graveyards.
In William Allingham’s Diary 1824-1846 pp16-17 he records the local attitude to emigration to America. “Ameriky,” far off as it was, was a more familiar name and idea; (than England) nearly all the letters received and dispatched by the poorer people were from or to that land of promise. The passage money was but a few pounds, very often sent over by those already in the West, and the emigrants could in many cases embark in their own familiar harbour. I never heard anyone express the least fear of the dangers and hardships of the long voyage in an often tightly-packed and ill-found sailing ship; but great was the grief of leaving home and “the ould counthry,” and vehemently, though not affectedly, demonstrative were the frequent parting scenes.”
One recorded emigrant custom of the people of the townland of Ballygee townland and surrounding area, near Belleek involved a huge oak on the farm of Packy Slevin. Emigrants put their arms around the old oak as far as they were able and made a wish to be enables to return to Ireland to again embrace their ancient friend.
More heavy emigration is seen in 1835 as noted in the Enniskillen Chronicle, Thursday, April 21st, 1835. We never recollect so many persons emigrating as this season. In Derry three berths were taken before the vessels arrived. In Donegal, three vessels, (the property of the Messers. Mc Donald) have sailed with their full compliment; and another vessel, the property of Mr. Rankin, is daily expected, many passengers are already engaged. In this town (Ballyshannon), three vessels are to sail, each of which have the passenger list nearly filled.
The Benjamin under Captain Nickelson was wrecked on the 10th of December, 1835 on her way from Liverpool to Ballyshannon and earlier in the same year the dangers of the stormy seas can be seen from the Ballyshannon Herald reprinted in The Erne Packet of January 20th, 1835. The loss of life at sea is mirrored in the callous treatment of young life in Ballyshannon at the same time. Illigitimate or unwanted local children seemingly recieved short shrift in in the Erne.
On Tuesday last, a new-born infant, rolled in straw, with a cord tied around its neck, was found at the salmon boxes in the river of this town. This is the sixth infant found murdered within the last twelve months, and yet there has been little or no exertion on the part of the inhabitants to detect the wretched perpetrators of such diabolical acts. A small reward for their apprehension would prevent similar occurrences.
Dreadful loss of life. A number of boats from the North and Connaught shores, well manned, went out fishing for herring on Sunday night last; they were seen in our bay early on Monday morning, struggling through a severe snow storm, which became so great, that in a very short time all appearance of them was lost. On Tuesday five of the North boats were washed on shore, but there are no tidings of the crews, they must have perished; which allowing six men for each boat (the usual number) leaves a loss of thirty lives, many of whom have left wives and children to mourn their sad fate. There is no account of any of the other boats, it is feared they have all been lost, amounting it is supposed to 50 or 60, with 3 or 400 fishermen.
The topic of improving the port of Ballyshannon has already been noted as going back to at least 1750 and surfaces again in the Enniskillen Chronicle of May 1835. The principal local landlord is to invest in a partial implementation of Mr. Stephensons’ plan of 1832.
The Improvement of the Port of Ballyshannon – Liberality of Colonel Conolly, M. P.
It is with no small share of pleasure that we perceive the preparations for this important work almost complete. The house intended for the residence of the Engineer will, in the course of a few days, be ready for his reception; the enclosures, together with numerous implements, necessary for the workmen, are finally arranged; and probably in our next publication, much gratified, we will have to announce the movement of this laudable undertaking. The facility to the advancement of commerce with this, as well as its advancement to the neighbouring towns, has long been a matter of serious neglect on the part of our surrounding gentry. Surely, it cannot be possible that the wealthier and more affluent portion of the people of Fermanagh and Cavan are insensible to the blessings which trade and industry never fail to spread. Not even for a moment to calculate on the great advantages which, would undoubtedly accrue to many of themselves from an easy communication with other commercial places, are they not awake to the external, as well as the internal peace among the labouring classes that the accomplishment of an object pregnant with employment must undoubtedly produce? Will they slumber in culpable disinterestedness , with such a noble example of generosity and patriotism set before them, by our, much esteemed, upright, and truly independent representative, Colonel Conolly? This benevolent and indulgent landlord has come forward, unsolicited, unaided, but (at least by us) not unexpected, and, as et, bounteously supplied the many expensive callings the magnitude of this prosperous enterprise puts forth.
Let us no longer be told of the trivial prejudices entertained by some well meaning, but inexperienced persons, with regard to the possible attainment of the removal of this injurious barrier, which nature, as if in a “frolic mood” has thrown across the mouth of our harbour. Let them but look to the unity of the high opinions expressed by Colonel Borgoyne, and Mr. Owen, of the noble designs of Mr. Stephenson, the Engineer, and their perfect accordance in his proceedings. Add to this the ingenuity of our tradesmen and the Herculanean strength of our peasantry – all panting with anxiety for the commencement of the laborious task. We trust, our friends connected with Lough Erne, as well as others, will see the necessity – nay, the justice, of relieving in some degree, the shoulders of a willing individual from the pressure of a burden, under which to bear a part would reflect credit on their names. We cannot, in truth, refrain from expressing our admiration of the unwearied exertions of Alex. Hamilton, Esq. in promoting the designs of the Engineer. Such acts would tend more to the pacification of Ireland, than files of barren enactments on the part of our rulers, or centuries of wanton agitation on the part of those who profess themselves to be the peoples’ friends. One more word respecting Colonel Conolly, and we are done. To those who have the happiness of his acquaintance, we need say nothing; to those who only know him in public, we will merely observe, that his private life goes hand in hand with his senatorial career – manly, sincere, open hearted – too proud, too moral, too honest for political evasion; but to his countrymen in general, we affirm, he would be to them a changeless friend, and a tireless benefactor.
In 1837 the traffic of the port of Ballyshannon is given on a “Map of Ireland to accompany the Report of the Railway Commissioners showing the relative quantities of traffic in different directions. By Henry D. Harnes, L’Royal Engineers 1837.” Exports amounted to 1,800 tons valued at £11,000 and Imports were 2,500 tons and valued at £9,600. On August, 9th, 1838 the Liberator, a shortlived Ballyshannon newspaper reports the Ballyshannon ship news. The John and Thomas under Captain Iver arrived from Memel on the Baltic Sea with timber and the the Margaret under Captain Ewing departed for Liverpool in ballast i.e. without cargo. It goes on to tell of the voyage of the Blanch of Donegal under Captain O’Brien which sailed for Quebec on the 28th day of May and arrived on the 27th of June. The passengers were all well and in excellent spirits. The voyage was so pleasant that only a few people were even seasick. It adds, “This is the quickest passage ever made by any vessel leaving this port and proves the combined qualities and abilities of the vessel and her company.” On July 9th the above paper underlines one of the failings of Ballyshannon port; the lack of outgoing cargoes. The following arrivals were reported all carrying coal:- The Favourite under Capt. Davis from Ayr, the Catherine under Capt Robb from Glasgow and the Alexander under Captain Somerville from the same port plus the Patrick under Captain Davis from Swansea. The Rapid under Captain Greenwald was another arrival with timber from Memel. All this was inward cargo and the Vintage under Captain Frazer departed for Mullaghmore under ballast as did the Favourite bound for Donegal.
Frank M. Watson emigrated from Ballyshannon c 1837 and in 1886 writes in the Donegal Independent of his youth in Ballyshannon and his emigration to St. John’s, New Brunswick. The family soon moved on to Scranton, Pennsylvania but in later years he visited St. John’s to meet up with old Ballyshannon friends. These included John Hammond and John Greene a son of John Greene who was one of the leading merchants in Ballyshannon in the 1830s. He remembers sitting at Greene’s Quay in the evening listening to Golden’s Key-bugle ring out over the estuary as the player sat on a rock above the salmon pool and his last look at Mullanashea Church from the deck of a small brig outside the Bar of Ballyshannon.
On the 28th of September, 1839 the ship Betsey was shipwrecked at Kildoney with deal from, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. She was under the command of Captain Hall and control of the vessel was lost crossing the Bar and she struck on the rocks. Another of Ballyshannon’s shipping families is mentioned in the Ballyshannon Herald, Jan 13th, 1843 - "We regret to state that the Janet Towers of this port, property of Messers Allingham, was driven into the bay of Islay, Scotland, during gales last week, and totally wrecked: with the greatest difficulty the crew saved their lives; they had just got into the boat without either provisions or clothing, when the vessel went down, and not a vestige of her was to be seen in a minute afterwards. She was partially insured."
The Allingham family had ships earlier as a family letter indicates that John Allingham, who died in 1831, had ships. Mary Anne Shiel who married John Allingham of Willybrook (Willowbrook) House, Ballyshannon writes of an emigrant ship leaving Ballyshannon in May of 1844. “This day is not so bright as the last two. Catherine, Sydney and I went to the Dungravin Hills to see the ship sailing off to America with ninety passengers from this town and neighbourhood for the Land of Liberty. They had music, which in some degrees removed the sadness of the scene, as they only played merry airs. Ann Rogers has been in floods of tears all this day as Susan Magrath who is gone.
Dr. Simon Shiel (Sen.) was a very wealthy man who had a lease on the Erne Fisheries from the Connolly Estate. His son Simon (Jun.) inherited this very productive fishery when his father died in 1837. The fishing season ran from mid April to the end of August and traditionally Shiel’s supplied the markets of Dublin, Newry and Belfast with the surplus being salted and sold to Mediterranean countries. Slater’s Directory of 1846 notes that this had all changed in recent times with the building of an ice-house along the Mall. Now fish were packed in ice and by this means most of the salmon were now sent fresh to London. Extensive eel-weirs on the Erne were also fished and most of their catch was preserved and sold in the fair of Belturbet, County Cavan on Ash Wednesday each year. This made available a Lenten supply of fish for a wide area extending as far as Dublin. On July 8th 1844 the greatest ever catch of salmon in the river was made in the memory of some who had worked the fishery for over fifty years. The catch was so great that they ran out of ice and had to send ships to Derry for more.
Eels were conveyed to market alive and fresh in tanks and the Erne and Bann eel fisheries were served by Robert Huntley. In 1854 the enterprise failed and his two ships the Speedwell and the Hopewell were advertised for auction by James Mc Glone at the Mall Quay, Ballyshannon and at Killybegs respectively. The following year the Well-Schooner Speedwell was again being offered for sale as being well suited to the lobster, eel or live fish trade. It is only fours old and had been built by Messers Collan & Co., Belfast.
The improvement of Ballyshannon Port was generally tied up with the improvement of the passage to Belleek. Ballyshannon needed to have better access to its hinterland if the improvements were to be rewarded with increased trade. As early as the mid 18th century Sir James Caldwell of Castle Caldwell was seeking a canal from Ballyshannon to Belleek to aid the flow of goods from that port. In addition he proposed a scheme to dig a canal inside Rossmore Peninsula at Castle Caldwell where lower Lough Erne becomes a river once more to make it easier for boats to ascend into Lower Lough Erne against a strong current or a contrary wind. In 1778 a scheme was proposed for a canal from Murray's Quay at Ballyshannon, on the north bank of the river, to Belleek above the waterfall there. This canal was to pass through Ballinacarrick, Camlin and Cherrymount and cross the Erne at Belleek by a two arched aqueduct. In 1783 the Irish Parliament made a grant towards the cost and some of the Belleek/Ballyshannon section was cut and a lock built at Belleek under the superintendence of Mr. Chapman C.E. Work was abandoned for lack of funds in 1789. In 1795 the Navigation Bill passed through the two houses of Parliament in Dublin only to founder in the Parliament in London. Mr. Chapman's scheme was revised and enlarged later by Mr. Evans C. E. the engineer of the Royal Canal. The estimated cost was £32,000 plus a further £8,000 to improve the navigation of the Erne between the two Lakes.
In 1845 prospectuses for two rival railways from Ballyshannon to Belleek were published. In January of 1846 Mr. H.W. Brown who was the promoter of a bill in Parliament to improve Ballyshannon Harbour and build a railway to Belleek was invited and wined and dined at a big dinner in Ballyshannon. The company behind this bill in Parliament was known as the Ballyshannon and Lough Erne Railway and Steamship Company. The claims of this company were hotly disputed in the local newspapers by the rival Dublin and Enniskillen Railway Company through their spokesman the Earl of Ely and the local Ballyshannon businessman, Dr. John Shiel. Many meetings were held in Ballyshannon at this time debating the topics of railways and steamers and the prompting behind all this activity was the imminent arrival of the first ever steamer in Ballyshannon Harbour. On February 27th 1846 the Ballyshannon Herald reported the Unity as the first steamer in Ballyshannon. On her first visit, she brought barley for the Ballyshannon distillery and on her next visit brought pigs from Ballina to Messers O'Brien's, the local exporters of salt pork. It was commented that this saved a week’s journey for the pigs and the consequent injury to them. On the 19th of June, 1846 the paper reported the death of Charles French, second mate of the American Brig, Camilla. He had jumped out of the ship for a swim into the area known as the Pool and drowned. He was buried in Ballyshannon.
The next steamer known to call at Ballyshannon was in May of the following year 1847.This was the steamship Albert which towed in two becalmed sailing ships waiting outside the sandbar for a suitable wind. This ship was 147 feet long by 42 feet wide and was propelled by a 200 hp engine and carried 600 tons. It impressed all those shown over her and raised a clamour for a steam tug for Ballyshannon. Its cargo was breadstuffs to relieve famine in the area. It is hard to imagine now how busy Ballyshannon port was at this time but a newspaper list of 1845 gives some idea of the port traffic before the arrival of the railway. This is a list of recent arrivals and departures published in the Ballyshannon Herald in September 1845:- The Gute Bothe with George Matzy as Master with timber. Obviously a Prussian ship from Memel. The Victory under David George with slates. The Venerable from Barmouth under James Jones with slates. The Ardent of Whitby under Zachariah Fletcher with coal and grindstone. The Henry Volant of Ballyshannon.Scotch bar-iron and coal. The Jessey under John Morrison with oak staves and coarse and salt butter. The Sarah of Ramsey with William Mc Kinnon carrying Duchess slates. The Rankin Ritchy under avid Mc Kinnon with general cargo, plates, glass, tar pitch, oakum & cordage. The Birman under James Cann with deal battens. The Tafvale with bar-iron and tin plate and the Fearnot with mahogany, firebrick, windows glass and salt butter.
This list gives some idea of the volume of traffic being competed for. In the Ballyshannon Herald of 28th August, 1846, James Creden, advertised the landing of timber at Ballyshannon from the Charlotte and Margaret of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It is reported that a few passengers can be accomodated on the Charlotte to St. John, New Brunswick when it sails on September 10th. On November 27th the local paper noted the arrival of the Colonist from Ballyshannon to Richebucto, New Brunswick under Captain Charles Dorning. They had arrived on the 17th after terrible gales but all passengers from Ballyshannon and Killybegs were landed in good health.
During the famine food was being exported from Ballyshannon as from many other ports. On January 1st, 1847 the Ballyshannon Herald contains a classic tale of drama in this famine stricken countryside. On Christmas Eve a schooner lay at anchor just inside the Bar of Ballyshannon Harbour. The ship was waiting here for a favourable tide or wind and was bound for Liverpool with a cargo of bacon and lard. She had been chartered by Mr. Edward Chism of Ballyshannon. A boat of Mr. Wade's, carrying men who said they were salt-makers from the Ballyshannon salt works, pulled alongside. (Salt-workers would have been making their way out to the sea to fill barrels of salt water for evaporating on their saltpans). Some asked to come on board to light their pipes and then, suddenly, produced pistols. These pirates then stole a large quantity of bacon and lard from the ship after overpowering the crew. The men made off with as much as possible and no doubt an unexpectedly happy Christmas was had by many. The police and soldiers were alerted and found some of the booty buried in the sand dunes on the following day. Later three people were arrested and the newspaper says that scarce a night passes without a robbery in the town or vicinity.
In a continuation of the saga of the Christmas Eve piracy in the Erne Estuary reported in the Ballyshannon Herald of January 22nd, 1847, James Currie, was tried for receiving a ham knowing it to be stolen. The ship's name is now given as the "Confidence" and it's master as Joseph Davidson. Nine bales of bacon had been stolen and several hogsheads of ham. Sub-Constable Davis had arrested Currie on Christmas day in Ballyshannon carrying a ham. Currie said that he had found it in a hole in the sand dunes. He was found guilty with a recommendation for mercy and was sentenced to 9 months hard labour.
On April 23rd, 1847 the paper reports the arrival of a ship with breadstuffs for Ballyshannon and Enniskillen. The ship is still waiting for a fair wind to get into Ballyshannon arbour. It is hoped that she will arrive today as people discharged from the Workhouse are in great distress. Plenty of food is arriving from America but prices are still at famine level. In port news of the 30th of the month the Brigantine Emerald under Captain Bool has arrived from Philadelphia and the Schooner, Cheerful under Captain Gibson has sailed for Liverpool.
On May 7th, 1847 the arrival of the steam ship Albert is reported under Commander Geary. It has arrived with much needed breadstuffs. It had towed in two sailing ships which had been waiting outside the bar for a favourable wind. This steam ship was 147 feet long and 42 feet in width. It has a 200 horsepower engine and carried 600 tons. It was a beautiful boat and many of the people of Ballyshannon were shown over it. The paper reports the melancholy loss of Captain Drake of the 92nd Regiment in the town and Henry Lipsett, a local young man. Both are greatly lamented.
The year 1849 was another year of sea tragedy locally. On March 9th it is reported that seven men drowned when a fishing boat from Mullaghmore sank and on May 25th, the Ballyshannon Herald reported seven more drowned at Rossnowlagh. On Monday 21st four sons of James Tumoney of Drumlongfield and a family servant named O’Donnell went to collect seaweed and dulse on the Long Rock which is exposed at low tide. They had taken with them two girls named Madden and Mc Garrigle. The boat was too heavily laden and those on board too inexperienced and the boat sank drowning all. A Prussian ship, name unknown was wrecked at Ballyshannon on the 5th of October,1849. It is more than likely a ship from Memel bringing timber to Ballyshannon.
At the height of the Famine the Earl Grey scheme to send orphan girls to Australia was availed of by most Donegal Workhouses including Ballyshannon. Sixteen female orphans were selected in 1847 for emigration to Australia. Lieutenant Henry, the Emigration Commissioners agent, visited the workhouse and selected 16 orphan girls aged between 14--18 whom he felt would be suited to employment in Australia. It was agreed that each girl should be equipped with six shifts, two flannel petticoats, six pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes and two gowns. It was envisaged that it would cost £5 per head to equip the girls, and they were to have free passage from Plymouth to Sydney. The orphans from Ballyshannon set out on their long journey from Ballyshannon to Plymouth under the stewardship of Sergeant Healy, the Assistant Master of the Workhouse. On Monday, 30th October, 1848, the 16 girls set sail from Plymouth on board The Inchinan, in the company of 148 orphan girls from other Irish workhouses and they landed in Sydney on the 13th January 1849. The government orphan scheme, which was a short lived experiment, ended in 1850. The Ballyshannon orphans who sailed on The Inchinan were: Jane Carleton, Margaret Sweeney, Mary Maguire, Mary McCrea, Ellen Feely, Jane Carberry, Sally McDermott, Rose Reid, Ann McBride, Margaret McBride, Letty McCrea, Anne Rooney, Mary Anne McDermott, Mary Allingham, Sally Lennon and Biddy Smith.
In 1847 at the height of the Famine the following people decided that America was their only chance. Passengers on the Brig Brazilian – Burthen,163 Tons. 26th July 1847. Ballyshannon, Ireland to Port of Boston. All passengers from Ireland intending to become inhabitants of the United States. Copy of Report and List of the Passengers taken on board the Brig Brazilian of Prospect whereof Robert Hichborn is Master, burthen 163 tons and (not filled in)/95ths of a ton, bound from the Port of Bullyshamon* obviously (Ballyshannon) for Boston. Columns represent: name, age, sex, occupation, country to which they belong, country which they intend to inhabit. All the passengers were recorded as being from Ireland and all intended to become inhabitants of the United States, so those columns will be eliminated here.
1 Michael McGloin 22 male shoemaker Ireland U. States
Transcriber's Notes: * Departure port written Bullyshamon, but is undoubtedly Ballyshannon, in County Donegal, Ireland. #16 surname could be spelled Mouday or Monday. #45 marked with ditto for female. #56 surname possibly spelled Roonien or Roonion, perhaps phonetic for Runyan or Rooney. #66 first name could be spelled Berthy but perhaps it could be Berty or the same as #68 Bartly.
The ship Caroline sailed from Ballyshannon to Saint John, New Brunswick in 37 days in 1847 as detailed in the New Brunswick Courier, Saturday, July 10, 1847. Under Captain Kirkpatrick it arrived on the 6th of July therefore departing on May 1st. The ship was charted by John Wishart. Nothing else is known of it. Another ship that arrived on the same day was from Donegal. This was the Brigantine Blanche, captained by Captain Green, possibly of the famous Ballyshannon shipping family. It is not known how long the crossing took but it was hired by S. Wiggins & Son. Another ship to cross at this fraught time was the Thorn Close. Some of its passengers were so grateful that they recorded in the paper that they had sent a Card of Thanks to the captain and in the process inadvertently giving us their names.
We, the undernamed Passengers on board the Brig Thorny Close, from Donegal to St. John, N.B., are deputed by the rest of our fellow-passengers to return to Captain James Horan our heartfelt thanks for his kind and prompt attention to us during the time we were sea-sick; and when death spread his devouring shaft amongst us, and carried away six children, and one woman, by name Mrs. Magwood, there was he to be seen, consoling and comforting the invalids under their sad misfortune. We have also to return to each and every man who served him our grateful thanks for their civility and attention to us when sea-sick. We should be ungrateful did we allow such unmerited kindness to pass unnoticed without giving it publicity in the public prints. Farrel Brogan, William Brogan, Walter Long, Francis Colgan, Richard McGee, Robert Mc Junkin, Billy McCownly, Condy Breslin. St. John, N. B. June 17th, 1847.
The following is a return of the names of the persons from Donegal who died in Hospital on Partridge Island, from the 7th May to the 2nd of July, 1847, with their ages, and the names of the vessels from which they were landed. All of these except one had also sailed on the Thorney Close. After all they had endured “Americay” was only an early grave.
Name Age Ship County
Barbara Preston, 65, Brig Thorney Close, Donegal
Details of the dock-side procedures for emigrants can be found in the diary of William Allingham, Ballyshannon poet, who was appointed customs officer to Donegal Town in 1846. He describes his official duties as: "Outdoors, there came the occasional visiting of vessels, measurements of logs and deals, and 'bread-stuffs' (chiefly maize) and - by far the most troublesome, but the most interesting - the examination of the fittings and provisions of emigrant ships, and the calling over, when ready for sea, of the lists of Passengers, who came forward one by one, men, women, and children, to pass the doctor and myself."
From the paper we get little glimpses of life in and about the Port in the early 1850s. In March, 1850 the quay and shoreline bustle with people buying and harvesting seaweed. Thousands in the locality used it for fertilizer and many came to blows on the shore over who was to collect seaweed on particular sections of the beach. On January 17th, 1851 it is reported that there are great numbers emigrating to America and that 47 had left the town and environs in the at week. The death is reported of Mr. John Greene on May 9th, 1851. He was one of the major Ballyshannon ship owners and had three vessels which plied over the Bar on numerous occasions without accident. He had bought a steamer which was wrecked on the Welsh coast on its way to Ballyshannon. It is probably the death of John Green and the loss of his steam ship which stymied local steam shipping in Ballyshannon. On September 5th the same year Kernohan’s ship Dromahair is to sail from Ballyshannon to New York under Captain Pyn. One hundred and thirty are expected to travel on her. By the modern day miracle of the Internet and genealogical sites it has been possible to trace further information of the Green family in New Brunswick. Owen Green died on Thursday, age 39, a native of Ballyshannon, Ireland and left a widow and six children. The funeral will be on Sunday at 2 o'clock from his late residence Princess St. (St. John) 2nd October 1847. New Brunswick Courier, Saint John. Almost 40 years later, Capt. John Green, died at his residence, High St., Portland (St. John) 29th inst., aged 90, second son of the late John Green, Esq., The Rock, Ballyshannon, Ireland. Funeral Sunday half past 2 o'clock. 30 October 1886 Daily Telegraph, Saint John. ( provided by email@example.com (Daniel F. Johnson)
J. Richard Armstrong also writes by email from Canada about his Green ancestors. My great grandfather was Captain John Green, second son of John Green, a merchant in Ballyshannon. Captain Green married in Ballyshannon in 1854, and sailed about 1860 from Belfast, where his first daughter was born , and settled in Saint John, New Brunswick. Acccording to family history, Captain John Green sailed extensively around the world. He died in 1886. Family history also has it that John Green Sr.'s wife, who was Mary Walker, was a direct descendant of Rev. George Walker, co-defender during the seige of Londonderry in 1689, and killed in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. John Green Sr. may be related to other Greens living in Ballyshannon at that time; namely, Finlay Green, d. 1873, married to Sarah Stewart, and Andrew Green, d. 1883, married to Jane Johnson.
The Mary Walker above may have had a major influence on Andrew Green, the editor and publisher of the Ballyshannon Herald who did rather tend to a one-sided religious view of life and news stories in his paper especially in his latter years. This is the unflattering view taken of him by Canon Maguire in his book Ballyshannon Past and Present although the Canon’s book displays an almost equal and opposite bias to that which he sees as a fault in Mr. Green. “In those days, the press organ of the town and district was the Ballyshannon Herald, whose editor was the well-remembered Andy Green, an old Pharisee of the stale Orange type. The malodorous rag received admission to no respectable household of any religious persuasion, and the sanctimonious editor glided through life like a German spy on the enemy’s soil.”
Steam Navigation began to make a serious impact on sail power in the 1840s. The first steamship into Ballyshannon Harbour was in 1846 but the competition had begun on Lough Erne four years earlier on December 23rd 1842 when the wooden paddle steamer "Countess of Erne" sailed from Wattle Bridge to Lisnaskea. This vessel was owned by William Dargan, the builder of the Ulster Canal and the first Irish railway. This railway from Dun Laoire to Dublin made him the wealthiest man in Ireland at the time. This canal ran from Wattle Bridge to Charlement on the Blackwater, a distance of 46 miles. Dargan later hired the Ulster Canal for 14 years at £400 p. a. when the canal was seized by the Board of Works since its owner still owed the board £130,000 advanced towards its construction. The "Countess of Erne" showed on alarming ability to run herself aground on the shoals of Upper Lough Erne but soon it was regularly towing a lighter or trains of lighters from Enniskillen along the Erne and via the Ulster Canal to Newry where the goods were put on Dargan's fast cross channel steamers bound for Liverpool. Departure from Enniskillen was on Wednesday and the goods e. g . butter were on sale in Liverpool on Monday morning.
In September 1846 Dargan brought a second steamer to the Erne. Little is known of her other than she was screw propelled and only drew four feet of water. This was probably the twin-screw tug "Shamrock" and she made the first steam voyage to Belleek towing a lighter loaded with coal arriving on the 20th of June 1851. The vessel docked at Kernaghan's Quay, Belleek near the present Erne Gateway Center. About 3000 people had assembled at Belleek to witness her arrival on Friday evening but as she had left Newry late and it was the ship’s first voyage the captain decided not to try and negotiate the islands above Roscor and waited there until the following day. Even so there were hundreds to greet the ship when it docked at Belleek at six in the morning. Mr. Kernohan had a wide interest in shipping since his ship Dromahair was sailing from Sligo to America with emigrants in April 1846. It was the first emigrant ship leaving that port that year. The vessel left Belleek for Newry the following afternoon with a cargo of butter, eggs etc and made a swift passage to Roscor where there was a delay while some gentlemen who had gone along for the novelty of a journey by steam on the lake were disembarked. Then a sail was hoisted and this allied with steam soon took her out of sight. A new butter market had been established in Belleek and new sheds a a larger quay were planned. However the service only lasted a few months.
It all seems to have been largely motivated by a rumour that Ballyshannon businessmen were interested in starting a regular shipping service to England and this would have taken customers from Dargan's Newry/Liverpool steamers. Indeed the Ulster Canal Company advertised for goods from Ballyshannon to Newry via the Erne and Ulster and Newry canals with with free carriage of goods between Ballyshannon and Belleek. In December 1858 Dargan transferred his shipping interest to the Dundalk Steam Packet Company and a month later the new operators closed down the Lough Erne Steamer Service.
In October, 1851 Ballyshannon was indeed close to buying or chartering a steamer on behalf of the whole town. It was intended that it should sail between Ballyshannon, Glasgow and Liverpool on a weekly basis. A public meeting on the 18th of the month pledged the purchase of £4,500 of shares at £5 each plus individual donations of about £100 in addition. The example of Sligo was held up to the meeting where local merchants combined together to buy a steamship a few years previously and now had four steamships using the port on a regular basis. The original intention had to been to hire a ship but the local committee had run into a lot of difficulties. They were offered many ships but all failed on some quality either being too large or too small or having conditions attached to a trial run into Ballyshannon harbour. All except one ship, the Mountaineer, wanted all expenses such as fuel, crew etc to be taken up by the local committee. This they declined as delays due to bad weather or any other reason would have left the company with a large open-ended bill. When the committee finally offered the owners of the Mountaineer the sum of £100 to undertake a visit to Ballyshannon it was only then revealed that she did not have the draft to enter the harbour at all.
Much was made at the meeting of Ballyshannon becoming the port of Enniskillen but despite this inducement only one Enniskillener, Mr Creden, had contributed to the purchase fund. Other gentlemen from Enniskillen at the meeting wised the venture well but indicated that they were unwilling to take shares in the company as at the moment they were satisfied with the services of the Ulster Canal. To these Mr. Creden replied that he did not wish to lessen the merits of the Ulster Canal Company but that the Ballyshannon steamer would charge about 10 or 11 shillings per ton of freight from Liverpool while goods coming by canal cost 25 shillings per ton.
The only partially dissenting voice was that of a local, Mr. Allingham referred to the problem of the Bar. He thought that there were other factors at work in the decline of the port. In 1831 12 foreign and 61 coastal vessels used the port of Ballyshannon and although the Bar entrance had been deepened since there were only about a half dozen vessels in 1850 altogether. But he pointed out that many other now thriving ports in the British Isles had suffered from great natural disabilities and overcame them. He looked forward to steam overcoming Ballyshannon’s other natural problems such as baffling winds and a crooked passage. Other matters of confusion aired in the papers concerned whether or no to hire or buy a screw or a paddle driven vessel. The Rev. G. N. Tredennick maintained that paddle boats were more stable and that screw driven ships rolled about more. If cattle were to be carried many would be killed or damaged in stormy conditions on a screw driven boat and he cited a law case involving the Albatros where half the cattle had been killed and the rest damaged. What was initially seen by everybody as a great idea became more and more complicated and in time momentum was lost and nothing was done. In the meantime the local papers carried stories of labourers in New Brunswick earning the immense sum of 3 shillings and four pence sterling per day. Pay in Ballyshannon was 10 pence per day.
The final mention of the purchase of a steamer at this time appears in the Ballyshannon Herald of November 14th, 1851 and suggests from the tone of the insertion that very little actual cash had been forthcoming from the subscribers to the shares. A meeting of the Steam Boat Committee was held on Saturday last. After transacting some important business, the following resolution was agreed to:- “Resolved – That Mr. Conolly, having consented to go forthwith to Glasgow for the purchase of a Steamer, the Committee are determined to use every means in their power to secure the payment of all outstanding shares, and unless all be paid in, on or before the 22nd inst; the names of those found wanting, will appear as defaulters, and , of course, traitors to the future prospects of Ballyshannon and its neighbourhood.” (Signed) Thomas Conolly. The meeting shortly afterwards broke up. Mr. Conolly intends to proceed to Glasgow next week, to put himself in communication with the shipping interest there, and make all ready for the purchase of a steamer as soon as the shares now subscribed for shall be paid in.
On the same page of the paper is a report of the terrible toll taken by the north Atlantic storms at this risky time of the year. “A melancholy account has reached us of the recent gale in the vicinity of Nova Scotia. The remains of 60 persons, lost during the storm, were buried in one grave. 160 vessels of all kinds have been wrecked.”
On Thursday the 22nd of January, 1852, Mother Nature, finally dealt the port of Ballyshannon a marvellous natural opportunity of improvement. In a tremendous storm it opened an entirely new channel. The Ballyshannon Herald reported on the 30th that the seas had risen to a height never before witnessed by any of the present generation. The storm had cut an entirely new channel through the sand dunes and already a boat which had been at sea had come in through the new opening. A newspaper correspondent visited the site on the following Tuesday and found people measuring and debating how to deepen this new channel to make it permanent. It was reckoned that local labourers, now unemployed during the winter, would work for a trifle – two meals daily of bread and coffee. Given wheelbarrows and organised in gangs of 20 it was reckoned that the work could be completed in two weeks. Additionally an old ship sunk in the previous channel would held direct the water into the new and thus aid the workmen. With this new channel in direct line with the flow of the river it was confidently expected that its flow would keep this new route open.
There was great excitement in the countryside and the first public meeting for the improvement of the harbour, after this new breach in the Bar was made, attracted a full house of gentry, merchants, traders, farmers and peasantry – (listed in that order in the paper.) The meeting which was convened by the Town Commissioners was held at one o’clock and began with reading the handbill which had been circulated and Mr. John R. Dickson of Duncarbery Lodge took the chair. As the meeting progresses it is interesting to see the division between the enthusiasm of the differing interests at the meeting. The first speaker was Peter Gallagher, caretaker to Mr Ffolliott on whose land the new gap had appeared. He said that he had been looking at this part of the strand for the previous 30 years and thought that this process had been underway for most of this time. In his young days the sandbanks had been three times higher than they were today. He suggested that the peasantry would come in hundreds from the surrounding countryside and would work for nothing. All the gentry had to do was horses, carts and wheelbarrows and the work would be done in a few days.
Mr. Woods, a Town Commissioner, said the purpose of the meeting was to get the opinions of people acquainted with the workings of the navigation of the port and how to improve it and then get an engineer to report on the subject. Mr. Carter contradicted Mr. Wood saying only a few of the Commissioners wanted an engineer. As far as he was concerned an engineer was an unnecessary expense and far more importantly, an unnecessary delay, during which time the channel might start to close again without a current of water running through it constantly. An engineer would in all probability suggest a breakwater, embankments etc. etc. which would cost from ten to fifteen thousand pounds which they had no home of raising. In the meantime they could do the job themselves. His suggestion that the peasantry would work for nothing was greeted with cries of “We will, we, will.” Mr. Hamilton said that the scheme of deepening was practical but as there was a difference of opinion on such an important question as changing the navigation of the channel they should have an engineer to look at it. Mr. Wm. Allingham Jun. Said that an engineer would only cost £20 and Mr. Bloomfield of Castle Caldwell had said he would pay half of this. Mr James Mc Gowan was also for pressing ahead without delay but despite all pressures to go ahead it was decided unanamously to seek the opinion of an engineer before doing anything.
A further meeting was held in Ballyshannon Market House on the 3rd of February and a letter dispatched to the Board of Works and the chief local landlord Mr. Conolly summarising the position of the harbour and the newly arrived possibilities of developing it. They urgently required a visit from a Board engineer to survey this new situation in Ballyshannon. This is how the letter describes the new passage. “ On the 22d, ultimo, an unusually high tide, impelled by a furious westerly gale, forced a passage through the sandhills immediatly to the south of the entrance to the harbour. The tide had on several former occasions come into the river at the same spot, but this time it left behind it some very remarkable effects; having swept a large mass of sand into the curve of the river which it entered, and having proportionately lowered and levelled part of the sandbank between the fresh and the salt water – leaving a regular and sharply defined opening of about 80 yards in width, and not more than twelve feet at its highest point, above the surface of the river at low water. The distance from the river to the sea, at low water, is here about 750 yards. The river and the sea, at low water, opposite the new opening, are both of them deep; and there are no rocks, or obstructions of any kind.” William Allingham Jun. Secretary.
At the meeting Mr Chittick, one of the committee, told of driving an iron rod or spit 20 feet into the bottom of the new channel and discovering no obstruction such as rock. He considered that they had passed through a few feet of sand with turf underneath so that there would be no difficulty in clearing out the channel. Again Mr. James Mc Gowan felt that getting an engineer was a waste of time and money. For the engineer’s fee of c £100 he suggested the employment of 200 or 300 labourers at 10 pence per day. For the £100 they could have 2,400 labourer days and the job done for this. Dr. Hamilton spoke to the effect that many were anxious not to proceed without an engineer’s advice and Robert Johnston of Kinlough concurred. Captain Robertson of the 31st Regiment stationed in the town read the opinion of Mr. Stephenson’s plan for the harbour which was unfavourable to the new channel. Mr. Mc Gowan retorted that this plan referred to a sand bank which was then about 100 feet high and now nearly level with the river and were they to be guided a report under such new circumstances. Mr. Lipsett also took issue with Mr. Mc Gowan and protested against anything other than deepening the existing channel. Mc Gowan retorted to loud cheers that “It is the prosperity of the fisheries you look to, and not of the harbour; but the people will not be hoodwinked any longer.” Plainly some vested interests were not going to be rushed into proceeding too quickly.
Meanwhile this violent period of weather had great effects all round the locality. The Fermanagh Reporter states that the Erne has never been seen so high and coaches have to take long detours around floods to get to Enniskillen and that there were regular ferries on Her Majesty’s highways. The Ballyshannon Herald reports among other things that the East Port of Ballyshannon is so flooded that persons go from house to house in large tubs and that “ A great flood still exists in Lough Erne which has flowed into the distillery of this town, Mr. Kelly’s brewery, and other establishments along the banks of the river – several walls have been thrown down and piers and ramparts carried off. Great fears are entertained for the safety of the bridges of this town and Belleek. Never has such a flood been seen in the lake. Cathleen’s falls is quite level with the water beneath, and the eel weirs are covered – not a particle of them to be seen but the fishhouse. The streets in the Purt are nearly impassible. If the new approach to the harbour had a cut of a few feet broad through it to let the river flow to the sea, so great is the body of water that in 24 hours a passage fit to float a 74 gun ship into the port would be effected. That is our reason for wishing as little delay as possible to be made in the experiment, as, if the river lowers, as it soon will, there will not be the same facilities.
The Ballyshannon Herald of April 30th, 1852 notes the arrival of the Brig Malvina from St. John’s New Brunswick, John Beer, Captain, Schooner Heather Bell from Liverpool with J. Hendry Captain and the Salathiel from London, R. Jones, Captain. These ships had made their way in through the newly opened channel. The Heather Bell drew 8 feet and entered at low water and the paper adds that this new channel is 13/14 feet deep at neap tides and 18/19 feet at spring tide. John Beer of the Malvina made a statement which the paper printed. I, John Beer, Master of the Brig Malvina, of Waterford, entered the harbour of Ballyshannon on 17th of April, 1852, in perfect safety, with that vessel drawing eleven and a half feet, by the channel or passage now open to the south of the Bar, between South Rocks and Finner Strand. John Beer Ballyshannon, 27th April, 1852.
The Malvina is an interesting example of a shipping triangle. Waterford has a very ancient link with the Canadian Maratime provinces. English fishing vessels used to set out in Spring to fish the Grand Banks and on their way picked up provisions and workers in Waterford. These people gutted and salted the fish and made barrels in which they were shipped and a very early Irish colony developed in New Foundland, New Brunswick etc. as people srtayed on rather than come home for the Winter. The Malvina may have made an early season trip to New Brunswick and returned with a load to timber to Ballyshannon and possibly intended to return with a cargo of emigrants.
The local newspaper reports on the Custom’s Receipts and the number and tonnage of vessels inward and outwards, “from the port of Sligo, subport of Ballyshannon and creek of Donegal” for the years 1851-52. These make dire reading from the point of view of Ballyshannon.
Sub Port of Ballyshannon. Customs Revenue - 1851 - £115-5-4 – 1852 - £338-7-5. Vessels inward 1851 – 23, tonnage 1443 tons. Vessels Inward 1852 – 26, tonnage 1841 tons. There are no outward figures which suggest that there are no local Ballyshannon ships operating and all departed in ballast.
Creek of Donegal. Customs Revenue - 1851 - £1,031-17-1 – 1852 - £1196-17-0. Vessels inward 1851 - 116 vessels, tonnage 9,716 tons. Outward 39 vessels – 5,067 tons. Vessels inward 1852 – 90 vessels, tonnage 8,193. Outward 41 vessels, tonnage 5,607.
It is plain that the figures of Donegal Town dwarf those of Ballyshannon and both miniscule in relation to Sligo – 1851 Custom’s Duties c£20,000 on 238 vessels coming in and 170 vessels going out. Sligo’s figures are also put in context with Derry in 1851 producing Customs Revenue of c£110,000 on 1200 vessels with a combined tonnage of 194,207 tons.
In the same issue of the paper the Londonderry Steam-Boat Company was advertising sailings of the fast steam ship Admiral from Derry to Liverpool every Thursday evening at a quarter to five calling off Portrush at a quarter to eight. Shipping heavy goods cost 2 shillings and sixpence per ton, eggs, bale goods and cases at one penny per foot, butter at one penny per firkin, pigs 3 pence each and cattle, according to size, from one shilling to two and sixpence. Passengers in first cabin and saloon paid 10 shillings, second cabins were 5 shillings and steerage passengers on deck paid a mere one shilling. Steerage was only 7 pence to Glasgow and for even the commonest labourer the passage across to England was cheap. Daily wages were 10 pence per day in Ballyshannon at this time.
“On September 17th, 1852 the same paper notes the arrival of the Ochiltree, from Glasgow with coal and castings and the Elizabeth and Mary from Liverpool with rock salt. In an adjacent item it mentions that the engineers for the Dundalk and Enniskillen Railway are busily engaged in surveying the line between Enniskillen and Castleblaney. The demise of both rivals, the seaport of Ballyshannon and the Ulster and Newry Canals has appeared on the horizon.
The Impartial Reporter of May 6th 1852 takes up the cudgels on behalf of this project again. - Ballyshannon Harbour Improvement. - We request the particular attention of our readers to the following letter from the Board of Public Works. This, with the important report accompanying it (which may be had at our office) places the question of the improvement of Ballyshannon Harbour in an entirely new light. It is almost unnecessary to say that that Port has about the worst character of any in the Kingdom. This arises entirely from the nature of the entrance, for the channel within is, at all seasons and all periods of the tide remarkably safe and deep, up to the very quays.
Hitherto, all plans of improvement have been directed to deepening the Bar and its vicinity, and, as most people are aware, without much success. It is not, however, generally known, that when the River Erne reaches a certain height, it forces out for itself a new channel to the sea, to the southward, and entirely avoiding the Bar. This channel is deep, straight and without obstruction, of any sort, and is now open, notwithstanding the foregoing dry weather, to an extent unprecedented at this season of the year; but the river is liable to be driven back every day, into its old course, by a gale from the westward. The Board of Works having ordered one of their Engineers, William Forsythe, Esq., to inspect the harbour and entrance, that gentleman after observing and considering the circumstances just alluded to, has furnished a very full and satisfactory on the subject, in which the Board express their entire concurrence.
The plan therein recommended coincides with the judgement of every person acquainted with this locality; namely to shut up altogether the Bar course, and confine the whole body of the river, at all seasons, to the Southern Channel. This might, at first glance seem a difficult operation, but it would, in fact, be an easy one. We learn from the report that the “South Rock” forms a permanent natural foundation for the pier-head, and the water between it and the north shore is quite shallow, as long as the south channel remains open; while the materials for the work lie ready to hand on the shore, in the shape of stones and boulders of every dimension. The mole once made, in a season or two the dreaded Bar, and patch, and the whole of that channel would lie buried under a hard sandy beach, and time would only add to the permanency of the barriers.
The estimate for this pier-head and mole, constructed in the best manner, amounts to the comparatively insignificant sum of £10,000. Further improvements are recommended to be pursued at a future time but this (see fully described in the report) is the main one, and would be permanent and complete in itself making Ballyshannon a safe and useful harbour. Should the result, which the Board of Works deem probable, be realised, namely, “deep water at the entrance at all times,” – there would be very few ports in the kingdom to compare with it in advantages.
The Board “regret they have at present no funds at their disposal for this purpose,” but the time is considered a favourable one for making an appeal to the Government on behalf of the plan so strongly recommended by Mr. Forsythe, and which could not fail to be of importance to the whole district connected with Lough Erne. The Enniskilleners have hitherto held aloof from schemes for the improvement of Ballyshannon Harbour, being unable to see any reasonable prospect of success, but now that this new plan, pointed out by nature, advised by the highest practical authority in the country, and in every way so feasible, is submitted to their consideration, we hope they will prove themselves willing to co-operate in influencing the Government through our Borough representatives, the Solicitor General, and County representatives to at once grant this very moderate sum.
Despite all the favourable remarks of potential developers it is clear that officially Ballyshannon was considered a risky harbour. Even to go into Donegal Bay is considered fraught by The Irish Coast Pilot p 429 – “Donegal Harbour, at the head of this large and rather dangerous bay ........” and even more definitely on the same page, “Those bound to Donegal or Ballyshannon should not run into the bay so late in the evening as to be left in it during a long winter’s night. In summer, there is but little danger in running in at any time; but it would be advisable that those bound to Ballyshannon should not run to leeward with a north-west wind, or any wind blowing upon that part of the bay, so as to make it a lee shore.” On page 433 it pulls no punches, “The entrance to Ballyshannon is perhaps as dangerous as the entrance of any harbour that is at all navigable can well be, in all cases a pilot is indispensable. In summer, vessels may freely stand in towards the bar in order to pick up a pilot; but the surf or other accidents might prevent this coming off; in which case, and perhaps always in winter, it would be wise to proceed to Donegal harbour, or, still better, to Killybegs and to send overland to Ballyshannon for a pilot, if none should be at either of those places. There is an instance on record of a vessel having been actually detained at Killybegs for three months, before the wind, the bar, and the period of the tide, permitted the pilot to enter the river. It would be worse than useless to give any detailed directions or marks, as they might perhaps lead some imprudent person to venture in without a pilot. It will therefore be sufficient to add, that, from the bar up to the town, the channel, though winding, is free from much obstruction, and is well marked by poles and perches; and though it offers nowhere one cabel of navigable breadth, it carries ten or twelve feet in depth up to the quays of the town, where there are from three to five fathoms, and room for a considerable number of vessels.
The Ballyshannon Herald of July 26th, 1852 highlights the problem again of the Bar and how ships tried to surmount them and the attendant dangers in doing so. Melancholy Loss of Life – On Saturday evening last, while the smack Adalanta, of Liverpool, was putting out to sea from this port, the winds being contrary, two boats were attached to tow her over the Bar; when nearly over, she struck against a bank, and the boats turned around with the tide, their broadsides coming in contact with a heavy swell, one of them upset, and the crew – seven in number – were thrown on the waves; the other boat succeeded in picking up five of them, but melancholy to relate, the other two ( named Michael O’Donnell and at Mc Gowan sank to rise no more. They were very industrious men, and have both left wives and young families to lament their untimely end. Their bodies have not yet been found. Too much praise cannot be given to Simon Shiel, Esq., M. D., for the exertions he made to restore animation to the men who were rescued from drowning – some of whom were apparently dead for several minutes. He sent to town for warm clothing, wine, and spirits for them, and had them brought home in his cart – the smack got off the bank the next day, and was brought back to the quay to undergo repairs.
By April, 1853 all the fuss re hiring a steamer and the deepening of the channel had all come to naught. The Ballyshannon Herald reports that the commerce of the town was in a deplorable state. So many meetings had been called to so little effect that to call another was likely to invite ridicule but something should be done. It then prints a letter from the Enniskillen merchant with local interests, James Creden. Enniskillen, 22nd March, 1853. Dear Sir, You are correctly informed as to the difficulty there is in getting a vessel charted for Ballyshannon, owing to the character of the Bar, which is ten times worse than it really is. I have at present a vessel loading at Newport, for Ballyshannon, and was obliged to submit to 15 shillings per ton – the Master of the same vessel offered to take nine shillings to Donegal; so you see it is no wonder that Ballyshannon is going down. If there is not some exertion made, and that immediatly, to obtain Government aid to improve the harbour this summer, I fear that the port is doomed......... James Creden.”
The storms of 1852 were followed by similar and indeed even greater floods in January the following year. Despite the headlines of the year before the editor seems to have forgotten all about 1852 by January 7th, 1853. The Floods – Since Noah’s flood, which ”the oldest man” whom we have been speaking to quite forgets, no such flood in Lough Erne has been observed. The lough, which empties into the sea at our river, is two feet higher than ever remembered. At the east end of the town the lake has flown into the public passages, and in the street the the water in the low parts is four feet deep. On Monday last, a lad who wished to spend the Christmas holidays pleasantly, went out with his fishing rod to angle in the street, and he was not long threashing the waters when he caught a fine perch, which was brought in by the flood within a few yards of Mr. Duffy’s shop. Several otters have been carried down, and it is supposed have taken forcible possession of the houses, which have been vacated by the inhabitants, owing to the floods rising five feet in their kitchens, and likely to rise to their parlours and drawing rooms. The houses at the bridge end are filled to a bumper to the second storey. The only inmates that brave the torrents are the rats; according as the water rises they ascend another storey, and if any opposition is given to them they dive into the water and swim to another part of the building. The inhabitants leave the doors open, and the flood runs through.
This advertisement in the Impartial Reporter of January 1856 indicated the range of goods imported through Ballyshannon by James Creden and Son who had premises in Enniskillen and Ballyshannon and who list the following ships’ cargoes for sale.
The Margaret of Glasgow, John Gardiner, Master, from Liverpool with 100 tons of best stoved Lump Salt, and 140 tons of best Curing Salt. The Energy of Belfast, M. Small, Master, from Newport with 80 tons of assorted Bar Iron, and 140 tons of best Smithy Coals. The Melbourne Trader, from Port Madoc, with 150 tons of Queen slates, Duchess, Princess, large and small Countesses slates, together with our usual stock of Memel timber, plank and lath
The steamer Isabella Napier went aground in May, 1857, leaving Ballyshannon while under the control of James Daly, pilot. The following is the report of the inquiry from the Ballyshannon Herald.
“On Friday evening, the 29th ult, about 9 p.m., this vessel after discharging her cargo, was proceeding down river, when by some mismanagement, she went aground at the Abbey Bay, being at the time from 50 to 70 yards north of her proper course. On Monday an enquiry was held in the Market House, before J. K. Atkinson, Esq, and E. Allingham, Esq., J. P’s and the witnesses examined on oath.
James Daly, the pilot in charge, deposed that he gave the necessary orders for steering the ship in the right course, but could not say whether they were attended to. Shortly before she touched, he gave orders for “full speed” to make her steer better; could take her a thousand times past the same place, if he had his own way; could not say if “he got justice” or not (in steering); considered it a late hour to take a vessel out; admitted there was sufficient water and light to cross the Bar had no delay occurred after leaving the Quay; there were a number of visitors on board, and some confusion, admitted that He had very little experience in steam navigation.
The Master (Thomas Rigby), the head engineer, the second mate, who was at the wheel, and others deposed in substance that all orders issued by the pilot were immediatly obeyed, and that the ship worked perfectly. They concurred in the opinion that she was out of the channel course for some time before the pilot gave the word “starboard!” and that when he did give it, it was too late, as, being, then in shallow water, or as sailors express it, “smelling the ground” the ship would no longer answer the helm. Had full steam being given the ship would have run further on the mud; she was drawing ten to ten and a half feet; they sounded the channel and found nuneteen and a half feet at that turn; she was a long way out of her course; there was plenty of daylight.
Head Constable Armstrong was on board from the steamer’s quitting her moorings till she went aground. He saw some of the stokers intoxicated, but those engaged in running the ship were sober; he observed them particularly.
Several persons came forward to state that they had heard some of the sailors say that the captain was paid to wreck the ship, but nothing of the least importance was elicited on this head.
Mr. John Graham, of Graham Brothers, the charterers, explained that they were responsible for the vessel till her return to Liverpool, and were most anxious that she should make a rapid and successful trip; they were undergoing a serious loss per diem by her detention; the former Captain (Reid), having left, he engaged Captain Rigby in Liverpool, who had been a sailing master in the navy, and had the highest certificates of competency.
Captain Rigby stated that he saw very little difficulty in coming in or out of the port of Ballyshannon – he could do it by himself if proper buoys were laid down. The decision of the magistrates was that the casualty was wholy owing to the inexperience of the pilot in steam navigation, and recommended that the pilots of the port should be put in the way of acquiring the necessary experience, and further, that the harbour should be buoyed. A subscription for this latter purpose was at once opened, particulars of which shall appear in time. The steamer, Isabella Napier, got off without injury by Thursday morning’s tide, and proceeded to sea.
The first mention of the Myles family in the shipping business is on February 12th, 1858. John Myles is described as an agent for the White Star Line of Australian Packets and offers for sale the cargo of the Brig Peru from St. John, New Brunswick. There are 5583 pieces of battons, deal and ends on offer. On July 23rd, the ship Falcon arrives from Liverpool with coals and earthenware, the Mary Kern with Indian Meal (Maize) and French flour and the Betsy with American Barrel flour. The Peru above is mentioned in January 1847 being used to import Indian Meal (Maize) to Derry. It had brought in a cargo of 150 tons on behalf of the Fermanagh landlord, the Rev. Grey Porter. He had bought the grain at £10-10-6 pence and intended to sell it to his tenants at cost which was expected to be around £12 per ton as against the current price of £24-10-0 for maize and £30 for oaten meal.
The inaction of local business and landlords in dealing with Ballyshannon Harbour’s problems is soon to come home to roost permanently. With the arrival of the railroad its long term doom is sealed. The local papers report on 28th October, 1865 that the railway is almost ready for service the 9th A.G.M of the company has been told. It has cost £300,000 and £30,000 is still owed to the directors of the company. They are at present considering building hotels for tourists using the line. At present the new steamer service on Lough Erne had doubled the number of people going to Bundoran. There are 16 ships plying from Sligo to Scotland.
The story goes on May 5th, 1866 - The Bundoran Branch of the GNR has been passed inspection on Tuesday last. It is to open soon. On May 15th, 1866 Henry Mervin D'Arcy Irvine of Irvinestown complaining about the building of the Great Northern Railway. He had been overruled after suggesting that the railway should have been built a bit at a time. Mr. Mc Birnie, the financial founder of Belleek Pottery and a major shareholder in the new railway [he invested £20,000] said that the agreement made with the Irish Northwestern Railway Company to run the line had been repudiated at the last moment. The agreement had not been written down and the new arrangements for the line were organised in a very anti-Ballyshannon fashion. This was especially so in regard to the price of coal. The line was being run for the benefit of the port of Derry.
Meanwhile life goes on in the town as recorded in the papers. The “Purt” of Ballyshannon (as it is said locally) is divided into two sections officially known as East and West Port. This area catered for the pleasures of sailors from doss houses to brothels and eating houses to whiskey shops. In June 1869 it was reported that there were 13 whiskey shops along the port and 26 in the rest of the town. In the Ballyshannon Herald of July 1st, 1871 is an account of the taking of 245 fish; the biggest number of salmon ever caught in one “shot.”
There was a rush of Ballyshannon shipwrecks in the ten years from 1874 to 1884 which must have painted an even blacker picture of the port. The Anne was wrecked on the 12 of November, 1884 on Ballyshannon Bar with China Clay for Belleek Pottery from Charlestown. The Ada Letitia of 96 tons was wrecked on the 16th of September,1880. The Widow, a 90 ton brig, was wrecked on the 10th of August 1884 with timber from Barrow but the crew of four survived. Finally the Rockabill, a 136 ton, iron steamship was wrecked in the channel on the 25th of July, 1884 from Liverpool. Ballyshannon has had more than enough of natural hazards but down through the years questions have been raised or suspicions aroused by some of the various shipwrecks. In his book, Ballyshannon Past and Present, Canon Maguire, writing about the difficulty of exporting salmon from Ballyshannon puts into print what many thought. “No railway transit nearer than Enniskillen was available till the sixties, but shipping had not then reached its present state of decay at Ballyshannon, though it had got some reeling knocks from fraudulent claims for wrecks.”
On December 21st, 1878 the local newspaper reported protest meetings in Ballyshannon. At the time the idea was being considered of linking the Great Northern Railway branch line from the main GNR line at Bundoran Junction near Irvinestown to Bundoran to the town of Donegal. A proposal to make this link from Castle Caldwell was enraging the people of Ballyshannon who wanted the link made from Ballyshannon instead. In time a link was made between Donegal and Ballyshannon with the building of the Donegal Narrow Guage Railway. Since the railway guages were not compatible Ballyshannon ended up with a railway station on either bank of the Erne and people, goods and animals had to be transferred from one side to the other. It was an economic and logistical mess. One of the main points made by the supporters of Ballyshannon was that 40 ships had entered the harbour in the past six months. In 1882 three local fishermen were drowned at the eel weir in Ballyshannon. These were James Gallagher and James and Francis Grimes as reported in the local newspaper of January 21st that year. In the issue of February 10th that year the death is recorded of Andrew Greene newspaper editor and proprietor.
In a surviving minute book of 1889 the Ballyshannon Harbour Commissioners note some of their pilots and the regulations they operated under. They employed the pilots who guided ships in and out of the harbour. Their pilotage rates were two shillings and six pence per foot draft for all ships inwardward or outward bound from a port in Ireland or Great Britain. The rate was three shillings and sixpence per foot draft for any vessel coming from or going to a foreign port. They appointed new pilots, John Mc Carthy, James Daly and John Morrow all of Kildoney at their meeting of 15th October, 1889. Kildoney was where the pilots boarded and disembarked from the ships entering Ballyshannon harbour and they obviously need to reside in that area.
The following regulations were set down for the pilots. The pilots were to be registered in order of seniority. Pilots were to have a cap with a pilots badge on it. The same pilot who took in a ship was to take her out unless he was engaged in taking in another ship. Every pilot was to take his turn and for missing his turn the pilot was denied any share in the pilotage money of that ship and he was to be fined not more than £5. No new pilots were to be appointed unless they could read and had legible handwriting. This regulation was not to apply to existing pilots. Each pilot was to ensure he had a good boat and crew to put him on board and the boat was to have a flag staff and have the flag flying. All pilotage money was to be paid to the secretary of the harbour board and the pilots would be paid monthly. Each pilot had to have a licence costing £1 and to be paid five shillings per day if he had to stay longer than 24 hours on a ship. Under a penalty of £2 no pilot was allowed to take a ship out of port without clearance from the port authorities. Pilots must keep a sharp lookout for incoming ships. Mr. Neely was appointed a pilot in 1887 and in addition to those above John Mulhartagh and William Ward are mentioned in 1888.
This process of crippling the port of Ballyshannon economically is an ongoing allegation from the coming of the railway. The Great Northern Railway and its local center in Derry were not going to tolerate competition from even such a minor facility as Ballyshannon. Belleek Pottery which had shipped china clay from England through Ballyshannon added their anger against the railway in January 20th, 1893. The rise in railway rates is crippling Belleek Pottery according to Mr Robert Sweeney, chairman. He indicated that the Pottery had been on the verge of buying new machinery to make more commonware and increase employment in the district but the idea had been dropped when the new railway rates were announced. The Erne Mills at Ballyshannon are to ship in grain in future rather than rail it from Derry.
The Myles family were the last of the merchant shipping families of Ballyshannon. They came to Ballyshannon in 1607 with Elizabethan forces. Their premised, now Heighton’s Hardware premises, is the last major remnant of shipping architecture in Ballyshannon. In the early 1800s this belonged to the Green shipping family. The family had a flour mill in these premises and a mill race ran through the yard to power the wheel. Electricity was generated here in 1908 for their own consumption and Ballyshannon lit in September 1910. In 1911 commercial premises were supplied in Bundoran via an underground cable. A descendant of the Greens, Janet Reed, great, granddaughter of John Green, Master Mariner, lives in St. John, New Brunswick and apparently each of the seven sons of the founder of the dynasty was given a ship by their father. The Myles family owned two sailing ships, the Julia and the Beta and these brought timber from New Brunswick and unloaded it at their pier formerly known as Credens pier. Mr. James Creden had also built Ballyshannon Workhouse. Emigrants were taken out on the return journey as human ballast. Later the family became heavily involved in the importation of coal from Whitehaven in Cumberland and many Ballyshannon people got a cheap emigrant trip across to England. Frank Morgan imported coal to a pier on the north bank of the river. The Donegal Vindicator reports on August 27th, 1927 that a sailing ship for Myles and Company was to arrive on next Saturday or Sunday and that it was almost 25 years since the last sailing ship had visited Ballyshannon.
These are the final ships lost entering or leaving the Port of Ballyshannon. On the 30th of April, 1932 the Texa, of 186 tons from Preston was wrecked on the South Rock at Ballyshannon with coke and coal for Morgans of East Port. She had a crew of six who had got off as the vessel was breaking up. She was built in 1884. Wreck of historic “Mayflower??” Reported in the paper of May 7th. In 1934 on the 29th of October the White Abbey was wrecked on Ballyshannon Bar with coal from Whitehaven. This was a 263 ton, steel, two masted barque built in 1915. The wreckage was dispersed with explosives as a danger to shipping.
The last two of these ships were steam powered and following their loss insurers refused to provide cover for any other ships or cargo entering Ballyshannon which finally brought Ballyshannon’s long maritime career to an ignominious close. Rumour surrounds the wrecks of many vessel down the centuries. Certain pilots were said to collude with local interests to ground their vessels along the long winding channel inside the Bar in order to plunder the resultant wreck or to be in collusion with the railway to close the port. One Ship’s Captain is reported to have held a gun to the local pilot to ensure that his ship got safely into port. Whatever about these unsupported allegations it is abundantly clear that the Bar of Ballyshannon and its long and winding channel were more than sufficient natural danger without skulduggery from anyone else. However current plans may bring about a long deserved revival in the fortunes of Ballyshannon Harbour. Lets hope these are not talked into oblivion as has happened so often in the past.
John B. Cunningham 15-11-2000
Thanks are due to Mr. Lucius Emerson, Ballyshannon, Jan & Stephen Hart formerly of Clonelly, County Fermanagh, (Keys/Barton letter) Leicester, England, Mrs. Doreen Brown, Donegal, Mr. John Cronin, Ballyshannon, Leonard Cooper, Fredericton, N.B., Farrell McCarthy, Miramichi, N.B., Daniel F. Johnson, N. B. firstname.lastname@example.org and J. Richard Armstrong email@example.com , For the passenger list of the Brig Brazilian, National Archives and Records Administration, Film M277, Reel 23. Contributed and Transcribed by Mary Koelzer a member of the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild 4 May 2000.
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