Saturday, 28 May 2016


Now I don't honestly know where my ancestors came from in County Donegal, but my cousin Sharon and I have done a lot of researching and our best guess is that the earliest records surviving place them in a townland called Braade, in the Rosses.

I thought we should be able to cycle up there as it was only about 6 miles. I don't think we took the 6 mile route, if there was one. We stopped and asked directions of anyone we met and the old joke about asking an Irishman directions and being told he wouldn't start from here, is fact not fiction.

On the map Braade looks like it sits at the end of the runway of Donegal Airport and it kind of does, though the airport says it is in Carrickfinn. Then again, we saw a 1906 Ordnance Survey map at Donegal County Library and back then the land ended at Braade. That sticky-out bit (I think it should properly be called a peninsula) with an airport and a village beyond it is apparently all reclaimed!

I did have a bit of concern about trying to cycle up there, but thought since I'd run six miles just a few weeks previous I should be alright. Also I'd recently read a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that you should do something that scared you every day. I was right to be nervous. The six miles didn't take into account the hills. They aren't any of them terribly high, they just never stop upping and downing and by the time we got up to Braade I knew I wasn't going to cycle home.

I managed to fall over and bloody my knee and the nearest resting place was Sharkey's Bar. I knew about this place from Facebook. It's been a family run bar for 100 years; before that it was a family run grocers. There were half a dozen men wandering in and out at any given time having a chat over a pint. Bill left me with a restorative G&T while he heroically cycled back to camp and brought the motor home up to transport me home. At that point I didn't care if I ever saw my bike again.

Just as in County Antrim we saw a lot of new houses in The Rosses. One difference was that many were built next to old stone huts. We overheard a man say it was cheaper to buy land with a house than land alone, this guaranteeing all the proper planning permissions; one could get a lot for as little as €30,000.

I was interested where there were clusters of small houses, thinking they might be an old fashioned clachan, as described in the Atlas as a cluster of stone huts, generally owned by members of the same extended family. The farming system in place before the widespread plantation of Protestant landowners in the 1700s following The Flight of the Earls, was called the rundale system. It involved the division of communal land in an inner field into strips, where food was grown. The outer field was for grazing animals during the growing season, but over winter animals were brought into the inner field to help fertilize the soil. Each year the strips were re-allocated for use by each household, according to its need.

Landlords abolished the rundale system and apportioned a plot of land for each house, thus being able to charge rent for each individual house and plot. The land wasn't rich enough in the Rosses to farm on the small allocation and people had to look for other ways to make their rent. Thus the habit of 'working away' in 'The Laggan': western Donegal, eastern Ireland, western Scotland. Children as young as 9 or 10 were sent to hiring fairs and from there went to work on wealthier farms or to pick potatoes in Scotland, from May to November. They brought their money home to pay the rent. Hiring fairs continued up into the 1940s. Working away continues to be a tradition in the Rosses. The new homes we saw are hard earned, but there is so much beauty there it is easy to see why people would fight to stay.

Peat extraction.

I've never seen peat being harvested. I was thinking this practice was frowned upon, but Bill says the EU is against industrial harvesting; that for personal use is still permitted. We ran across some men standing outside a house in Dungloe that had a stack of dried peat sitting outside. I paused to take a photo and they insisted I take a piece of it with me. What I will do with it, I've no idea.

Gorse looks much the same to me as broom, which grows all over Scotland. Apparently they are both members of the pea family. I asked Bill how he knew it was gorse, not broom, and he said because gorse has sharp spiny bits. Isn't he clever?

If you can't get a plot by the sea, get one by a lake. I've no idea if they are fresh water - probably not, but they are the same vivid blue. I used to say my mom's father and her brother had swimming pool blue eyes, but now I know they had Donegal blue eyes.

Before I leave the subject of hills, I must remember to tell you about Errigal Mountain. I knew it was there (from reading the Atlas) but hadn't appreciated what a distinct landmark it was from The Rosses. Looking at it I knew I was seeing what my ancestors had seen. I'm guessing it was about 10 miles east as the crow could fly.

I never could get a good photo of it; this is of course nothing as dramatic as these.


Sharon said...

Shelley, thoroughly enjoying reading about Donegal. The photographs don't look like I expected either. Much brighter and less green. Glad they put on such lovely weather for you. Some of these pictures remind me of the poor soil coastal areas here. You just know the water in " just over that hill" . What does look so odd is their building to the lay of the land, at least with the older buildings, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised because no doubt the only tools available for levelling would be pick and shovel.. I feel the urge to somehow right them though.

Shelley said...

Hi Sharon! Lovely to hear from you here. I don't believe The Rosses are actually in Ireland; I think we went to the moon instead. That said, during the warm sunny spell Ireland didn't look like herself at all. One morning on the trip home we woke up in the usual wet, misty green place I've always understood as Ireland and was very reassured! Now you mention it, though there were plenty of new buildings and those under construction, I don't recall seeing a great deal of heavy machinery around. No idea how sophisticated the new construction is, though we saw a wide range of sizes, the preferred style seemed to be single storied. Well, must get back to work writing! X

Michael Walker said...

i enjoyed reading your spot on assesment of the cope department store shelley
about few customers and no staff to be seen you are spot on because we have to endure it all the time

Shelley said...

Michael - I'm glad it wasn't just my imagination!