Muckish Mountain near An Fál Carrach, County Donegal, IrelandBoat on Ballyness Bay near Árasáin Bhalor, Self-catering apartments in Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, IrelandHorses on the beach at Sheephaven bay, County Donegal, IrelandGlenveagh Castle in Glenveagh National Park, Letterkenny near An Fál Carrach, ideal for touring North West IrelandFishing boats on Tory Island, nine miles off the coast of North-West Donegal - easily reached by ferryErrigal Mountain, Donegal's highest mountain and the second highest in Ulster, Ireland

History of Falcarragh

Contact Details

Maire Nic Gairbhe
Main Street
Co. Donegal
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Bridge of Sorrows Inscription near Falcarragh, County Donegal, Ireland
History of Falcarragh
Cloich Cheann Fhaola
First Settlers in Cloughaneely
Cros Cholm Cille(St Colm Cille's Cross)
Ray Church
Baile Chonaill (Ballyconnell House)
An tSean Bheairic (R.I.C. Barracks)
Books Relating to History of Area

History of Falcarragh

An Fál Carrach, the main commercial town between Letterkenny and Dungloe was known in former times both as Crossroads and as Robinson's Town. An Fál Carrach, the official name, originally referred to a little hamlet south east of the present town, at the foot of Falcarragh hill - but gradually houses were built at the crossroads, mainly for the workers and trades people employed on the Olphert Estate in Ballyconnell.

The first recorded reference to Falcarragh appears in a report written by William Wilson, Raphoe in 1822. Wilson was the Protestant Bishop's stewart responsible for the collection of tithes to support the Protestant clergy. He, apparently, received a hostile reception on arrival in Cloughaneely (parish) according to his account to the bishop:

"According to my intention I went to Cloughineely and on Monday about 12 o'clock arrived at a place called Falcarrow in your Lordship's See (about five miles distant from Dunfanaghy) where I then, pursuant to advertisement, proposed holding the Court as I twice before had, but was immediately on my arrival surrounded by upwards of 150 to 300 men who had assembled merely for the purpose of preventing me from holding any Court and threatened my life if I would. Their measures I was obliged to comply with.

Slater's Directory of 1870 provides us with valuable information about Falcarragh and its surrounding area.

"Crossroads or Falcarragh, is a village, in the parish of Tullaghbegley, and partly of Raymunterdoney, barony of Kilmacrennan, situated on the summit of a small hill near to the coast; opposite here is the Island of Torrey, nine miles distant. The places of worship are the parish church and a Presbyterian meetinghouse. A dispensary and a school are the charitable institutions. Fairs are held on the last Thursday monthly. Population in 1861 was 231."

Slater's Directory of 1881 records that the population increased to 258 inhabitants in 1871 and also tells that there was a Protestant Episcopal Church in the town. We are given some information about the local post office situated at the crossroads. Thomas Browne was Postmaster at the time and "letters from all parts arrive at ten minutes past eleven morning, and are dispatched at one afternoon."

Falcarragh is the main town of the parish known as Cloughaneely (Cloich Cheann Fhaola), a parish steeped in history.

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Cloich Cheann Fhaola

Tá scálaí na staire ag síneadh romhat. Balor agus Colm Cille; Gaeil agus Gaill; an Lágan agus Albain; díshealbhú agus imirce; droch am agus laetha óir - clocha doirlinge iad sin ar thrá Chloich Cheann Fhaola.

"The mist of the mountains and voice of the sea are ever near". So too are the shadows of the past. Pre-Celtic gods and early Christian saints; warring clans and Cromwellian soldiers, evictions and emigration, poverty and poetry are all threads woven in the tapestry which is the heritage of Cloich Cheann Fhaola. Here is the heart of Gaelic-speaking Donegal.

Balor, the mythological king of Tory Island, was a Fomorian giant who was widely known as Balor na Súile Nimhe (Balor of the Evil Eye). He stole a highly prized cow, the Glas Gaibhleann from Mac Aneely a chieftain who lived on the mainland. Mac Aneely resolved to kill Balor. His druid told him that only his grandson could kill Balor. Balor, therefore, kept his daughter Eithne in prison in Tory. Mac Aneely, disguised as a lady, succeeded in getting into the prison and when Eithne saw him she immediately fell in love with him. When Mac Aneely returned to the mainland he left Eithne with child. She gave birth to three sons but when Balor found out he ordered them to be drowned. However, one son named Lugh survived, and was fostered by his uncle Gavida, the blacksmith.

Balor, outraged by Mac Aneely's plans to kill him went to the mainland, seized Mac Aneely, lay him across a large white stone and beheaded him with one blow of his sword. A red stain, said to be Mac Aneely's blood can be seen on the white stone known locally as Cloich Cheann Fhaola (The Stone of the Head of Mac Aneely). In 1774 Wybrant Olphert of Ballyconnell House raised the stone on a pillar 16ft high. Sometime after Mac Aneely's death his son Lugh avenged him by thrusting a red spear through Balor's evil eye. Lugh, who came to be known as the God of Light was commemorated on one of the postage stamps of Eire, "The Sword of Light."

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First Settlers in Cloughaneely

The first Mesolithic Hunters, who came from Scotland and settled first of all around the east coast of Antrim and the river Bann paddled into Ballyness Bay and Tramore Bay about 5000- 4000 BC. They were fishermen, hunters and gatherers and they found this area ideal with an abundance of fish, wild animals, nuts and berries. They remained beside the sea and adapted well to the local environment. A number of Mesolithic implements have been discovered, an early Mesolithic axe was found near Dunfanaghy and Bann flakes, used as knives or for scraping flesh from hides, were found across the bay at Hornhead.

The Neolithic people were the first farmers and the great megalith or stone monument builders. They came to Ireland around 3500 BC. They probably sailed from Britain or from Brittany and made their way along the coast until they reached Ballyness Bay around 3000 BC. These early farmers were the first to leave a lasting mark on the Irish landscape. In many parts they built large tombs, known as megalithic tombs, for their dead. There are still a number of these tombs in Cloughaneely today. There is a fine example of a Court Cairn, the earliest megalithic tomb, to be found in Ballyboes (Cloughacorra). A court cairn usually had a room, or several rooms, built from great slabs of stone in which the cremated ashes of the dead were placed. The room/ rooms were then completely covered by a mound of earth and smaller stones. There was an open space or court in front of the burial chamber where the funeral ceremony would have taken place.

The descendants of the Court Cairn people built the Dolmens or Portal Graves. They had only one room/ chamber. The roof of the chamber was a huge stone rested upon two large upright stones to the front and two smaller stones to the back. The corpse/ cremated remains were placed in the chamber and the whole structure covered in soil. Two examples in the locality are Dermot and Grainne's bed in Ailt and the Dolmen at Errarooey Beg.

There is a Wedge Tomb, generally believed to belong to the Early Bronze Age and locally known as Grainne's Grave to be found in Greenhills.

With the discovery of metals the Stone Age came to an end. By adding tin to copper a hard metal called Bronze was made. Tools fashioned from bronze were more efficient and longer lasting than copper or even stone, they were also easily shaped and sharpened. The Bronze Age people did not bury their dead in megalithic tombs, instead they used a stone box into which the body was placed. These graves are called Cist Graves. The only cist grave found in this area was discovered in the sandhills near Dunfanaghy in 1898 and it contained two skulls, one of an elderly male and the other of a young adult female. Few Bronze Age settlements have been found in this country but in Cloich Cheann Fhaola we have the remains of a Bronze Age cooking site called a Fulachta Fiadh.

The Fulachta Fiadh was a rectangular pit lined with wooden planks. It was then filled with water and a fire on which stones were heated was lit beside it. The heated stones were then put into the water and meat wrapped in straw was dropped into the water. More stones were added to keep the water boiling. Archaeologists believe that this way of cooking continued until about 1000AD. There is an example of a Fulachta Fiadh at Errarooey More.

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Cros Cholm Cille(St Colm Cille's Cross)

This large ringed cross, twenty feet in length and seven feet in breadth, stands against the north wall inside ruins of Ray Church. The cross is said to have been sculpted from a solid rock quarried form Muckish Mountain and was originally intended for Tory by St. Colm Cille. Colm Cille, however, presented it to St. Fionán who had retrieved his misplaced bible. The cross was knocked down in a storm about 1750 and lay broken in the graveyard until the 1970's when it was repaired by the Office of Public Works.

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Ray Church

According to local tradition, the first church at Ray was founded by St. Fíonán in the sixth century. A church survived there until the seventeenth century when it was destroyed by a platoon of Cromwellian soldiers under the command of Captain Cunningham. The soldiers burst open the door during mass one Sunday morning and slaughtered the congregation. This came to be known as Marfach Raithe (The Massacre of Ray). The dead are buried within two hundred metres of the church at a place called Lag na gCnámh (Resting Place of the Bones).

The church continued to be used by the Church of Ireland until the early 19th century. Many members of the Olphert family (local landlords) are buried there.

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Baile Chonaill (Ballyconnell House)

This fine 18th century house stands in the heart of a magnificently wooded park of 500 acres, about a quarter of a mile from Falcarragh. It is the former residence of the Olpherts, a landowning family of Dutch extraction who first bought land in Cloughaneely in 1619. Ballyconell House was built around 1763. The Olphert motto "Dum Spiro Spero" (While I breath I hope) is still legible over the front door. The house was occupied by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1921 also the Free State Forces in 1922. The Olphert lands (15,611 acres) were purchased by the Congested Districts Board for £20,620 in 1917 and the house and Estate by the Commissioners of Public Works for £7,000 in 1926.

The House and Estate were offered to the Loreto nuns and was opened as a preparatory college, Coláiste Bhríde, for girls who wanted to become primary school teachers in 1927. The Loreto nuns were there until 1961.
It was bought by the Diocese of Raphoe and reopened as a boys' secondary school in 1965. A new 3-storey dormitory wing was added. Ballyconnell was used as a residence for boarding students until 1986. In 1987 Udarás na Gaeltachta bought the estate.

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An tSean Bheairic (R.I.C. Barracks)

This authentic two-storey building, located in the centre of Falcarragh, was originally constructed in 1890 as the Falcarragh Police Barracks. It was used as such until 1920 when it became the Falcarragh Garda Station. Permanent exhibits of its history and culture are displayed within the visitors' centre.

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Books Relating to History of Area

Cloughaneely - Myth and Fact Gerry McLaughlin
Aspects of Our Rich Inheritance Seosamh O Ceallaigh
Toraigh Cloich Cheann Fhaola Cnoc Fola (A scenic Drive Through Historic Northwest Donegal)

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