Stair an Fál Carrach

Stair an Fál Carrach
History of Falcarragh
Filíocht agus Stair / Poetry and History
Balor agus 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


Falcarragh is the main town of the parish known as Cloughaneely (Cloich Cheann Fhaola), a parish steeped in history. 'An Fálcarrach', is the main commercial town between Letterkenny and Dungloe was known in the past as both the 'Crossroads' and as 'Robinson’s Town'. An Fálcarrach, the official name, originally referred to a little hamlet at the foot of Falcarragh Hill, south east of the present town. Gradually houses were built at the crossroads, primarily for the workers and trades people employed on the nearby Olphert Estate in Ballyconnell.

The first recorded reference to 'Falcarragh' appears in a report written by the Protestant Bishop’s stewart in Raphoe in 1822. William Wilson was the stewart responsible for collection of tithes to support the Protestant clergy. He apparently received a hostile reception on arrival in Cloughaneely (parish) according to this account he gave to his 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 some further information about Falcarragh and it’s surrounding area at the time.

- 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 that there was a Protestant Episcopal Church in the town. We are also given some information about the local post office which was 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.”

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Filíocht agus Stair / Poetry and History

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.

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Balor agus Cloich Cheann Fhaola

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

It is thought that when the first Mesolithic Hunters came from Scotland they settled firstly around the east coast of Antrim and the river Bann. They then paddled into Ballyness and Tramore Bays around 5000- 4000 BC. They were fishermen and women, hunters and gatherers and found this area ideal with it's abundance of fish, wild animals, nuts and berries.

They seem to have settled beside the sea and adapted well to the local environment. A number of Mesolithic implements have been discovered in the area - an early Mesolithic axe was found near Dunfanaghy, and Bann flakes, used as knives or for scraping flesh from hides, were found at Hornhead.

The Neolithic people were thought to be the first farmers and stone monument builders. They came to Ireland around 3500 BC and probably sailed from Britain or Brittany. Then making 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 'megalithic' tombs, for their dead. There are still a number of these tombs in Cloughaneely today, a fine example being the Court Cairn, in Ballyboes (Cloughacorra). A court cairn usually had a room or rooms in which the cremated ashes of the dead were placed. The cairn was then covered by a mound of earth and stones with an open space in front where the ceremony would have taken place.

The descendants of the Court Cairn people built Dolmens or Portal Graves which only had one room or 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 or cremated remains were placed in the chamber and the whole structure was then covered in soil. Two examples in the locality of Falcarragh are Dermot and Grainne’s bed in Ailt and the Dolmen at Errarooey Beg.
There is also a Wedge Tomb in Greenhills, which is locally known as Grainne’s Grave.

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The Stone Age came to an end with the discovery of metals. Bronze was made by adding tin to copper and creating this harder metal. 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. These graves are called Cist Graves. The only Cist grave found in the Falcarragh area was discovered in the Sandhills near Dunfanaghy in 1898 and contained two skulls, one of an elderly male and the other of a young adult female.

Few Bronze Age settlements have been found in Ireland but in Cloich Cheann Fhaola we have the remains of a Bronze Age cooking site called an Fulachta Fiadh. The Fulachta Fiadh was a rectangular pit lined with wooden planks which was then filled with water and a fire was lit beside it on which stones were heated. The heated stones were then put into the water and meat wrapped in straw was dropped into the water to cook. More stones were thought to be added in order 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 large 18th century house stands in the heart of a 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.

Ballyconnell House was built around 1763. The Olphert motto “Dum Spiro Spero” (While I breathe, 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 in 1917 for £20,620 and the house and Estate by the Commissioners of Public Works in 1926 for £7,000.

The House and Estate were offered to the Loreto nuns and was opened as a preparatory college, Coláiste Bhríde, for young women who wanted to become primary school teachers in 1927. The Loreto nuns remained in Ballyconnell House until 1961.

In 1965 Ballyconnell House was bought by the Diocese of Raphoe and reopened as a boys’ secondary school. A new 3-storey dormitory wing was added and the building 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 a barracks until 1920 when it became the Falcarragh Garda Station. Permanent exhibitions of its history and culture are displayed within it's 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)