Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Contae Dhun na nGall

Located in the northwest of Ireland, Donegal is one of three counties in the province of Ulster that did not become part of Northern Ireland. The name means "the fort of the foreigners" [a reference to the Vikings] and was named after the former administrative center of Donegal Town. When first created, it was sometimes referred to as "Tir Chonaill" after the Tyrconnel earldom it succeeded.

Donegal shares a border with only one county in the Republic of Ireland, the north Connacht province county of Leitrim. The rest of its border is shared with the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanaugh. This isolation has led to Donegal people and their customs being considered distinct from the rest of the country and has been used to market the county with the slogan "Up Here It's Different". Lifford is the county seat, but the largest town in Donegal is Letterkenny.

Rich in history and one of the country's most beautiful regions, Donegal is renowned for scholastic works and has a wealth of monuments, historical ruins, forts and castles which bear witness to the ecclesiastical, cultural and often turbulent history of Donegal over the centuries. The most attractive features are the inland mountain ranges, spectacular sea cliffs, glens and lakes. The long and rugged coastline is carved into intricate patterns by the wild Atlantic Sea and indented by long bays and loughs such as the fjordlike Lough Swilly on which Ramelton is built.

The language spoken in Donegal is distinctive and shares traits with Scottish Gaelic. In the Irish speaking area [Donegal Gaeltacht] it is of the West Ulster dialect while Inishowen [which became English-speaking in the early 20th century] used the East Ulster dialect. Scots is still spoken to a degree in the Laggan district of east Donegal. Donegal Irish has a strong influence on Irish speakers across Ulster, who find themselves speaking a dialect noticeably different from the Irish most commonly spoken and understood in Dublin and elsewhere throughout Ireland. Donegal is truly a linguistic pot pourri.

Killygordon is located in the parish of Donaghmore, barony of Raphoe, Co. Donegal, Ulster. It's on the road from Stranorlar to Strabane, 3 miles east of Stranorlar and stands in the vale of the Finn.

On March 20, 1622 partly as a result of complaints from Ireland and partly as a consequence of the English government's determination to make of Ireland an efficient administrative unit, at once solvent and secure, a comprehensive Commission was issued for the investigation of the state of the country. One of the most important tasks of this Commission was to examine the charters and covenants of the undertakers in the plantation and to see how well they had been performed "either in matter of profit or safety". They were also to ascertain "the quantity of ground in payment of the rents" reserved to the King; the buildings undertaken; the leasing of lands; and the deliberate breach of covenants. Finally they were to propose suitable action to remedy defects and abuses; on all these matters the Commissioners were to deliver certificates into the English Chancery.

Herein we find a description of a 1,000 acre plantation in "Killangerdon" inhabited by Captain Ralph Mansfield and his family:

"Captain Ralph Mansfeld hath built a house near the river of Finn, of lime, clay and stone, 60 ft. in length, and 20 ft. wide with some returns, 2 stories high, slated, some of the partitions and floors not finished, with a bawn adjoining to the forefront of the house, 120 ft. square and 9 ft. high, with 4 flankers, 15 ft. square apiece, with birch timber and thatched, wherein Captain Mansfield's son's wife and family dwell.

Near thereunto he hath erected a village consisting of 10 cottages thatched, inhabited with British, and about half a mile from the river, he hath erected another village cinsisting of 8 cottages which are decayed, and two of them without any tenants in them: Freeholders - 2; Leaseholders for lives - 1; Leaseholders for years - 5; British men present - 18, whereof armed - 11."

Go to http://www.finnvalley.ie/history/donoughmore/index.html to read a memoir written by Lieutenant I.I. Wilkinson, Lieutenant Royal Engineers. Received 18th April 1836. it provides a wonderful, in-depth report on the Parish of Donoughmore, Co. Donegal.

Donegal today is one of the least populated counties in Ireland with only 130,000 inhabitants. The road signs are often written in Gaelic which, according to our cousin Scott Holmes after a visit there, "makes navigation a bit more interesting, as if it's not already a challenge to drive on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, especially in a turnabout with traffic flowing counter-clockwise!" Cattle and sheep farming, together with fishing and textile industries, are the main means of making a living and have been for at least 200 years.

Over the past four centuries, hundreds of people have left Donegal to make a life for themselves in the new worlds of North America and Australasia. Those emigrants included both Ulster Scots and people of Gaelic stock. Among them our ancestors, Robert and Delilah Holmes.