A tough call

Aras 66

The picture above shows the 1966 Easter Rising 50th anniversary celebrations at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin. In the picture, you will a series of old men move slowly across the gardens. In the front row is the President, Eamon de Valera, surrounded by men hanging on his every word. Everyone except for the fellow who looks like he is coming up for air from it all. That man is my grandfather, Peter Joseph Ward, who represented Donegal South from 1918 until 1924 and today, the 6th of January 2016, marks the 46th anniversary of his death.

As we brace ourselves for a full onslaught of navel-gazing centenary reviews starting with the Easter Rising, there is already a certain sense of ennui creeping in to the country’s consciousness. Those that aren’t quite fed up seem to enjoy taking lumps out of each other in endless irascible messages under Rising articles written in The Irish Times. With so many armchair generals, I thought it might be worth reproducing what exactly my grandfather had to say at a key moment in Irish history back in 1922 – he details his thought process and why his change of heart; it makes for compelling and reasoned reading, far from the online diatribes of today.

I never met my grandfather – he was buried exactly a year to the day I was born, but I have always had enormous pride in the fact that here was a young, determined and conscientious man who was in ‘the thick of it’ – as a commander of the South Donegal Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, as a member (and 1921/22 chairman) of Donegal County Council and as a Teachta Dála for Donegal, he was at the forefront of the campaign for independence in the north west of Ireland.

Dail 1919 Meeting of the First Dáil, January 1919

I suspect my grandfather would sooner have been swinging a club in Narin than being at those 1966 festivities. David Trimble famously dismissed the Fianna Fáil-led 1966 Easter Rising 50th anniversary events as ‘an orgy of self congratulation’. Indeed, the government had instructed the state-sponsored Abbey Theatre that no O’Casey play was to be performed as part of the festivities and they duly obliged. O’Casey’s play The Plough and the Stars had lambasted the Rising leading to a riot when it was first performed in 1926. P.J. had no time for towing the line and the first picture above tells a thousand words. Having been elected for Sinn Féin, he changed to Cumann na nGaedheal after the Treaty. The official story goes that he stepped down in 1924 in protest at the Army mutinies at the Curragh after the Civil War, but my understanding is that local elements had continually threatened him after his voting for the Treaty in 1922 and what with having a young wife and family to provide for, it was time to take a back seat.

P.J. rarely talked about those days and only reluctantly when pushed to by curious strangers. There are some cracking family yarns that take on a supernatural dimension on how the Black and Tans never quite got the better of catching the most wanted man in the north west. Apparently the first words on record in the Revolutionary First Dail were from the Speaker to P.J., admonishing him when he stated ‘Deputy Ward, would you please put your rifle back in its allotted slot!‘ Other possibly apocryphal stories tell of his dynamic guerilla marketing during election campaigns with a fellow in a sandwich board walking around towns – the front saying simply ‘For Ward‘ with the reverse sign saying ‘Back Ward‘. Genius.

Events from those days cast a long shadow to this day. As recently as 2011, I met the elderly daughter of a Donegal deputy who voted against the Treaty. On realising who I was, her hand of friendship was withdrawn as she hissed ‘traitor!’ at me and turned on her heel. P.J. watched his seat slip away from him, his wife desert him and his three children at the court steps of Letterkenny in the 1930s and he lived long enough to see the country descend into the chaos of the Troubles. P.J. never became bitter and was legendary in his generosity of spirit from setting up golf or bridge clubs to helping those less well off without ever asking for money back. As he made his way around the county, he had dilsk in one pocket and liquorice in the other for the children of the many friends he knew and visited.

u DA 2015 final

It is to P.J. that my Donegal App is dedicated. His elan instilled in me some civic pride and the need to do something tangible for where you are from. It is more than singing a song or attending a match; it is action that makes the difference. I will never come close to matching his accomplishments or his heroism, but I’d like to think in the modern age, I’ve managed to showcase a stunningly beautiful area that enjoys an independence that most of Ulster did not after partition. Yes in truth, P.J’s decision did help bring about partition, but his reasoning for voting pro Treaty was carefully laid out and is detailed below in full. Besides, Britain knew that not only was Donegal too mountainy and too Papist, it was too well organised by people like my grandfather to ever be properly incorporated into the newly-formed Northern Ireland. On what is his 46th anniversary since passing, I salute the efforts of all those brave men and women.

Stepping up to speak just before the vote on the 7th of January 1922, P.J. was the last backbencher to make a substantial speech on his position before a divided cabinet had one last fractious charge at each other. It was a pivotal speech at a critical time. Bearing in mind how close the Treaty vote was, it no doubt made for thought-provoking and influential listening. Rest well P.J., you truly did the State some service.

MR. P.J. WARD: “All through this long debate I have listened to the arguments on every side and, as one who has risen for the first time to speak in this assembly, I wish to state the reasons why I am going to vote for the approval of the Treaty; not because I hope to convert even any one Deputy here, but for the purpose of explaining to my constituents the reason for my action. I am in the position of one of the Deputies who spoke before lunch—Deputy O’Rourke; and I make no apology whatever to any man for changing my opinions.

I came here to this assembly opposed to this Treaty, as I believed then that the Dáil, by a big majority, would be opposed to it. It was not what we were fighting for; it was not the end the ultimate end—of what I had in view when I joined Sinn Féin; but, as I have said, I have listened here without interrupting any man, and I have formed my opinion from what I have heard, and from what I know are the facts of the situation. I have not been impressed by anybody on either side; nor has my opinion been formed for me; I have formed it myself.

I was opposed to the Treaty because it was not the thing for which we were fighting. I have heard a lot here about the Republic as if it were not actually existing; about what we fought for; and I have heard from various members that this Treaty gave us what we fought for. I don’t agree with that. The election of 1918 may have been for self-determination; but when I stood for the election I had to fight a bitter one; I stood for the complete independence of this country—total separation from England—and the placards are still on the walls down in Tír Chonaill. It was not for self-determination I fought the election, it was for independence; and it will come to pass yet that the Irish people, if given a free choice, will vote for independence.

The fight was begun then, or in 1916, if you will; it has gone on since; we have had only one thing before us and that is the independence of this country—complete and total separation. The Republic was set up here in 1919; but we had not independence although the Republic was set up; we were fighting for it; and that fight is going on yet, and will go on in the future.

This Treaty was signed; but how it was signed, or by what means it was signed, is a matter with which I have nothing to do. It is here before us; and we have not to judge of this Treaty by how or why or the manner in which the signature was obtained; we have to deal with facts, with the facts of the situation as they are at the present moment. I believed when I came to this Dáil, and I believe it now, that if this Treaty had been rejected practically unanimously by the Dáil we could have obtained unity in this country and have the people behind us, and we could have won our case. I was opposed to the Treaty up to Christmas; I went down to my constituency, and I may say here that I know my constituents perhaps as well as any other man in the Dáil; I have [321] travelled throughout the length and breadth of my constituency; and I have been in practically every Sinn Féin Club during the two months before this Treaty was signed—we have twenty-four of them. At Christmas every Sinn Féin Club debated this Treaty amongst themselves; I went to the Comhairle Ceanntair and I endeavoured there—because I wanted to save them from themselves—to prevent them passing a resolution against acceptance; and the Sinn Féin Clubs, by seventeen to three, asked that this Treaty be ratified under protest; and they stated that they could see no alternative.

That was the voice of my constituency; it was the voice of the best elements in that constituency. I will not speak of what the army thinks—I know that the army is prepared to fight as before—for it is the civil population that decides this question now; and of the civil population that is the voice, and the answer they gave to me.

I told them there at that Comhairle Ceanntair meeting that I did not hold that I was necessarily bound to vote for the ratification, because I held that the mandate they gave me was to secure the independence of Ireland, and that if I thought it better and wiser to vote against this Treaty I would do so; but what I did pledge myself to was this: that I would vote at this meeting of the Dáil for what I thought was the best way to obtain that independence of Ireland for which we were fighting.

Those people down the country, so far as I can understand, can see no alternative but to take this Treaty as a step—that is their voice. I have not met one man who was in favour of the Treaty but was in favour of it only as a step to the independence to which we were making. I have met some that were against it, as I have told you, but the majority were in favour of it as a step towards that independence because they could see no other way out of it.

As I said, I could have seen the other way out when I came to this Dáil, if this Dáil had made up its mind to stand for it; but now, when it has come to the final day for decision I have to make up my mind as to the wisest course and the best way to obtain the independence of my country.

We have heard here members talk of an alternative to rejection; some have told me privately that they based their decision on the belief that Lloyd George would not go to war with the Irish nation; I do not know what grounds they have for that view; I can only form my own opinion on English politics and one point in that matter is this: I do not know that any change has come to England since after that final note came before the Dáil for its approval— when the answer was being sent back to England that we would not accept her terms we were told that rejection of them would mean immediate war. I am not aware that any change has taken place since in Lloyd George’s mind so that the rejection of this offer might not mean war, too; I do know that it has been said here that at that Session the members of the Dáil, when they let the plenipotentiares go to England, compromised.

I only asked one question on that occasion; I asked the President what he meant by association with the British Commonwealth of nations in his letter to Lloyd George, and I did not receive any direct reply. Even if this Treaty were rejected, and the President’s document accepted by Lloyd George, I hold there will not be a lasting peace with England until we are absolutely separated from England and the British Empire. Now, the probable consequences of rejection have a different light in every Deputy’s mind here, I suppose; but in my mind the consequences, if the Treaty be rejected, are that now Lloyd George is in the position of knowing that this country is absolutely disunited, and that he is in the happy position of knowing that if he makes war now—if he only threatens war on this country—that the people of this country do not want to fight.

I know that may not be as it appears to you; but I have talked with the people, and I know their minds, and I know the view point they have; they are war-worn; they have come through a strenuous fight and they want peace. Now they see the prospect of peace, and they have not the smallest scruple about it; they are willing to take that prospect; and they, at the same time, are willing to take it as a stepping stone. I have no scruples about it either; I am willing to take it as a stepping stone, and I do not care how Lloyd George views what Deputies say here; so far as I am concerned, I will only vote for this Treaty as a stepping stone to put this country into such a position at some future time—[322] when the opportunity does come—that it will claim the total separation that it is entitled to as a separate nation.

Some members have said that this Treaty should be put to the people of this country whichever way it goes, and some even have said that, so far as their constituents are concerned, their constituents would support them in its rejection. I do not know about their constituents; so far as my own constituency is concerned, I have men there who are opposed to the Treaty, and I am glad these men are there; perhaps if I were in their place I would be opposed to this Treaty; but I am here with the responsibility of either accepting this Treaty or rejecting it, with the consequences to the country.

What these consequences are is in the future; you may see them in one light, I may see them in the other; but I will not take the responsibility of rejecting this Treaty with the probable consequences to the country, because one thing that may happen if this Treaty is rejected is this, and I regard it as the worst: we have got certain things here from Lloyd George and from the British Government in this Treaty which, if utilised to the full force, will benefit this country; but if this Treaty is rejected that gives Lloyd George an opportunity of backing down from these terms.

There are things in it that are not palatable to us and not palatable to Lloyd George and his associates, and they would be only too anxious and too glad to get rid of all this; and then, when he has an opportunity of backing out from the Treaty he has signed, he can put worse terms before the people of this country; and what I say is this, that the people of this country, in the state in which they are in at present, would take worse terms. You may like that or you may not. It is because the people of this country are disunited, because they have expressed their views on this Treaty, that I am voting for the Treaty. I do not want the Treaty myself; I do not like it; but I know very well that you will not be able to wring anything more out of Lloyd George with the state the people are in now in the country; you will wring no more, and you will have to take less.

The other consequences are that you will go on in this state for years to come before you get as far as you are at present. Now, I have said nothing personal on one side or the other; I regard it as disastrous that there should have been such a split in the Dáil; if there had been unanimity the situation could have been saved. However, that is my own opinion. I make this explanation for the purpose of explaining to my constituents why I vote in this way, because some of them know I was opposed to it, and strongly opposed to it, when the Treaty came out first; I do consider that this Treaty, if it ever comes into operation, will give a chance to the people at some future time to obtain full independence.

I won’t detain you very much longer. I am a lawyer, but I do not think I have employed any argument on this, or legal quibbles, or constitutional law; and I think if the lawyers who did speak first were to speak now they would not use these arguments either, for this matter is too big for chess-playing. We have to swallow a bitter pill in this; one Deputy has said that to-day, and nobody likes to swallow pills; but if we honestly think that it is for the best interests of our country I think we are doing then what our conscience directs; and in taking this step I consider I am doing what is best for my country.

I will vote for the Treaty under protest— not under protest in a sense, because I have a free will—but I will vote for it only as a stepping stone, and when the time comes I will be just as ready to take a part in the fight for independence as I have been in the past. After all, we here are split, as far as I can see, on which is the better way; that is the only thing that divides us.

I told my Comhairle Ceanntair that I would vote for what I thought was the best way to gain absolute independence in the end; I consider that if I voted for rejection I would be putting back the fight for independence for years and years to come; whereas if I vote and swallow the pill and take the Treaty I consider that I will bring that absolute independence nearer by years; how many years I do not know. I do know, however, that the people of this country have not changed their national aspirations, and I consider that their national aspirations will be brought nearer by acceptance of the Treaty”.

Killybegs Killybegs cemetery, Co. Donegal where P.J. Ward is buried

Charles Macklin: the final curtain

Looking for tickets to see Macklin: Method and Madness? Click here.

Saying farewell to a man who has been gone for 218 years may seem a tad late, but this swansong is just as much for the people and home place that remembered Charles Macklin for the last 25 years, as it is for the man himself.

Since 1990, the picturesque village of Culdaff in Donegal faithfully paid tribute to its most colourful son, the actor and playwright, Charles Macklin, in the form of the Charles Macklin Autumn school every October. In September 2015, the committee announced that the annual festival would be no more. By October, it had lost its loyal patron, Brian Friel. To simply see a festival honouring a giant of the West End disappear into the ether was never an option. What more fitting departure than to have the last word on the Macklin festival at the actor’s resting place in London’s famous Actors’ Church in Covent Garden?

At 7.30pm on Friday 20th November, the church will host an evening of music and words in honour of Macklin, culminating with the highly-regarded play, Macklin: Method and Madness. This comedy is a brilliant two hander written and performed by Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford which tells us in a most colourful fashion of the life and fast times of Macklin himself, the first great West End ‘star’ whose stage name came from dropping the ‘glough’ in McLaughlin to the much simpler Macklin. Ingeniously funny, it never lets up until the end; a perfectly madcap salute to a local hero who had treaded the boards and run the gauntlet for well over a century.

Macklin’s long life bookended two pivotal points in Irish history. Born weeks after William of Orange’s 1690 triumph by the banks of the Boyne, he died the year before the 1798 Rebellion, just shy of 107. A giant of the London stage, his life had all the ingredients for a great play – lust, greed, murder, envy, ambition and talent. Not the sort of fellow you might think should be honoured hundreds of years later, but thankfully he is.

In the Actors’ Church of St. Paul’s in London’s Covent Garden, all of the good and the great actors have plaques on the walls in their memory. On the right hand side of the church is one of the more prominent memorials to the ‘father of the modern stage’ no less. In theatreland, Macklin has both a street and a hallowed plaque to remember him for all eternity. On the 20th of November, we’ll say a proper goodbye to the festival that saluted him for so many years. Gone, but not forgotten – a final thanks to Sean Beattie, the McGrorys and the hard-working committee and people of Culdaff for remembering a departed son.

Macklin: Method and Madness
By Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford
Friday, 20th November 2015
Actors Church, Covent Garden
Doors open, 6.45pm; Performance, 7.30pm
Tickets: £15 from Eventbrite or email info@racontour.com

Macklin plaque

Michael Collins remembered

On this day 93 years ago, the 22nd of August 1922, Michael Collins was shot and killed in a gun battle at Béal na mBláth. He was 31 years old when he died.
Half a million people attended his funeral in Dublin. All parties to the conflict, both British and Irish, were temporarily united in grief. In his brief lifetime he had fought the British Empire to a stalemate, negotiated the first Treaty of Independence for Ireland and overseen its transition to democracy. He died paradoxically in an attempt to finally remove the gun from Irish politics. From our Nenagh Heritage Audio Guide, hear our fascinating audio piece on the man who pulled the fatal trigger and why he kept Ireland’s biggest secret right to his grave.
Told by Nenagh Walking Guide’s very own raconteur, Kevin Whelan, Sonny O’Neill surely kept Ireland’s biggest secret for the rest of his life. Find more about Kevin’s tours here.
Michael Collins: 16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922
Find this & many more fascinating podcasts on all things Irish at racontour – the glory of the story.
#Ireland #Collins #Bealnablath #Nenagh #secret

Irish Revolutionary Michael Collins
Click here to read more on the fascinating story of the boy in the above photo, Phonsie Culleton – ‘the army’s mascot’.

Remembering Seumas Gildea

Quite by chance this evening, I discovered that an old teacher, and I’d like to think friend of mine, had died. James ‘Seumas’ Gildea from just outside of Glenties passed away at the end of May. The term ‘character’ is bandied about a bit too frequently these days and often to those who are in truth, just a bit odd and/or as dull as ditchwater.


Seumas however was a character; for me this was due to the fact that what you saw and what you got were two different things, the public and private personas were world’s apart. To those who came across him in Irish class over many decades, he was a stern pedagogue who seemed devoid of humour. He taught Irish in the era when it was a chore to learn and was tolerated with an uneasy mix of indifference and disdain by students. To a man as well-read as Seumas, this attitude from a generation of ingrates was most unfortunate. I met men in their sixties in Inishowen who shuddered recalling being taught by the then raven-haired teacher way back in the fifties – the man never really aged right up until the last time I saw him. A picture was in an attic somewhere it seemed.

My own first memories of the man were shaky enough – I remember being rigorously interrogated by him in as gaeilge on Day One of me moving from a boarding school to a secondary school in Donegal Town aged 15. That I got to know, and in time admire him, was due to my increasing interest in all things to do with local heritage in the mid 1990′s. I had set up a heritage festival around St. Patrick’s Day and one of the events was to have history lectures in the local courthouse. Fellow organiser Emmet McCauley and I kept hearing about how helpful Seumas could be and though we were at first reluctant to deal with him due to our respective experiences, we were very glad we did.

Gracious, patient, reliable, supportive and knowledgeable are words that spring to mind about this man as I got to know him better. He was a mentor and active participant in the years we held the McGarrigle lectures in that courthouse. Better still for this hedonist, there was a wonderfully Bohemian side to Seumas that he was more than happy to share with those who had sought him out and were prepared to dig a little deeper. His impeccably kept cottage in Drimnacrosh, near Glenties was on the outside a quaint edifice from another era. Inside it was a different story – the token pictures of the Pope and De Valera were nowhere to be seen and instead we found a resplendence of mementos, objet d’art, paintings, scultures and all sorts of treasures gathered from years of travelling. This was the secret den of a rural swashbuckler, a man who came alive when in full hosting mode. They say that the two best reasons for teaching are July and August and to a curious pilgrim soul like Seumas, this was a time to savour his passions for hillwalking, history and travel.

Having avoided walking up an aisle, Seumas was able to enjoy the freedom of a bachelor lifestyle with vigour. On one occasion, I remember he had just come back from a Bacchanalian wedding in Bulgaria which had lasted several days. Tales of chandelier-swinging merriment were told with aplomb and washed down with the most exquisitely potent liquors brought back and offered with flamboyant generosity. By chance, I’d managed to see a slice of this colourful and knowledgeable man’s world – one far removed from my earlier assumptions that he was a stick-in-the-mud dullard. Well wrong. He’s a true example of how we should never judge a book by its cover.

Those in the Bluestack Ramblers walking club, the Donegal Historical Society or the Patrick MacGill Summer School committee in Glenties will tell you of this tall, big-hearted man who had old school charm and gentility; a man full of wit and wisdom. His mellifluous voice hinted at his fluency in the native language and his origins in the glens. I’ve been lucky enough to have recorded some real characters from all over Ireland and his voice is worth hearing time and again. No one else sounds like Seumas Gildea though. Listening to some of the material I have from Seumas reminded me of how worthwhile gathering the voices of knowlegeable characters is for posterity and for pleasure. His candour is refreshing – be it talking about how a lot of Heaney’s poetry is often inpenetrable, how MacGill’s poetry is underestimated or how he listened with incredulity to Eamon Casey talk insouciantly about racy prose. If there is another life after the long one Seumas enjoyed, then no doubt he is at the heart of it and lighting the place up with his easy charm. Walk tall Seumas. Maireann croí éadrom a bhfad - a light heart lives a long time.

Seumas was a contributor on Part 3 of our Bluestack Way audio app, where the above audio originates from.

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Go with the Flo

So Florence has been upgraded to headline status at Glastonbury on the Friday night slot after the Foo’s Dave Grohl broke his leg falling off stage? Florence escaped a similar fate and will perform with a broken foot after similar exuberance at her Coachella gig in California a while back. Looking at the pros and cons of her upgrade on social media and in the papers, everyone with a love of music has an opinion on it. The simple fact is that it is happening, so just get on with it.


One sad commentator in the daily free rag that is Metro said it was like expecting the Queen and getting Lily Savage. This remark is dumb on a number of levels, the most obvious being that in truth, getting a seasoned performer over a dowdy octagenarian aristocrat is a seriously good move for all concerned. I love the Foo Fighters, but they’re out and Flo is a go. Pulp stepped up to the plate when The Stone Roses’ John Squire broke his arm in 1995 and gave a standout performance, Supergrass stepped in for the in meltdown Libertines in 2004 and did the same, as did Gorillaz when U2′s Bono got injured in 2010. Florence will do a fine job and it is fitting that she gets the top slot as her third album enjoys great success. Radiohead got the 1997 top slot in time for their third album, the sublime OK Computer and it is only fair that someone of the calibre of Florence should be given similar status – she has earned it.

The past few years have seen her have her own meltdown what with moving back home with her parents no less, a ‘nervous breakdown of sorts’ by her own admission and battles with drink. It is wonderful to see her back and with such a swaggering bang. It may be too early to compare her to the likes of Kate Bush, but she has outperformed the venerable Kate in always being a stand out live performer where Kate was shy for far too long. Florence’s last outing at Glastonbury was in 2010 and her final song was a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s iconic ‘The Chain’. It never ceases to send a shiver down my spine at around 3.17 of the video below. From its slow build up, to its out of control finale, this is an anthem that few would attempt to nail at such a big event, but not Florence – she is a force of nature and come next Friday, she will have earned her place amongst the greats by virtue of her talent and raw energy on a stage. ‘Running in the shadows‘? I don’t think so.

On the road

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

For fans of Mad Men, the long wait is nearly over. The seventh and final series is into its final two episodes as it ties up loose ends. Where will that great anti-hero, Don Draper, end up is the big question? Last week saw him walk out of staid McCann Erickson’s offices and get himself on the road, having a chat with his dead boss, Bertram Cooper, and picking up a mysterious stranger to the sound of Bowie’s Space Oddity. It made for gripping viewing. Outside bets say Don’ll end up as a hairy session fiddler in West Donegal – stranger things have happened!

We’re told to expect the unexpected; the trailer below reminds us how exquisite the whole production of it is from the wit of Roger Sterling to the complexities of Don Draper/Dick Whitman. Then there are the plush sets, the verisimilitude, the layered stories, the soundtrack, the outfits – it’s a series of Edward Hopper paintings brought to life. Put simply, it is the best thing on television in a post-Breaking Bad world.

The final series, like Breaking Bad has been delivered in two sets – each of seven episodes, with the grand finale now just days away. Creator Matthew Weiner has hired in some big guns such as Oscar-winning scriptwriter, Robert Towne, to get it right. Fans of the series Lost still shudder at how badly a well-loved series can end when not enough time goes into wrapping up those loose ends. Expectations are higher in this case.

Our flagship native app, the free Donegal App, has saluted Don Draper with its very own video, juxtaposing his easy charm with the wonders of the county. The video takes a minute to get into, but listening to how Draper reels in his ‘catch’ is always a pleasure to watch. His message in the piece appealed to us and with all apologies to copyright holders AMC and Lionsgate, we took the rather large liberty of mixing it with our own brand. Technology is indeed a glittering lure which can give a sentimental bond to the public – we believe that for fans of Donegal, our service offers emigrants a chance to remember the many wonders they left behind and for visitors, it serves as a reminder of a very special holiday. We’d like to think it acts as a portal to a host of happy memories – both delicate and potent.

The great thing about Donegal though is that it will always be there – in our hearts and in our heads. But don’t just reminisce about the place; plan your next trip, whet your appetite by looking at the myriad sights and sounds we have conjured up and crafted into one handy smart travel guide for your pleasure and then book it. Open up our app today on your smart phone or tablet, watch one of the many YouTube videos on offer and ‘favourite’ a dozen or so places for that Summer 2015 trip. Relish the frisson of excitement as you discover another hidden gem and savour the fact that by doing so, you are in a way already there.

“We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.” – Albert Camus

This article is an update of our earlier post on the Donegal App blog, The Countdown Commences from April 2014.
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There’s no place like home

Written in October 2013
Charles Macklin’s long life bookended two pivotal points in Irish history. Born weeks after William of Orange’s 1690 triumph by the banks of the Boyne, he died the year before the 1798 Rebellion, just shy of 107. A giant of the London stage, his life had all the ingredients for a great play – lust, greed, murder, envy, ambition and talent. Not the sort of fellow you might think should be honoured hundreds of years later, but thankfully he is.

In the Actors’ church of St. Paul’s in London’s Covent Garden, all of the good and the great actors have plaques on the walls in their memory. On the right hand side of the church is one of the more prominent memorials to the ‘father of the modern stage’ no less. In theatreland, Macklin has both a street and a hallowed plaque to remember him.

Macklin plaque

His hometown of Culdaff puts on an annual festival in October saluting the man. Now in its 24th year, the current festival that finishes up today was a great success. Nearby Enniskillen has managed to establish an annual Samuel Beckett festival on a tenuous connection relating back to his time at school there. It has the money behind it, but Macklin has soul and what it lacks in big budgets and marketing, it makes up for in generous hospitality and a vibrancy that warms the heart.

At the centre of the festival is local historian, Dr. Sean Beattie, a one man publishing machine who launched his latest book, ‘Donegal in Transition’ on the opening Thursday night. Weeks ago, he launched a monumental book called ‘The Atlas of Donegal’ which he co-edited and wrote several chapters on. The man is 73, but has the stamina and looks of a man in his early fifties and he shows no signs of slowing up. I’ll be very disappointed if there isn’t another book from the good doctor by Christmas!

Sean and Dessie Sean Beattie and Dessie McCallion

Another stalwart of the festival is Dessie McCallion. A walking encyclopaedia, he literally becomes one on the Saturday of the festival with the Great Macklin Walk. It’s Dessie at his best – out in the open, explaining the flora, the fauna and the folklore as he ventures along with forty or so followers. Never didactic, just full of stories and mischief and good humour; he has been the peninsula’s best ambassador for years.

The backbone of the festival though firmly rests with the talents of the McGrory family who run the legendary McGrory’s of Culdaff. Anne is a networking supremo and has that natural welcoming charm that makes a visit there worthwhile. John ensures the music for which it is famous, keeps on coming in and Neil is the one who likes to go for detail, be it local heritage or rigging up the Backroom for a concert. It’s a formidable combination and together it ensures that the venue is known throughout the country. On Friday night alone, they had master guitarist Carl Verheyen of Supertramp fame playing with his band.

Another McGrory, Deirdre Devine, is a local artist who has written a book on local artist, Willie Doran. She was lucky enough to have known Willie in the years up to 1979 when he came back to live and work in his native Culdaff. Willie’s talent ranged from landscape to portraits, but also cartoons, signage and remarkably, converting sods of turf into resplendent Irish homesteads. All were on display in the Wee Hall in an exhibition called ‘101 Recollections of Willie Doran’. They’d missed the centenary in 2012, but this was no Room 101 – look out for the forthcoming Joe Mahon TV special on Willie’s talents.

On the Saturday of the festival, there were two creative workshops run by Maureen Boyle and Malachi O’Doherty respectively. Malachai’s morning slot entitled ‘Telling your own Story’ was on writing a memoir, something he is adept at doing having written four. The key question to be asked was ‘what lesson did I understand from such and such an episode happening to me?’. It made for a lively two hours which flew by in no time. Maureen’s class entitled ‘Building a Paper House’ focused on the notion of home and place and she had a number of excellent poems I wasn’t aware of to illustrate the point. All participants (bar me!) read their own poems on that theme by the end of the two hours, all of which were of the highest calibre.


The Last of the Name’ is a book by local man Charles McGlinchey that is well-loved for good reason. It captures a time long since gone around Clonmany as told to local teacher Patrick Kavanagh by McGlinchey and has been graced with local artists helping the project gain greater prominence in the last twenty years. On Saturday afternoon, words, songs and images combined to tell us the story of McGlinchey in a innovative and well executed performance by Finbarr, Seamus and Grace with Paul Kelly in the place of McGlinchey. Kavanagh’s son, Des was in attendance as was the patron of the festival and the book’s editor/writer of its introduction, Brian Friel.

Macklin: Method and Madness is a brilliant two hander written and performed by Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford which tell us in a very colourful fashion of the life and fast times of Macklin himself, the first great West End ‘star’ whose stage name came from dropping a ‘glough’. Ingeniously funny, it never let up until the end; a perfectly madcap salute to a local hero who had treaded the boards and run the gauntlet for well over a century.

Interspersed with these events were the meeting of new acquaintances, catching up with old friends and having chats with the various artists. Blue skies simply added to the jovial atmosphere. At the workshop earlier, we had touched on the subject of the kindness of strangers, small moments when people you barely knew were there to help you along and make a lasting impression. I experienced several of these over the course of the festival and am delighted to have been able to enjoy this hidden gem of a festival one last time. I’ve been a long-time proponent of the notion that what Donegal might lack in infrastructure, it makes up for in natural wonder – epic scenery and friendly locals. Charles Macklin rose to great heights in a bustling city where his memorial tablet can be found at St. Paul’s church just off Covent Garden with other acting greats. However, it is the place where he came from that he is still annually saluted and like other ‘kind strangers’ of the area, I am very proud of this fact, and of him, bad boy bawdiness and all. What lesson did I gain and understand from Macklin #24? One that I’ll frequently recall, just like Macklin did in London – there’s no place quite like home.

Find Macklin’s townland of birth on the Best of Inishowen tour of our free Donegal App.
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Lost in music

Written on the 29th August 2013

“So she thoroughly taught him that one cannot take pleasure without giving pleasure, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every last bit of the body has its secret, which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it. She taught him that after a celebration of love the lovers should not part without admiring each other, without being conquered or having conquered, so that neither is bleak or glutted or has the bad feeling of being used or misused.
Hermann Hesse – Siddhartha

We all remember where we were when a momentous event occurs. Hearing a great song for the first time deserves to be held in the same regard; more so perhaps as it is an individual’s history and its consequence takes on a profounder, more personal experience. Pottering about an attic back in ’93 I first heard Radiohead – it was ‘Anyone can play guitar‘ and I nearly fell out of the sky in my attempts to hear it emanating from the kitchen. It’s a wonderful frisson of enjoyment and enlightenment to savour.

Lovers of proper rock music will have numerous such experiences. A famous example of a tune overwhelming a driver involves that legendary purveyor of top tunes, John Peel. The story goes that he had to pull over on hearing ‘Teenage Kicks‘, such was its magnificence as the gold standard of what rock was about – attitude and melody in perfect harmony. On a sunny evening driving over the border into County Tyrone at the end of August, I was listening to four lads from Donegal on the radio. No nonsense down-to-earth folk who knew how to play a song and with ‘Carricktine’ they had a wisdom beyond their years. I listened on with interest, through the sleepy town of Aughnacloy.


Coming towards Ballygawley roundabout, they were gearing up for their next song. I’d noted their name, In their Thousands and made a mental note to go see them. What came next was a John Peel moment. The song itself builds up slowly, deceptively drawing you in and then BOOM, it spears you and you are lost – the brae outside Ballygawley roundabout will forever be the place I’ll recall as being where that musical epiphany occurred, where a sadness I had for two hours lifted instantly and perfect musical harmony in the form of ‘The Pattern’ gave way. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini in Rome wouldn’t have a patch on it!

I got in touch with the writer of the song, Ruairi Friel, and he gave me a twenty five minute interview today that I could happily play most of, but the purpose of this piece is to hear a bit more about this great song, what his inspiration for it was and how it grew. ‘It’s a waltz about love and death I suppose’ he tells me at the end and that makes a lot of sense the more you hear it. Listen to the song at the end of the interview (we only give you a flavour – buy it soon!) and if feeling brave, do a waltz while whispering those words to your muse: ‘your flame never stays the same, your flicker just gets quicker, in the darkness of my room, I finally see the pattern…‘ Thank you Ruairi for sharing the song’s provenance and how it developed. Look out for these lads; they too will have people falling out of the sky for some time to come.

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#intheirthousands #Donegal #music #Ruairi #rockband #Ulster #Tyrone #rock #RTE #BBC #road #epiphany #Ireland #song #melody #pattern

North West Words

Written on the 11th December 2014
North West Words is a monthly get-together of poetic souls in Letterkenny’s wonderful Cafe Blend. A distant admirer of the event for some time, I finally managed to catch up with it last night and everything from start to finish about the night was a treat. And bar the excellent food, it was all free.

North West Words promotes the best of spoken word, art and music in the north west and if last night was anything to go by, it is a must-see when coming to Donegal. The Errigal Singers and the Gateway Writers Group were the main performers and carried off their respective tasks with deft aplomb. In the build-up to the performances, the room was full of giddy chatter and a palpable sense of anticipation. The staff were completely on top of things and some complementary mince pies and cream copper-fastened my promise to return soon.

The Errigal Singers were a sensation whose enthusiasm was infectious. Elegant, talented and versatile, these ladies knew what they were doing. Even when they put the ‘err’ back into Errigal over a minor mistiming, a spontaneous laugh and some banter had them back on track with their ebullient leader, Lorna McLaughlin, of The Henry Girls fame.

The Gateway Writers group were next up and read a remarkable series of self-composed verses. With an equal mix of mischief and wonder, the women used all of their wisdom and insight to great effect. I particularly enjoyed a poem called Rain Drops by Anna Greene, which made good use of pathetic fallacy. They said ‘goodbye’ to their facilitator, Denise Blake, and after a gracious speech by their chairman, presented Denise with flowers.


The night then went into open-mike mode and we were treated to a few new poems by their authors. All poems were well received, being wryly original and in one case, deliciously sardonic to none other than Santa a.k.a. ‘Satan’ (you had to be there!). The last poem of the night was read by M.C. Eamonn Bonner who then wrapped things up with a few words of thanks.

I then managed to get Eamonn, Denise Blake and Maureen Curran to say the words you’ll hear in the audio piece. A bit like the night itself, they nailed it in one go by simply saying it like it is. This was a delightful occasion, full of charm and warmth and eloquence; how lovely to see two groups of people celebrating the arts in both song and verse while having some great fun at the same time, It is everything Racontour salutes – keep up the good work folks – you’re on to a winner.

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#Letterkenny #Donegal #poetry #northwestwords

Putting up with a genius

Written on the 23rd August 2013
On this day 45 years ago, the 23rd August 1968, George Yeats, wife of William Butler Yeats, passed away. They say that you should never meet your idols, nevermind marrying one. Iconic figures in literature from Joyce to Hemingway to Fitzgerald, not to mention Hunter S. Thompson have have difficult marriages that have been well documented. George Yeats had to put up with a snob, a bore and an absent-minded professor type. We saw the poetry, she saw the socks. Have a look at the excellent @MundaneBond on Twitter for a perfect ribbing of an icon during downtime.

With thanks to Padraic Dempsey of the RIA on RTE Radio 1 this evening, we learned just how much of a debt we owe to this woman. Yeats was indeed a genius and George went about dedicating her life after marriage to ensuring that Yeats would be allowed to focus on his poetry while she took care of the banalities of life from preparing meals, organizing his travel arrangements, taking care of the children and just about everything else that makes normal life possible.

Unlike Yeats, she was a very private individual; her own children did not even know where she was born until after her death. Indeed having worked in Fleet in Hampshire myself, I can’t blame her. She was by no means a ‘shrinking violet’ though and was by all accounts the only woman who was not afraid of the redoubtable Lady Gregory.

Geroge Yeats

On being asked what it was like to live with a genius, she wearily responded that she didn’t tend to notice that she was. She did everything for Yeats including on one memorable occasion having to telegram a perplexed Yeats that the oil he needed to put in to his light at Coole Park was paraffin – what else could it possibly be, olive oil?

She put up with his countless affairs, which increased after they stopped having sex in 1928. On the audio, you’ll hear how Yeats had monkey glands attached to improve his virility. It certainly affected his judgment. In 1936 when editing a poetry collection, his lover, the rather average poet Margaret Ruddock, had seven poems included with the likes of Auden only having three. George would write politely to Ruddock and the other lovers with details about Yeats taking his medication as directed by doctors.

With increasing frustration and little thanks, George carried out all these tasks and ensured that Yeats was able to dedicate his final years to writing some of his best work – a point Mary makes in the audio piece.


Georgie met Yeats in 1910. Seven years later, when she was 25 and he 52, he asked her to marry him. Only a few weeks earlier Iseult Gonne, the daughter of Maud Gonne whom Yeats had loved for many years, had rejected a marriage proposal from him. Georgie and Yeats married just three weeks later, on 20 October 1917, in a public registry office,witnessed by her mother and Ezra Pound. During the honeymoon, while Yeats was still brooding about Iseult’s rejection, Georgie began the automatic writing which fascinated him. He wrote about it days later in what was to be A Vision, and it held the marriage together for many years. Within a year of marriage he declared her name of Georgie to be insufferable, and henceforth called her George. This says it all.

George would have known of Yeats’s obsession with Maud Gonne and of the rejected proposal to her daughter. She shrewdly overlooked this as she did his affairs and saw the bigger picture. A ‘sloppy second’ she may have been to some, but in death as in life, he was fortunate to have such a capable partner. George was an assiduous and dedicated Literary Executor after his death in 1939. She’d a better knowledge of European literature than he did and she managed the estate fairly and with aplomb for the next 30 years or so. She is buried beside him in Drumcliffe; when next visiting, spare a thought for this unsung heroine with the patience of a saint.

The guide above is a demo only – please use link below for the native app version

The audio comes from our multimedia Yeats Country audio guide, available for free from the Donegal Bay and Yeats Country tour on the Donegal App.
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