A Mass in memory of five people who drowned in 1880 takes place in Donegal

Tragedy in Gaoth Dobhair

A Mass in memory of the five victims who were drowned in the former St. Mary’s Church, Derrybeg on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in 1880 took place last week. An Dr. Ró Oirmh. Pádraig  Ó Baoighill, P.P., celebrated Mass in the same church where the heart wrenching tragedy occurred 139 years ago. 

This church opened in 1858 and was built in what formed part of a ravine, where Mass was celebrated in secret in the Penal Days. A mountain stream was conveyed in a culvert under the floor of the church. It was common for this stream to overflow at times and would spill into the church sometimes during Mass.   

A terrible tragedy occurred on the August 15, 1880 when there was a downpour and the culvert was blocked.  As a result the church was flooded as the then Parish Priest, Canon James McFadden was celebrating Mass. At that time there were only two churches in the parish, Derrybeg and Dunlewey which meant people would have travelled from as far as Thorr on one side of the parish and as far as Cnoc Fola on the other end of the parish.  It was a Sunday and there was a large congregation estimated to be  between 800 and 1,000 present for the Mass. People from the offshore islands of Gola and Inismann would also be there for the mass. 

Five Victims

The five who died in this sad event were: Conall Boyle [Conall Hiúdai] who was a native of Inishmaan Island and Niall Doherty, Magheraclogher, Derrybeg. They were both aged about seventy years.  Gráinne McGarvey [Gráinne Chreagáin] from Carrick, Derrybeg.  Aged fifty years, she was married to Hiúdaí Eoghain. A deeply religious person, Gráinne would be the first member of the congregation in the church for the Sunday Mass and would be last to leave.  It is said that she washed her feet in the nearby stream on her way in to the Mass and it was almost dry.  The fourth person to die was Anraoi Gallagher better known as Anraoi an Dualtaigh from Magheraclogher, a brother of Seán an Dualtaigh. The youngest member of the family he was aged only fifteen years. His mother died when he was born. An excellent swimmer Anraoi is credited for saving six people and was about to save the seventh when he got a fatal blow when his head hit against a wall.  Séamus Ferry  from Stranacorkra, Derrybeg was the youngest to have died in the tragedy. He was aged only thirteen years and was alter server at the Mass. Séamus died when his clothes got caught in the door by the force of the water when entering the sacristy.

Appeal for items from the Former  Church

An Dr. Ó Baoighill, P.P., received a rapturous applaud at the end of the Mass when he announced  that the  old St. Mary’s Church, Derrybeg  which is one of Donegal’s most historical buildings has been granted a Protected Structure status. The Fintown born priest and former President of the County Donegal Historical Society who took up office as Parish Priest of Gaoth Dobhair  in 2010 has been pressing for a number of years to have this building listed as protected structure. He saw this church as an important historical and architectural  building and he felt it should be conserved for generations to come. He said the people of Gaoth Dobhair should be very proud of this historic building. He said  he would gratefully accept  any object from the former church to re-locate them back in  the church which could form a part of a small museum.  This church is an attractive mid-nineteen-century in a Gothic Revival Style and composed on a traditional T plan. It was altered and extended by Timothy Hevey in 1874, when the sacristy and gabled chancel were added, with its Gothic rose window. The composition is established by the tall pointed windows and articulated rendered surrounds.

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