GALLERY: Past getting clearer thanks to West Inishowen History and Heritage Society

Hunt for Viking settlement in Port Ban

We none of us know the future but the past keeps getting clearer every day, thanks to the sterling efforts of the West Inishowen History and Heritage Society (WIHHS).

A local volunteer community group dedicated to the preservation of the peninsula’s rich history and heritage, WIHHS was founded in 2008 following a public meeting in Buncrana Library chaired by the late Peter Gurrie.

The well-known Fahan resident was subsequently WIHHS Chairperson from 2008 to 2010.

Having won a variety of awards for its involvement with projects including the Buncrana Heritage Trail and the Buncrana Lighthouse Restoration Project, WIHHS has exciting plans for the future and is encouraging new members to get involved.

Speaking to Donegal Live, John McCarron, WIHHS, PRO, revealed the group had recently been awarded funding for two major new projects.

John McCarron said: “WIHHS applied and has been awarded funding for a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a ground-penetrating radar survey, of the Port Ban / Dunree area.

“We are hoping to investigate the site of the old Killard Monastery and also a probable Viking settlement. It is believed there was a Viking trading post in that area going back 1,000 years.

“John Hegarty (WIHHS Chairperson) is lead archaeologist on this project. He knows the site. He knows the lay of the land. He knows the protocol for archaeological investigations, including the licences which need to be obtained.

“LiDAR is a totally non-invasive form of investigation. It consists of ground-penetrating RADAR on the surface and then the data is then put into a software package, which interprets the data to reveal, hopefully, what may or may not be underneath,” said John McCarron.

WIHHS believes there was an old church or old monastic settlement in the Port Ban / Dunree area.

John McCarron added: “We think there may also be the remains of a Viking trading post there. Remains, bones, have been found down there. John Hegarty thinks it is the site on an ancient battle as well.

“It is a big area of investigation and will possibly be extended because, during the night of the Big Wind in 1839 (An Oíche na Gaoithe Móire), there was a lot of sand blown in, which covered buildings in situ at Port Ban or Crummies Bay, as it was called then, the old name,” said John McCarron.

WIHHS is also looking forward to getting a new genealogy project off the ground, post-coronavirus.

According to John McCarron, WIHHS was hoping to establish a ‘Genealogy Hub’ in Buncrana.

John McCarron added: “WIHHS’s ‘Genealogy Hub’ might be centred in Buncrana Library or another suitable building.

“It is envisaged that people, including tourists or visitors or people from the area who might have emigrated years ago and have returned, could come into the ‘Genealogy Hub’ and research their family trees and their roots, here in Inishowen, the North West, Derry and Tyrone. 

“The WIHHS ‘Genealogy Hub’ will be led by Tina Porter, an excellent amateur archaeologist who has a large data base. We will also ensure access to various other genealogy sites, for which individuals normally have to pay for membership, which gives access.

“This would include military records and ships manifests, all sorts of records to which people would not normally have access. W will be able to trace the movement of people, migrants. We will also have access to the usual parish and civil records,” said John McCarron.

The past couple of years have been extremely busy for the WIHHS but “not this year, obviously” added Mr McCarron ruefully.

He added: “But, I would like to give readers a flavour of WIHHS’s recent programme of activities and encourage as many people as possible to join us. 

“In March 2019, Seoirse O’Dochartaigh gave a fascinating talk on the place names of Inishowen. WIHHS also completed its work at Derry’s Tower Museum on the Mabel Colhoun Collection. An exhibition of that work subsequently took place in Buncrana and Carndonagh libraries.

“WIHHS also participated, alongside other history groups, in a study visit to Tyrone to explore sites linked to the O‘Neill and clans of ancient Ulster. A reciprocal visit also took place in Donegal in May 2019, which included visits to Burt Castle and Grianán of Aileach.

“We were delighted WIHHS was included in the Donegal County Council Commemoration of the Centenary of Dáil Éireann. We were invited to showcase our research for our own exhibition, which commemorated Buncrana’s links to the First Dáil. We also really enjoyed a fantastic talk, given by Dr Niamh Brennan, Archivist Donegal County Council, on ‘Dáil Éireann 100 Years,’” said John McCarron.

Between cross-border history trips; contributing to the iconic Colgan Heritage Weekend; and hosting many guest speakers, including Janet Hancock from PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) who gave a presentation on Sources for Family and Local History, WIHHS is “kept busy.”

John McCarron said: “We brought ‘A History of Kilmainham Gaol in Ten Objects’ to Buncrana Library, where Brian Crowley from Kilmainham gave a brilliant talk.

“We have had many brilliant speakers in Buncrana over the past year. The ‘Starvation and Survival: Inishowen Workhouse’ talk was given by Dr Niamh Brennan, Archivist with Donegal County Council. Canadian Genealogist Bobby Kay spoke on the ‘History of Irish Emigration to Canada.’

“WIHHS’s own John Hegarty also gave a talk on The Dál Riata: Connecting the West of Scotland to the North of Ireland.

“If I have whetted any appetites, WIHHS would welcome any new members who want to get involved with the group. We can be contacted through our Facebook page: West Inishowen History & Heritage Society,” said John McCarron, with a smile.

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Live editorial team any time. To contact Donegal Democrat and Donegal People's Press, email editorial@donegaldemocrat.ie To contact Donegal Post, email editor@donegalpost.com To contact Inish Times, email editor@inishtimes.com.

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