GALLERY: The Coastguard stations and Boathouses in Donegal

A fascinating glimpse into Donegal's seafaring history

The Irish Preventative Water Guard started establishing bases along the Irish Coast in late 1819, According to Seamus Bovaird, the Chairperson of the Inishowen Maritime Museum in Greencastle

Mr Bovaird said: “In January 1822, the Irish Preventative Water Guard decided to extend this area, by establishing stations between Lough Swilly and Rathlin Island. The following stations were established: Dunree Fort, Dunaff Head, Carrickbrackey, Malin Head, Glengad Head, Port Redford, Port Kinnagoe and Greencastle.

“By 28 October 1823, the whole line of the coast had been completed and 160 stations had been established. The service had 1821 men and 33 inspecting officers, plus 200 casual boatmen.

“Reviews were being undertaken as the building works progressed and some stations were closed by 1824, with changes to manpower being made in others.

“In 1845, the Coast Guard stations in Inishowen were sited at: Rathmullan / Buncrana, Dunree Fort, Dunaff Head, Malin Head, Port Redford Glengad, (Bunnagree Port), Arderly, (Tremone Bay), Port Kinnagoe, Stroove, (Dunagree Point), Greencastle, Quigleys Point,” said Seamus Bovaird.

By 1900. The list had been reduced to: Buncrana, Malin Head, Culdaff / Glengad Head, Tremone, Port Kinnago, Innishowen Head / Greencastle and Moville.

In early 1919, local IRA units were instructed to burn out any evacuated RIC barracks and about 400 were destroyed.

According to Seamus Bovaird: “In the 1920’s, this order was extended to include Coastguard stations. The burning down of coastguard stations in Inishowen all took place after the coastguards and their families had been withdrawn and the stations had been abandoned.”

Quigley’s Point

The position of a Coastguard watchhouse near the beach at the bottom of field on Derry side of the 'Point Bar' is noted in map attached to Griffiths Valuation records.

Coastguard personnel may have been billeted in the constabulary buildings nearby.

The position of an Ice-House in same field, closer to road, is shown in same map.

Seamus Bovaird added: “There are references to Quigley’s Point Coastguards in the reports into the collision between the paddle steamers, ‘Falcon’ and ‘Garland’, at Whitecastle, on September 20,1865.

“Local history has it, the burning of the barracks, in 1921, had to be postponed several times until the wind was in a direction away from the neighbouring buildings so they would not be damaged by the fire.”

Moville Coastguard Station.

Early maps show a boathouse at Carrownaffe, closer to Moville.

Photographs show another boathouse / shed near Thompson’s old coal yard.

The Establishment Book for Moville does not start until 1862. Before that Coastguard accommodation was provided not in purpose-built CG Stations, but in rented cottages.

The original block of the Coastguard Station was built in 1868 to 1869.

Seamus Bovaird said: “This was followed in 1874 to 1875 by a second block on the Moville side of the original. It was later modified and extended in 1885.

“It was built to designs by Enoch Trevor Owen, an English architect working for the Board of Works in Ireland. He designed 30 coastguard stations, in Ireland, nine of them in Donegal.

“A more substantial set of storage buildings and a slipway were built in front of the Coastguard Station, itself. They had four boats of various sizes.

“There are newspaper reports of a court case trying to establish who was to blame for the boathouse and shed being built too close to the main road. Some things never change,” mused Seamus Bovaird.

In 1901, the Coastguard Station Moville contained 14 families in two blocks of seven cottages. The staffing was a Chief Officer and 13 ratings (including one carpenter).

According to Seamus Bovaird: “By 1906, the station and detachment were reported as having been discontinued but that was not the case.

“The station buildings have been preserved as private dwellings, but the boathouse has collapsed over the years. The outline of the boathouse and storage shed can still be made out along with the remains of the slipway.”

Greencastle Coastguard Station.

The original Greencastle Coastguard unit was based in the Fort as part of the fort establishment.

Seamus Bovaird recalled: “The Fourth Report of the Commissioners of Irish Fisheries, 1822, was printed on May 26, 1823. In it there is a map of Greencastle harbour which shows planned development for the harbour. It shows two piers, one at each side of the harbour, and a block of buildings named ‘Revenue Houses.’ Ironically, it was approved in 1823 and is still not finished in 2020!

“It is thought that the original building was done circa1830, with extensions circa1860. It appears on the 1837 Ordnance Survey map.

“The Coastguard service was taken over by the Admiralty in 1859, which then undertook a major programme of building Coastguard Stations. The extension to the Greencastle Station was probably part of this programme. The extension may have been the row of single-storey houses to the North of the station known as ‘Revenue Row.’

“Greencastle was staffed by one Chief Officer, one Chief Boatman, two Commissioned Boatmen and eight Boatmen. A lease document, of 1858, for Greencastle lists: Chief Officer’s house: 5 rooms, 1 sitting room (21’ x 16’), 2 bedrooms (16’ x 10’),1 bedroom (13’ x 12’), and 1 kitchen (16’ x 14’); Eleven cottages for the men, containing each: 1 bedroom (12’ x 10’ 6”),.1 bedroom (14’ 6” x 14’6), 1 kitchen (12’ x 14’) and Pantry (10’ x 6’),” said Seamus Bovaird.

One cottage is used as a Watch room and boathouse.

The Coastguard Station was abandoned by the Coastguard during the War of Independence and wives and families were moved across the border, to Derry, before being dispersed throughout the UK.

The Board of Trade rocket cart and equipment was left behind and was eventually taken over by the new Irish service, the Coast Life Saving Service.

The central portion was assigned as office and accommodation for a Customs & Excise officer and the dwellings were rented out to tenants.

Seamus revealed: “The Customs block and an adjoining dwelling house were purchased by the Maritime Museum in 2000 and the dwellings were bought out by the tenants over a short period thereafter.

“The boathouse was demolished as part of the upgrading of the pier in the Queensport in the 1960’s.”

Stroove

The station house was laid out to accommodate two families.

The station’s look-out post was at the ‘Pound.’ The site was later used by pilots. Sadly there are no traces left.

There was also a Signal Post at Inishowen Head which was also used commercially by shipowners’ staff.

Glenagivney / Kinnago

Glenagivney / Kinnago Station and boathouse were destroyed by IRA in 1921.

Seamus Bovaird said: “A single gable remains standing, at Craignahulla, and the boathouse slipway is still discernible on West side of Kinnagoe Bay.”

According to Duchas (Shrove School, roll number 3470): “Eighteen years ago a great fire took place in Glenagivney. It was the burning of a great building known as the Coastguard Station. It consisted of five dwelling houses. It was situated on a hill above the sea.

‘It was put on fire by a party of Irish Republican Army men. The dwellings were empty and so no harm was done. The walls of this grand building still remain.’

Tremone Bay (Arderly)

Tremone Bay (Arderly) Station House was burned out by IRA, in 1921. There is no sign of the boathouse or of launching slipway remains. The pilots operated out of Tremone Bay before moving to Stroove.

Culdaff (Port Redford)

The Coastguard Station was built on the rise above Bunagee Pier, where the row of homes is today.

The main station was burned down in late 1921. (Report by Lt. Patrick Lynch, Carndonagh Company, IRA)

Seamus Bovaird added: “When the burnt out shell was being demolished to allow the building of the houses now on the site, Donegal County Council removed the large cut stones and took them to Greenbank to be used in the repair of the sea wall South of Greenbank Church.

“The ‘Watchhouse’, as it is known locally was at a lower level and housed the coastguard boat. The Chief Boatman lived in the top storey. It has now been converted into a dwelling house.

“The motto, ‘Ready, aye ready’, is carved on a beam in the watchhouse. This old Scottish motto has been used by maritime organisations over the years. Currently, it is the motto of the UK Sea Cadets and Royal Canadian Navy. It was previously used by Glasgow Rangers.

“Oral history has it that the slates on the roof came from a brig that foundered off the Culdaff River entrance with cargo of slate. Many houses in the vicinity used slate from the cargo. In 2020, part of the wreck was uncovered by wave action and was visible from a boat, just below the surface,” said Seamus Bovaird.

‘The Salmon House’, beside the Coastguard boathouse, had a boathouse underneath and net drying / repair space above. It was part of a fishing enterprise started by the Fleming family.

Redford Glebe.

The Redford Glebe buildings are shown on old maps, in Griffiths Valuation, of 1857.

A Coastguard building is shown on OS maps, on the Duggan family farm

There is also a Coastguard Watchhouse at the beach near today’s caravan site. The launching beach still in use, and a Coastguard Watchhouse at Dunmore and to the East of Glebe House.

Glengad (Bunnagree Port)

Seamus Bovaird said: The OSI map shows: a Coastguard watchhouse at Portnasantally, North of Bunn and a Coastguard watchhouse at Portaleen

“It would appear that the watchhouses in Glengad and Redford Glebe were outposts of the main station in Bunagee.”

Malin Head

The original Malin Head Coastguard Station is still intact. The Boathouse on the beach can be seen in old postcards / photographs.

Dunaff Head

The OS map of 1836 shows the Dunaff Head Coastguard buildings beside Rockstown House and buildings at the beach further North.

Dunree

Dunree appears to have been a watch station attached to Fort Dunree.

Buncrana.

Seamus Bovaird recalled: “The coastguard station building in Buncrana was built, around 1837, as a terrace of 3-storey cottages and watch tower with oriel windows.

“The builders were: William Hutchinson and R. Colqhoun. The building is still intact and in use as a B&B. The boathouse on river’s edge, below the station, can be seen in old photographs.

“A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis, 1837, states: ‘There is a coast-guard station at Ballinary.’ Another source refers to a Look-out at Fahan. There is an old photograph of Fahan showing a series of large houses with a smaller house on a promontory. The photograph is titled: ‘The Look Out, Fahan, County Donegal.’

“Records of Coastguard and Coastguard Stations are scattered amongst many British Government service archives and are difficult to access and collate,” said Seamus Bovaird.

The Maritime Museum would be interested in collating any local stories of Inishowen Coastguards and old photographs of any Coastguard buildings and personnel of any period.

Inishowen Maritime Museum is currently attempting to collect and preserve photograph, articles, and information of maritime interest. If anyone has material they do not want to part with, the Museum can scan it and return the original right away.

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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