An 18th Century visitor to Ballyshannon

In 1775 Richard Twiss wrote: ‘The next day I arrived in Ballyshannon and was so pleased by its beautiful situation that I remained there four days. It is a small town situated near the sea with a bridge of fourteen arches, over a river, which a little lower falls down a ridge of rocks, about twelve feet, and at low water forms the most picturesque cascades I ever saw. It is rendered still more singular and interesting being by being the principle Salmon Leap in Ireland”

In 1776 Richard Twiss wrote a book called “A tour of Ireland in 1775” which must be one of the earliest observation and account of Irish life taken from a purely tourist perspective.

His Irish visit took place a year earlier when he arrived in Dublin on the fifth of June 1775 after sailing from Aberystwyth in Wales. Whilst in Dublin he saw the new Irish Houses of Parliament in College Green which he greatly admired and remarks that the building was begun in 1729 and took ten years to complete. After visiting some hospitals and other buildings that took his interest in Dublin he went south to Co Wicklow visiting Powerscourt House and waterfall.

Irish Houses or Parliament now the Bank of Ireland building in College Green

He commented about the predominance of the Irish language been spoken,

“The Irish language is still understood and spoken by most of the common people but by few of the better sort: The books which are printed in it consist only of a few devotional tracts”

He adds a small dictionary of Irish words into his guide that would be useful to the visitor or traveller.

In July of that year he set out north to Drogheda, visiting Armagh, Belfast, Derry and Donegal and many other places, he eventually arrived in Ballyshannon where he was particularly impressed by the falls sited above the island of Inish Saimer remarking that:

Illustration of the Salmon Leap at Ballyshannon in “A Tour of Ireland” by Richard Twiss

The next day I arrived in Ballyshannon and was so pleased by its beautiful situation that I remained there four days. It is a small town situated near the sea with a bridge of fourteen arches, over a river, which a little lower falls down a ridge of rocks, about twelve feet, and at low water forms the most picturesque cascades I ever saw. It is rendered still more singular and interesting being by being the principle Salmon Leap in Ireland”

A view of Ballyshannon showing the fourteen arched bridge by artist Thomas Creswick A.R.A.(1811-1869)

After the four days Richard continued his journey passing through Belleek remarking that the river was a succession of waterfalls and cascades. He travelled onwards to Castlecaldwell where he spent time visiting Sir James and Lady Caldwell where he admired the castle and the wonderful vista overlooking the islands on Lough Erne.

The Salmon Leap photographed in the late 19th or early 20th Century

Richard Twiss was born in Rotterdam in 1747, a son of an English merchant residing in Holland. Being of independent means allowed him to travel extensively, firstly visiting Scotland and then onwards to the countries of continental Europe until 1770 when he published an account of his travels. His travels continued and he visited Spain and Portugal in 1772.

After explaining the life cycle of the salmon and the methods used to catch the salmon on the River Erne, he warned of the dangers of overfishing and remarked that the fisheries on the Erne rented at £600 per annum yet the salmon were sold at only a penny per pound giving us a good idea of the probable number of salmon caught each year at that time!

Richard Twiss was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1774, but withdrew from it in 1794. He died in Somers Town on 5 March 1821.

You can read the full account of his visit to Ireland at:

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ujpIAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Richard+Twiss+visit+to+Ireland&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjE4LrP64zlAhX0lFwKHfxHCWUQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=Richard%20Twiss%20visit%20to%20Ireland&f=false

The Story of Kilbarron Castle Part 1

Kilbarron Castle was built on the scenic wild Atlantic coast of County Donegal. Here we will lay out the history of the Castle and it’s people.

The route to the castle on the landward side leads to a narrow causeway over a deep ditch. It must have been a very defensible location but perhaps not too sheltered or comfortable whenever there was a raging Atlantic storm!

View from the castle ruins looking south towards Ben Bulben in Co Sligo

For anybody who has visited the ruins of the Kilbarron Castle the first thing you notice is that the ruins are perched on a rocky promontory jutting into Donegal Bay and surrounded by cliffs on three sides lapped by the Atlantic waves.

The site is much older than the existing stone walls would suggest as these walls date from the early 14th Century. The Kilbarron Castle Conservation Report of 2014 estimated that the place began as an Iron Age settlement.

We do not yet know much about this early settlement but by the 7th Century the area between the River Erne and the Ballintra River was under the control of the Uí Maoildoraidh clan who were centred in or near Droim Thuama (Drumholm). The territory north of this to the River Eske was ruled by the Uí Canannáin clan. They both shared common ancestry and the kingship of the Cenél Connaill but were often in bitter rivalry.

We have a map to help, see Castle Locality

Further south from Kilbarron on the Erne estuary is a similar promontory fort called Dún Cremthain (Dungravenan) there in 650 AD two factions of the Cenél Conaill fought each other for supremacy. This battle of Dún Cremthain is referred to in the “Annals of Ulster”.

Artistic impression of the 10th Century wooden promontory fort on the Kilbarron site

In 1178 Flaghertagih Uí Maoildoraidh founded the Abbey Assaroe. He is buried in Drumhome (Drumholm) Old Graveyard and his death was to signify the end of the Kingship of the Uí Maoildoraidhs and soon after that the Kingship of the Uí Canannáins as a new power was coming into prominence from the north western part of Tír Conaill.

The parish gets its name from this ancient church and Flahertaigh Uí Maoildoraigh, King of the Cenél Conaill is buried here.

Drumhome Old Church Graveyard is part of the site of Drumhome monastery, which was founded by the monks of Columcille in the sixth century. The Graveyard is still used as a burial ground.

Illustration of a Viking ship

In the 10th Century the Norsemen or Vikings began raiding and plundering the coastal areas of Ireland travelling along the rivers systems as the Erne and Shannon to attack and plunder such monasteries as Devenish and Clonmacnoise, However by the 11th Century they had settled down somewhat in the coastal areas trading and founding such modern coastal cities as Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Not as well known is that they also founded trading stations at Ath Seanaidh Ballyshannon and Donegal, the latter in the Irish language, Dún nan Gall means the “fort of the foreigners” testifying to its Viking foundation. The Cinél Connaill by and large were content to allow such trading posts and would have exacted a tribute to allow them to continue their trading operations.