Catsup and Waistcoatings
Salmon leap where the River Clady flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s early evening in Ireland’s smallest harbour and the last of the fishermen are tying up their boats. Up on the high street, Milky Chance’s Living in A Haze is blasting from Caife Kitty’s just before closing. A winding lane connects the harbour up to the village. At the village end of the lane past the hilltop lookout tower there’s a petite Anglican church and hall on one side and a cemetery on the other. Alastair Rowan writes in his 1979 Buildings of North West Ulster, “Gweedore Parish Church: tiny tower and hall built as a dual purpose church and school in 1844. Restored as a church only in 1914, when the tower was added. Miniature two light Tudor windows in wood.” The standalone hall was built at the same time as the church restoration.
Séamus and Ann Kennedy run The Clady bed and breakfast. Like most of the buildings at the harbour, it was erected by Lord George Augustus Hill. This Anglo Irish landlord gets a mixed reception from locals to this day, from educating the populace to ripping them off with rent hikes. The Clady was the manager’s house of the adjoining store. Seamus’ family once owned the whole block. The store was sold to a hotel developer last century but nothing came of it. The grain store opposite is also a bed and breakfast. So are the former soldiers’ cottagey quarters. Another lookout tower on top of a hill overlooking the harbour has been extended to form a new house. Harry Percival Swan writes in Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal, 1965, “’World’s smallest harbour’: this claim has been made for the small harbour of Sark, Channel Islands. But Bunbeg Harbour, Gweedore, is a toy by comparison.”
Lord Hill published a didactic travel guide in 1846: Facts from Gweedore with Useful Hints to Donegal Tourists. It contains a wealth of detail – his Lordship did the granular. “In the year 1838, and subsequently, Lord George Augustus Hill purchased small properties, situated at Gweedore, in the parish of Tullaghobegly, County Donegal, which in aggregate amounted to upwards of 23,000 acres; the number of inhabitants therein being about 3,000; nearly 700 of whom paid rent. The district extends for some miles along the northwest coast or corner of Ireland, and the scenery is of the very wildest description; the Atlantic dashing along those shores in all its magnificent freshness, whilst the harsh screeching of the sea fowl is its continual and suitable accompaniment. The coast is studded with numerous little islands, and when the ocean is up, or ruffled, it may be seen striking against opposing headlands or precipitous cliffs, with a force and effect that is grand beyond description; the waves forming into a column of foam, which is driven to immense height, and remaining visible for many seconds, until the feathered spray becomes gracefully and gradually dispersed.”
“It is now 15 years since Lord George Hill commenced the attempt to ameliorate the condition of the people of the Gweedore district; during which period he has been on the most friendly terms with them; and although the changes made upset all their ancient ways of dealing in, and parcelling out, land, they seemed, very early in the transaction, to have understood that Lord George’s object throughout, was to endeavour to put them in a way of doing better for themselves, and not with a view of taking their land from them, or driving them out of their own country. These innovations, however, alarmed the neighbourhood, and an appeal was made by a tenant to his landlord, ‘Not to bother his tenants as Lord George Hill had done!’”
“The land is never let, sold, or devised by the acre, but by a ‘cow’s grass’. This is a complement of land well understood by the people, being in fact the general standard; and they judge of the dimensions of a holding by its being to the extent, as the case may be, of one, two, or three cow’s grass, although a cow’s grass, as it varies according to the quality of the land, comprises for this reason, a rather indefinite quantity. Thus the townlands are all divided into so many cow’s grass, which of course have been cut up ad infinitum.”
“In 1839, a corn store, 84 feet long by 22 feet wide, having three lofts and a kiln, was built at the port of Bunbeg, capable of containing three or four tons of oats. A quay was formed in front of the store, at which vessels of 200 tons can load or discharge, there being 16 feet of water at the height of the tide. A market was thus established for the grain of the district, the price given for it being much the same as at Letterkenny, six and 20 miles distant. There was much difficulty in getting this store built; even the site of it had to be excavated, by blasting from the solid rock, and there were no masons or carpenters in the country capable of erecting a building of the kind.”
“Lord George Augustus Hill’s store, Bunbeg, Gweedore, is now supplied with the following articles for sale at very reasonable prices: ironmongery, drugs, groceries etc. Awl blades. Beams. Bellows. Bridles. Brushes. Candlesticks. Canvas for sails. Cart chains. Combs of every kind. Delft of all description viz cups and saucers, jugs and mugs, basins, dishes, plates, pots and pans. Files of every kind. Fishing hooks. Fishing lines. Funnels. Glass viz window, looking glasses, bottles. Heel ball. Hemp. Hinges. Iron viz horse shoes, nail rod, hoop, pots and pans, kettles, saucepans. Italian irons. Knitting needles. Knives viz dinner, pocket. Leather of all kinds. Locks of all kinds. Nails of all kinds. Oakum. Plaster of Paris. Pickles. Raisins. Rice. Rhubarb. Redwood. Rotten stone. Resin. Slates in variety. Sugar viz moist, loaf, candy, barley. Molasses. Manna. Nutmeg. Oils viz boiled, raw, sperm, castor. Ointment. Paints viz black, white, green, red. Pitch. Pepper viz cayenne, black, white. Plasters viz blistering, adhesive, diachylon, cantharides. Salt. Saltpetre. Senna. Shumac. Spermaceti. Spirits of hartshorn. Spirits of turpentine. Sulphur. Tar. Teas viz bohea, congou, hyson. Treacle. Turmeric. Umber. Varnish. Vinegar. Whiting. Barley. Scotch. Biscuits. Coffee. Flour viz American, Sligo. Split peas. Bath brick. Blacking. Blue stone. Candles. Congreve matches. Soap. Soda. Starch. Mustard. Tobacco of all kinds. Tobacco pipes. Servant’s friend. Account books. Children’s books. India rubber. Ink. Lead pencils. Sealing wax. Writing paper. Wafers. Reaping hooks. Ropes, new and old. Sandpaper. Shoes. Shoe heels. Shoe hairs. Shovels and spades. Shot. Spouting. Timber. Wheelbarrows. Allspice. Alum. Arrow root. Bitter aloes. Brimstone. Camphor. Carraway seeds. Cassia liquor. Catsup. Cinnamon. Cloves. Comfits. Copperas. Cream of tartar. Epsom salts. Fuller’s Earth. Fustic. Ginger. Glue. Indigo. Madder. Lozenges viz peppermint, cinnamon. Liquorice. Logwood. Blacklead. Lampblack. Lint. Meal. Woollen and drapery goods viz rugs, quilts, sheets, drawers, flannels. Calicos plain and printed. Moleskins. Fustians. Cords. Chambray. Checks. Shirting. Merinos. Orleans cloth. Jeans. Handkerchiefs. Muslins. Shawls. Laces. Ribbons. Hats. Caps. Pilot cloths. Waistcoatings. Stocks. Unions. Cravats. Bodkins. Tapes. Threads. Pins and needles. Cottons. Buttons. Twist. Sewing silk. Spools. Pipings. Stay laces. Scissors. Thimbles. Knives.”
On a wall in the staircase lobby of The Clady is a framed 2018 article from The Guardian newspaper by the late great journalist Henry McDonald. “Mornings in Donegal can be so beautiful they take the breath away. National Geographic Traveller concluded at the start of December that Donegal was the ‘coolest place on the planet’ to visit. The magazine predicted big things for a county often overshadowed by better known counties such as Kerry, and cities such as Dublin. 10 miles west of Killybegs – on the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal strip that runs for 1,600 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard – the narrow coast road passes homes where sheep wander into front gardens. There are stunning vistas of rugged, bucolic coastal inlets. In the 6th century, Irish monks sailed from here to take Christianity to Iceland.” Donegal continues to inspire writers down the ages. And disco boys too.