Summer School 2013

On June 4, 2013 by admin


Thursday, June 13

John Hegarty: The Battle of Binion @ The Coffee Cup
A most interesting discovery was made 2 years ago about the somewhat mislaid location of the battle of Binion in 1557 as John Hegarty read John O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey letters of Donegal. The passages which startled him, concerning the hill he knows so well and on which, he thought, the battle had taken place, are as follows:
On August 23, 1835 John O’Donovan wrote to Thomas Larcom from Buncrana:
“I traversed the summit of Beinnin very carefully with a view to discover the vetusta munitio mentioned by O’Sullevan as situated on it, but after the minutest search I was obliged to come to the conclusion that O’Sullevan threw in this, as well as many other phrases, to adorn his style!
His words are:
Inisoniam invadit (O’Donnellus) ubi Cathirii facto magnam armentorum vim Binnine loco natura et vetusta munitione munita claudunt.
O’Donnell invades Inishowen, where at Binneen, a place fortified by nature as well as by an ancient fortress the fraction of Cahir had enclosed a great number of cattle.
The place is certainly very strongly fortified by nature but there is no trace nor tradition to prove that there ever was a fortress (even an earthen fort) on its summit.
Though I was disappointed in not finding a fortress on Beinnin, after having walked some dozen miles in search of it, first in the Barr of Inch and next in the northern extremity of the parish of Clonmany, where it really stands, overhanging the sea, I was affected by various wild emotions when I sat with weary limps and sore toes (omit that phrase) on its summit to view the savage brow of the Mountain Reachtainn, and the extensive heathy wastes stretching far and wide to the South and North and East, and now in the 19th century presenting as uncultivated an aspect as in 1557 when Calvagh O’Donnell by a stratagem formed on the summit of this hill defeated Shane the Proud O’Neill, who attempted not only to reduce Inishowen to his subjection but also Tir-Connell and all Ulster.
And from Raphoe on September 30:
A pretty clear idea of the situation of the Territory of “the Lagan” can be formed from the following passage in the Annals, which I insert here to illustrate that and other places which I have yet to mention.
A.D. 1557. Shane O’Neill (surnamed an Diomais or the Proud) assembled a very numerous army to march into Tir-Connell, viz. all the inhabitants of Oriell, and all the English and Irish from the Strandtown of the son of Buan (Dundalk) to the River Fin. All these crowded to join his standard, and he marched at their head and halted not until he had pitched a camp at Carraig Liath (Carricklea) between the Rivers Fin and Mourne. Here intelligence reached him that the Kinel-Connell had sent away all their cows and herds into the deserts and fastnesses of the country, but he declared that that should be of no avail to them, for that even though they should pass into Leinster or Munster he would pursue them Ever until he should compel them to submit to his jurisdiction, so that there should be but one King in Ulster for the future.
He then marched without delay to Carraig Liath across the Fin, by the side of Raphoe, through the Lagan and halted and encamped by the side of Bally-eye-Keen (now Balleeghan) near the stream that flows from the well of Cówarhagh where the army erected a camp, (more like a fair than a camp) &c.
At this time Calvagh O’Donnell and his son Con were on the summit of Beinnin with a few men, only thirty horsemen, and two companies of Gallowglasses of the Mac Sweenies of Fanaid. As soon as he had heard that Shane had arrived, he despatched two of his trusty friends to watch his motions. (Here a most curious account is given of the cunning of the two spies). The result was, after the return of the spies, “Calvagh ordered his people to arm directly and make a nocturnal attack upon Shane’s Camp. This was done, and the Tir-ownians were defeated &c &c. (as in a former letter).
Now as I have followed Shane in his march through the Lagan I should be well able to point out where these places are. But first of all, I must correct a great error into which I had fallen before I became acquainted with the Lagan, and the places around Raphoe. I allude to a letter written from Carndonagh in Inishowen, in which I stated that Binnion, a remarkable hill in the Parish of Clonmany was the place where Calvagh was then stationed; but at this time I did not know where Bally-eye-keen was situated. There is another very conspicuous hill in the Parish of Teboyne which I visited last Monday, and which I think, from its contiguity to Ballyeeghan, and about 8 Irish miles, must be the Binnion on which Calvagh was encamped and not the Binnion in Inishowen, for the latter is at least 22 miles from Ball-eeghan, and that whole distance was in those roadless days almost impossible (unless they sailed down Lough Swilly which, it appears that they did not). Again, it does not appear probable that Calvagh O’Donnell would be encamped in the wildest and most north western extremity of O‘Doherty‘s Country (and there is no evidence that O’Doherty was not then his enemy). But the strongest argument to prove that the Binnion in Teboyne is the one here alluded to, is that “Calvagh ordered his Gallowglasses to arm directly” for this seems to shew that the enemy was not far distant.
From Carrickeen I proceeded to St. Johnstown, and thence turning a little to the west I soon came within sight of the round head of Binnion, which enchanted me so much as to form a resolution of ascending it, but on arriving at the foot of it I was told that there was nothing to be seen on its top but heath and a Carn of stones set up by the Sappers. In the meantime the clouds closed round, and hid every blue spot on the sky; the rain began to fall in “thoroughly wetting showers which were followed by misty and wind-driven drops so that all the streams and rivers in the country overflowed their banks.” I thought of Shane O’Neill, but consoled myself with the consideration that my visitation of Tir-connell was not a hostile one, and that I had no enemy but the rain.
Mystified by John O’Donovan’s conclusion John Hegarty started to research, visiting the Lagan hill in Teboyne, only to find even less evidence of a fortress nor “deserts and fastnesses” in which to hide vast amounts of cattle, with herds often numbering a few thousands. It also appears that John O’Donovan only presumed that this hill must be Binnion and was called locally the same. Although his usual method but he may not necessarily asked on this occasion. No inquest concerning placenames in this particular area is mentioned in his letters and he also leaves no other clue, apart from his own deduction, as to the source of this name.
Armed with the local knowledge of generations, his grandfather’s home just below the hill, John Hegarty traced the old names of fields and sites on Inishowen’s Binnion and found their origins in battle, defeat and bloodshed. The geography of this hill, when hiding large amounts of cattle from prying eyes, could not be anymore suitable, for within the peaks lies a generous meadow valley, invisible from below, and a stream for watering crossing it.
Last year John Hegarty discovered an ancient track way amongst other features, all of which will require further exploration and research. Heavily overgrown with lush vegetation, much could have been covered by the rich boggy and fast growing soil over more the 4 centuries. And so it seems that the battle of Binnion in 1557, after all, did take place in Inishowen.

Anticipation in the audience

John Hegarty


Under intense scrutiny

John Hegarty making his case

Marie McLaughlin having a good time

John Hegarty expelling last doubts

Validating placenames

Temptations at The Coffee Cup


Wednesday, June 12

A workshop took place this afternoon in our library with the wonderful Niamh Brennan. When it comes to research, everyone will soon discover that there is a jungle of paper out there and guidance vital. As an archivist Niamh Brennan is very capable to provide this assistance and how to get to the information required. She kindly offered to help tracing down the house in which Dr. Walter Bernard lived in Buncrana in his later years. Between 1874 – 1878 he restored the Grianán of Aileach, rescuing the monument from the brink of dilapidation. Since his house might still stand, it would be wonderful to locate it, adding another site to the history of this town.

Niamh Brennan on the right

Our library saw in the evening John Deery with his talk on Wolfe Tone. Some may wonder what Wolfe Tone could have possible have in common with Buncrana or Lough Swilly – only he was captured arriving at the first, coming from the latter in the French vessel La Hoche on October 12, 1798. Tone and 800 French captives were then marched in lines of two by two to Derry. From there he was taken to Dublin, court-martialled on November 10, and sentenced to be hanged on the 12, his request to be treated as a soldier and therefore shot was denied. Local belief has it that the cutting of his throat was in effort of preventing the use of a noose. He died on November 19, apparently as a result of an infection of the self- inflicted wound.
John Deery gave an insight into the life of the man, setting this talk apart from what one would usually expect on this subject. Sadly the outcome of the rebellion was not at all Wolfe Tone had hoped and fought for. The divisions deepened. The idea of united Irishmen is still waiting to be fulfilled to this day.

John Deery

Buncrana Library in the evening light


Tuesday, June 11

A most informative and entertaining evening was provided by our guest speakers Sean O’Sullivan and John McCarter, who equally gave a talk, coming truly from the heart, on their respective subjects. It was a privilege to attend.
Shaun O’Sullivan “The Lough Swilly Lighthouses”
It was genuinely a revelation to be told of the quite significant importance of Lough Swilly through geography and position, most of us never had considered, making it a strategic point of interest and ambitions – an aspect Marie McLaughlin had already highlighted in last Sunday’s talk on the History of Ned’s Point and the fortification of Lough Swilly during the Napoleonic War.
Shaun O’Sullivan had brought with him a small part of his collection of lights, instruments and devises in effort to explain their development and principles of working. He continued with the history of Fanad Head Lighthouse and the lights at Dunree and Buncrana. A wonderful and much appreciated dedication was made on this occasion to our late Peter Gurrie, who single handed saved and restored the latter.
A mentioning was made of Thomas Drummond and his development of the limelight on Slieve Sneachta during the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, which started in 1825.
His passionate and enjoyable talk was finished with a plea to keep lighthouses, putting him in line with all of the seafaring community, from fishing vessel to the largest of cargo ship, that are seen as a beacon of light, a comforting sign of land nearby. And technology, after all, could fail one day.

Shaun O'Sullivan

A few of the instruments

Shaun O’Sullivan in action

Making a point

John McCarter “The History of the RNLI in Inishowen, 1988 – 2013
John McCarter’s talk fitted very well with the previous, since they both consisted of different aspect of safety in and around the treacherous waters of Lough Swilly and the Atlantic. It came as an utter and great surprise to hear that there was no lifeboat and no rescue before the establishment of the Lough Swilly Lifeboat Station in 1988 and any previous attempts were solely based on local fishermen, going after vessels in need on a seasonal basis.
A change to this desperate conditions only came about after Phil Coulter, one of our most famous artists and songwriter, lost his brother in a drowning accident in the 1980’s. He encouraged the RNLI to set up a station on the lough, which then started with a 16 feet long, inflatable trial boat. The first boathouse was allocated, attached to Ned’s Point Fort.
Thankfully, much has changed since, except for the wonderful people involved, who are dedicated to safe the lives of others by putting their own on the line, on call 24 hours each day, 365 days each year and often under the worst conditions. During their 25 years of operation, these volunteers, coming from all walks of life, launched 670 times, rescued 500 people and saved 45 lives. It is humbling indeed that such dedication receives no other funding than the generosity of the people of Inishowen. But is also tells of the huge importance and admiration given to their work.

John McCarter

Photo of the opening of the lifeboat station

Phil Coulter cutting the ribbon

Opening of the new building

With Andrew Garvey-Williams, Adam Porter, Ruth Garvey-Williams and John McCarter

Members of our lifeboat station in the audience

At high speed

The pride of the Swilly

A very lively conversation afterwards with refreshments and much to discuss.
The story of Lough Swilly Lifeboat Station


Monday, June 10

The first of two guided tours at Dunree Fort took place this afternoon in sharpish winds around the rock but still under glorious sunshine. Our guides were John Hegarty for military history and Terry Tedstone for the natural heritage of this area. But being John and Terry, having a tremendous amount of knowledge, each on their own, this went far beyond the advertised. The wealth of information was breathtaking and at least once, visitors to the fort, with its magnificent views, should see it through their eyes with all the stories, memories and experience.

The search light station

John Hegarty (left) ready to start

Dunree Lighthouse

The 'Rock'

Towards Rathmullan

With Terry Tedstone (centre) and John Hegarty (right)

A finding from a recent exercise



Terry Tedstone in his element
Having found a sundew (native insect eating plant)
Website for Dunree Fort:



Sunday, June 9

Talk by Marie McLaughlin about the history of Ned’s Point Fort and the defence system of Lough Swilly during the Napoleonic War, followed by Terence Coyle of Ned’s Point Centre, who spoke about the work carried out so far and the many, truly exciting projects this wonderful location will see in the near future.
Marie McLaughlin & Terence Coyle

Marie McLaughlin & Terence Coyle

Ruth Garvey-Williams, Marie McLaughlin & Terence Coyle

Ruth Garvey-Williams, Marie McLaughlin & Terence Coyle

Terence Coyle

Terence Coyle

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.