Thursday 19 July 2018

Town your way: Ballyshannon, co Donegal

Former school teacher Anthony Begley and Aileen McCann in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal
Former school teacher Anthony Begley and Aileen McCann in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal

Anita Guidera

Welcome to our new series 'Town Your Way', in which we take an 'up close and personal' look at some less well-known towns around the country through the eyes of the people who live there.

In the first instalment, retired teacher, Anthony Begley (65) and dance student, Aileen McCann (21) chat fondly about their hometown of Ballyshannon, County Donegal.

ANTHONY: 'The sound of music was everywhere'

AILEEN: 'If I go away I miss the beauty of it.'

Anthony Begley's earliest childhood memories are of ringing bells. Today, the 65-year-old father of three is still as besotted by the historic town as he was as a child.

'The town has a lot of bells. We have three churches and on a Sunday morning you would hear the bells going. We also have a town clock and you would hear its bells too. The sound of music was everywhere in my childhood.

"My father was a local vet in the town so I travelled around with him as a youngster and got familiar with the townlands and the history of the place.

"Back then, we had three big days in Ballyshannon every year, the Agricultural Show and the Harvest Fair Day brought town and country together. The Corpus Christi procession in May, which began after the First World War was huge. The streets would be decorated with bunting and you would see little religious shrines at all the houses.

"I suppose the boom time for Ballyshannon was the Erne Hydro Electric Scheme after the Second World War. It prompted a building boom and that spilled over into commercial premises but it wasn't sustained. At its height it employed in the region of 150 people but that is down to 20 or 30 now. "Ballyshannon is very much a historic town. It's very atmospheric. It has lots of old Victorian and Georgian buildings. It has a totally intact workhouse from famine times and would have one of the oldest inhabited barracks, which was built in 1700.

"There is great community spirit here. The cultural heritage is phenomenally strong. I play in a brass and reed band that once led Charles Stewart Parnell into town in the 1800s. We have a musical society that dates back to the beginning of the 1900s.

"We have been having a drama festival every year for over 50 years. There is a folk festival and the Rory Gallagher music festival. GAA is massive: the local club, Aodh Rua does huge work with young people.

In the words of Ballyshannon native, and poet William Allingham, Ballyshannon is "The kindly spot, the friendly town" and that is how those of us who live here would like to think of it."

Anthony, a member of the Donegal Historical Society published his second book on the town, 'Ballyshannon Geneology and History' in 2011 and writes a blog on the town; Ballyshannon musings.blogspot.com.

"I suppose it's home for me but there's no doubt Ballyshannon is steeped in culture and history," he added.

Aileen McCann (21) is now living in Leicester having graduated last year. Her dream is to perform in a dance company and eventually return home to set up her own dance studio or school.

"I've only just finished my studies and am now stepping out into the big wide world."

Moving away from Ballyshannon was a big step for Aileen. "It was tough. I left with €600 in my pocket and had to make it work but while I love the life I have here now it can never replace home. Moving away has shown me how much I really appreciate my town and my county, especially the beauty and surroundings you don't get by living in a city.

"I can't hop in a car and drive for 10 minutes and be at a beach.

"I think the best thing in Ballyshannon is the people. I had a hard life when I was growing up because my mum passed away five years ago so that was a tough one. It was sudden. She had a brain haemorrhage.

"The school and all my friends and family and everyone were so supportive. You could see that my mum was a popular woman, the amount of support that we got.

"It is a beautiful place. People from the city would probably appreciate it more. When I go away I do miss it, the beauty of it.

"As soon as I get back I always want to see has anything new happened.

"The Rory Gallagher Festival is really good craic. I got more into it as I got older.

"I suppose I am a fan. All these bands are singing his songs so they are drilled into our heads.

"For social life you have to go to Bundoran, which is 10 minutes away, that is where the nightclubs are. You would have a few drinks in Ballyshannon first and then head to Bundoran for the night.

"The worst thing was when there was nothing to do. It is quiet. It is a really small town."

Irish Independent

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