Education News

Exploring 250 Years Of Historical Events In Donegal

A Trek through Time showcases original archives online & in physical format.

An exhibition showcasing the most significant themes and historical events from the past 250 years in Donegal has been set up. Curated by Donegal County Archives, A Trek through Time is available in English and Irish and is part of the annual November Explore Your Archive Campaign.

The exhibition can be viewed both online and in public. Donegal County Council Archivist Niamh Brennan said:

“This exhibition highlights the importance of the County Archives Collection and the relevance of archival sources for the study of local, family and academic history, for all generations.

“The exhibition has been produced to prove how significant our County Archives collection is and how accessible archives in general are, and how they tell stories that matter to everyone in society.”

Original archives such as photographs, letters, official documents, public notices and newspaper articles from the Donegal County Archives Collection are on show. A touring exhibition consists of 12 pull up stands, each based on a collection or theme strongly represented in the County Archives collection.

“It is important to note that the twelve panels of the exhibition do not represent all of the themes reflected in the collections of Donegal County Archives. The panels are however indicative of many of those themes that are historically important and of widespread interest today in the study of the county’s history and culture”, said Ms Brennan.

Themes include: Arts & the Archives; Donegal Grand Jury; The Railways of Co. Donegal; Schools & Schooling in Co. Donegal; The Joseph Murray Collection; The Workhouses of Donegal; The GAA in Co. Donegal; Exotic and Eccentric Donegal; Donegal Archives of Emigration; Maps of Donegal; Elections & the Electorate and Ladies of Donegal.


Bridgend Railway Station, from Railways panel of Exhibition: A Trek through Time.

Ms Brennan added:

“Donegal County Archives has many varied archives in its Collection, of both public and private origin, which reflect the social, economic, political life in the County of Donegal from the 18th century to the late 20th century.”

The purpose of the exhibition is to showcase the variety of interesting and attractive archival collections held by the service and to introduce archival material to as wide an audience as possible, including interested researchers, local people, heritage and history groups, teachers and students and visitors to
the county. It aims to increase awareness of local archives and local history and demonstrate their inherent value.

The Arts and the Archives and Ladies of Donegal panels delve into the world of art and literature. They include captivating and imaginative works of art, from a handwritten 19th century Valentine’s Day poem, 150-yearold, in part, annotated sheet music, comic verse, poems by famous writers including Patrick MacGill, cartoons, nature studies, and drawing room sketches.

Significant moments in Donegal’s national and local history are showcased in the likes of the Maps of Donegal, Exotic & Eccentric Donegal, Donegal Grand Jury and Elections & Electorate panels.


From Elections & the Electoral panel in Exhibition: A Trek through Time.

Speaking about specific examples within these panels, Ms Brennan said:

“The panel Elections & the Electorate displays the names of some of the first women allowed to vote in the country. Themes include War of Independence in Co. Donegal; the panel relating to Vice-Brigadier Joseph Murray consists of archival documents of national significance which disclose the high level of IRA activity in south Donegal, during the War of Independence and leading up to the Civil War.

“The 1804 map of St Patrick’s Purgatory reflects Donegal’s history as a place of pilgrimage. The sketch of Fr James McFadden’s trial for the murder of Constable William Martin in 1889 brings this fascinating true story from west Donegal’s past to life.

“A photo taken in 1899 of the last Donegal Grand Jury outside County House in Lifford is symbolic of a historic shift in power as the more democratically elected local authorities replaced a body comprising wealthy landowners that year.”

The Council Journal asked Ms Brennan what stories grabbed her attention. She mentioned the 1922 Border Pass, a document allowing two members of the Lifford Boyd family cross the bridge from Strabane to Lifford. Ms Brennan noted this document is especially relevant today, in light of a post Brexit scenario, as the border county of Donegal could face the possibility of border controls.

The last years of Donegal Railways and their decline reflect painful memories and ongoing feelings of isolation in Co. Donegal as part of A.M Davies’ black and white photographs.

Ms Brennan concluded:

“The poignancy of archives relating to personal lives is evident in several panels such as The Workhouses of Donegal. Included is a moving request for a blanket from a former inmate of Letterkenny workhouse, in 1865. He asserts that he had worked very hard while being a resident in the workhouse and states:
‘I have nothing to cover me at night’. His request is ‘disallowed’ by Letterkenny Board of Guardians.

“The Donegal Archives of Emigration panel includes a mid 19th century letter from a homesick emigrant. ‘I am very lonely and I would like to see you all’, was James Clarke’s simple but heartbreaking message to his mother.

“A contrasting image is of a ‘golden’ ticket to the 2012 All Ireland Senior Football Final, won by Donegal, symbolic of happiness and joy unbounded in the county after the victory.

“The 1834 Marriage Settlement of Susanna Young and various portraits of the ladies of the Donegal landed gentry displayed in the Ladies panel are indicative of lives of women that were both restrictive and privileged.”


Unknown lady in Ladies panel in Exhibition: A Trek through Time.

The online version of A Trek through Time can be viewed in pdf format on the Council Archives website while the physical exhibition is touring to libraries, community and heritage centres, and public service centres. Donegal County Archives is part of the Cultural Services Division of Donegal County Council.

The Archives Service’s remit is in place to preserve and make accessible to the public the archival (including written and recorded) heritage of the County of Donegal. It is based in the town of Lifford but is a county wide service, which includes assistance with queries, research facilities, educational programmes and outreach activities.

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