Strewn across the table in Paula Smyth’s Ballyliffin home are items that represent hundreds of years of Inishowen history.
A photograph of schoolchildren, some unkempt and without shoes, a school roll book chronicling the names of young girls who lived in the peninsula many years ago and a christening gown passed though generations - each of them with their own unique story to tell.
Paula is sharing these precious family heirlooms with the ‘Journal’ ahead of the 50 year reunion of Crossconnell school, which takes place in July.
She possesses these snapshots of the peninsula in years gone by due to her strong family connections to the school, which closed in 1966 due to government rationalisation.
Paula’s great-grandfather, Bernard Doherty (Randal, known as Master Barney was headmaster at the school until he passed away in 1916.
The headmaster role was then taken over by his son, Randal Doherty. Randal Doherty was Paula’s grandfather - the father of her mother, Maureen. He remained at the school until his untimely death at the age of 43, in 1941.
Randal was married to Agnes and they lived for a time above what is now the ‘Rusty Nail’ pub.
The couple went on to have three daughters, Maureen, Hannah and Eily. They later moved to a cottage in Gaddyduff - since demolished - which was behind a ‘big house.’
Randal’s death at such a young age was very much mourned in the community. In his obituary published in the ‘Derry Journal’, it told how he was “one of the most generous and indefatigable of workers and found time to assist in numerous ways in all parochial affairs.”
He was one of the first Peace Commissioners to be appointed after 1921 and was “tireless in his work for Clonmany Development Committee.
The roll book Paula treasures features the names of Randal’s three daughters, Maureen, Hannah and Eily. Paula believes he may have kept it in his possession for so long as a memento of his treasured girls
As Paula opens the book, name after name of young girls who lived generations before are composed in elegant writing all the way down and across the old pages.
The book dates back to July 1872 and beside each name are the girls’ ages, where they lived and the occupations of their fathers.
They offer a small snapshot into a time and place and into the lives of these young girls who would grow up to inspire and love generations who live here today. They show how some girls didn’t start school until they were 10-years-old. Most of their fathers were farmers and heartbreakingly, some were listed as orphans.
The roll book also depicts a timeline of Irish history. Some fathers of the children were soldiers and the names of the girls were written in English up until 1923. After this and following the establishment of Irish independence, the names were changed and written ‘as Gaeilge.’
As well as the roll book, Paula also owns pictures of the school children in different years. There are around 50 in each picture and they feature both her grandfather and great-grandfather, as well as many smiling faces familiar to local people today.
Paula also has in her possession another beautiful family heirloom - a christening gown from the 1850s. Made in America from raw silk, it was first purchased for the christening of Agnes’ mother Mary O’Connor. Agnes was then christened in it in 1889, followed by her three daughters.
Paula and her three sisters, Mary Agnes, Margaret and Deirdre, were also christened in the delicate gown, which is accompanied by a number of bonnets and cloaks, some hand-made in America and others in Clonmany.
It’s a fascinating insight into times-gone-by in Inishowen and one which will also be celebrated at the Crossconnell school re-union, which takes place on July 29th in the Ballyliffin Hotel.
The organisers are currently trying to source old photographs of the school and its pupils. They are hoping to get one of each family who attended the school. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a school photo and they will all be on display on the night.
If you have any photos or items which you believe may be of use, you are asked to contact Agnes on 0860381209