Chapter 1 – From Out of Donegal… The Towns & Villages of Our Ancestral Home

Gortahork, Ards Beg, Meenlaragh & Killult: Parish of Tullaghobegly, County Donegal

Our family came to live in Australia from the far North-West region of Ireland. The corner we Coyles hail from is an area where the legend states that we should “Never forget the Bloody Forelands”.

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In this part of Donegal County the land is comprised of imposing hills that meet rough cleaved bays and a soil that is not much more than a skin of peat. It is tough land but beautiful in its’ coarse and alluring nature.

Tucked behind the huge, sandy tidal bay lays Gortahork (Gort an Choice – in Gaelic means “the Field of Oats”). Gortahork was the central town for worship and gathering, particularly at the weddings and baptisms that took place in the Old St. Marys Church. In the areas surrounding the long sandy, tidal bay can be found the villages of Ards Beg, Killult and Meenlaragh. All are integral to the story of how the Coyles came to Australia in the 1880’s.

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The faith of the people had a great deal to do with our family arriving on the shores of the great South Land. The area is strong in its’ Catholic community and the Church also supported the people in their time of need. It was the legendary Father Mcfadden who opposed the landlords and instigated the funds by which many more of the sons and daughters of the poor could emigate overseas. Our Coyle Clan gathered with the Connaghans & McFaddens of Meenlaragh, the Currans & Duggans Of Killult and the Cannons & Doughertys of Ards Beg. They celebrated their baptisms & marriages at the church at Old St. Mary’s Church at Gortahork, and so it was here that they planned a better life for their sons & daughters.

The following historical photos are demonstrate how central their church was to the faithful of Tullaghobegly Parish.

Image The church building and new graveyard are very prominent in these shots of the construction of the main road to Ards Beg & Meenlaragh.

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The Town, the Land-owners homes and the Church Graveyard are now well establishedImage

That same Main Street, as it is today – coming out of Gortahork towards Ards Beg & MeenlaraghImage

gortahork main road crop

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A quote by Reverend Father Hugh McFadden – addressing the establishment of the Donegal Relief Fund in 1858

“The districts (nearby) are the bleakest and most mountainous in Donegal or in Ireland. The entire surface is broken up by huge, abrupt, and irregular hills of granite, covered with a texture of stunted heath, while the space between is but a shaking and spongy marsh. The inhabitants of these wilds are all Celts of the ‘pure old race, with the pure old faith,’ who cultivate small patches of arable land along the shore or claddagh on which their wretched cabins are built, and subsist principally by rearing stock and grazing sheep on the steep sides of their mountains and in their hollow glens. The increase of their flocks they sold to meet the landlord’s rent, and the other exigencies of life; while of the wool of their sheep they manufactured frieze and tammy as clothing for the male and female members of their families respectively. Thus, from time immemorial, they lived in the enjoyment of these wild mountains, living a most innocent and peaceable rural life, warm and faithful in their friendship while their attachment to the old faith was stronger than death.”

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Within the following pages is mostly historical conjecture as to the reasons why our kin – the Coyles, Currans and Connaghans – decided to leave their homeland.

To set the proper perspective within which our ancestors decided to leave their homes;

a little history is required – of the years prior to their departure….

Continued in Chapter 2…

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 1 – From Out of Donegal… The Towns & Villages of Our Ancestral Home

  1. Can you help me with any info on Henry Nichols & Mary Clyne we r doing our family tree

  2. Does Charles Gallagher feature in your family narratives?

    • jockok says:

      Unfortunately no Gallaghers from the Donegal folk, except a loose connection to the remaining Connaghan family in Meenlaragh. One of the boys that stayed behind married a Gallagher.

      My other O’Keeffe side is rich with Gallaghers but all from Irishtown, Mullingar, Co Westmeath. My GGM was bought out here, to Australia by Michael Gallagher – who founded a prosperous sheep property that later became the suburb of Erindale in Canberra, ACT.

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