Templecrone.  An Interesting Donegal Parish. The Irish Monthly, Vol. 58, No. 683 (May, 1930), pp. 258-260. Published by Irish Jesuit Province.

Look at the map of Donegal and study the physical features of the districts which lies, secluded and remote, between Gweedore and Gweebarra on the North-West coast, fringed with the islands. This is the parish of Templecrone, more familiar to the modern ears as “The Rosses”.

The Island of Tory raises its grey crags and giant cliffs away to the North-East, while Arranmore looks defiantly seawards, the largest island on the Donegal coast, high-turreted, long and lone. The long stretch of bog and moorland, mountain and plain on the mainland opposite is Templecrone. It is a district of a scattered population, having a topographical character peculiarly its own. Grey granite boulders obtrude their massive proportions like the bones of some pre-historic giant, and rocky peninsula raise their heads serenely above the storm. A deeply indented coastline of magnificent grandeur presents itself and numerous islands of surpassing beauty adorn the rugged coast.

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The Rosses coastline sheltered by majestic Arranmore

Templecrone takes its name from St Crone, a contemporary of St Columbkille, who built a monastery in the sixth century some three miles south-west of the present town of Dungloe, the metropolis of the Rosses. Her feast occurs on the 7th July, and the Fair of Dungloe, held on the 4th July, is known as “Aonach na Féile Cróine,” from association with the Saint. Michael O’Clery has the following entry in his “Martyrology of Donegal’ concerning the Saint: “Little Cróine, Virgin, from Teampall Cróine in Tír Chonaill; she was of the race of Conall Gulban, son of Niall.”

The great St. Columbkille knew the district and loved it well. The beauty of its rugged coast and the majestic grandeur of the mountains which surround it must have appealed with particular force and charm to his poetic nature. Templecrone has always been associated with the Saint, and from Columban days even to the present, “Columbkille’s Blessing on the Rosses” has been piously recited in the vernacular with the beauty of phrase and picturesque diction. Nothing could better describe the physical character of the Rosses than the phrase-not half expressive in English as in its Gaelic original-occuring in his “Beannacht” on the district: “…O Rosses of wild heath and many white strands.”  Standing on any of the numerous eminences of this remote and rugged land the eye can sweep a vista of silvery strands upon which white-foamed breakers fall in the sullen roar.

The recent destruction of the fine old parish church at Kincasslagh, for generations the ecclesiastical centre of Templecrone, has excited an interest in this remote Gaelic-speaking parish of Raphoe.

chapel 1927

The first church erected at Kincasslagh was built in 1786; the church recently destroyed by fire was erected by the late Father Dan O’Donnell in 1856. Father Dan O’Donnell, whose death occurred in 1879, is still affectionately remembered in the Rosses by the older generation.

On the Island of Cruit, opposite the parish church of Kincasslagh, are two holy wells dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St Brigid, respectively, and a Shrine dedicated to the memory of St Francis. There are evidences of some monastic remains here, and there is a strong local tradition, supported by the researches of the late Very Rev. Dr. Maguire in his “History of the Diocese of Raphoe,” that the Franciscan Friars had a monastery in Cruit Island in pre-Reformation days, disappearing probably with dispersal of the Franciscan Order from the Monastery of Donegal in the seventeenth century.

Two at least of the vessels of the Spanish Armada were wrecked on the rocky coast of Templecrone in 1588-one at Mullaghderg and another at Port an Chaisleáin, near Burtonport. The ships recorded as wrecked here were the Baron d’Amburg and La Trinidad Valencia, and the remains of these vessels have frequently been seen at low ebb embedded in the sands at both Mullaghderg and Port an Chaisleáin. It is asserted, more or less vindictively, in the State Papers of the period, that a thousand of the sons of Spain lost their lives on the rocks and strands of Templecrone, but this statement is obviously much exaggerated.  Many of them were rescued from the angry waves by the O’Donnells and O’Boyles of the Rosses, and sent back in safety to their native land after that ill-fated expedition which strewed our Western and North-Western shores with the corpes of many of the bravest and noblest of the sons of Spain.

Dr. John O’Donovan, who visited the Rosses in 1835, has much interesting and informative material appertaining to the district in his Letters, which are now deposited in the Ordnance Survey Office, Phoenix Park, Dublin. There are occasional references to the territory of Teampall Cróine in the “Annals of the Four Masters,” and in O’Donovan’s notes appended thereto.

A holy well at Calhame, in Lower Templecrone, associated with St. Dubhthach, is mentioned in Manus O’Donnell’s “Life of Columbkille.”

Rannyhual Holy Well
Holy Well dedicated to Saint Dubhthach recorded by Manus O’Donnell in the 16th century

 

It is interesting to note that Manus O’Donnell, one of the heroes of the ’98 period, was of Rosses extraction, and that James Napper Tandy landed at Inis Mhic an Dhuirn, now called Rutland Island, off Burtonport, in 1798, and thence escaped to France. On the Island of Arranmore is a cave called to this day “Uamhach an Air,” or the Cave of Slaughter, where some seventy persons, natives of the island, were butchered in Cromwellian days, as recorded by O’Connell in his “Memoirs of Ireland, Native and Saxon.”

True to its ancient traditions, Templecrone is a veritable stronghold of the native tongue. It is a district teeming with old-world traditions of a Gaelic past. The Rosses people are homogeneous community, poor, struggling farmers and fishermen, descendants of a heroic race driven to this barren, inhospitable shore after the Defeat of Kinsale. There are memories here which link the golden age in Ireland’s story to the living present-memories stimulating and imperishable.

Written by Eoin Ó Searcaigh as Oilean na Cruite (Cruit Island) in 1930

 

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