day the Kildoney men took on the might of the Crown
Today is the 70th anniversary of a famous occasion in the
history of Ballyshannon, and in the history of fishing in
On 31st July, 1933, the longest-running legal case in the
history of the court system came to an end - and won the
right of local people to fish the Erne. Paddy Donagher,
grandson of one of the men involved, Alex Duncan, has a
look at the case and its background.
In a thatched house in Kildoney, Ballyshannon, during the
mid 1920s, a very brave decision was made by local
fishermen, who agreed to take on the establishment relating
to their fishing rights and the rights of the Irish people
to fish the Erne River. They strongly believed was their
The following is a brief history of the three periods that
relate to the River Erne: (1) The Gaelic Period up to 1603;
(2) The English or Private Ownership (Landlord System) 1603-1933;
(3) The Public Period 1933 onwards.
The River Erne had a countrywide reputation for salmon.
Internationally ODonnell, Chieftain of Donegal, was
known as the King of the Fish. This was because
of the Erne Salmon. When Abbey Assaroe was set up between
1179 and 1184, the monks got important fishing rights on
the Erne from ODonnell, who was the patron of the
Abbey. Fish were plentiful at this time that they were exchanged
for Wine from foreign merchants.
For three hundred years the Kings and Queens of England
through their landlords enjoyed complete control of fishing
rights on the River Erne. Folliot of Ballyshannon held the
rights up until about 1718, when speaker of the Irish House
of Commons William Connolly - who was also a Ballyshannon
man - bought the estate from Folliot. The Moore family had
the rights up until 1933.
Three hundred years is a long time to be told that you cannot
fish in a river that undoubtedly, and in particular during
the Famine years, would have provided more than enough food
for the poor souls in the workhouses in the area.
During 1819, there was a yield of one hundred tonnes of
salmon from the Erne and in the years up until 1881, between
70 and 90 ton per annum were recorded.
Salmon were exported to all the large cities. Prices achieved
were totally prohibitive to local people, with the result
that civil unrest took place in particular during the 1830s.
Reverend Tredennick, who resided in the Glebe house in Kildoney,
invited Scottish fisherman over to operate his fishing boats.
A James Hector, one of the Scotch men, was in charge of
this operation, which met with stiff resistance from the
local people in the area and resulted in many confrontations.
The local fishermen right up until the mid 1920s continued
this resistance. They then got the direction of a brilliant
young solicitor, Frank Gallagher, and their cousins Mr James
Mc Loone, K.C. and Mr Jack Sweeney (who was later responsible
for lodging the documents of appeal against this situation
with the Privy Council, thus being the last solicitor in
Ireland to have carried out this duty.)
A volunteer crew from Kildoney was organised to fish the
Erne. All of these men were good swimmers and they knew
what to expect. This date with destiny was the 3rd June,
The Derry Companys bailiffs in pursuit of the poachers
rammed the fishermens boat, sinking it. This confrontation
signalled the beginning of the longest legal battle in the
history of our court system.
During the case, the court not only examined documents of
title dating back to letters of patents granted by English
Kings and Queens, but even the Brehon Laws and the Magna
Carta were invoked.
When the fishermen won their case in the Supreme Court,
their opponents decided to appeal to the Privy Council.
A special Act was introduced in the Dail overnight ending
the right of Appeal from the Supreme Court to the English
The case created an international legal incident, in that
it caused the Privy Council to set up a judicial committee
to consider if the Irish Government had the power to abrogate
the right of appeal to the Privy Council. The committee
held that under a statute of Westminster dated 1931, it
indeed had such power.
There were great celebrations in Ballyshannon and surrounding
areas when the word arrived that the fishermen had won their
case. A platform was erected at the Mall Quay, and speeches
celebrated the work of solicitor Frank Gallagher and the
fishermen. These celebrated by organising a flotilla of
well-decorated boats that came up the channel to the Mall
Quay in all their splendour, amid the cheering from all
the well wishers on both sides of the river.
So the action that was instigated on or about the 15th February
1927 ended with victory on the 31st July 1933, seventy years
ago, thus opening the River Erne to public use for the first
time in over 300 years.
This case is still referred to as The Kildoney Mens
case, and those men who were brave enough to sign
their names and challenge the night of the British Empire
in the form of their landlords, were Francis Coughlin. Patrick
Coughlin, John Clancy, John Daly, Michael Daly, Alex Duncan,
Richard Davis Jnr, Charles Furey, James Furey, Hugh Gavigan,
John Gavigan, John Gavigan Snr, John Goan, Patrick Goan,
William Goan, Gerald Gillespie, James Gillespie, John Gillespie,
Patrick Gillespie, Gharles Galogley, James Gallogley, Joe
Grimes, Bernard Holand, Patrick Haughey, William Hilley,
James Keenan, Joseph Keenan, Michael Keenan, Michael Kennedy,
William Kennedy, Hugh Mooney, William Morrow (Legs), William
Morrow, John Mullhartagh, Michael Mullhartagh, Alex McCafferty,
John McCafferty, Red John McCafferty, Patrick McCafferty,
Darby McGroarty, Frank McNeely, Tommy McNeely, Tommy McNeely,
Michael McPhelim, William Philips and James Scanlon. The
above named men came from Ballyshannon, Kildoney, Creeby,
St Johns Point and Inver.
To celebrate the 70th Anniversary of this occasion, a ceremony
will take place at the Mall Quay at 5pm on Sunday 14th September,
and will be followed by a lecture by Frank Hayes relating
to the case in Dorrians Hotel on Sunday the 14th September
Farewell to you Kildoney lads, and them that pull an oar.
a lug-sail set, or haul a net, from the Point to Mullaghmore;
From Killybegs to Bold Slieve League, that ocean mountain
Six hundred yards in air aloft, six hundred in the deep;
From Dooran to the Fairy Bridge, and around by Tullan Strand,
Level and long, and white with waves, where gull and curlew
Head out to sea when on your lee the breakers you discern;
Adieu to the billowy coast, and the Winding Banks of Erne.
From William Allinghams The Winding Banks of
Courtesy of the Donegal Democrat