Once In Royal David’s City’ is one of the most beautiful of Christmas hymns. Once heard, who can ever forget the perfect voice of a young soloist performing the first verse?
But did you know the woman who wrote it was born in Ireland and spent a lot of her life close to and indeed in Donegal too?
Cecil Frances Alexander (nee Humphreys) was born in 1818 at 55 Eccles Street, Dublin. James Joyce fans will know this street because of course 7 Eccles Street was the home of Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.
Her family moved to County Wicklow and lived there until Frances was 11 when they moved to Strabane in County Tyrone, just over the border from Donegal.
She began writing verse as a child and by the 1840s when she was still in her twenties, she was known as a hymn writer and had her works included in Church of Ireland hymnbooks. She was a prolific writer and ultimately wrote approximately 400 hymns over the course of her life.
She was a much admired talent and indeed the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Mark Twain were admirers of her works.
Frances lived with her family in a property called ‘Milltown House’ in Strabane which is now Strabane Grammar School. It was in Strabane that she married an Anglican clergyman called William Alexander who later became the Bishop of Derry and then Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.
They lived for time in Fahan, County Donegal in the early days of the marriage.
Frances raised funds for various charities throughout her life including donating the money from her first publications to help build the ‘Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Strabane’ which was founded in 1846 and later renamed the ‘Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Institution for the Deaf and Dumb’. Frances and her sister Anne taught deaf children too. In 1856 the Institution was destroyed by fire and sadly, six children perished in the fire. There is a memorial to these lost children in the cemetery in Strabane.
THE DONEGAL CONNECTION
Apart from Frances at one time living in Fahan, County Donegal for a time there is another Donegal connection.
Frances’ husband, Dr. William Alexander who was born in Derry and became Lord Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, consecrated St. Augustine’s Church in Derry on the 11th of June 1872. This small church is just beside the City Walls which earned it its nickname, ‘The Wee Church on the Walls’.
This church is built on the ground where previously stood a monastery built by Donegal’s saint, Colmcille (Columba) who was born in 521 AD at Gartan, County Donegal. Built it in 543 AD , it was his first monastery in Ireland.
Colmcille’s cousin who was King of Cenel Conail, Aed, gave him the site in Derry. Colmcille loved nature and the site had many oak trees which he did not want to harm to build his monastery so instead he found a clearing and it was there the monastery was built.
In order to fit his monastery into this clearing Colmcille had to build it running north/south rather than the usual east/west and indeed the present day St. Augustine’s keeps this footprint. Incidentally, the gaelic or Irish for oak is doire which is where Derry got its name because the oak wooded area where Colmcille built his monastery was known as ‘Doire Cholm Cille “Colmcille’s oak wood”.
Frances had many verses and hymns published but probably the best known of her hymns is ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful. Another of her works is ‘There Is A Green Hill Far Away’.
A year or so after Frances penned the words to ‘Once In Royal David’s City’, they were discovered by an English organist named Henry John Gauntlett who set them to music and the hymn we all know today was born.
Frances died in the Bishops Palace in Derry in 1895 and is buried with her husband in their family plot in Derry City Cemetery.
ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID'S CITY
Each year, since 1919, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has used ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ as its opening carol and you can listen to it by clicking HERE.
Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed:
Mary was that Mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all,
And his shelter was a stable,
And his cradle was a stall:
With the poor and mean and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.
And through all his wondrous childhood
Day by day like us he grew,
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us he knew:
And he feeleth for our sadness,
And he shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see him
Through his own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And he leads his children on
To the place where he is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall we see him: but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high,
Where like stars his children crowned,
All in white shall wait around.
We are currently having a run of superb weather in Donegal at the moment. Our many sandy beaches are being enjoyed and photographed showing Donegal to be almost tropical across the net. Why would people not want to visit this fantastic county?
Donegal is generally not visited for the weather. Yes, we can have excellent weather but we take that as a bonus. Donegal is special for many more reasons, the people, the craic, the food but at the top of the list, the scenery.
We have stunning scenery at every turn. Wander along any road and there will be many times you want to stop to take in the view. The views remain the same, spring, summer, autumn and winter. Yes, of course the seasons lend different colour pallets to the scenery but ultimately the scenery remains the same, beautiful.
If you want to make the absolute best of Donegal why not consider leaving your visit until the end of the year. A weekend in Donegal later in the year, or a week or longer if you can, means you can travel much more easily without the holiday traffic. The most popular tourist spots are more easily accessible with little problem with access or parking.
The magnificent cliffs of Sliabh Liag become even more vibrant with an autumnal cloak. The sandy beaches give bracing walks, breathing in the fresh and salty sea air made all the better without the frustration of having to find a parking space or even maybe a bit of a trek to get the beach. You have miles of sand in some case where you can sit, perhaps the only person on the beach. It is heavenly.
The eateries are not so packed and you can take your time to enjoy the special foods of Donegal, perhaps some fresh seafood or maybe homemade bakes. There is little like a refreshing walk on a beach followed by a rest in a little café with fresh coffee and a homemade bun. Or perhaps on a colder day, a bowl of homemade soup.
Accommodation will be cheaper out of season and if shopping is vital to you on any trip away, the shops are not as busy and there are maybe even end of season bargains to be had.
Some attractions may indeed be closed for the winter but you can still view them from outside. Doe Castle is beautiful just to look at from outside. Fanad Lighthouse remains an eye-catching monument to our coastal county. Our woods remain open and some offer beautifully laid out walks through them when later in the year the colours change from vibrant green to the golden colour so autumn.
Speaking of colours, we have amazing sunsets in Donegal and these can be even more spectacular in the skies of the colder months. Artists and photographers will relish in the cloudscapes and the colours that a sky dark with rainfall colours the landscape.
And at the end of any day, there is always the craic to be had in a small pub where if you are lucky a roaring turf fire welcomes you in from the chilly night. You may arrive on a night where local musicians gather for a night of traditional music. A pint of Guinness or a hot whiskey in front of a turf fire would be a special memory to carry home with you.
Sure, come to us in the summer but why not try to make a return, more relaxed journey later in the year? Or, as above, leave your visit until the autumn or winter. Your enjoyment will be no less and maybe even much more.
The small selection of photographs below show how beautiful Donegal skies can be in the autumn, winter and spring months. Misty hill, the boats sparkling in Killybegs harbour on a winters night, rainbows and double rainbows, and glorious sunsets.
Every month and season offers something special but for me, May in Donegal is extra special.
Placed as it is on the tail end of spring and on the cusp of summer, the month of May seems to capture the best of those two seasons.
The hedgerows are bursting with flowers, the vibrant yellow of gorse in full bloom can be seen all over the hills, and the blackthorn is in full bud just waiting blossom.
Fields and bankings are covered with primroses, daisies, buttercups, mayflowers, and many other tiny flowers. Bees are buzzing, gathering pollen from these flowers. Indeed they are so busy, they scarcely notice a camera getting up close to them.
In the fields too new life is all around. Sheep, cows, horses and goats are nurturing their young in the warmth of the May sunshine.
And as we drove around last Sunday, I spotted a duck with just one little duckling following her along a little stream in the Bluestack Mountains. It was frustrating that I didn't get to photograph them but just seeing them was special.
I am currently waiting to see cygnets and given the amount of swans we have in Donegal, I am hopeful of being able to photograph them at sometime this month.
Perched up on a banking the other day, taking shots of buttercups and daisies, a scent hit me that I had not smelled for years. Wild garlic. I followed my nose until I found the source of the scent and there under some overgrowth I spotted the delicate little flowers of the garlic plant.
I'd love to have pulled some but I am against taking things from their place, maybe another reason I love photography: I can 'take' what I see without ever doing any damage ... take only memories (and photos!), leave only footprints.
In May a couple of years ago, driving towards Donegal Town from Rossnowlagh I saw a field full of Shetland ponies, so of course had to pull over and climb up the path to their field to photograph them.
Once there I was delighted to see a tiny foal. It really was the cutest thing, almost like a toy rather than an actual animal. They were a very curious bunch of ponies and came dashing over to the fence to me to pet.
One of the prettiest young animals I have ever seen is a little Spanish donkey. Not, I know, something one would expect to see in Donegal but a couple in Letterkenny owned it and were happy to allow me to photograph it.
He was all long legs and huge, gentle dark eyes. And the fur on his long ears was the softest imaginable. I would happily have taken him home with me!
I was lucky enough to see a pair of goat kids and even more lucky to get this shot of them where they almost posed for the shot.
They were in a field at the foot of Sliabh Liag (Slieve League), the highest seacliffs in Europe. They weren't a bit bashful and happily ambled about in front of me giving me lots of time to photograph them.
Of course it's not all sunshine and blue skies in May but the rainfall is softer than earlier in the year so it never seems so bad.
I took this photo of apple blossom, which is currently in bloom, and I rather like the effect of the tiny drops of rain on the petals.
So, there we are, a glimpse of the month of May in Donegal.
NOTE: This post was first published back in May 2010 on an old blog we had. We will be reviving more of these old posts in the future too.
Although the English novelist Jane Austen never married, scholars debate about a man called Tom Lefroy and that perhaps he had a relationship with Jane. Whether they did or not, and given she said to one her nieces, Fanny “"Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection” so perhaps she didn’t love him enough to take the plunge. I mention it however because Tom Lefroy was an Irishman so had they married, she may have gone before her three nieces who lived in Ireland. Was that a convoluted link to the crux of this article and Jane’s connection to Donegal, Ireland? Perhaps.
At any rate, after Jane’s father died in 1805 the family encountered financial insecurity and had no permanent residence until her brother Edward let them live in his cottage in Chawton, East Hampshire, England. It is here Jane wrote, or at least completed, all six of her novels.
Edward Austen Knight, who added the last name Knight to his name in 1812 so that he could legally inherit from his father's weathy childless cousins who had adopted him in 1783 at the age of 16, was the brother of Jane Austen and father of Cassandra, Louisa and Marianne.
The first of Jane’s nieces, and the youngest daughter of Edward Knight, to move to Ireland was Cassandra (Cass) who was named after her maternal grandmother. She married the landlord George Hill, formally Lord George Hill, on the 2st of October 1834, and they lived in Gortlee House, Letterkenny, where Cassandra gave birth to four children: Norah in 1835, Arthur in 1837, Augustus in 1839 and her last child, Cassandra in 1842. She died of puerperal fever just three days after giving birth to Cassandra.
Cassandra Hill (Lady George Hill) is buried in the Church of Ireland, Conwal Parish, graveyard in Letterkenny. To find her grave simply go in the main gate to the church and graveyard and to the left of the church you will see a grave with railing around it at the front of that section of the graveyard and that is Cassandra’s grave (and later her husband’s too).
Following her death, two of her brothers, George and Charles, and her older sister Lousia (Lou) visited their brother-in-law in Donegal and after her brothers returned home, Louisa remained to care for her late sister’s young children.
After five years Louisa married her brother in law, George Hill, on the 11th of May 1847. In 1949 Louisa gave birth at the age of 44 to her only child, George. Louisa, George and their blended family lived near the village of Ramelton, in’Ballyare House. George Hill would die in Ballyare House in 1879.
In her later years, a third sister, Marianne (May), came to live in Donegal with her sister Louisa. The Donegal air was obviously good for her as she lived into her 95th year.
Marianne and Louisa are buried side by side in a graveyard on a hill just about one mile from from Ballyare House. The graveyard is called Tully Graveyard and sits at the end of a long road from Ballyare (Ballyarr). There is no church beside it, just the two graveyards. If you visit it to see their graves, go into the old graveyard (there is a new one opened just before it). Once inside the old gate walk a few steps up a slight incline and look half way down the graveyard to your right. There you will see two stone crosses beside an old stone wall which mark their graves.
Louisa’s gravestone reads:
“In loving memory of Louisa wife of Lord George August ....... Hill of Ballyare and Gweedore who died 29th July 1889 in her 85th year”
And Marianne’s reads:
“ In loving memory of Marianne Knight third daughter of the late Edward Knight Esq of Godmersham Park, Kent who died in her 95th year at Ballyare House Dec 4th 1896”
George Hill, husband of the two sisters Cassandra and Louisa is buried beside his first wife, Cassandra, in Letterkenny.
And there my blog post would have ended but for the fact that I came across a woman called Karen Ievers who had an amazing Jane Austen related find on ebay and it is that amazing find that allows me to have the photographs of the Austen nieces (and their family members) used here. You can read about Karen's amazing find HERE.
Some of Karen's amazing finds:
Sandra's Run would normally take place on the first Saturday of July but has been postponed this year because of COVID 19 and will now take place on Saturday the 8th of August. In the meantime, for the 4th of July which would have been the run, we give you some memories of previous Sandra's Runs with some of our own photographs and some kindly shared with us by many of the bikers who take part.
Sandra's Run 2017
Sandra's Run 2017 ~ Gweebarra Bridge
Sandra's Run 2017 ~ The Homecoming (into Killybegs)
Valentine was a priest who was martyred on the 14th of February and as with other saints, that date is his feast day.
He lived in Rome, Italy in the 3rd century and was persecuted and finally martyred because he defended and continued to marry Christian couples. He was beaten to death and beheaded and his skull is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
Part of his remains (relics) now lie in Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin. Throughout the year they lie below the statue of St. Valentine at his altar there but for the days around and on St. Valentine’s Day they are exposed which means his casket is on display at the front of the church on the altar.
Couples who are soon to marry come to the church on St. Valentine’s day to have their wedding rings blessed and when we were there I noticed a book on the altar of St. Valentine where people write their wishes.
I started to read the words written there but stopped when I read something written by a mother praying for a good and loving wife for her son. It felt intrusive and far too personal for me to be reading so I have no idea what other wished are written there but I assume they wish for love for themselves and/or their loved ones.
But how did the partial remains of St. Valentine end up in Ireland?
They are there because of an Irish Carmelite and philanthropist, John Spratt (1797-1871), who travelled to and spoke in Rome in 1835. He was widely lauded there and received many gifts, the most important being a casket given to him by Pope Gregory XVI containing some of the remains of St. Valentine including a vial of his blood.
St. Valentine’s remains arrived in Dublin on the 10th of November 1836 and were taken in procession through the streets of Dublin to the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street. Following the death of John Spratt in 1871 interest in the relics faded and they went into storage until they were found during renovations of the church in the 1950s/60s
An altar to St. Valentine was built and a life size statue of him created by Irish artist, Irene Broe (1923-1992).
His remains were placed in their sealed casket below his altar with an iron gate to protect them. They are inside a black and gold wooden box and the casket in which they sit has never had its seal broken and remains intact to this day.
So there you go, you now know why St. Valentine’s (partial) remains can be found in Dublin, Ireland. You might also like to know that not only is St. Valentine the patron saint of lovers, he is also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy and the plague!
LETTERKENNY ARTISAN MARKET
The Artisan Market takes place in Letterkenny each Saturday between 10am and 3pm and is certainly worth a trip.
It's a great place to while away an hour or two, wandering between stalls of local produce and local crafts, enjoy delicious hot food and coffee and homemade cakes.
There’s something for everyone.
Grab a coffee from ‘Calista’ on the way in and wander round the stalls sampling on some and taking in the delicious aromas on another. There is an extensive meats stall and a farm produce stall with organically grown vegetables from Ballyholey Farm. There’s goats cheese and gluten free cupcakes and pancakes too, which although I didn’t try, look fantastic. If you are looking for wheatgrass then you can buy the wheatgrass or take a short cut and buy frozen shots of wheatgrass. You can even buy flavoured kefir drinks and vinegars.
Local crafts are varied and offer a great selection of both gifts for family and friends and treats for yourself too. There’s ‘That Small Change’ where you can buy rings, cufflinks, golf ball markers and so on all made from Irish coins. Kate, the designer there also makes gifts from wood too. There are artists with art works and homemade cards, and homemade candles which make great table centres and gifts. There’s jewellery and a small selection of home interior furnishing too.
There is a seating area where you can sit and enjoy some of the foods available. I tried Effie B’s jerk chicken as I have never tried jerk chicken before and I can report it was delicious. I also tried her jollof rice and spicy fried rice too, I preferred the jollof, my husband the spicy fried rice and if you want it spiced up a notch just ask Effie B to add more spice and she will.
You can buy homemade soups and pancakes too. The chocolate pancakes seemed to be a big hit with the kids (and speaking of kids, there’s a play area for them with toys and sofas). There are homemade cakes and buns including gluten free cakes.
LETTERKENNY ARTISAN MARKET, SATURDAY 28th OCTOBER 2017
Tomorrow, Saturday the 28th of October, Letterkenny Artisan Market is the location for the Highland Radio outside broadcast unit and later there will be a live band playing to entertain everyone.
As it is Halloween weekend there will be some fun things for the kids too.
So if you haven't been to Letterkenny Artisan Market before, go along tomorrow and enjoy the atmosphere and the craic to be had there.
Letterkenny Artistan Market, Carrygawley, Letterkenny
Every Saturday 10am - 3pm
Disabled loos: Yes. And all the market is on the groundfloor too.
WeLoveDonegal bring you a film clip of the bikers taking part in 'Sandra's Run' on Saturday, 1st of July 2017. It was very windy!!!
Do you eat your oysters naked too?
There really is no other way to enjoy an oyster or six.
As in no Tabasco, no lemon juice, nothing ... yes, it’s the oyster that should be naked not the eater. Well unless you fancy eating the oysters naked in your birthday suit but that’s a whole different type of site. Here on We Love Donegal we keep it pure, like our oysters.
Bikers left Killybegs on Saturday morning last (1st July 2017) in rain and mist to begin the annual 'Sandra's Run' but they returned home to Killybegs to dry weather and even a little sunshine pushing through. Here are the photographs of the homecoming.
Note: All photographs here are the property of WeLoveDonegal.com but full resolution copies can be purchased and will be emailed to you on payment of €10 to Jim or Rosaleen Boyle for 'Sandra's Run'.
(Photographs and film of their journey over Gweebara Bridge will be added later).
We Love Donegal
We Love Donegal is a site dedicated to bring the beauty of County Donegal on the north west coast of Ireland to the world.