[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mullanashee, The Fairy Hilltop

Fergal McGrath Photography

High upon The Fairy Hilltop of Mullanashee in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, The Paupers’ Graveyard is situated. Today you will see St. Anne’s Church on the summit of this picturesque hilltop overlooking the river Erne, the five surrounding counties and out west to the Wild Atlantic Ocean. Its’ mythology and rich history spans thousands of years and holds stories of Fairies, Ancient High Kings, Battles and Burials here in Ireland’s Oldest Town along the Wild Atlantic Way.

In 1847, at the height of the “Great Famine” this land was given by Colonel Thomas Connolly, a local landlord for the burial of the workhouse inmates. It is estimated that at least 1000 victims were buried here during the famine and other workhouse inmates continued to be buried here in the 19th century. No records exist of these people.

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A Pauper’s Burial

The author Henry Caldwell Lipsett, whose family roots were in Main Street Ballyshannon describes in his 1896 novel, “Where the Atlantic Meets the Land” a first hand account of a paupers’ funeral at this site. “A Paupers’ Burial” is the story of a local character “Old Shan”.

Click below to listen to either the Short Version (5 minutes) or the Full Story of “Shan” (14 minutes.




This audio project was funded by The Heritage Council.
Recorded at Edenvella Studios, Kinlough, Co. Leitrim.
Reading by Conan Sweeny.
Music arranged and played by James Mc Namee,
Title; “The Trip to Ballyshannon” Traditional.
Produced by Kevin Lowery, Alan Cooke and Barry Sweeny.

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Famine Times

In 1847, at the height of the Great Famine, there was immense pressure on Ballyshannon Workhouse to find a burial ground for poor people who were dying from famine and disease. Colonel Conolly, a local landlord, had previously given a field beside St Anne’s Church for the burial of victims of the cholera epidemic in 1832. It is estimated that 100 people died locally of cholera and many of them were buried in this field in unmarked graves. Conolly gave the field for burial of the workhouse inmates, and by September 1847 the new graveyard was enclosed, with coffins supplied for the workhouse dead by Mr. Hyland. Mr. Flanagan conveyed the deceased by handcart through the centre of town to the Paupers’ Graveyard, via Bishop Street. In subsequent years the remains were conveyed by horse and cart. Hundreds of people died in the local workhouse in 1847 and heavy casualties continued until the Famine eased somewhat by 1850. Some inmates of the workhouse continued to be buried here later into the 19th century.

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Battles and Burials

Battles and Burials – 10 quick stories

1  This is the burial ground of an ancient mythological High King of Ireland, Aodh Ruadh mac Badhuirn. The famous Assaroe water falls (Eas Ruaidh), where he drowned, was named after him.

2  Ilbreac, “The Spotted one”, was a Fairy King and Druid of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. He lived here circa 200AD.

3  The 4th Century Ulster chieftan, Cana was slain by Conall Gulban nearby and buried in Carn Cana at Mullanashee. The son of Cana, Senach was also beheaded by Conall Gulban at the nearby river crossing or ford. The ford was named Áth Seanaigh in his memory and it is from this that Ballyshannon gets its name Beál Átha Seanaigh.

4  It is recorded that St. Patrick visited Conall Gulban here.

5  In the Battle of Ballyshannon in 1597 English forces used Mullanashee as their base to attack O’Donnells Castle below.

6  A Star Fort was built here around the 1798 period and since then Mullanashee has also been known      locally as The Fort Hill. Remains of these earthen banks are still visible today.

7  The poet William Allingham is buried at St. Anne’s on Mullanashee. He grew up within sight of this fairy hill. It’s no coincidence that one of his most famous poems is called The Fairies. (“Up the airy mountain…”)

8  The author Caldwell H. Lipsett, whose family roots were in Main Street, Ballyshannon,  described in his novel “Where the Atlantic Meets the Land” (1896) how, on arrival at Bishop Street,  the coffins were strapped with ropes at the stile and then dragged up the steep hill to the Paupers’ Graveyard.

9  In 1940 the last person to be interred here was a Chinese sailor, Chu Ning Lai, who was washed up at Creevy during the Second World War.

10  Ballyshannon Workhouse is visible from Mullanashee directly across the river behind St. Joseph’s Church. A Famine Orphan Memorial is open to the public there.

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