Since the inception in 1967 of this now International Festival, most people are aware that the release or the re-release of that beautiful old ballad of the same name gave birth to this event, but few are versed in the history of the events which promoted the local songwriter to pen the words.
Daniel 0'Donnell & Christie Moore Sing "The Mary From Dungloe", live on The Late Late Show
In the townland of Lettercaugh there lived one of the happiest couples in the Rosses - Paddy and Annie Gallagher. Paddy, known locally as Paddy Bhrianigh Rua, whose birthplace was Crickamore , married the former Annie McCole from Loughcather, on Monday, January 5th 1840.
Immediately after the marriage, which was the result of a Fair Day introduction in Dungloe, the couple set up home in Lettercaugh - a distance which allowed Annie to visit her aged parents in Loughcather as often as she wished, on foot.
The young couple worked their small farm well and this was supplemented by a successful grocery business which they found time to operate from a room off their kitchen. In addition to what was described, at the time, as being "comfortable", they were blessed with a healthy family; - Manus, Bridget, Annie (known as Nancy) and Mary.
Mary, who was the youngest, was often described by her school (the local thatch school) friends as beng the most beautiful girl from these parts. With her perfect slim figure, slightly tanned complexion, bright blue eyes and her well attended blonde hair, tied carefully over her shoulders, she was said to have always "stood out". In addition to all this, we are given to understand, that she was all of six feet tall and was always immaculately dressed.
During this period, there were two popular methods of courtship, with a view to marriage. Over the years, both of these had proved to be equally successful.
On the one hand, there existed the practice whereby, if a young man had "set his sights" on a young lady, with whom he felt he might like to share his life, he would, accompanied by at least one friend for moral support , visit her home.
Invariably, such visits took place after dark. On these occasions he who was in search of a wife, would strive to look his best and in his inside pocket he'd carry a bottle.
Now, in the abscence of evidence to suggest what exactly this bottle contained or the colour of its contents, there is, nonetheless, reason to believe that it was a liquid of a strong alcoholic nature.
However, the story goes that after a few drops had been partaken of, the one with the view to marriage would , in a manner of speaking ask her father for "her hand". This was a very succesful method.
The second method was whereby the father who'd be accompanied by his daughter at the local Fair, might well point out and suggest a suitable "husband".
It was on such an occasion that young Mary Gallagher (Mary Phaid' Bhrianigh Rua) was to meet the young man whom she hoped to marry. The story goes that on The Summer's Fair Day (Tuesday June 4th) 1861 in Dungloe, Mary was introduced by her father to, what was described as a handsome young "man of wealth" from the parish of Gweedore. This man, about whose name there is some uncertainty, had just returned from the U.S.A. carrying with him a sufficient money to provide for a wife and home in Ireland.
Often over the next months he visited Mary and was always made to feel welcome by her family. Plans were now at an advanced stage for the wedding which was to take place on the night of Sunday, September 1st of that year. Regrettably, Mary's parents accepted and acted upon the advice of those whom they regarded as their friends and forbade her from proceeding with her plans. Mary, who was shattered, hoped that this would only be a temporary restriction, but, alas her hopes were dashed when her angry parents declared that she must not meet this man again. The "returned" Yank was still deeply in love with Mary and this love was reciprocated. Now, Mary understood the extent of her parents warnings but the Yank felt that all was not lost for he made several trips to Dungloe and outside St. Peter's church he made numerous "knee" pleas to both her parents, but all to no avail. He found life intolerable and decided that he had no real choice but to return to the States. Thus he left the one he loved, carrying with him his wealth, his broken heart and bitter memories together with a "note" from his would be bride, which read:
Friday October 4th 1861
Darling, My parents have been poisoned against you. Please do try and understand; - they believe what they have been told, but, I know and you know it's malicious. I know, only too well how hurt you are and will be, just as I am and will be.
If I were to run away, as you suggested, and believe me
I want to but that which keeps me here, is the fact that
I fully realise how deeply hurt my parents would be.
Out of respect for them both I cannot do this.
God be with you.
Love, now and always.
On the morning of October 6th (two days later) he set sail for the U.S.A.
While Mary must have been heartbroken she bore up quite well, and did not show the least signs, at least outwardly, of any bitterness. We are told that for the remainder of her period in Lettercaugh (which was to be short) she refused to show any interest whatsoever in any of the suitors who were brought to her attention.
By now, her only brother Manus was well settled in Auckland, New Zealand, to where he had emigrated the previous year. Why New Zealand? Most of the 268 adults and 49 children evicted John George Adaire from Glenbeigh in 1860 made their destination New Zealand.
Among these was a family (and possibly cousins of the Gallagher family) who invited Manus to join them there. Manus, together with those who had invited him along, quickly became highly successful in the business of farming and received national publicity on being the first to introduce fertiliser.
Mary had been corresponding with (her brother) Manus and whether the new life in the new land appealed to her, or whether she just wanted to get away we are not certain; but what we are certain of is that she persuaded both her sisters to emigrate with her to New Zealand. Their journey began on Thursday, December 5th, 1861. On the boat to New Zealand, Mary met and later married Donal Egan. Unfortunatley, Mary's life was not long. She gave birth to a baby boy but tragedy struck and Mary died when the baby was only four months old. Her son died too when he was only nine months old.
In Kincasslagh cemetery a neat gravestone marks the burial place of her parents, and the inscription is:
Died Feb 23rd 1862 - aged 40
Local stonemason cum composer Padraig MacCumhaill, (a close friend and neighbour of the Gallaghers and uncle of the renowned Fionn MacCumhaill of Maicin fame), knew the entire history and expressed the Gweedore man's feelings through the words of the now famous ballad "Mary from near Dungloe".
It is respectfully suggested that prior to the recording of a revised version of the above by the Emmet Spiceland band in 1968, that the song was "used" by one Daniel Doyle.
Be that as it may, in April 1968 the then to become celebrated Emmet Spiceland Ballad Group, one of whose members was Donal Lunny, the son of a Ranafast lady, launched the record as we know it in Dungloe. This release could well be described as the foundation stone on which the "Mary from Dungloe" Festival was about to be built.
It would now suffice to say that this marked the beginning of a new "industry" in the Rosses.