The O’Duggans in Modern Times

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In the 19th and the 20th centuries the greatest concentration of the name Duggan is to be found in Claregalway and in the environs of Galway city.

In the census of 1841 there were 43 families of Duggans listed for the townland of Móinteach (Claregalway) and 14 years later according to Griffith’s Valuation of 1855, having endured the devastations of the great famine, there were still 30 householders there. There is no reliable record of how they came here but they certainly brought the tradition of scribe and filí along with them.

While researching material for this history I had the good fortune to come upon an article in Galway History and Society. This article was by William Mahon who then lectured in Celtic Studies at the University of Wales. The title of it is ’Scríobhaithe Lámhscríbhiní Gaeilge i n’Gaillimh 1700-1900′ (Gaelic Handwriting Scribes from Galway), and it is in the Irish language.

Amongst the many writers listed in this article there are three by the name of Duggan. The following details are recorded:

Irish Folklore Department No. 245 songs by William Duggan, Claregalway 1864.

Irish Folklore Department No. 1381 pages 1-19 songs by Malachy Duggan Kiltrogue, Claregalway.

Irish Folklore Department No. 196 songs by Thomas ‘Bacach Ó’Dubhagáin 1848-1853

The Folklore Departments referred to above are at The National University of Ireland, Dublin.

The writings of Thomas Bacach (lame) were known as ‘Leabhar Thomaisín’ extended to some 53 pages and were written in broadsheet style. This style of broadsheet or printing rather than the usual handwriting was prevalent in this area up until the 1920s. An example of this type of writing may be seen in a facsimile of a leaflet containing the poem ‘A Lamentation of the Parish of Annaghdown’ which appears on page 12 of Seanchas Thomáis Laighlis . Thomas Bacach was a schoolteacher in Claregalway and it is ironic that while he was writing his compositions in Gaelic he was forbidden by the school authorities to teach Irish to his pupils.

As regards the nurturing and continuation of this tradition of Gaelic composition and writing, an interview with Chiarán Bairéad, folklore collector, recorded in 1952, is of special interest. It says that Beartlaí Óg (young Bartley) had a copy of ‘Leabhar Thomaisín‘ in his possession and that Peadar Patch Peadar (Peter Duggan) from Móinteach, who had changed to Kiltrogue, also had a copy. The person being interviewed said that he remembered being present when Bartley and Peadar were making the copies, Peadar reading from the original and Bartley writing it down. This took place during the long winter nights and it extended over at least two winters.

It is amazing that these scribes kept up the tradition of composing and writing at a time when the Gaelic language and culture was at its lowest with no reward for their labours and especially under the conditions in which they lived, as tenant farmers, never far removed from want and famine.

Reference has already been made, in my previous article, to Risteárd Ó’Dubhagáin of Menlo in connection with the oral tradition.

Tomas O’Broin who recorded the seanchas of Risteárd Ó’Dubhagáin and which he compiled in book form in 1955 entitled ‘Bailiúchán Seanchais ó Gaillimh’ (Seanchas Collection from Galway), says in his introduction to the book:

The storyteller, Richard Duggan (1860-1947) was born and spent his life in the village of Menlo, a short distance from the city of Galway, near the delta formed by the River Corrib as it emerges from the lough of the same name. It is a typical hamlet of the last century, a jumbled collection of forty or fifty cottages set in beautiful scenery. The villagers own the two large islands at the southern tip of the lough, and frequently use row boats for travel and for transport of hay and peat. Although situated on the outskirts of a town, Menlo is a thoroughly Gaelic speaking village.

This, as well as the traditional bias of the inhabitants generally, is probably due to the fact that until quite recently, they were an unusually close-knit self-contained community, proud of their origins and history. Nowhere did the Menlo people show their initiative and independence more than in the variety and fullness of their social life. Old folk, non-native as well as native, claim that the seasonal celebrations, wakes and weddings in the village were always on a more elaborate scale than elsewhere. But the most notable feature of its kind was the ‘visiting house ‘in winter. All who loved good conversation and storytelling gathered there to entertain and be entertained. The qualifications of a good storyteller were many and varied. Not only were long and complex tales considered a necessary attainment but the audience expected him to show ability in disputation and adroitness in repartee. Even passive members of the audience memorised many of the tales, but those who aspired to the title of storyteller had to devote much time and attention to their apprenticeship so as to acquire in addition the fluent and expressive style of the masters. Richard Duggan was the last of the Menlo men who deliberately cultivated the art of storytelling, although he always said that he ‘wouldn’t hold a candle’ to the people from whom he heard his lore’.

It is noteworthy that in both Menlo and Móinteach, which was closely connected by the river, the system of landholding was according to the rundale system which had it’s origins in the old Gaelic clan system. So it would seem that the Duggans of Móinteach  and Menlo held on to and cultivated the Gaelic way of life and culture down through the centuries despite being uprooted from their homelands and driven into the bogs.

Another notable member of the Duggan clan was Most Rev. Patrick Duggan (1813-96) Bishop of Clonfert. Dr Duggan was born in Cummer, Archdiocese of Tuam, on November 10th 1813. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1841 and appointed curate of the parish of Kilmoylan and Cummer. On the death of the parish priest, Cannon Canavan, he became parish priest and was in charge of the parish until he was elevated to the Bishopric on 14th January 1872. The period of his priesthood in Cummer coincided with the famine years and he was conspicuous amongst the clergy for his exertions in helping the sick and poor. He was a zealous supporter of the Tenant Rights Movement and Home Rule. ln a by-election which was called for the county in 1872, Dr Duggan, now Bishop of Clonfert, organised support for Captain J.P. Nolan who was favourably disposed towards tenant rights.

Nolan was elected but lost his seat on the grounds of undue clerical influence and Dr Duggan was brought to trial along with others before the Court of Common Pleas, but the case collapsed and he was acquitted. He died on August 15th 1896 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

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About this record

Written by Eugene Duggan

Published here 06 Dec 2023 and originally published Spring 2004

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