The top of Glengesh Pass in County Donegal, Ireland, is breathtaking. Here you’re in one of the most remote corners of the country, sparsely populated, windswept and wild. You’re as likely to hear Gaelic spoken as English, for life hasn’t changed a whole lot over the past hundred years, and the land, the sea and the weather still govern people’s lives, as it once did in the quaint village of Port.
Coming down off the pass leads you to Ardara, famous for its weaving. Take a left and you end up in the holy land of Glencomcille, deep in the Gaeltacht.
As you approach to the now abandoned village of Port the Atlantic is below you.
One of the things this area was famous for was its rope, and the wind gives you a lesson in why.
Lot of cottages in the area date from the 19th century if not before, and were roofed with thatch, held down onto the structure with ropes. If the rope doesn’t hold, you lose the roof. As a result, the rope that these people made to hold their roofs down had to hold and so they developed their own technique: they wove together the boiled roots of fir trees which made an exceptionally strong rope. Ropes that became one of the few commodities that came from Port.
It’s believed that Port was the first maritime port in County Donegal. Trawlers still come in on occasion, but the port, like the village itself, is long since abandoned.
It’s often said it was abandoned during the famine (1845-52) because of lack of food, and probably they left because life was just too damned hard there, out of touch.
And yes, on a regular rainy day you also can see why: there’s a gloom that settles on the now abandoned cottages without roofs, doors and windows. Nothing left now, only stone skeletons.
In 1576 the head of the Clann Ui Bhaoill (the O’Boyle Clan), Tarlach Neill’s daughter Siobhan drowned here. In the Annals of the Four Masters, chronicles of medieval Irish history stored in Trinity College, Dublin, despite a copy can be seen in the museum at the Franciscan Friary Rossnowlagh, they wrote that she had drowned whilst learning to swim in the river that runs into the sea at Port. However this is more like a creek, not a river, and so the alternative explanation of how she drowned seems more likely: that is that she was being forced into an arranged marriage and escaped to Port followed by the man she was to marry. Here he drowned her.
Of course many people left Donegal and the rest of Ireland during and after the famine, but Port is unusual in that a whole village seem to have left. Though the village itself had been abandoned long before, people continued to live here for periods of time long after, but probably those left behind were just too weak to survive and died there, where the scenery is shrouded in mist, the history has been forgotten, but probably the ghosts are still there.
Today there is a slipway there beside the rocky beach and a little bridge over the river. It is very peaceful place to visit to get away from the hustle. You can visit nearby Glencolmcille Folk Village to see how these houses would have looked when they were inhabited.
Images from web – Google Research