Dungannon soprano and harpist, Gemma Prince

Dungannon soprano and harpist Gemma Prince performed some of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies at St Macartan’s Cathedral Clogher. “Sing, Sweet Harp” provided a fine opening to the 25th annual William Carleton Society Summer School. The school director Aidan Fee introduced Gemma, with a talk on Moore. Cathedral organist Diane Whittaker provided the music at the start and finish of the performance.



Jack Johnston, President William Carleton Society, at the Blue Bridge Emyvale  Photo: Michael Fisher

William Carleton’s ‘Blue Bridge’ across the Mountain Water at Inishdevlin outside Emyvale was one of the points of note on a 5m walk this afternoon organised by the Clogher Valley Ramblers. It started and finished in Emyvale village, with cups of tea beforehand and afterwards at John’s Plaice.

William Carleton, a leading Irish writer of the 19thC came originally from the Clogher area. He wrote about life’s experiences and as he used to walk from his relatives’ house at Derrygola to Glennan for his education at the hedge school there (beside Glennan chapel). He always rested at the Blue Bridge. He has written in his Autobiography about its beauty and about the famous Fair of Emyvale.


Mountain Water at Inishdevlin near Emyvale Photo: Michael Fisher

The Emyvale Development Association organised a festival under the Banner of the Fair of Emyvale for a number of years while money was being raised for the Emyvale Leisure Centre.  On Sunday, August 4th 2013 during the annual summer school, all came alive again as Michael Fisher, Director of the William Carleton Society, unveiled a Plaque commemorating William Carleton’s connections with the Blue Bridge.

This event was organised by Emyvale Development Association. In 1997, Monaghan County Council in conjunction with Emyvale Development Association erected a Plaque on the Bridge but weather conditions eventually rotted the  plaque backing and it came away from the wall. A new Plaque was prepared and is now in place.


Clogher Valley Ramblers at the Blue Bridge, Emyvale Photo: Michael Fisher



Michael Fisher in Tyrone GAA jacket borrowed at the secret training location in Co. Wicklow

EXCLUSIVE! A New Year exclusive from fisherbelfast news! I have been on a secret mission today and have been shown the mountain hideaway where the Tyrone GAA senior footballers have begun training since St Stephen’s Day in their mission to win the Sam Maguire Cup. I am under strict instructions not to reveal the exact location in case of infiltration by spies from Kerry and Dublin. A full report will however be provided on request for Monaghan GAA whose supporters accompanied me this afternoon on an 8km walk in the pouring-rain.


Section of the Wicklow Way from Glenmalure to Moyne

The two hour trek led along the Wicklow Way up a mountain, Slieve Maan. But in the pouring rain and wind there was in the end no evidence of a Red Hand. The only one in sight was on the jacket I borrowed from the legendary Frank Quinn from Pomeroy. He even leaves copies of his beautiful Sam Maguire book with his photos of historic places such as Knockmany and Carleton’s cottage as an inspiration for all who make their way for wilderness adventures to deepest Wicklow, not far from the Glen of Imaal where the Irish army trains.


Sam Maguire book edited and with photos by Frank Quinn

Asked to compare his native ground around the Sperrins with the likes of Lugnaquilla, Mr Quinn, whose adventures to the Antarctic Circle featured in the Irish News a few years ago, replied: “sure the Sperrins are wee buns compared to the landscape we have here!!” Memories of the 1798 rebellion all around. So be prepared for a new wave of Tyrone football as the McKenna Cup gets underway in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen whether Wicklow GAA footballers will head Northwards for their training…….!


Sam Maguire Cup at Knockmany near Augher Photo: Copyright Frank Quinn

Update: Obviously this extra training over New Year at the secret location in County Wicklow has already paid dividends for the Tyrone team. Their first outing in the Dr McKenna Cup was on Sunday (3rd January) and this was the result at St Enda’s Park in Omagh:

Tyrone 3-17 Queens University 0-11  





Gabriel D’Arcy, Chief Executive of newly formed LacPatrick Co-op and Aidan McCabe, Dairy Adviser, with the new LacPatrick logo Photo: © Michael Fisher

34,000 views for fisherbelfast news in 2015

The announcement of the new LacPatrick Co-Op in July was my most viewed story with 537 hits. It was written for the Northern Standard in Monaghan. I am delighted to know that 2015 was a record year for my blog with 34,000 views in different parts of the world, especially the UK, Ireland and the US. This is significant because I blogged only for seven months, publishing 212 posts until the end of July. I will now have to re-assess whether to resume blogging in 2016. The great thing is that many of the articles I posted since 2013 are being read. So a big THANK YOU to anyone who has taken the time to click on any of my stories and I wish all readers a Happy New Year. The full statistics can be seen here thanks to WordPress.


Holy Well, Carrickmacross   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Holy Well, Carrickmacross Photo: © Michael Fisher

Walk Around Carrickmacross

Northern Standard Carrickmacross News Thursday 28th June


Holy Well, Carrickmacross   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Holy Well, Carrickmacross Photo: © Michael Fisher

Leaving the Fever Hospital, the walk route proceeds from the Shercock Road and turns back towards the town towards Mullinary Street, formerly known as Penny Street as it is close to Penny Bridge. The name was formally changed by referendum in 1956. At the footpath on the right hand side (heading towards town) there was a holy well, the site of which is marked by a large stone. The inscription on the stone contains a cross with the sign ‘IHS’ (a symbol for Jesus) at the top. It proclaims that this water supply was erected by EPS (EP Shirley, the landlord) in the year of 1876. There is also a Bible quotation from John, chapter 4:

“Who drinks hereat shall thirst again

But waters are in store

So pure so deep that all who will

May drink and thirst no more”.

The well was covered in and was replaced by a pump, which now forms an attractive part of the annual Tidy Town display.

Penny Bridge, Carrickmacross   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Penny Bridge, Carrickmacross Photo: © Michael Fisher

Nearby a stone marks the site of what was once the Penny Bridge on one of the entrances to the town. It got its name from the one penny cost of the toll that used to be charged for those using the bridge over the river that feeds into Lough na Glack. According to Henderson’s Carrickmacross directory for 1856, boot and shoemaker Patrick Tumelty had a premises at the Penny Bridge and other members of the Tumelty clann were in the same trade at Main Street and Monaghan Street.


Alicia Ehrecke, Inver College, Carrickmacross  Photo: HotPress

Alicia Ehrecke, Inver College, Carrickmacross Photo: HotPress

A 17 year-old secondary school student from Inver College in Carrickmacross Alicia Ehrecke has been shortlisted for the Hot Press ‘Write Here, Write Now’ short story award. The top prize is an internship with the Dublin-based magazine later this year. The overall winners will also receive a €250 cash prize, a Certificate of Achievement from WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW and a Toshiba Click Mini and Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse. They’ll also have their winning entry published in a special issue of Hot Press, a significant achievement that will greatly enhance the CV of any young writer.

Each of the 22 winners will receive a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, an invaluable tool for students and creative types. The overall winner will be announced tomorrow. Alicia comes from Cottbus, a university city in Brandenburg, near Berlin in Germany. Until 1990 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the area was part of the GDR (East Germany).

Alicia is among forty students who have made the final list from thousands of entries. She has been studying at Inver College since the end of August last year. She says she is looking forward to returning home on Friday after her eight months stay, hosted by a local family. During her time in County Monaghan, her parents came over to Ireland on holiday with her older brother and two younger sisters and they went on tour for a week, taking in Dublin, Galway, Donegal and the Giant’s Causeway.

Roddy Doyle heads the panel of judges who will decide the winners. The public can also have their say by looking at the shortlisted entries including Alicia’s and voting online at for the ‘Write Here Write Now’ Readers Award.

Over the years, Hot Press has nurtured some of Ireland’s finest creative talent in music, literature, writing and journalism. Now, as part of a celebration of one of the great modern Irish sagas – The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle –  Hot Press, in association with the One City, One Book Festival, has uncovered the very best new, student writing talent in the country. The competition is supported by the Dublin City Libraries, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Eason and Microsoft Office 365.

The judging panel consists of Man Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle, IMPAC Award winner Kevin Barry, Rooney Prize winner Claire Kilroy, Hot Press editor Niall Stokes and composer / songwriter Julie Feeney.

“There was a huge level of interest in the competition, with thousands of entries pouring in,” Hot Press editor and chairman of the judging panel, Niall Stokes said. “It was really tough narrowing this tsunami down to a shortlist, but that’s what you have to do. In the final analysis, all of the judges were in agreement that the quality of the shortlisted entries was extraordinarily high, and that we have uncovered some remarkable young Irish writing talent. Everyone who is on the shortlist has good reason to feel very proud, as indeed do the schools and colleges in County Monaghan. In that sense, they are all winners”. 

Roddy Doyle himself has commented that some of those shortlisted are “frighteningly good – surprising, sharp, sometimes chilling, confident.” On the evidence of the shortlisted entries, Ireland is teeming with young people with real writing talent.

For his three novels, Roddy Doyle invented a suburb on the north side of Dublin and called it Barrytown. The challenge for students, in this unique writing competition, was to create, in a similar way, an imaginary new place, as the location for a piece of creative writing; to set the scene; describe the surroundings; create a sense of the environment and its people; to capture the language they use; to tell enough of a story to draw readers in and to evoke the special qualities, or atmosphere, of the students’ imaginatively constructed local area. They did just that – and with aplomb!


Mary O'Donnell listens to Dr James Heaney Photo © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Donnell listens to Dr James Heaney Photo © Michael Fisher

Monaghan poet Mary O’Donnell’s new collection of poetry, ‘Those April Fevers’ (Arc Publications), was launched last week at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin. Dr James Heaney, a lecturer in English at Carlow College, introduced the poems and Mary herself read some of them. Chair of the Centre’s Board Liz McManus welcomed guests to the event. Among the attendance were a number of supporters of the William Carleton Society Summer School (two of them patrons) and several poets.



Grave of William Carleton at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Grave of William Carleton at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin Photo: © Michael Fisher

This is the 146th anniversary of the death of the leading 19thC Irish author William Carleton on January 30th 1869. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin. I left a small floral tribute at his grave there recently.

JJ Slattery oil portrait of William Carleton in National Gallery of Ireland

JJ Slattery oil portrait of William Carleton in National Gallery of Ireland


Peter Carr: The Big Wind

Peter Carr: The Big Wind

175 years ago tonight a storm blew over Ireland, much like the weather we are experiencing at the moment. The night of the ‘Big Wind’ has been documented by Peter Carr in his book published by White Row Press, Dundonald, in 1993. In August 2011 Peter gave a talk on the subject at the William Carleton summer school in Clogher.

Peter Carr at William Carleton summer school 2011 Photo: © Michael Fisher

Peter Carr at William Carleton summer school 2011 Photo: © Michael Fisher

This is a description of the night of January 6th 1839 in County Monaghan, taken from two local newspapers, the Northern Standard and the Anglo-Celt. These sources were used in a compilation by Jonathan A. Smyth for the website


On the night of Sunday last the storm which ravaged the kingdom, was felt severely in the town of Monaghan. About half past eleven o’clock the gale which had been gradually increasing for some time swelled into a most terrific hurricane and about 3am on Monday morning, the power of air rushing from the south-west bore everything before it with resist-less force. The slates and roofing of several houses were born upon the raging element as if they were leaves upon the breeze, and the cowering and terrified inhabitants looked upon the devastation [sic] with arms palsied with fear, and in trembling awe looked to the Almighty dispenser of all things, for an abatement of the fury of the winds of heaven. To add to the horror of the scene, a fire burst forth from the chimney of Mr John Murray’s, Church-square, and the sparks and flame were dashed upon the roofs of several thatched houses which occupy one side of the Diamond. For upwards of one hour the flue, which, we believe, had not been swept for a length of time, threw forth masses of fire which were hurled by the tempest to a great distance and occasioned much additional alarm, but thank God no more evil result followed. The fire burnt itself out, and the roofs of the houses on which the sparks had fallen were so saturated with wet from the rain and snow which had fallen on the previous days that they were immediately extinguished. However, several dwellings present to the view a frightful wreck; many chimnies were injured and we regret to say that three of the small spires which ornamented our beautiful church, were thrown from their bases and broken to pieces. The amount of damage done in the neighbourhood is enormous. The farm yards are a melancholy spectacle; hay, straw, oats, wheat and barley have been in almost every instance heaped together in a dreadful confusion; turf-ricks have been tosseed [sic] to a distance scarcely credible, and much of the fine old timber which graced the domains of the nobility and gentry of our neighbourhood, had been torn up by the roots. The beautiful plantation in the demesne of Mrs Leslie, of Glasslough, has been suffered to a great extent, and the residence of Edward Lucas, Esq., of Castleshane, M.P., has severely felt the force of the storm. The memory of the oldest inhabitants of this country cannot furnish us an instance of such devastation in so limited a period — and not to storm alone are many of the injuries to be attributed — fire has, in sundry places, lent its aid to the terrible destruction. In Glasslough, a small town within five miles of Monaghan, eight houses were burned to the ground, and their inhabitants driven houseless into the streets; but it affords no pleasure, amidst the recital of so much calamity, to be able to state that no human being was deprived of life. In Killalea, between Glasslough and Armagh, great havoc has been commited [sic] by the combined elements of destruction. The town of Clones, from its elevated position, felt the full force of the tempest; and Ballybay, Castleblayney, and Carrickmacross have had many houses rendered untenantable (sic.). Several carts, laden with pork, etc. coming from the direction of Clones to our market, on Monday were compelled to return, in consequence of the numerous impediments on the roads, caused by fallen trees.–Several families in Middleton have been deprived of the shelter of a roof, and are at present trespassing on the kindness of their neighbours for a home and a screen from the inclemency of the weather which still continues very severe. Aughnacloy, a small town in the county Tyrone, and ten miles from Monaghan presents a melancholy picture of destruction–several houses were unroofed, and some totally in ruins. Within about two miles of the last mentioned place a poor man was killed while endeavouring to rescue his family from the ruins of his once comfortable dwelling. A woman was killed in the neighbourhood of Glentubret (Clontibret?), but the particulars of the case have not yet reached us. The Belfast and Enniskillen Mail which should have arrived here at one o’clock on Monday morning, did not reach until 10am. This vehicle was upset at Shantly, near this town, and Patrick Mar, the driver’s thigh received a compound fracture, under which the poor man has been since suffering. The Dublin and Derry Mail did not arrive here until 7 o’clock, three hours after its appointed time–indeed few, if any, of the coaches have been able to reach their destination at the appointed time, in consequence of the severity of the weather. Every hour brings tidings of fresh disasters; and the accounts from the sea coasts which we copy from our contemporaries are truly frightful.Extracts are printed courtesy of The Anglo-Celt and The Northern Standard.

For more background on the night of the storm, see the feature “Oídhche na gaoithe moiré” or “The night of the big wind” in The Meteo Times (TMT).

“When the nation woke up to a snowy winter wonderland on the morning of the 6th January 1839, little did they know that dawning upon them was a day that would bring forth one the most exceptional and violent storms ever to hit Ireland, writes TMT’s Patrick Gordon.
“Poor people ended up on the roads ‘the vault of heaven their only roof’Peter Carr
Peter Carr aptly describes it in his book ‘The Big Wind’ – The Story of the Legendary Big Wind of 1839, Ireland’s Greatest Natural Disaster’:-
 “The tranquility of the morning seemed almost unearthly”.  This ethereal calm continued into the afternoon.   As one observer noted “There was something awful in the dark stillness of that winter day, for there was no sunlight coming through the thick, motionless clouds that hung over the earth”.
A notable temperature rise was observed over the length and breadth of the country as a warm front moved across the country during the afternoon ‘by as much as 10F at Phoenix Park’ (Carr, 1991)…..
Equally harrowing reports of that terrible night can be found from across the length and breadth of Ireland as shown from a contemporary account in the Tuam Herald:
  • Armagh: Many houses stripped of their roofs
  • Athlone: Storm continued with unabated fury from 11pm ‘til 3.30am.  One of the hardest hit areas with much loss of life
  • Ballinasloe: Much devastation, with great woods felled.
  • Ballyshannon: Great destruction of property and livelihoods.
  • Belfast: A violent westerly bring death and destruction.
  • Birr: One boy and three females killed
  • Carlow: Serious injury reported but escaped the worst of the winds
  • Carrickfergus:  Tree in graveyard uprooted forcing many of the dead to the surface.
  • Carrick-on-Shannon: The produce of the harvest lies scattered over the whole countryside.
  • Castlebar: Widespread damage with few houses left unscathed.
  • Coonagh: 3 killed in storm
  • Derry: Visited by a storm of extraordinary violence
  • Co.Down. Much damage but escapes relatively well.
  • Drogheda: Never within the memory of man has this town and neighbourhood been visited with such an awful storm.
  • Dublin: The metropolis was, on Sunday night, visited by a hurricane such as the oldest inhabitants cannot remember.  Two known deaths as a result.
  • Ennis: Scene of terrible calamity.
  • Galway: At least 7 dead.  Men, women and children screaming, crying with raw terror.
  • Gort: Total devastation. One of the worst hit areas
  • Kilkenny: Many houses burned down during the storm.
  • Killarny: Hurricane raged with terrible fury
  • Kinsale: Destruction is not so terrible, as far as we can learn
  • Co Laois: The destruction of trees is prodigious.
  • Limerick: Badly hit. Lightning and wind made for an awesome sight.
  • Longford: Barely a house left standing
  • Loughrea: Devastated.
  • Mullingar: Suffered severely-to the utter ruin of its inhabitants.
  • Roscommon: These immense plains have been swept through by a fury.
  • Sligo: To give a full description of the devastation would be morally impossible.
  • Tralee: Hurricane reaps disaster.
  • Waterford: Visited by the most terrific storm ever remembered   (from Patrick Gordon’s article).


St Salvator's Glaslough Baptismal Font  Photo: © Michael Fisher

St Salvator’s Glaslough Baptismal Font Photo: © Michael Fisher

St Salvator’s Church of Ireland church beside Castle Leslie in Glaslough, County Monaghan, was the wonderful setting for ‘A Winter’s Tale’ performed on Monday night (23rd December) by Donagh Community Choir under the musical direction of Eithne McCord from Aughnacloy. The church built by Bishop John Leslie in 1763 and improved in 1890-96 became famous when it was the setting in June 2002 for the marriage (since dissolved) of the former Beatle Paul McCartney and Linda Mills.

Organist Glenn Moore  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Organist Glenn Moore Photo: © Michael Fisher

The organist was beautifully played by Glenn Moore, Director of Music at St Macartin’s Cathedral in Enniskillen. Glenn is a native of Kesh and has been playing the organ and leading the choir at Ardess Parish Church, his home parish, for over 18 years. He has played the organ for various services and has given recitals at numerous churches throughout the Diocese of Clogher and beyond. He has been organist for special services that have taken place in Clogher Cathedral. Whilst a pupil at Portora in Enniskillen he was taught the organ by former Cathedral Organist, Billy McBride.

Harpist Liz McGuinness  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Harpist Liz McGuinness Photo: © Michael Fisher

I was delighted to see that the harpist accompanying the organ so well for some of the songs was Liz McGuinness from Milltown, Monaghan who reminded me that she had organised arts events at the Castle many years ago, with David Norris among the guests. Liz was at the opening of the Garage theatre earlier this month. In September I met her at Connolly station in Dublin when she was one of the invited guests and interviewees during the RTÉ Big Music Week. We took the train to Newbridge and then Carlow, serenaded en route by the Bugle Babes who have been singing during the past week for Christmas shoppers at the Brown Thomas store in Grafton Street, Dublin.

Precentor Noel Regan  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Precentor Noel Regan Photo: © Michael Fisher

One of the guests at the service introduced by the Reverend Betty Thompson was the Precentor of St Macartan’s Cathedral in Clogher, Canon Noel Regan. A native of Sligo, he has become a member and good supporter of the William Carleton Society and summer school. In October he preached at the harvest service at Errigal Truagh church, where Eithne McCord and the Donagh choir performed along with Blackwater Voice in a carol service three Sundays ago.

Service at St Salvator's Glaslough  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Service at St Salvator’s Glaslough Photo: © Michael Fisher

Samantha Leslie read a Christmas poem ‘It started with a Baby’. Afterwards she opened the Castle to guests who were treated to mulled wine and mince pies. The conservatory and surrounding area had been beautifully lit and the Christmas lights also looked well. Donagh Community Choir received a grant from the reconciliation fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I think the late Brian Earls, a Carletonian and a former diplomat who died in July, would have been very pleased to hear that. A few years ago after the William Carleton summer school I brought him to St Salvator’s church and Diane who happened to be there at the time kindly showed us inside. That was the only other occasion I have been in this church with which the Leslie family has been associated for 250 years.

St Salvator's Glaslough  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

St Salvator’s Glaslough Photo: © Michael Fisher