Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal
The French sociologist, Gustave de Beaumont, on a trip to Ireland in 1835 and wrote: "I have seen the Indian in his forests, and the Negro in his chains, and thought, as I contemplated their pitiable condition, that I saw the very extreme of human wretchedness; in all countries, more or less, paupers may be discovered; but an entire nation of paupers is what was never seen until it was shown in Ireland."
Wee Hannah Herrity, born in 1835, was a child of the famine. When her mother died in childbirth, Hannah left her home in Derrykeel, living wherever she could find shelter around Sheephaven Bay. In her late teens, wracked with pain and disease, destitute, starving, she entered the Workhouse at Dunfanaghy.
And here is where Wee Hannah's story continues today, a story of survival in 19th century Donegal, a story of one woman whose courage under the most torturous conditions humbles and touches all who witness the tableaux which recreates parts of her life. Hannah's story was first related to her dear friend, Mrs. Law, who was so impressed with Wee Hannah's fighting spirit and kind nature that she asked for an interview. Told in her own words, the story is recounted at the Dunfanaghy Heritage Centre and Workhouse exhibition in a series of three tableaux with lifelike wax replicas of Wee Hannah at various stages of her life. In the darkened rooms that house the sets, only a single light shines...the light on Wee Hannah's wizened, weathered, but precious face.
The Workhouse, once a place of cruel degradation, is now surrounded by a beautiful wildlife sanctuary along the coastal village at the base of the Horn Head Peninsula. Along with Wee Hannah's touching story are other exhibitions of local artworks and handicrafts and a fine coffee shop and bookstore.
For the Irish of long ago, the Workhouse was the last resort in a desperate battle for survival. But today, those who venture into the Workhouse, will find a variety of Ireland group vacation activities, lessons on social history, and special classes in art and traditional crafts...a far cry from the days of yesteryear...and something that would surely bring a smile to Wee Hannah's face.
Hours: Monday thru Saturday 10:00 - 5:00 (mid September to June).
Adults €4.50 Families €11.00
Children €2.00 Students €3.00
How to get there:
From Dublin: N2/A5 through Omagh to Lifford. Then N14/13 to Letterkenny. N56 N to Dunfanaghy (about 15 miles)
From Belfast: A6 to Derry, then N13 to Letterkenny, then N56 15 miles to Dunfangahy.
The Dunfanaghy Workhouse and Heritage Centre
Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal
T: 074 913 6540
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007