IIn the words of one of its famous sons, wordsmith William Allingham, Ballyshannon is ‘the kindly spot, the friendly town, where every one is known’.

Visiting the town on a wet, wintry day, the warm welcome we experienced from locals despite the miserable weather proved Allingham’s words to be true.

In O’Reilly’s Fish Centre, Sarah O’Reilly was serving customers with a smile.


Sarah OReilly and Daron McFarlane of OReillys Fish Centre.

Sarah O'Reilly and Daron McFarlane of O'Reilly's Fish Centre.


Owned by her husband, Phillip, she explained that the business has been in his family for around 100 years.

“Philip is a teacher but he’d be in here a lot. He has taken it over now and works with his dad.

“All the fish, a lot of it comes in whole, and they fillet it. It only goes through their hands, so that’s the beauty of the shop – it’s straight from the boat to here,” said Mrs. O’Reilly.

Having lived in Ballyshannon her whole life, Mrs. O’Reilly has seen many changes over the years.

“It used to be a real industrious town, but a lot of that is gone. There used to be a couple of factories, and there were three bakeries at one stage when I was younger, so there’s been a huge change.”

When asked if the bypass has had a big impact on the town, Ms. O’Reilly responded: “I suppose it did, but at the same time, the town was always thronged with traffic, and busy at times.

“People specifically would still come into town for their shop. There used to be a supermarket as well, but we lost that, so we’ve no big supermarket. We have Centra and Spar at the top of the town, which is great.”


Commenting that the town hasn’t necessarily lost footfall, she added: “People will come in to physically shop in Ballyshannon as well.

“What do I love about Ballyshannon? Just the whole area. It’s a lovely place to live; we’re along the coast as well. It’s such a lovely town,” said Mrs. O’Reilly.


Mai Kelly, Allingham Arts Festival Committee Member.

Mai Kelly, Allingham Arts Festival Committee Member.


The line in Allingham’s poem where it says that, in Ballyshannon, “every one is known” started to be realised when we met Mai Kelly, who informed us that she is also part of the O’Reilly family, and was born in the fish shop.

“I love Ballyshannon – it’s in my bones,” she said, going on to recall fond memories of growing up in the town.

“We have memories of the river and the beaches in the area – Creevy, Rossnowlagh, Bundoran; then of course, the neighbours on the street.

“Ballyshannon is a lovely, friendly town. The people are very supportive of everything that happens here – the Rory Gallagher [Festival], the Folk Festival and the Allingham Festival.”

As a committee member of the Allingham Festival, which takes place on the second week of November every year, Mrs. Kelly told us that she enjoys promoting the town as part of the festival.


“Allingham himself is very intrinsic to Ballyshannon. We have his plaque on the bridge, and a plaque on the bank, and his house is still there down The Mall,” she said.

Explaining that the festival has been going more than 20 years thanks to a “hardworking committee”, she said: “It has gone from strength to strength; it’s very busy. People come from all over Ireland to it.

“In fact, we had people from New Zealand this year – descendants from Allingham,” said Mrs. Kelly, adding: “Really and truly, the festival is very diverse. We have music and song, drama. It was a fabulous festival this year.

‘Lots of entertainment’

“We had lots of entertainment for children, with stories, and writing and art. We’re looking for new committee members now,” she added. When asked about the well-loved musician and singer-songwriter Rory Gallagher, who has been honoured in Ballyshannon, not only by the cast and bronze statue of his likeness playing guitar in the main street, but also by the annual Rory Gallagher Festival, Mrs. Kelly noted that he was born in the town, but she doesn’t know how long he lived there.

“He was here quite a while. For his formative years,” she said with a laugh.


Brendan OReilly, Dicey Reillys with a bottle of Chateau Leoville Barton wine.

Brendan O'Reilly, Dicey Reilly's with a bottle of Chateau Leoville Barton wine.


Brendan O’Reilly, owner of Dicey Reilly’s Pub and Off Licence, shed some more light on Gallagher’s Ballyshannon connection.

“He was born at the Rock Hospital on the other side of town, and he was here up to 10 years of age.

When asked about his homeplace, both Mrs. Kelly and Mr. O’Reilly said in unison: “It’s tossed.”

“It was opposite Heaton’s, there was a row of houses there. He got his inspiration from this town for all his songs,” added Mr. O’Reilly with a grin.

Lesser-known than Allingham and Gallagher is Tom Barton – a well-to-do wine merchant who grew up in the Ballyshannon area.

Pointing out the large mural of Barton which is painted above the counter in Dicey O’Reilly’s Off-Licence, Mr. O’Reilly shared his history.

“Tom Barton left this house in 1725. He was married to Margaret Delap, and this was the Delap Estate.

“This whole square,” he said, referring to the area that the Off-Licence is located in, in Ballyshannon.

He explained that Barton’s mother was a Dickson from Ballyshannon, and he was born at an estate near Finn Lough on the edge of the Border.

“This was the local school for everyone in the area in the 1700s, so he came to school in here,” explained Mr. O’Reilly.

Continuing, he noted that Mrs. Dickson had two uncles who were “big merchants” in the town.

“There is the Mall Quay down there [down The Mall]; the ships used to be able to come in before the sand bar built up and they couldn’t get up the estuary.

“The English weren’t getting on with the French, but they still wanted their wine to drink. The Dicksons here kind of stepped in – they were bringing the wine from Bordeaux, bringing it in and doing what they did with it in them days.

“And then they were selling it back over to the English,” he said, adding: “It got really lucrative and big, so Tom and his family went over to France to kind of watch over that end of the wine business.

“He went over there, and then [his son] William got involved, and there’s generations of Bartons.

“I suppose through the generations, what happened was the Bartons became negociants; they would have had a warehouse down at the docks in Bordeaux.

“They would have bought in wine and labelled it, Barton’s own label, and shipped it to here,” said Mr. O’Reilly.

Pointing out the emblem ‘B&G’ which features on the mural, Mr. O’Reilly explained that during different revolutions and wars, Barton and his family had to leave France once for about five years, and left a man called Gustier in charge.

“He could have closed in on it, but he didn’t, so they made him an equal partner and they became B&G wines, as a lot of people would know,” he said, adding: “They always reinvested the money back in Ireland, so they built Strathlene House, which is now The K Club.

“They sold B&G wines to Seagram, which is Diageo now; meanwhile they were always buying private châteaus up in Saint-Julien in Bordeaux over the generations.

“That is where they are based now – in Léoville Barton, which is a château, but any time they are in Ireland doing tastings, they’ll usually call – once every couple of years or so, because they know of the connection here in town,” he said.

Although already famed for being the oldest town in Ireland, Ballyshannon recently made it onto the silver screen as the setting for the dark TV comedy series, ‘Obituary’.

“Every time you’d go into a local coffee shop, like Tête-á-Tête, there was filming in there. You just look around, thinking, ‘I could have been in that’,” laughed Denise Keys, explaining that many locals had roles as extras.


Denise Keys.

Denise Keys.


‘A black comedy’

“The basic storyline is there’s a reporter who is put on writing obituaries, but there’s not enough work for her, so she starts bumping people off. It’s a black comedy.

“The location manager was a local guy from here. They filmed at Murvagh, and they filmed at loads of different [local] places,” she said.

Mr. O’Reilly added: “They scanned all the way from Clare up to here, looking for a location, but they came across Ballyshannon.

“So they had the town; it had a wee bit of an urban vibe, it was coastal, and it had beautiful scenery.”


Sisters, Mary Magee and Helen Danagher.

Sisters, Mary Magee and Helen Danagher.


In the bookshop A Novel Idea, sisters Mary Magee and Helen Danagher were enjoying a spot of shopping.

When asked what she loves about her home town of Ballyshannon, Ms. Danagher said: “Everything!”

She added with a bright smile: “I’m involved in everything; the musicals and that, I’m involved in every group. Anything that’s on, I’m there!”

Across the bridge in Keown Carpets, which has been in business for 30 years, salesman Paul Bannon spoke of the “strong community” in Ballyshannon.

“There’s a good GAA club, good sports clubs. There’s a good arts centre up the road – The Abbey Centre. There’s something for everyone,” he added.


Donna Kelly and Paul Bannon.

Donna Kelly and Paul Bannon.