The following edited address to members of Donegal Historical Society was made at the Old Church, Straid in 1969 by the late Brian Bonner, author and local historian from Culdaff.
“Take off your shoes for the ground you walk on is holy” a verse from the Book of Exodus, is how he began his talk. One of the oldest monastic sites in Inishowen and one of the greatest centres of Columban cult – a training ground for missionaries going from here to Iona and the west of Scotland. When the ecclesiastical reorganisation took place in the12th and 13th centuries, Straid became the centre of the parish which was constituted as Clonmany. It is well to note that the Mass bell rang for a thousand years before the English set foot in Inishowen.
I want you to imagine, Bonner continued, that you are back in the early years of the 17th century that preceded the end of this as a place of Catholic worship. You will be witness to some historic events through the eyes of the people then alive.
Imagine a Sunday morning in 1601 when an t-Athair Ó Muireasán announced to the congregation that their Bishop, Réamonn Ó Gallchóir, had been murdered by the English soldiers in Derry. He had been a familiar figure for thirty years and many adults had been confirmed by him. He had also fought Ireland’s cause and interceded for help in Rome and Spain in those last years of Gaelic Ireland. What a shock it must have been for the people of Clonmany to hear of his violent death!
Imagine another Sunday Mass in the autumn of the following year 1602. News had just come through from a trading ship from Spain that Red Hugh (Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill) had died there. To us who only know his name in history he is a very dim figure but he was a really living person to the people present. All the able-bodied men in the congregation had fought under him and they had been inspired by his leadership in the Nine Years War (1594-1603). In a brilliant series of battles he had defeated the English but they won the last one at Kinsale and thereby won the war which brought an end to Gaelic Ireland. His death in Spain from poisoning would have been another great shock for the Mass goers on that morning.
A Sunday in 1608 is the third momentous event we hear about – the rebellion of Cahir Ó Dochartaigh. He had driven the English from Culmore, burned Derry and needed to mobilise an army in an all out battle for survival. An appeal was made from the altar for general mobilisation. You can imagine the people hurrying home from Mass, the women concerned with getting things ready for the men who were to join Cahir’s army. The Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester sent an army north under General Wingfield. He retook Derry and Culmore and then decided that the best lesson to teach the people of Inishowen was to ravage the Peninsula. He burned every church, including Straid. He took all livestock, and the crops in the fields were destroyed. With the death of Cahir and the collapse of the rebellion, James the First confiscated the whole of the peninsula. All the land of Inishowen was given to Lord Deputy Chichester, except Church land which was given to the Protestant Bishop of Derry and later we find a Protestant Rector installed. Mass was said for the last time in Straid in June 1608.