Famine Orphan Memorial

The Famine Orphan Memorial was officially opened in Ballyshannon  in the spring of 2014 by John Meehan Mayor of Ballyshannon Town Council who were the main sponsors of the memorial. On the 20th September 2014 Pam Barker, a great-great grandchild of Mary Anne McDermott one of the original orphans , unveiled a plaque at the Orphan Girls’ Memorial. Below are images of the Orphan Girls’ memorial and of the visit of Pam Barker.

Ballyshannon Orphan Girls’ Memorial






(l.tor.) Paddy Donagher and Anthony Begley who managed the project and Gerry Sheerin who did the stonework for the memorial.



Emotional Reunion at Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon

On Saturday 20th September 2014, a large crowd attended for the ceremony at the new Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon; to welcome home a descendant of one of nineteen orphan girls who had left Ballyshannon workhouse during the Famine in 1848. Anthony Begley introduced Pam Barker and her husband Peter who had journeyed from Sydney, Australia to remember Pam’s great- great grandmother Mary Ann McDermott. She had left Ballyshannon along with 18 other girls from the nearby Fermanagh, Leitrim and Ballyshannon areas. Pam Barker unveiled a special plaque to commemorate her visit and in an emotional address spoke of her feelings at her homecoming. .

It gives me so much joy to be here today to remember my great -great grandmother and the other 18 orphan girls who left Ballyshannon Workhouse for Sydney at the height of the Great Famine. The girls had a hard life in Ireland and faced many challenges in Australia but they were survivors and as a descendant I am proud of my legacy from my great- great grandmother. I have been in touch for some years with local historian Anthony Begley and congratulate him on a marvellous work of research. Thanks to him and his team for this beautiful memorial which they have constructed in Ballyshannon. I have no doubt the orphan girls would have been touched to be remembered in their homeland. This has made a real impression on me and will remain with me forever. Thanks to all who have attended today and supported this memorial in so many ways.

Pam Barker was presented with a Celtic Weave plate by Paddy Donagher commemorating Donegal’s All Ireland football victory in 2012 which was kindly donated by Tommy Daly.

In a dignified rose laying ceremony to remember each of the girls, Cliodhna Kerr and Aisling O’Connor beautifully narrated brief lives of the 19 orphan girls, their backgrounds in Ireland and how they got on in Australia.  The rose laying ceremony was conducted by nineteen women who each planted a rose in memory of an orphan. The orphans were amongst 4,000 Irish girls who went to Australia on the Earl Grey Scheme from 1848-1850.The nineteen orphans were as follows with the name of the rose layer in brackets; Mary Allingham aged 16 was born in Belleek Co. Fermanagh (Cailin McInereney); Jane Carberry aged 14 was born in Ballyshannon (Josie Creevy); Jane Carleton aged 16 was born in County Fermanagh (Pat Kane); Ellen Feely aged 17 was born in Ballyshannon (Margaret Gallagher); Sally Lennon aged 16 was born in Belleek Co. Fermanagh (Patricia Duffy); Margaret (17) and Ann Mc Bride (14) were sisters born in Ballyshannon. (Delia Pender and Kathleen McFadden); Letty (15) and Mary McCrea (17) were sisters born in Co. Donegal and County Fermanagh respectively. (Sheila Gibson and Mary Mulligan); Mary Ann (16) and Sarah McDermott (14) were sisters born in  Belleek and Ballyshannon respectively (Pam Barker and Val O’Kelly); Jane McGowan aged 16 was born in Kinlough Co. Leitrim (Carmel Ferguson); Mary McGowan aged 16 was from Kinlough County Leitrim (Patricia Hill); Mary McGuire aged 14 was born in Ballyshannon (Mary Duggan); Ann Muldoon aged 18 was born in Mulleek County Fermanagh (Margaret Duffy); Rose Reel aged 16 was born in the United States of America (Marie Begley); Ann Rooney aged 16 was born in Ballyshannon County Donegal (Pauline Donagher); Biddy Smith aged 16 was born in Ballyshannon (Betty McIntyre) and Margaret Sweeney aged 18 was said to have been born in Ballyshannon County Leitrim (Edel McNally). The Pender Sisters sang a much appreciated up tempo rendition of William Allingham’s emigration ballad “Adieu to Ballyshanny” It was appropriate as the poet had been a frequent visitor to the workhouse during the Famine period. Paddy Donagher described how he and Anthony Begley went about having the memorial constructed with a traditional stone surround, a Famine pot, individual inscriptions for each orphan and a flower garden. The project had been completed from February to May 2014 under the craftsmanship of Gerard Sheerin and Joe Roper. He thanked all who had given voluntary support to the project and Ballyshannon Town Council and the other sponsors who had supported the memorial and the book.

Anthony Begley spoke of his lifelong interest in the fate of the orphan girls which finally has been published in a short book “From Ballyshannon to Australia” and how the memorial would remember these forgotten children in their native land. He thanked all who had assisted with the project and with the day’s activities including the flowers, refreshments in the Rock Hall, music, Sean Gibbons on sound and the narrators. The Pender Sisters brought the commemoration to a close with a special arrangement of “Waltzing Matilda”. The newly refurbished Rock Hall was packed to capacity for the refreshments and Pam Barker received very warm welcomes to “the kindly spot, the friendly town.” A number of great -great grandchildren of the orphan girls plan to visit the Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon and Australian descendants are proud that their ancestors were remembered with such a dignified memorial service in Ballyshannon.

Images of the opening of Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in September 2014


Pam Barker returns to her roots to unveil memorial to her great- great grandmother Mary Ann McDermott at Orphan Memorial in Ballyshannon. (l.to r.) Anthony Begley, Peter Barker, Pam barker, Paddy Donagher.


Laying white roses at the memorial. (l.tor.) Carmel Ferguson, Sheila Gibson, Kathleen McFadden and Delia Pender (Patricia Hill)




(l.tor.) Musicians Irene and Fiona Pender with Rosemarie Patton (Patricia Hill).



(l.tor.) Pauline Donagher, Cliodhna Kerr, Margaret Duffy and Peter Daly (Patricia Hill).



Local historians Billy Finn and Anthony Begley reminiscing  (Patricia Hill).



Tony Ferguson and Canon Ramon Munster (Patricia Hill).



Laying white roses at the Orphan Girls’Memorial. (l.tor.) Caileen McInerney, Betty Mcintyre and Mary Mulligan (Patricia Hill).



Barney McLoughlin, Val O’Kelly and Phena Drummond (Patricia Hill).



(l.tor.) Mary McNamara, Evelyn Patton and Margaret Campbell Patricia Hill).




Margaret Gallagher who laid a rose at the ceremony. Thomas Gallagher well-known Donegal Democrat photographer in background (Patricia Hill).




A section of the crowd at the Orphan Girls’ Memorial (Patricia Hill).





The Orphan Girls’ Memorial  was completed thanks initially to the support of Paddy Donagher who shared my conviction that we should remember these forgotten Famine orphans. Thanks to Mary Daly, Town Clerk, and Ballyshannon Town Council for their major financial support for the project. Thanks to Barry Sweeny for his support for the project and  Ballyshannon Regeneration Group who continue to enhance the visual impact of the town and who have supported this project. Thanks to Gerry Sheerin who patiently carried out the work on the memorial. Thanks to the following: The Duffy family, Dungannon and Ballyshannon who gave a generous contribution to the project in memory of their parents Willie John and Kathleen and to the Donagher and Begley family for their support. Thanks to Joe and Kenneth Roper, monumental sculptors, Corker, Rossnowlagh for their expertise, advice and encouragement; Paddy Duffy and the Tús workers organised by Emer Keon of Erne Enterprise; John Hayes and the Health Service Executive; Damien O’Sullivan and Donegal County Council. staff on the Rock; Delia Pender proof reading,  and to James McGrath, Erne Print, for the publication of the book “From Ballyshannon to Australia”. The contents of the book are now available to all on this website.Thanks to everyone at home and abroad who supported the project financially and in other ways. Hope you can visit the memorial at some stage in the future to remember the 19 Orphan Girls who left Ballyshannon for Australia in 1848.

 Anthony Begley