In the early part of the last century there was a prominent priest in South Armagh who gained a reputation in many fields besides religion. He served in a number of parishes in the district but longest in Dromantee where he was known as Father Luke, or alternatively as Red Father Donnellan.
The adjective referred to his hair colouring! A left-wing priest in rural Ireland would be an oddity indeed!
He had an acute interest in folklore, song, Old English and archaeology as well as the Gaelic language. Father Donnellan used the wax cylinder recording gear of the time to place on record the songs and folklore practices of the people all over South Armagh. We have previously alluded to the recordings of the editor’s own great grandfather, held in archives at the Department of Irish Folklore in University College, Dublin. More notably he recorded (and had held there too) the famous McCrink brothers of the Slieve Gullion district.
Professor W T Evans Wentz of Stanford University, California paid fulsome tribute to the help of Father Donnellan on his great work The Fairy Faith in Gaelic Countries (1911). The priest, he remarks, introduced him to the best speakers of the fairy tale traditions in the parish of Dromantee.
Father Like was also a friend of the famous G B Shaw, who wrote to him, for example, stating that he had made more money from his play St Joan than from any other of his works.
He had though, unfortunately, the vandal’s approach to archaeology! In ‘clearing’ the cairn on top of Slieve Gullion (the Cailleach Beara’s House) his helpers used jumpers (long steel chisels used for boring holes in boulders) and blasting powder! This was testified to by a number of these helpers including the blacksmith Johnny Meehan who was regularly sent down the mountain to sharpen the jumpers.
He was also an inventor! His main invention dealt with the electrical detection of the refraction of light. Remember this was when Einstein was working on the properties of light as well as his theories of relativity! But Donnellan’s research proved essential to the development of television. He is said to have transmitted all his papers, his apparatus and inventions to John Logie Baird, the Scotsman who was the first successful inventor of television itself!
After a term served as parish priest in Crossmaglen, Father Donnellan was transferred to Loughgall as administrator. It is likely that this was a penitential appointment, perhaps to teach the ageing priest humility and the need to concentrate his talents and attention to spiritual matters. A priest once commented of Loughgall: ‘It’s the blackest Orange hole in all the black North of Ireland!’
… Crossmaglen ? …