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Southwest Donegal: Exploring uniqueness and interdependence

Updated Wednesday 30th March 2016

Begin to delve into the traditions, changes, economy and culture of Southwest Donegal.

This is the start of the Southwest Donegal: Exploring uniqueness and interdependence series of articles in the Change in the West of Ireland collection.
The collection is made up of five series as follows
:

Creative commons image Icon Jenny Meegan under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license The Slieve League peninsula in Southwest Donegal covers an area of just over 100 square miles. The landscape is mostly mountain and moorland. The population is largely confined to the valleys and coast, on isolated farmsteads or in the small scale settlements of Glencolmcille, Malin Beg, Carrick and Kilcar.

The peninsula has a long history of settlement stretching back to prehistoric times. Successive layers of history have left relic features in the landscape which serve to link the present with the past. Stone monuments are found throughout the Glen. They now form penitential pilgrimages on an annual pilgrimage but they actually date from the time of Early Christian settlement here in the 6th century.

The view approaching Glencolmcille, Ireland Creative commons image Icon Jenny Meegan under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license The sense of place in the peninsula involves a strong sense of the past and of the traditional culture which has survived in this and other parts of the West of Ireland. In the words of Father James McDyer, priest in Glencolmcille for sixty years: ‘the monuments have not remained aloof, unrelated to the people of the Glen. They are part of a living tradition, and the well-trodden paths around many a cairn or standing stone are silent testimony that here the present has always met the past. In this, Gleann Cholm Cille is perhaps unique’.

The next series of articles give you an opportunity to explore the uniqueness of Southwest Donegal and its interdependence with other places in Ireland and the world. The distinctive character of the area represents a synthesis of different elements and processes: traditional and modern, local and external; political, economic, cultural and environmental and has been constructed and reconstructed within the wider social contexts and changing interdependencies with other areas.

We draw on two television programmes, ‘Southwest Donegal, Tradition and Change’ and ‘Southwest Donegal, Economy and Culture’ which were filmed in 1983 as part of The Open University geography course (D205) ‘Changing Britain: Changing World’ (see below for more information). The scenes from the area and the interviews with local people at that time, together with the associated broadcast notes written by Pat Jess and James Anderson, depict the area’s uniqueness and its interdependence with other areas in 1983 and identify changes with previous decades.

Transcript: The unique character of Southwest Donegal is a product of its geography and history

PAT JESS: In the past, harsh physical and social conditions produced low levels of living and high rates of emigration. The subsistence economy was based on agriculture, with some fishing and domestic industry.  But although a strong cultural tradition persists, local society is changing.

Since the 1960s this rural area has seen modernisation in farming and in the development of manufacturing industry, as we’ll see in the next programme. This programme focuses mainly on agriculture and shows how characteristics from the past combine with elements of modern society in the reproduction of local uniqueness.

To understand the distinctive character of a place as it is now, we need to know about the past: the previous layers with which more recent processes have combined.

 

From the perspective of 2015, these programmes are a visual record of life in the area in the early 1980s. Because the present is built upon a combination of historic layers we need to know about the past to understand the present. Much has changed since 1983, and so in 2015 we revisited the area to explore - thirty years later - the issues raised in the programmes.

 

Activity: Look out

​Look out, as you go through the rest of these articles, for the continuities and changes in the fortunes of Southwest Donegal and the new ‘layer’ of the 21st century.

 

 Now move on to read about The impact of environment and society on rural life in the past.

 

See all the articles in this series

See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection

This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland. 

Acknowledgements

This material draws from Open University programmes and a course based on the work of Pat Jess.

  • Anderson, J., Jess, P. and Morris, E. (1985) ‘TV08 and TV09 Southwest Donegal Introduction to the Programmes’, in The Open University (1985) Changing Britain, Changing World: geographical perspectives, Broadcast Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.

  • Jess, P. (1985) ‘TV08 Southwest Donegal: Tradition and Change’, in The Open University (1985) D205 Changing Britain, Changing World: geographical perspectives, Broadcast Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.

  • Anderson, J. (1985) ‘TV09 Southwest Donegal: Industry and Culture’, in The Open University (1985) D205 Changing Britain, Changing World: geographical perspectives, Broadcast Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.

  • ‘TV08 Southwest Donegal: Tradition and Change’ (1985) D205 Changing Britain, Changing World: Geographical perspectives, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

  • ‘TV09 Southwest Donegal: Industry and Culture’, in The Open University (1985) D205 Changing Britain, Changing World: geographical perspectives, Broadcast Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.

 

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