Nellie McConnell (c1860–19xx) of Laconnell, Ardara, Lifford, Co Donegal
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According to the information recorded on the Doegen speaker questionnaire in September 1931, Nellie McConnell was born at Leac Chonaill, and was aged 71 at the time of recording. Both her parents were from Leac Chonaill, and her father was a farmer. In response to questions, she stated that she had lived in Leac Chonaill until the age of 30; in Kilraine, Glenties between the ages of 30 and 60; and had then returned to Leac Chonaill. She described herself as a farmer's widow. Irish was her mother language, and she could also speak English. She had not attended school, and she could not read or write. The recording team noted "clear musical voice".
The speaker was born Nellie McHugh, and was sometimes known as "Neilidh Bheag"; her father was James McHugh. Two of her siblings appear to have been Charlie Jimmy (1869–1938), who remained in the family home and married Mary John Mór Gallagher, Largynacarra; and Mary, who lost her life while gathering dulse off Sliabh a' Tuath at some time around 1890. Mary was the mother of Mary Bhriney McHugh and John Beag McHugh; John Beag was reared in Teach Charlie Jimmy after his mother's death, and later married Biddy Mhór Conaghan (Charlie Joe Condy, "Tithe Leac Chonaill" in Scoil Leac Chonaill 1900–1969, 2007, pp 153–6). Charlie Jimmy's son, also Charlie (1910–2001), was still living in the home place in Leac Chonaill in 1998 (Pádraig Ó Baoighill). In 1918, Charlie Jimmy's daughter, Bridgie (c1900–1959), married James McGrenra (1892–1968) from Termon, who taught in Laconnell for 43 years (Scoil Leac Chonaill p 20). Charlie Jimmy's family also included James, John, Margaret, Ellen, Neil (–1995) and Andy.
On 12/10/1899, at Ardara, Nellie Bheag married John McConnell of Kilraine, a widower. In the census of 1901, we find, in the townland of Kilrean Upper, John McConnell (60), a farmer; his wife Ellen (40); and his children Annie (16), John (14), William (10) and Mary (8). All spoke Irish and English, except for the two youngest, who had English only. In 1911, there were John (70), Ellen (56), John (23), Mary (18), and John's widowed sister Margaret McNelis (75). John and Ellen had been married for 11 years, with one child which had not survived. All the household spoke Irish and English, except for Margaret McNelis who had Irish only. After John's death, Nellie returned to Leac Chonaill, where she is found, for example, in the electoral list for 1935.
Material associated with Scoil Leac Chonaill was submitted by the teacher, James McGrenra, to the Bailiúchán na Scol in the period 1936–8. A selection of these stories is published in Scoil Leac Chonaill 1900–1969, reference given below. Nellie, who was an aunt of James' wife, was the source of several stories, including "Mar a fuair an Gobán Saor bean dá mhac" pp 93–4, CBÉ 1047:450–4 and "Tobar fíoruisce an Mhachaire" pp 94–5, CBÉ 1047:432. Her brother Tarlach Mac Aoidh (ie. Charlie Jimmy) was the source of "Turas chun Oileáin Úir" pp 86–90, CBÉ 1047:435–42. Nellie and Charlie jointly contributed "Crochar Beag" pp 99–103, CBÉ 1047:412–23.
Some of the notes from Bailiúchán na Scol, written by James McGrenra and provided to me by Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair, are of particular interest.
Nellie Bheag, bean Mhic Chonaill, a thug an t-amhrán seo damh. Deir sí gurbh í a máthair mhór, Nellie Ní Ghallchobhair — nó 'Nelie Thailligh' a chum é in am an drochshaoil. Bhí Nellie Thailligh lá amháin ag béal an iomaire ag baint préataí. Bhí sé ag sarú uirthi éadáil ar bith a fháil. Le brón agus tuirse shuigh sí síos ar an iomaire agus chum sí an dán adaí thuas. SMG 12.11.37.
Tógadh an seanamhrán 'An Drimean Dubh' as cóipleabhar Sheáin Mhic Grianra gasúr insan cúigiú rang. Ghlac seisean é síos ó bhéal Eibhlín Bean Uí Chonaill (Nellie Bheag) a sheanaintín. Tá sí ina cónaí i mbaile Leac Chonaill, Ard a Rátha agus tá sí fá thuairim 78 bliana d'aois. 15.1.38
Chualaidh mé an sgéal seo dá insint ag Nellie Bheag Bean Mhic Chonaill – baintreach atá ina cónaí i Leac Chonaill, Ard an Rátha. Tá sí fá thuairim 78 bliana d'aois. Rugadh agus tógadh í i Leac Chonaill agus chualaidh sise na scéaltaí 'ag an tseanbhunadh'.
Nellie's contribution to the Doegen scheme was composed mostly of songs, including some not expected to be found in Donegal. Of her Doegen songs, she also contributed "Maighdean na Gruaige Báine" and "An Buinneán Buidhe" to the Bailiúchán na Scol. Her nephew Charlie recalled Nellie singing "Túirne Mháire" agus "Sean-Dún na nGall".
Nellie McConnell is thought to have died in the 1960s. Her name is included on the family headstone in Árd a' Ratha cemetery, which reads as follows:
Recent references to Nellie McConnell include:
Reilig Árd a' Ratha (Photograph © Irish Graveyard Surveyors).
I gratefully acknowledge the information about this speaker provided by Dr Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair and by Dr Pádraig Ó Baoighill.
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