This is a story my dad tells of what my grandad got up to during the Second World War. Living in Donegal in the 1940s was a serious time and meant heavy restriction were in place. There were travel restrictions, fuel restrictions, trade restrictions and food restrictions, all subjected to formal rationing that required the use of ration books. These were times when women wore long skirts to hide their stash, not their modesty. Bags of sugar were smuggled across the border by women who customs men were not brave enough to search.
Grandad was the chemist in Glenties. He also owned the hotel there, and the petrol pumps in front of the hotel. As the chemist in the town, he was also the primary medic, and if there was an accident or a plane down, he was the first responder. All of this meant he had access to a higher ration of fuel than most. It was a great responsibility during those serious times and as it is told, it seems grandad and his cronies took ‘having the craic’ very seriously too.
Here is my dad’s account of my grandad’s personal mission to help build the town’s very first public dance hall:
In 1941 or 42, there was a Greek cargo ship carrying timber from Canada that got torpedoed off the coast of Donegal by a German U-boat. Word got out and the Arranmore Islanders went out and salvaged the timber. Now, under maritime law, salvage was supposed to be given over to the state, but grandad, amongst others, decided he needed that timber.
So one night, grandad went down in an old model-T truck, in the middle of the night, with no lights on it (due to potential air raids with a war overhead), to Burtonport to pick up the timber and bring it back to Glenties. That road is lethal now and was doubly lethal then.
Fuelled on the return journey by their own homebrew, they managed to get themselves, the truck, and the timber back to Glenties without coming to harm. The timber was put to good use, fitting the floors and joists of the roof on the St Dominic’s Hall – the first public dance hall in Glenties!
So that is how the timber got to Glenties for the first dance hall, which was completed while the war was still on. On 5 May 1945, the day the war ended, my dad was born. All the more reason why he loves this story, as he was born out of true vigilante spirit.