Honoria Galwey- Music Collector, her life and times

Honoria Galwey, life & Music Symposium, Feile na hInse, 3rd November 2018

Glengrow Hall, Moville.


Talk delivered by Sean Beattie for Inishowen Traditional Music Project and for ‘The Spark’, March 2020


Honoria Galwey 1830-1925   


Honoria Galwey was a noted music collector whose work was recognised during the Celtic Revival of the 1890s and early twentieth century. She came from a sheltered Church of Ireland background and she travelled widely across Ireland. From an early age, she displayed an aptitude for music – it was often said that she could sing before she could talk. With encouragement from her father, she started to collect songs and melodies which she heard at fairs in her home town of Moville, Co Donegal and other parts of the country.


Family background

Honoria Galwey belonged to an old Irish family from Co. Cork whose lineage spanned almost 700 years. Their motto was Vincit Veritas and the antiquity of the family is evidenced by the fact that the family crest dates back to 1361. In the medieval period, the Galweys were recognised as one of three of the leading Cork mercantile families that traded with Europe and America in the 1600s. The family had significant estates and owned lands outside the city. One of the main structures associated with the family was Dundannion Castle, a tower house built by the Galweys in the sixteenth century on a site overlooking the river Lee. It was also known locally as Galwey Castle.


Moville in the 1830s

It is a long way from Cork to Donegal and the question was often asked as to how the family came from one extremity of the country to the other. Honoria’s father was a young Church of Ireland clergyman who held the post of rector in Derry City. Shortly after his arrival, a curacy became vacant in Moville and Rev Charles Galwey was appointed, to the great joy of his family. Derry City was famed worldwide for its Columban connections but Moville was a little-known, picturesque, seaside fishing village on the banks of the river Foyle, some seventeen miles north of Derry. Rev Galwey probably was aware of its monastic foundations, its Patrician associations, and its famous High Cross at Cooley overlooking the town. What was Moville like when Rev Charles Galwey arrived as an ambitious young curate from Derry in 1830 with his infant daughter Honoria in tow, who was born in Derry, and her mother?

Most of the population spoke Irish and the old Gaelic name for the town was still commonly in use, Bun a’ Phobail (bun = foot, pobal = parish). For Honoria, it was a strange language but she soon became familiar with spoken Irish, although in her family home, only English was heard.  Moville had all the characteristics of a northern Plantation town. There was a police barracks, a post office, a market house, a court house, a pilot station, a coastguard establishment and a number of school houses. Because of its proximity to Derry, and its situation along the Foyle, it was an attractive place to live. In the Ordnance Survey Memoirs, the town is described as “a bathing place for the wealthier inhabitants of Derry, who resort to it in the summer months”. The most prominent family were the Montgomerys who lived at New Park, Ballynelly, the family domain of Field-Marshal Montgomery; they were the founders of the modern town and were also the landlords. The banks of the Foyle also had some fine residences. By contrast, at the lower end of the town, where the Bredagh river pours into the Lough, there was a cluster of thatched cottages inhabited by Irish-speaking fishermen and this part of the town was always known as Bun a’ Phobail.



In the nineteenth century, Moville parish was divided in two, Lower Moville and Upper Moville and both parishes were often in conflict with each other. The bridge across the Bredagh river was the dividing line between the parish of Lower Moville, Rev Galwey’s parish, with a church at Greencastle and Upper Moville, with a church at Redcastle. There was no church in Moville itself, although the Montgomerys and some of their neighbours attended Sunday service in a property they had temporarily converted for worship. It was a deep-seated ambition of the Montgomery family to have their own church in the town. The gentry regarded it as imperative that they should be patrons of their local church.

Although the surrounding district was poor, the town itself had “several handsome residences”, according to Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837. Lewis describes the town as being 17 miles north of Derry and the parish had 5,575 inhabitants. He also observed that the town, situated at the entrance to Lough Foyle, had “a capacious harbour, where the largest ships may ride in safety in all kinds of weather.”



The first problem faced by the Galweys was to find accommodation and a cramped, temporary residence was located in the centre of the town.  The family later moved to Gortgowan, which became the official Rectory. It was a welcome move as the property had just been constructed. It was spacious and had commanding views of the Foyle, looking across the waters to Benevenagh in County Derry and with several acres of land. It is little wonder that the Galwey family became so attached to Gortgowan. The residence had its own gate lodge, which had a separate driveway linked to the main road. The house had 5 bedrooms, stabling for 3 horses and an apartment for a manservant and lands attached. There were 5 employees – a nurse Mary McGarvey, a governess, a gardener, a ploughman and a cook. A key figure in Honoria’s life was Mary McGarvey, and she fulfilled a second role as her tutor. Mary married the gardener, James Cook and they spent their married lives at the gate lodge. Mary is buried in Greencastle and was with the family for 50 years. Her grave can be seen just inside the gates at the entrance to the Protestant church in Greencastle.

Honoria’s father sung lullabies to her as she slept. From an early age, Honoria was singing, learning the piano and collecting songs and tunes at street fairs and markets. She enjoyed listening to Jews’ harps, lilters and other musicians. This was her street education and it was on the streets of the town that she met local musicians such as Paddy the Slithers and Hudy McCann. Most market towns had four fairs a year as well as a weekly market. The fairs had an almost carnival atmosphere and Honoria moved freely among the crowds, listening, talking and making notes. It was an unusual role for a rector’s daughter. In many respects, it was an idyllic place in which to rear a young family and Honoria was very happy here. Her childhood would have a major influence on her work in later years. In fact, Moville could claim to have been the key influence in her early life.

Early in his career, it was evident that Rev. Galwey was more than a conventional Church of Ireland rector. As a young curate, he was a member of the Protestant Colonial Society, which promoted Protestant missions and acted as a charitable association for distressed Protestants. Most members were well-known landlords, who looked after their own family interests but he insisted that when relief was being distributed, it should be given to all classes regardless of religion or status.

He was also a strong supporter of Daniel O’Connell’s campaign for Catholic Emancipation, at a time when most of the Protestant clergy and the landed gentry opposed it. With the establishment of the Board of Education, he was an advocate for a new system of National Schools throughout the country. His outspoken defence of educational reform drew criticism, especially from his family and many well-known members of his congregation.



When Rev Galwey arrived in Lower Moville as Church of Ireland Rector with Honoria in tow, he ran into an intense political storm at the height of the Tithe War. The tithe was a tax of ten per cent, payable by all religions to the Church of Ireland; it was very unpopular among people of all persuasions. The total tithe assessment for Moville Lower parish was £555. Secret societies, such as the Ribbonmen and Molly Maguires opposed these payments and they made rectories their prime targets. Gortgowan was regularly under siege and windows were smashed in one attack. Honoria was too young to understand the Tithe War when it was at its worst but she would become aware of its impact as she grew older. During the 1830s, most tithes went unpaid and tithe collectors were assaulted so the Galwey family experienced considerable financial loss, when the income stream dried up. Friends lodged money for him in the bank in Derry to tide the family over.

It was an unnerving time for Church of Ireland rectors. The Rector of Cloncha fled the district and Rev Galwey’s proctor (tithe collector) was attacked at Glenagivney, outside Moville. Rev Hamilton’s agent, George Butler was attacked at Culdaff and the military were called in. Rev Galwey appealed for relief to Dublin Castle under the Tithe Composition Act. Peace makers were appointed called “pacificators” to negotiate payment of the tithe. In 1837, a petition was sent to Daniel O’Connell to have the tithes abolished completely, signed by 1,200 persons from all religious groups in the Moville area. Finally, by 1838 under the Tithe Rent Charge Act, the tithe became a tax on land not the occupier, payable by landords. Thus ended a critical period of unrest in Inishowen history.



A greater threat to young Honoria’s life was cholera. There was a serious epidemic in 1832 and it was believed that the infection travelled inland along estuaries such as the Foyle and Swilly. The virus came inland carried by trading vessels and passenger ships. Infection was carried in clothing and mattresses discarded at the ports. All classes went through the mill but the poor suffered most, and Honoria was lucky as an infant to escape its effects. This cholera outbreak has gone down in history as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As thousands died, the epidemic brought great hardship in its wake but worse was to follow.



Honoria was in her teens when the blight struck. Despite his experiences in the Tithe War, Charles Galwey became involved with the community and was appointed secretary of the Moville Relief Committee. Rev. Galwey contributed £10, Rev Samuel Montgomery £10, Arthur Chichester £25, J. D. Nicholson, a landlord living at Falmore House, £10. Rev. Galwey sent an appeal to the Relief Commission in Dublin. The Secretary was John Pitt Kennedy, who was born in Carndonagh, Co Donegal and the son of a rector. He was familiar with the people and the landscape of the Inishowen peninsula, so he understood what deprivation meant. In his emotional letter to Pitt Kennedy, Rev. Galwey stated that while the blight was not serious in 1845, potato crops in 1846 were almost all destroyed. He made an appeal for public works to commence as soon as possible. In 1847, his plea was answered when the Board of Works advertised for tenders for a pier at Moville. John Pitt Kennedy was probably involved in getting the pier for the town.



The cut-stone pier was one of the largest in Donegal built during the Famine; it was also one of the most significant projects of the Board, providing work for labourers, carters, stone masons, engineers and surveyors. Wages were 9d per day. It has stood the test of time almost 175 years and is still in use, mainly by oyster fishermen who fish in Lough Foyle. Rev Charles Galwey welcomed the development, having campaigned for relief works for the town and district.



There were 3 schools in Moville in 1830, one run by the Kildare Place Society, another part-funded by the London Hibernian Ladies Society and a Sunday School. In 1831, Lord Stanley proposed a scheme of national education open to all denominations. Samuel Montgomery had established his own school in the town and was in dispute with Rev Galwey who wanted the new non-denominational National School under the newly-established Board of Education. Despite long-running differences over education, Samuel Montgomery later gave Rev. Galwey land to construct a new school. However, more grief was to follow for Rev. Galwey. A long-running dispute broke out between the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church about the teaching of religion eg the Bible. He took a different view from his co-religionists and wanted the Bible taught in a different manner from his parishioners. Charles Galwey wrote to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Murray, outlining his grievances. This caused a rift between Rev. Galwey and family members. Montgomery appealed to the Bishop of Derry over his head and Galwey relented and toed the line. Honoria attended the Sunday School and transferred to the new National School as she grew older. Her father and nurse would also be involved in her tuition, while the boys in the family went to Foyle College in Derry. Rev Galwey left Moville in 1853 and moved to Badoney and Fermoyle in Tyrone. In 1860, he became Archdeacon of Derry.



The church was only partially completed in 1853 when it opened. A tower was added in 1858. No member of the Galwey family contributed to its construction as Charles Galwey wanted Greencastle to be the parish church.



Rev Charles Galwey married Honoria Tompkins, second daughter of Andrew Knox of Prehen. The Knoxs had originally come from Rathmullan, associated with the Friary for 200 years. They had 9 children and Honoria was born in 1830 in Derry. Church families sought out careers in the army and the church. John joined the army, and went to India. Sir John Lawrence – married to Honoria Marshall of Carndonagh Glebe – presented him with his Commission. He died aged 21 of cholera. He is buried in India but he is named on the family tombstone in Derry. Caroline married Rev Richard Bennett, who wrote a book about the family. Eleanor married William Minnitt who became Rector of Gortin. Isabelle wrote religious verse and published Hybrasil and Other Poems in 1872. Honoria lived most of her middle years in the rectory but spend a few years in Derry before 1881 looking after her mother. She lived in Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin in the late 1890s and in Moville in 1901 and 1907 before finally settling in Derry at St Columb’s Court. Honoria and her sister spent the summers in Moville and sailed on their boat, the Dart.



We have a limited amount of material provided by Honoria herself, apart from two Irish airs which she collected. I located two original scores in the music archives of the British Library. Old Irish Folksongs was published in 1897 and included her first collections, with words by Alfred Perceval Graves and airs by Charles Wood. Honoria was in good company. In reviews, the leading national newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal included her name in a list of collectors which included Bunting, Joyce and Surrenne.



Her main publication, Old Irish Croonauns and Other Tunes Re-collected and Collected by Miss Honoria Galwey, was published in 1910. She was now 80 and the Celtic Revival was hungry for such material. This was Honoria’s contribution to the literary and musical resurgence which began in the 1890s and continued into the 1900s. Renowned as a collector of folk music, she was consulted by some of the country’s greatest collectors such as Petrie, Graves, Joyce and Wood. She was also in close contact with a playwright and poet from the Glens of Antrim, Moira O’Neill, another great figure of the Celtic Revival; Moira O’Neill is remembered as a Unionist who learned Irish.



Her original, hand-written copy of the Book of Remembrances is in the archives of Derry Protestant cathedral. It lists the deaths of 250 friends and family. She refers to Queen Victoria – hardly a friend but she also lists several members of the Olphert family in west Donegal, with whom she probably stayed when visiting fairs. Rev Olphert was a rector in Moville from 1863 to 1869 when she became acquainted with him. Honoria also had a great knowledge of family history and people contacted her for information. Honoria probably left Moville in 1853, when her father was appointed to Badoney. He became Archdeacon of Derry in 1860. In 1872, he resigned and went to live in Derry, later retiring to his daughter’s residence in Ballynascreen where he died. At one time, it was expected that he would become Bishop of Derry.



The Book was dedicated to a Church of Ireland Rector, Rev Arthur Vaughan Dobbs, whom she described as her “sincerest friend”. Rev Dobbs served as  curate in Moville in 1903 and Honoria became acquainted with him there. Later, he was appointed Canon at Faughanvale in Eglinton, 6 miles from Derry and became her spiritual adviser in her later years when she lived in Derry. The church bell was dedicated to him.



Honoria’s sister, Caroline married Rev Bennett, Dean of Raphoe and she wrote the family history. Honoria had many other strings to her bow not highlighted in the Bennett book.



The lecture was given in Dublin by a distinguished naturalist from Fanad, Henry Chichester Hart – the David Attenborough of his day – whom Honoria knew. He was an environmentalist and expert on language and had led Polar expeditions. Honoria travelled widely on the continent and Ireland and was a great listener and had an interest in words, phrases and language. She had her own word collection which was consulted by Henry Chichester Hart for his lecture on “The Ulster Dialect of Donegal”.  His lecture on Donegal words to the Philological Society on Ulster dialect in Donegal in 1899 was partly based on Honoria’s collection. Michael Traynor also referred to Honoria’s collection in his book THE ENGLISH DIALECT OF DONEGAL published in 1953.

“His chief helpers whom he could have named when it was published were – Wallace, Kelly and Honoria Galwey” (The English Dialect of Donegal, M. Traynor, 1953). One of the words she collected was used as the title of the book CROONAUNS. It comes from the English “croon” (sing, hum, lilt) and the Irish “crónánín”. Honoria never learned Irish but she was acquainted with Gaelic words as Irish was widely spoken in Moville in her childhood. It is here she would have picked up the word “croonaun”. She probably had a working knowledge of the language.




A little known aspect of her life is that Honoria had a great interest in the environment, flora and fauna. She collected shells along the Foyle as a child and later at Magilligan Strand in 1896 and in Dublin.  Her collection of 50 marine shells was published in the British Journal of Concology. Her specialist knowledge on this subject was acknowledged in the book WOMEN IN SCIENCE 1880-1900. She is credited with collaborating with other prominent collectors in Donegal.



In her later years, Honoria had a number of close friends in the world of sacred music. Canon Armstrong of Castlerock arranged several pieces for her. One of the longest serving rectors in Derry, he was a great organist. She would travel to Castlerock by train.  He gave recitals of Chopin and Bach in Portrush. She also befriended the hymn writer on Rathlin island, Rev Leslie Stevenson.



Bishop Alexander became Bishop of Derry in 1867. Charles Galwey was living in Derry close to the Bishop’s palace and Honoria and Mrs Alexander were great friends. Honoria seems to have mended bridges with the Mss Montgomerys, Susan and Charlotte, with whom she stayed when visiting Moville in later years.



In the history of Moville, there is evidence that music was a great part of its heritage. Two magnificent pianos were auctioned at Gortgowan in 1890. They were valued at £120 and £90.



Honoria lived at St. Columb’s Court for the latter years of her life, first at no 3 and then no 6. The houses were adjacent to the Cathedral and were in the ownership of the Church of Ireland. She enjoyed excellent health to the end and always said she had a great memory. She died aged 95, leaving £90 in her will. Obituaries described her as one of Ireland’s great collectors of folksong.



She is buried in the City Cemetery, Derry but her name is not on the grave. Her brother John is named but was buried in India.


In summary, she can be described as a noted music collector, philologist, and concologist. She was a devout Protestant who belonged to a small group of ladies who embraced cultural nationalism during the Celtic Revival. She broke out of the mould into which she was born, was widely travelled and had friends in high places. The Ulster History Circle have expressed an interest in erecting a blue plaque in her memory. Today her music has been recorded by the Inishowen Traditional Music group, based in Culdaff and Moville. Dozens of young musicians who play the melodies she collected ensure that her memory will live on in the history of folk music in Ireland and abroad.


(Thanks to the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe for permission to consult the archives of the Diocese, to music curators in the British Library, London, who located the manuscript music, to the Irish Music Traditional Archive, Dublin, to the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, to Michael Maguire, editor of “The Spark” for permission to reproduce this paper and to the National Library, Dublin for access to the Pitt-Kennedy papers. I am grateful to local musicians for their advice on her music – Neil and Roísín McGrory and Clodagh Warnock, who have made beautiful recordings. Church of Ireland rectors in Castlerock, Rathmullan, Eglinton and Inishowen have also been very helpful).


Dr. Seán Beattie, Culdaff.