The Donegal Top Ten

This article first appeared in the Donegal Democrat

The BBC has been making a lot in the last week of its list of ‘100 Top Britons’, with various fans exhorting viewers to vote for their own idols from the Top Ten. Some of the Irish national newspapers even got in on the act last Sunday, building their own lists of 100 Top Irish and so on.

Never one to miss out on a good idea, I thought I’d have a go at listing the top ten citizens of Donegal. Naturally, the list is biased towards my own personal favourites, but sure that’s the point anyway, isn’t it? Where’s the fun in a Top Ten list unless you can start an argument about who was included, and just as crucially, who was left out.

Technically he’s not actually a Donegalman, but Paul Brady only comes from a stones throw outside the county, and for his version of ‘The Homes of Donegal’ alone he deserves to be there.

Then there’s Peadar O’Donnell, the ‘quasi-anarchist’ as he was called in an editorial in this paper on the occasion of his death, a title which, if not intentionally complimentary, managed to capture him in a phrase. For Peadar, it wasn’t enough just to get rid of British rule, all government had to be abolished in order for men to be free.

Then there’s the Inion Dubh. Like Paul Brady, the ‘dark daughter’ isn’t technically from Donegal, seeing as how she was a MacDonald from Scotland, but she did marry an O’Donnell. More importantly, she is the mother of the most famous O’Donnell of all, Red Hugh. While Red Hugh was cooling his heels in Dublin Castle, the Inion Dubh led an army into battle at Lug na Cnamh to defend his claim to the chieftainship. How could you leave a Donegal Mammy like that off any list?

Following logically, the next is Aodh Rua, Red Hugh himself. You have to admire him just for the winter walk that lost him his toes to frostbite. Besides that, he deserves a mention as a consolation for having a film as bad as ‘The Fighting Prince of Donegal’ made about his life.

Not all the O’Donnell’s are in the past of course. Who else in the week that’s in it but Daniel O’Donnell? Well, he is getting married this week, and I forget to get him a wedding present.

Isaac Butt deserves a mention. I’ve often thought his own life story has the makings of an interesting film to TV series. The founder of the Home Government Association, which revived the Home Rule movement moribund since Daniel O’Connell’s death in the 1840s. His own career as party leader wasn’t particularly inspiring, but he did lay the way for the future, so that when Parnell became leader, the political machine he needed was already pretty much in place.

Naturally, Colmcille would have to be on the list. Warrior, poet, druid, priest and emigrant, and of course patron saint of my own parish, he’s another one who deserves to be the subject of a film, though his life would be a bit more of an action movie, while the Isaac Butt film would have been one of those dry Victorian pieces starring someone like Hugh Grant.

And if I’m allowed to put Colmcille on the list because of the local parish connection, I might as well add Fr James McDyer too.

Now I’m in trouble though. I’ve already named eight, and there’s a lot of competition still left for the last two places. There’s Packie Bonner, just for saving the penalty against Romania in Italia 90. There’s Shay Given, for his performance twelve years later in Korea and Japan. There are writers like William Allingham and Seosamh and Seamus Mac Grianna. Musicians like Mairead Mooney and Rory Gallagher. There’s the entire squad from the 1992 All-Ireland campaign, for one great September weekend in Dublin. There are people I know who live their own lives quietly, and who would be embarrassed as hell if I mentioned them here, but who do good works every day.

That’s the trouble with picking a team. There are always deserving people left out.