Balkan Study Visit Day 2 – Journey to Knin

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The group assembled in the hotel lobby in for a 9 o’clock departure this morning to the town of Knin which is a 4 hour drive from Dubrovnik. For the first part of the journey, the participants caught up on sleep, admired the panoramic views or listened, transfixed to Mary’s stories and fascinating facts from her time spent in the region e.g. The traditions of the Herzegovinan mountain men, her experience in finding and diffusing landmines or the fact that fig rolls and Jaffa cakes both originated here!!

While on the journey, we passed through Bosnia (its only sea port) the way you pass through Leitrim on your way to Sligo only here you had to pass through border security checkpoints at both ends!!  A brief coffee stop in Bosnia and we were on the road again.

As we were heading away from the sea and into the mountains, the roads suddenly seemed to get worse, made even more noticeable by the fabulous motorways and bridges being built parallel to us. A lack of livestock was remarked upon although after quite a while we began to see signs of fruit farming taking place with lots of orange groves and fruit stalls appearing amongst the greenery.

After another convenience break, it was time to let the group bonding begin in earnest with lots of moving seats, questions and experience sharing culminating in a limerick writing competition… Six teams resulted in fierce competition and hilarious verses with the winners being voted (by secret ballot!) as Owen Donnelly, Stephanie Hunter, Maria Coleman and Catherine Mc Colgan with “The Hills of Herzegovina”

This brought us as far as the outskirts of Knin where the scars of battle began to appear on buildings and deserted properties that line the roadsides. Buildings without roofs, chunks of plaster and bullet holes riddling the walls (or rather those that remained) and evidence of the burning that took place during the ethnic cleansing. It was a sobering thought that left the bus quiet as it moved through the streets of Knin on our way to the hotel.

A delicious lunch was served to us before a group discussion was held where we were introduced to our 3 translators who will accompany us on our visits to groups tomorrow. This gave participants a chance to introduce themselves to the group as a whole and also for them to begin questioning the interpreters about their thoughts and feelings on the conflict and we began to see a lot of similarities between here and the North of Ireland.  Following this, participants had the fantastic opportunity to visit Knin Fort, which is the largest fort in Croatia and has an amazing vantage point looking out over the countryside. While here, Marco, one of our interpreters shared his personal story about waking up at 5am on the morning of 4th August 1995 to shells falling on the town. This bombing continued for over 5 hours during which time approximately 9,000 bombs were dropped killing over 200 people. He explained how many left Knin at this stage but many, especially older people such as his grandmother refused to leave showing great resilience in the face of adversity. The group descended many many steps from the fort and continued downhill until they reached the town and onwards to the bus to take us back to our hotel.

A small contingent of 4 got separated from the group on leaving the fort (I won’t name and shame!!) and as luck would have it, a member of the International Policing Agency who had arrived to meet with Jim, Joe and Michael Forde kindly offered to drive to the entrance of the fort to pick them up – although they didn’t believe us when told the police were coming for them!!

With the group reunited once more, it was back to the hotel where the bus had an incident with a balcony which gave the ex-health and safety advisor a surprise (after an afternoon of uneven and slippy steps with no handrail!!) but he was comforted after dinner by a sip of plum brandy, a national drink. When a child is born, the plum brandy made in the autumn closest to its birth is saved and drank on three special occasions of their lives – at their christening, their wedding and their funeral – a lovely tradition although only small servings are required as it is QUITE strong!!

Mary explained tomorrow’s itinerary which involves a choice of 3 visits in the morning to either (or all of!) the Mayors office, the police station and the local secondary school with the choice in the afternoon of visiting one of two NGO’s which are a youth group or a group that deals with civil rights especially for older people.  After choosing where they would like to visit, participants began to retire to their rooms for quiet reflection and to prepare for the early start.

I will leave you tonight with “The Hills of Herzegovina”

On the road from Clanree,

I strayed by the sea,

And met a Croat by the name of Magee.

I asked in surprise how he came by his moniker,

Says he “we’ve many a father in the hills of Herzegovin-er”


Hands of History Study Visit to the Balkan Region – Day 1 – Donegal to Dubrovnik

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Sunday 29th September finally rolled around for the participants on the Hands of History Study Visit and this morning at 1am, participants from all over Donegal set off for Dublin airport for a painful 4.30am check in!  By 2.30am the bus had fallen silent (apart from Helena Glackin who kept the bus driver alert with a stream of chatter until the bus reached Dublin at 4am!!)

A couple of last minute changes to the line up took place with Maureen Mc Nair stepping in to Pamela Smyth’s shoes and Ida Fisher filling Maire Ni Threasaigh’s place at the 11th hour. Both ladies had waited patiently on the reserve list and it paid off as they queued at the check in desk with the rest of the participants.

An early breakfast followed by early boarding and a smooth take off were followed by some turbulence, some snoring (!) and a 9 out of 10 for a landing, participants spilled out of the aer lingus jet onto the tarmac where a lovely blast of heat and sunshine greeted us. A 20 minute bus journey through some beautiful scenic countryside with sea views brought us to our hotel. The group enjoyed lunch and checked in before heading to exchange currency and explore the area before heading on a guided tour of the old walled part of the city including a visit to the maritime museum. Most took the opportunity to walk on the historic walls while our tour guide gave a fascinating overview of the history of the area with a visit to the cathedral on the way.  Bullet marks and evidence of shelling scarred the beauty of some of the buildings in the old city, a mere taster of things to come in the next few days.

An early dinner was followed by a very early night as weary travellers took the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep before we depart for Knin early in the morning, a 4 hour bus journey away. All are looking forward to meeting the community and government groups and discovering more about the conflict and how it continues to have an impact today

Heritage Trails in Each Electoral Area!!

As part of the Hands of History Project, Heritage Trails were produced by two national schools working together in each Electoral Area and in Letterkenny Town.  A number of classroom visits were carried out by the Peace and Reconciliation Group in Derry on behalf of the Hands of History Project where children were encouraged to interview parents and grandparents and bring in artefacts to school to talk about them.  Each primary school got the opportunity to visit the school they were paired with and the end result was the fabulous Heritage Trails Brochures below.  Congratulations to all the children involved!!!








Hands of History Balkan Study Visit Pre Departure Day

Saturday 14th September saw all participants on the Balkan Study Visit Programme get together for the first time in the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny. 

Following registration and filling of baseline questionnaires, Sarah Thompson, Hands of History Project Co-Ordinator gave everyone a brief introduction before handing over to Mary Lynch, Director of Mediation Northern Ireland, who is our facilitator for the Study Visit Programme.  

An initial icebreaker and groupwork was followed by an introduction to the history of the Balkan States and the recent conflict which took place there in the early 90’s.  



Participants during ice breakers and group work

A break for lunch was followed by an overview of the day by day in-country itinerary.  This will consist of leaving Donegal VERY early on the morning of Sunday 29th for check-in at Dublin airport for 4.30am.  Arrival in Dubrovnik around lunchtime for one night before travelling to Knin – a 4 hour bus journey on the Monday morning.

Knin is our base for the next two nights where we will visit a number of community and government groups all the while being very aware of the proximity to landmines!!

Wednesday morning sees is heading across the border to Bosnia to the city of Mostar where we are based for our final two nights in the Balkan Region.  More visits with NGO’s, Schools, charity groups etc are planned for here along with a cultural night to experience Bosnian culture and traditions. 

We leave Bosnia very early on Friday morning in order to be checked in at the airport in Dubrovnik for 9.30am for our homeward bound flight where we hope to be back in Letterkenny for 7.30pm (maybe later depending on flight delays and traffic although hopefully all participants will have been allowed to cross the border from Bosnia in the first place!)

All participants left the Pre Departure day with all their questions answered (no you shouldn’t wear high heels, no we won’t be visiting Medjugorje and yes, you should bring copious amounts of chocolate to keep the facilitator and project staff sweet!) and with a basic knowledge of the areas they will be visiting in a couple of weeks time.

Back Row L-R: Mary Lynch (Facilitator), Pamela Smyth, Denise Wood, Michael Forde, Don Mc Neill, Joe Lynch, Jim Gallagher, Stephen Hunter, Owen Donnelly, Eamonn Brown, Gerry Mc Monagle, Catherine Mc Colgan, Stephanie Hunter, Sarah Thompson (Hands of History Project Co-Ordinator)  Front Row L-R: Áilbhe Hines, Maria Coleman, Orla Lafferty, Máire Ní Threasaigh, Helena Glackin, Danielle Bonner, Sinead Mc Ateer, Rachael Mc Crossan (Hands of History Project) and Patricia Hegarty

Back Row L-R: Mary Lynch (Facilitator), Pamela Smyth, Denise Wood, Michael Forde, Don Mc Neill, Joe Lynch, Jim Gallagher, Stephen Hunter, Owen Donnelly, Eamonn Brown, Gerry Mc Monagle, Catherine Mc Colgan, Stephanie Hunter, Sarah Thompson (Hands of History Project Co-Ordinator)
Front Row L-R: Áilbhe Hines, Maria Coleman, Orla Lafferty, Máire Ní Threasaigh, Helena Glackin, Danielle Bonner, Sinead Mc Ateer, Rachael Mc Crossan (Hands of History Project) and Patricia Hegarty

Hands of History Project Funding

HOH Logo

The Hands of History Project is being led by Donegal County Council under the auspices of the Donegal CDB Peace and Reconciliation Partnership.  This project is supported by the Special European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and is managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Donegal County Council.  The Community Culture and Planning Directorate is leading out on the project with the Archives Service, the County Museum and the Library Service undertaking some of the initiatives. 

At the launch of the Hands of History Project, Cllr. Dessie Larkin, Chair of the Donegal CDB Peace and Reconciliation Partnership stated “The Hands of History Project has a busy schedule planned for 2013 and one which aims to leave a legacy in the county after the end of the project.  This will allow the study of Donegal’s rich history to continue, throughout the decade of significant centenaries we now find ourselves in and beyond.  As Chair of Donegal CDB Peace and Reconciliation Partnership, I would like to acknowledge the Special European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and is managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Donegal County Council, for undertaking this important project that will explore events in Irish History that have shaped our identities today.  I know that the project has a very strong advisory group who have already met and who will continue to meet throughout the course of 2013 as the project develops”

Donegal CDB Peace and Reconciliation Partnership

Donegal CDB Peace and Reconciliation Partnership’s role is to implement Priority 1.1:  Building Positive Relations at the Local Level of the PEACE III programme in Donegal. They are doing this by developing and delivering the Donegal PEACE III Action Plan 2008 -2013 to raise awareness of the diverse cultures that exist in Donegal and challenging attitudes relating to sectarianism and racism.  The Hands of History Project is an action set down in this plan, being delivered by Donegal County Council on behalf of the Partnership. 

The programme delivered €4.7 million to Donegal in Phase I and a further €4.7 million is currently being rolled out in Phase II of the programme.


The Special EU Programmes Body is a North/South Implementation Body sponsored by the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland and the Department of Finance in Ireland. It is responsible for managing two EU structural funds Programmes PEACE III and INTERREG IV designed to enhance cross-border co-operation, promote reconciliation and create a more peaceful and prosperous society. The Programmes operate within a clearly defined area including Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland.

The PEACE III Programme, funded under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is worth €333 million and is aimed primarily at reinforcing progress towards a peaceful and stable society and promoting reconciliation.  It focuses on helping Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland to reconcile communities and contribute towards a shared society.   

For more information on the SEUPB please visit 

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 This project has been supported by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Donegal County Council.

Hands of History Balkans Study Visit Programme

Tomorrow, Saturday 14th September marks the start of the Hands of History Balkans Study Visit Programme.  Tomorrow, all 21 selected participants will meet for the first day to learn some background information on the Balkan Conflict, travel arrangements and details on the in country itinerary and groups it is proposed to meet while there. 

Here in the office we have been busy this week getting the participant information packs together and organising some of the finer details involved.  We’re really looking forward to everyone getting together for our first group meeting in the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny from 9.30 – 4.30 tomorrow and the upcoming international study visit taking place from 29th September – 4th October.  Check back here for daily updates on all the groups activities!

August 2013 Round-up

  • August 2013 Round-up!
    • August started off with a word about the The Donegal #Firefighters #Annual #Charity Car Wash and Bucket Collection in aid of Donegal #Hospice and Northwest Hospice. It was held Sat 3rd August at various fire stations across the county. Having previously raised a total of €475,000 being donated to these Hospices, and with the new session of car washes they hoped to exceed the €500,000 total.


  • The Clonmany Festival 2013 Opening Parade kicked off with loads of people getting into the spirit of things – as well as costume and taking to the streets to show it all off. To see more from the festival, visit their facebook here!


  • By mid-August we asked you “WHAT’S LURKING IN YOUR ATTIC?”
  • As part of the celebration of #National #Heritage #Week 2013 Donegal County Archives Presented ARCHIVES IN THE ATTIC DAY on Thursday 22nd August, 10.30 to  4 PM, in the Archives Research Room, Three Rivers Centre, Lifford
  • Members of the public were invited to come along and donate their archives to Donegal County Archives, where their archives would be preserved.  The interest was primarily in letters, photographs, ledgers, festival or fete posters, dance tickets, manuscripts, local political memorabilia, diaries. if they are of local, cultural, social or historic interest and relate to Donegal we wanted to preserve them. Even now if there are items you’d wish to donate such as primary school registers or rollbooks which might  be held privately, photographs or archived minutes of meetings of local clubs or societies, sporting and other local organisations, emigration letters/photos, contact: Niamh Brennan, Archivist,  Archives Service, Donegal County Council, Three Rivers Centre, Lifford,  Tel: +353 74 9172490;  E-Mail: ;   Website:
  • As part of the celebration of National Heritage Week 2013 Cartlann Comhairle Dhún na nGall Donegal County Archives presented a Display of Gweedore Hotel Visitors’ Books and Fr James McFadden archives. On display was  two extraordinary Gweedore Hotel Visitors’ Books which date back to the Great Famine, and include unique comments on the social, economic and political landscape of the day in West Donegal. Also exhibited were the original court correspondence relating to the infamous trial of Fr James McFadden and others from Gweedore following the killing of Inspector William Martin in 1889.
  • The Finn Valley Leisure Centre announced that the newest Leisure Centre in the Northwest opened to the public on Saturday 17th August at 10.00am.  The ground floor of the new facility comprises of:   25m Pool   Sauna/Steam/Spa… Pool   Training Pool with Toddlers area   Changing areas include Family and Wheelchair Access   Cryotherapy Room While the first floor comprises of:   Gym   Multipurpose room for Dry Fitness Activities Customers can avail of a Pay As You Go option or a 3, 6 or 12 month Membership.  Patrons old and new are invited to drop into the centre where staff will be available to show them the facilities we have on offer. Our new facility will complement our existing leisure facilities on site which include:   400m Tartan Athletics Track   4 Astroturf 5-aside Playing Surfaces   Conference/Meeting Rooms   Soccer/Rugby Pitches   Indoor Sports Hall
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  • The Crockett Family of Donegal held a fascinating talk for Heritage Week in The Old Courthouse Lifford.
  • Donegal County Council Cultural Services launched a new booklet – ‘Who do you think you are? A guide to genealogy resources in Donegal County Council Cultural Services’ – in Central Library Letterkenny on Wed 21 August at 11.30am. This booklet provides a brief introduction to records available within the three services. The guide is part of the Hands of History project supported by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Donegal County Council. This launch coincided with a Family History Roadshow, until 3.00pm.
    For more information, contact Una Mathewson, Central Library Letterkenny at 074-9124950 or email
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  • Heritage #week began in #Donegal on the 19th with over 100 taking place throughout the county. Many of the events were free to the public and were held throughout the week until Sunday the 25th August.
    Heritage officer from Donegal County Coucil, Joseph Gallagher, with Highland Radio  about what people could have expected. Listen here :
  • Discover, Dine & Delight in Donegal Town, A Taste of Donegal Food Festival was held in marquees on the newly refurbished pier area in Donegal Town.
  • DCC Supported local #Donegal #Art without even going outside! Killybegs Artist / Sculptor Alva Gallagher was looking for support for her project ‘Undercurrents’ with the Arthur Guinness Projects.
  • As part of Heritage Week Panel Discussion: Who owns Colmcille? Panelists discussed Colmcille, his life and legacy in today’s society and who best can lay claim to the saint. Great debate but still not sure who owns Colmcille!
  • Good Weather 
  • FlagCarrickfinn:
    The good weather during the summer season saw exceptional visitor numbers on the #Donegal #beaches. The #Lifeguards dealt very professionally with their busiest season for many years and provided an admirable service under frequently challenging conditions. Now the summer holiday and bathing season is coming to an end with schools reopening this week and beach visitor numbers reflect this.
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  • On the 11 August, Mayor of Donegal Cllr. Ian McGarvey launched the Donegal County Council Cultural Services Library Service Guide to #Genealogy #Resources, followed by a #Family #History #Roadshow.
  • The €8.3m PEACE III funded Termon project based in Pettigo (County Donegal) and Tullyhommon (Dounty Fermanagh) is progressing well. For more information on the project please go to
    • We issued a public notice regarding road works –
      Public #Notice for all #traffic updates: Donegal County Council will be carrying out road resurfacing works on the Frosses Glenties Road (R262) at Meengran Monday 2nd September to Wednesday 4th September between the hours of 07:30 & 17:30. All traffic will be diverted via the Ardaghey Ardara road (LP1515)
  • After a very successful first year the Donegal Bay Speakers Club announced their Open Night on Tuesday the 17th of September, they are opening our doors to friends and visitors in the Donegal Area. Donegal Bay Speakers is affiliated to Toastmasters International and focuses on Speaking in Public, Gaining Confidence, Leadership and Business… Presentations. If you would like to improve any of these skills, meet new people, network or just get out for an interesting nights entertainment, please feel free to come along.
    The club meets every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the Month at 7.45pm. The club is open to anyone over 18 years of age from all sorts of backgrounds, we are gender equal and not for profit. Feel free to come along and see what we do, we’re a very friendly club  with a mix of members aged between 25 and 75! Venue: The Donegal Family Resource Centre, Donegal Town, Donegal. For more information please contact Dave O’Brien: 087 811 0994