From Swirling Cark Mountain Mists

By Ray Watson

Though most of the books read to me as a boy were set in England, I did not feel myself to be truly English. As an Australian, I knew I was associated with England. But, in truth, I felt I had a more distinctly Irish flavour.  The reason for this lay mainly with my mother. She brought a sense of immediacy to this Irish identity in a number of ways. She told me tales of her own Irish grandfather. She taught me that, like her, I must wear the shamrock proudly each St Patrick’s Day. And on each St Patrick’s Day she told me how lucky I was to see that great Irish patriot, Dr Daniel Mannix, presiding over the procession from his open-top car in front of Parliament House.

Moreover, real Irish people played significant roles in my everyday life. An Irish family lived around the corner in Boland Street. In my local church too, Irish priests presided each week at Mass. And there were also some Irish nuns among the Josephite Sisters in the Parish School. So for me, the Battle of the Boyne was as contemporary as the World War II battles then taking place to the north of Australia in the Pacific. My Watson surname provided a slightly discordant element. But I believed that could be fixed by putting an O’ in front of it when I grew up. I was so comfortable with my Irish identity that I was not motivated to find out more about Ireland itself. Over the years, this attitude carried forward. So Ireland was nowhere near the top of my list of overseas destinations to be checked out firsthand. As a result, it was the early twenty-first century before I found myself in Ireland for the first time.

Just a couple of days into that visit I found myself standing on a road near Letterkenny in County Donegal. I was looking at a white building standing among the green undulations of the lower hills that eventually step up to Cark Mountain. Under a shining sun, the whiteness of that present-day Glenswilly chapel building was shimmering in a green carpet cradle of fields where the Swilly river flows into the base of Lough Swilly. That simple white building represented my first tangible link with my Irish family past. At that spot on an autumn day in early September 1865, William Patton from Roughan had married Hannah Gallagher from Kirkneedy in the then Glenswilly Chapel. The year after their marriage a first child had been born. And then in the following year, the young family sailed aboard The Western Empire to Australia where they raised a family. I am a great grandson of William and Hannah.

On that Spring Saturday afternoon in 2007, I had driven up from Letterkenny through Kirkneedy and then further on up the narrow road towards the modern electricity-generating wind farm on top of Cark Mountain. There I had sat enveloped in the spirit of this place with significant family locations at Kirkneedy, Roughan and the Glenswilly chapel not too far away. As the black clouds obliterated the wind tower blades from sight and rain beat down on the car, I experienced a dark glowering sense of unease about this place. But as the sun appeared in blue skies and the wet vegetation and wind-tower blades glinted in the sun, this disquiet was followed by a shining verdant sense of peace and relaxation.

Glenswilley chapel, 2007

Sitting there, it was not difficult for me to see why people from these parts would have felt attracted by a particular area near Ballarat in Victoria. Between Mounts Warrenheip and Buninyong similar climatic conditions can prevail inducing a similar spirit of mystery.

The Pattons

Donegal is the home of Pattons, Pattens, and Peytons whose names are the anglicised form of the Gaelic diminutive of Patrick, O Peatain. Edward MacLysaght states that in its Gaelic form this name was found in Ballybofey as early as 1178. From the time of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century the English monarchs had engineered Plantations as a means of subjugating their unruly Irish subjects. In the early seventeenth century, James I set up a Plantation in the Letterkenny area. As well as seizing Irish land, this process also ‘planted’ groups of Scottish Presbyterians in the district in the belief that creation of an inbuilt religious divide would prevent the newcomers from getting too close to the native Roman Catholic Irish. For their part, these new Presbyterian settlers believed they would have greater freedom in the practice of their own religion once there was a sea barrier between themselves and the central authorities. In fact, history was to show that neither of these predictions was completely fulfilled. Importantly, however, what this new Plantation did do was to introduce into the area some Patton Scots, probably distant cousins of the native Irish of the same name.

For those Scottish Pattons who arrived at the Plantation and remained loyal, life could be rewarding. Some became masters of grand houses like Roughan Castle in County Tyrone. Yet many loyalists too later ran afoul of monarchs who wished to assert the supremacy of their Church of Ireland throughout the land. So in the end many individual Scots from the ‘planted’ families headed off to America. There they pushed out west as they searched anew for religious freedom and for land. In that country these Pattons too produced American offspring with the typical Patton family names of William, Cornelius, John, and Margaret.


One of these was William Weston Patton, a Congregationalist Minister who was also an educationist and campaigner against slavery. He was also a contributor to the writing of John Brown’s Body. Now though there is no known relationship between him and his contemporary, my great grandfather William, there is about the hair, forehead, eyes, nose, and mouth of William Weston what my mother termed ‘the Patton look’, a look apparently unrelated to any of the particular meanings attributed to the name, Patton: ‘son of Patrick’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘pugnacious, and even ‘clumsy’ and ‘bald’. In innocent childhood, this writer believed that ‘the Patton look’ included a full head of hair like William Weston’s. Later life experience has taught him that ‘bald’ should not be ruled out.

The Gallaghers

There is not a lot of information about the family of origin of my great grandmother Hannah Gallagher from the Kirkneedy townland who married William Patton in the Glenswilly chapel on that early September day in 1865. Her own death certificate is the main source. Her father was a Gallagher whose first name was Murdy (Martin). The only other personal detail known about him is that Murdy was a labourer. Nevertheless, the Gallagher surname itself has a significance in Donegal where Gallaghers have played a part in Donegal history over many centuries. The O Gallchobhair sept is one of the most important in Donegal. The name is still among the most common in Ireland. So Hannah’s father’s surname of itself proclaimed Hannah’s strong Letterkenny roots. And her mother’s name, Madge McDade, bolstered this: Hannah was descended from an illustrious Donegal family on her mother’s side as well. Even in the twenty-first century, the family names of both of Hannah’s parents are well represented in the business and telephone directories for Letterkenny. Moreover both a Gallagher and a McDaid stood as candidates in the Letterkenny area at the 2007 Irish elections. At least one of these, a McDaid who had previously been a Government Minister, was elected to the Dail. So when Hannah Gallagher was born in the Kirkneedy Townland outside Letterkenny about 1842, she would truly have emerged into a true ‘home land.’

Patton and Gallagher in Australia

William Patton, the man Hannah Gallagher married, was probably born a few years before her. Later, when he was in Australia, he would claim that he was born in the Roughan townland, in County Donegal near Letterkenny. His mother, named Margaret, came to Australia a few years before her death. Her Australian death certificate indicates that William had a brother Cornelius, and that their father (her husband) was Dennis Patton. Dennis himself remains a mysterious leprechaun-like figure, shrouded as it were by the ephemeral Cark Mountain weather from direct exposure to the gaze of those who would see him. So whether Dennis was a descendant of Irish Catholic or Scottish Presbyterian Pattons cannot be conclusively demonstrated, though for Dennis this would have been no trifling issue. Even today, if you inquire in Letterkenny Catholic circles about the name Dennis Patton, a nuanced version of the boundaries of a tribal separation maintained from plantation times can be found in the reply which often comes in the form of a question: ‘Are you sure he was Catholic?’


Ray Watson has written in various genres on many topics, especially ones from the fields of education and psychology where he worked for many years. His books can be found on Google books and on Goodreads or email His latest book, the autobiographical Chronicle of a Burnley Boy will be reviewed here shortly.