Father Hegarty’s Rock

Father Hegarty’s Rock
Ballynarry, Donegal, Ireland.

In 1711, a fugitive holy man by the name of Friar Seamus (James) Hegarty, was beheaded by English officers in accordance with the Penal Laws, which were implemented in 1698 and repressed the Catholic faith and prohibited their Sacraments.

Fr Hegarty carried out his work in secret, hiding in a small cave in Buncrana, the whereabouts of which was only known to his sister, Mary, who would travel out to him each day with provisions. By night, he would celebrate mass in the countryside, away from prying eyes. While many villagers were aware of his activities and kept a watch out of his behalf, his brother in law, Thomas, had grown suspicious of his wife’s daily excursions and decided to follow her. He reported the hiding place of the valiant priest in return for a £5 reward, and soldiers were dispatched to enact the harsh law.

Some stories suggest that Fr. Hegarty was dragged from the cave, while others say he attempted to escape on horseback with the intention of swimming to safety across Lough Swilly. In both versions, he was captured and beheaded. While Fr Hegarty’s body was buried at the scene, it is said that his severed head was sent to Dublin so that a reward would be paid out for the proven death of a cleric.

According to legend, Fr. Hegarty’s head bounced several times after it was severed from his body, and visitors to the site will note that the patches where his head hit are clear of any vegetation to this day. The rock itself bears the likeness of a cross etched in to the stone. Some believe that this manifested organically, while others might think it was added by someone’s hand, whether spiritual or otherwise.

A luminescent white horse has been seen galloping along the footpath in this area, and sometimes the figure of a man (believed to be the Friar himself) is also seen as it’s rider. The path ventures close to the cliff edge and a local story tells how, in the 1990s, four teenage boys who were riding their quadbikes here one evening, encountered a spectral horse blocking their way. They slammed on their brakes and then witnessed the mighty beast leaping off the cliff and vanishing without a trace. Had the ghost not appeared that evening, there was every chance that one or more of the youngsters could have perished on the rocks below.

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Further Information

Venue Name
Outdoor / Street Hauntings
Ballynarry, Donegal, Ireland


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