On the 15th October, 1889, 150 men and women walked the 51 kilomteres to Letterkenny train station and began the train journey to Dublin to attend the trial of ‘The Fighting Priest of Gweedore’ and those who had defended him during an attack. John Joe McGinley explains why.


In the parish of Gweedore on the Wild Atlantic Way, a man of faith who fought for the rights of his parishioners against unjust foreign landlords is still celebrated 102 years after his death. That man is Canon James McFadden, also known as the ‘fighting priest of Gweedore’.

He was a key member of the Land league, educator, parish priest and a man who was tried for the murder of RIC Inspector, William Martin.

James McFadden was born in December, 1842, to hard-working farming stock in Dunmore Carricart, in Donegal. Whilst from a relatively prosperous background, he lived through the traumatic years of the famine. The tales he was told of the devastation laid waste in Ireland would have a profound impact on him, and instil a burning desire to improve the lives of his fellow Irishmen and women.

James would not only have a deep faith which would lead to the priesthood, but a strong sense of injustice and distrust of the land lord system so prevalent in Donegal of the late 1800s. It would be this faith and his determination to fight this pernicious system that would guide his life.

James was ordained on the 1st of January, 1871, in St Patrick’s Cathedral, County Armagh, by his uncle, the most reverend Dr McGettigan.

He started his pastoral career as the curate of the parish of Upper Templecrone. Five years into his priesthood, in 1875, he would move to the parish where he would make history and have such a major impact, Gweedore.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own