Donegal historian, musician and writer

Seamus Harkin: April 2nd, 1935 - May 2nd, 2014

Seamus Harkin: had many strings to his bow as historian, musician, songwriter and  undertaker

Seamus Harkin: had many strings to his bow as historian, musician, songwriter and undertaker

Sat, May 17, 2014, 08:22

Seamus Harkin from Creeslough, Co Donegal, who has died after a short illness, was a historian of his home area, and a collector of its folklore. He was also a musician, songwriter, undertaker, and community activist.

Harkin was born near Creeslough in April 1935, third of five children to Hugh Harkin, a small farmer, and his wife Annie (née Harkin). His formal education in Faugher National School ended at 14. He worked first as a farm labourer, then for the Forestry Commission and then with Donegal County Council. He progressed to becoming an insurance agent. That job forced him to develop his writing skills.

He left insurance for the first of his life’s callings, as a solo entertainer playing the pub scene. He combined this with writing songs. One of his last was There is no towbar on the back of a hearse. The guitar was his life- long instrument. As he became older, he also played the fiddle – his father’s instrument. He collected and restored old fiddles.

In the 1980s, he learned how to use a computer. This was after a local national school obtained its first computers. He attended the few introductory classes, then worked to develop his skills.

Third calling
That opened the door to a career as a writer. His work focused on life in his home area. It included an edition of the English and Irish works of local poet Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde; his own autobiography It took a lifetime and a book of photographs of every church of every denomination in the diocese of Raphoe, Hallowed Halls.

Around the time he was familiarising himself with computers, he found his third calling. The undertaker in Creeslough died and he took over the business. He had the skill of being able to find the right words of comfort at a difficult time.

Harkin was a man of many other parts. In his community, he worked to develop housing for the elderly, and a day centre, and keep Faugher National School open. In 2011 he was Donegal Rehab Person of the Year. Last year, he was Age Action Silver Surfer of the Year, recognition of his status as a digital native.

He is survived by his wife Tessie, daughter Edel and sons Leo, Mark, Paul and James; sisters Mary and Nora; and brother Hugh. He was predeceased by his son Paschal and brother John.