Father James Hegarty was born in Inishowen in1649. He was ordained a Dominican by Oliver Plunkett at Dundalk in 1672. He ministered in the parish of Lower Fahan and Desertegney and administered the Sacraments which were prohibited under penalty of death by the Penal Laws imposed by the English in 1698. Like other priests at that time Fr Hegarty refused to apostatize and sign the *Oath of Abjuration. He would say Mass at night in lonely quiet areas in the countryside in all weathers to avoid being detected by the English forces. Some parishioners would act as ‘look outs’ watching in case the English forces discovered them. During this time Fr Hegarty lived in hiding in a small cave north-west of Buncrana. His sister Mary often visited him bringing him food and she was the only family member who knew of his whereabouts. Her husband Thomas Doherty was rumoured to be an English-sympathiser.
One day he discovered Father Hegarty’s hiding place after following his wife and turned him in to the ‘Redcoats’ for the £5 reward. Soldiers under the command of an English officer called Vaughan went on horseback after Fr Hegarty but the priest fled on a horse which had been given to him by locals to the rock known today as Father Hegarty’s Rock. He jumped into the waters of Lough Swilly with the intention of swimming to the other side to avoid capture. His pursuers did not want him to be shot or drowned in the water fearing his body might be lost, called out to him telling him he would be spared if he returned. On his return however he was beheaded and his body was buried near the rocky outcrop where he had entered the water. He was buried near the spot where he had been killed. His head was sent to Dublin as there was a bounty on priests’ heads at that time.
Thomas Doherty who had betrayed Father Hegarty, died when his horse stumbled and fell while on his way to avenge the death of two of his sons as they had been killed by a bandit named ‘Stumpy’.
* The Oath of Abjuration required Catholic Clergy (under penalty of deportation or death) to apostatize and reject Transubstantiation, the Sacrifice of the Mass and the adoration of The Virgin Mary and any of the Saints. In 1709 under the reign of queen Anne, all priests who had registered in 1704 were now required to take the Oath of Abjuration in open court before the 25th of March 1710. Of the 1,089 priests who had registered in 1704, only 33 are known to have taken the Oath of Abjuration.