times in its history, it has been known as County Tirconaill, County Tirconnell or County Tyrconnell(Irish: Contae Thír Chonaill). The former was used as its official name during 1922–1927.
This is in reference to both the old túath of Tír Chonaill and the earldom that succeeded it. County Donegal is famous for being the home of the once mighty Clann Dálaigh, whose most famous branch were the Clann Ó Domhnaill, better known in English as the O’Donnell Clan. Until around 1600, the O’Donnells were one of Ireland’s richest and most powerful Gaelic (native Irish) ruling-families. Within the Province of Ulster only the Clann Uí Néill (known in English as the O’Neill Clan) of modern County Tyrone were more powerful. The O’Donnells were Ulster’s second most powerful clan or ruling-family from the early 13th-century through to the start of the 17th-century. For several centuries the O’Donnells ruled Tír Chonaill, a Gaelic kingdom in West Ulster that covered almost all of modern County Donegal. The head of the O’Donnell family had the titles An Ó Domhnaill (meaning The O’Donnell in English) and Rí Thír Chonaill (meaning King of Tír Chonaill in English). Based at Donegal Castle in Dún na nGall (modern Donegal Town), the O’Donnell Kings of Tír Chonaill were traditionally inaugurated at Doon Rock near Kilmacrenan. O’Donnell royal or chiefly power was finally ended in what was then the newly created County Donegal in September 1607, following the Flight of the Earls from near Rathmullan. The modern County Arms of Donegal (dating from the early 1970s) was influenced by the design of the old O’Donnell royal arms. The County Arms is the official coat of arms of both County Donegal and Donegal County Council.The modern County Donegal was shired by order of the English Crown in 1585. The English authorities at Dublin Castle formed the new county by amalgamating the old Kingdom of Tír Chonaill with the old Lordship of Inishowen. However, the English authorities were unable to establish control over Tír Chonaill and Inishowen until after the Battle of Kinsale in 1602. Full control over the new County Donegal was only achieved after the Flight of the Earls in September 1607. The county was one of those ‘planted’ during the Plantation of Ulster from around 1610 onwards.County Donegal was one of the worst affected parts of Ulster during the Great Famine of the late 1840s in Ireland. Vast swathes of the county were devastated by this catastrophe, many areas becoming permanently depopulated. Vast numbers of County Donegal’s people emigrated at this time, chiefly through the Port of Derry. Huge numbers of the county’s people who emigrated were to settle in Glasgow in southern Scotland.
The Partition of Ireland in the early 1920s was to have a massive direct impact on County Donegal. Partition cut the county off, economically and administratively, from Derry, which had acted for centuries as the county’s main port, transport hub and financial centre. Derry, together with West Tyrone, was henceforward in a new, different jurisdiction officially called Northern Ireland. Partition also meant that County Donegal was now almost entirely cut off from the rest of the jurisdiction it now found itself in, the new dominioncalled the Irish Free State. This dominion became fully independent in April 1949 when it left the Commonwealth and became the Republic of Ireland. Only a few miles of the county is physically connected by land to the rest of the Republic. The existence of this border, cutting Donegal off from her natural hinterlands in Derry City and West Tyrone, has greatly exacerbated the economic difficulties of the county since partition. The county’s economy is particularly susceptible, just like that of Derry City, to the currency fluctuations of the Euro against Sterling.
Added to all this, in the late 20th-century, County Donegal was, by the standards of the rest of the Republic of Ireland, to be adversely affected by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The county was to suffer several bombings and at least two assassinations. In June 1987, Constable Samuel McClean, a Donegal man who was a serving member of the R.U.C., was shot dead by the I.R.A. at his family home near Drumkeen. In May 1991, the prominent Sinn Féin politician Councillor Eddie Fullerton was assassinated by the U.D.A. at his home in Buncrana. This added further to the economic and social difficulties of the county. However, the Good Friday Agreement(G.F.A.) of April 1998 has been of great benefit to the county.
It has been labelled the ‘forgotten county’ by its own politicians, owing to the increasing regularity with which it is ignored by the Irish Government, even in times of crisis.
Geography and political subdivisions:
In terms of size and area, it is the largest county in Ulster and the fourth largest county in all of Ireland. Uniquely, County Donegal shares a border with only one other county in the Republic of Ireland – County Leitrim. The greater part of its land border is shared with three counties of Northern Ireland: County Londonderry, County Tyrone and County Fermanagh. This geographic ‘isolation’ from the rest of the Republic has led to Donegal people maintaining a distinct cultural identity and has been used to market the county with the slogan Up here it’s different. While Lifford is the County Town, Letterkenny is by far the largest town in the county with a population of 19,588. Letterkenny and the nearby city of Derry form the main economic axis of the north-west of Ireland.
There are eight historic baronies in the county:
- Banagh (Báinigh)
- Boylagh (Baollaigh)
- Inishowen East (Inis Eoghain Thoir)
- Inishowen West (Inis Eoghain Thiar)
- Kilmacrennan (Cill Mhic Néanáin)
- Raphoe North (Ráth Bhoth Thuaidh)
- Raphoe South (Ráth Bhoth Theas)
- Tirhugh (Tír Aodha)
The county may be informally divided into a number of traditional districts. There are two Gaeltacht districts in the west: The Rosses(Irish: Na Rosa), centred on the town of Dungloe (Irish: An Clochán Liath), and Gweedore (Irish: Gaoth Dobhair). Another Gaeltacht district is located in the north-west: Cloughaneely (Irish: Cloich Chionnaola), centred on the town of Falcarragh (Irish: An Fál Carrach). The most northerly part of the island of Ireland is the location for three peninsulae of outstanding natural beauty: Inishowen, Fanadand Rosguill. The main population centre of Inishowen, one of Ireland’s largest peninsulae, is Buncrana. In the east of the county lies the Finn Valley (centred on Ballybofey). The Laggan district (not to be confused with the more famous Lagan Valley in the south of County Antrim) is centred on the town of Raphoe.
According to the 1841 Census, County Donegal had a population of 296,000 people. As a result of famine and emigration, the population had reduced by 41,000 by 1851 and further reduced by 18,000 by 1861. By the time of the 1951 Census the population was only 44% of what it had been in 1841.
The 2006 Census, undertaken by the State’s Central Statistics Office, had County Donegal’s population standing at 147,264. According to the 2011 Census, the county’s population had grown to 161,137.
Physically, the county is by far the most rugged and mountainous in Ulster. The county consists chiefly of low mountains, with a deeply indented coastline forming natural loughs, of which both Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle are the most notable. The famous mountains (often known as ‘the Hills of Donegal’) consist of two major ranges, the Derryveagh Mountains in the north and the Bluestack Mountains in the south, with Mount Errigal at 749 metres (2,457 ft) the highest peak. The Slieve League cliffs are the sixth-highest sea cliffs in Europe, while Donegal’s Malin Head is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland.
The climate is temperate and dominated by the Gulf Stream, with warm, damp summers and mild wet winters. Two permanently inhabited islands, Arranmore and Tory Island, lie off the coast, along with a large number of islands with only transient inhabitants. Ireland’s second longest river, the Erne, enters Donegal Bay near the town of Ballyshannon. The River Erne, along with other Donegal waterways, has been dammed to produce hydroelectric power. The River Foyle separates part of County Donegal from parts of both counties Londonderry and Tyrone.
A survey of the macroscopic marine algae of County Donegal was published in 2003.
The survey was compiled using the algal records held in the herbaria of the following institutions: the Ulster Museum in Stranmillis, Belfast; Trinity College, Dublin; University College, Galway; and the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London.
Slieve League cliffs, the second tallest in Ireland.
Much of the county is seen as being a bastion of Gaelic culture and the Irish language, the county holding the second-largest Gaeltacht area in the country with a population of 24,744
16% of the county’s population lives in the Gaeltacht. There are about 25,000 Irish speakers in County Donegal. According to the 2011 Census, 17,132 say they can speak Irish in the County Donegal Gaeltacht. There are 1,005 attending the 5 Gaelscoileanna and 2 Gaelcholáistí in the rest of the county. According to the 2006 Census, there are also 7,218 people who identify as being daily Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht in the rest of the county.
Gweedore is the largest Irish-speaking parish with over 4,000 inhabitants. All schools in the region use Irish as the language of instruction. One of the N.U.I.G.’s constituent colleges, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, is based in Gweedore. The version of the Irish language spoken in County Donegal is Ulster Irish.Government and Politics:
Donegal County Council (which has officially been in existence since 1899) has responsibility for local administration, and is headquartered at the County House in Lifford. The County Council runs alongside Town Councils in Letterkenny, Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Buncrana. Both the County Council and Town Councils have elections every five years (alongside local elections nationally, and elections to the European Parliament), the last of which took place on 5 June 2009. Twenty nine councillors are elected using the system of Proportional representation-Singe Transferable Vote (STV), across five electoral areas (Inishowen – 7 seats, Letterkenny – 7 seats, Donegal – 5 seats, Stranorlar – 5 seats, and Glenties – 5 seats.
For General elections, the county is divided into two constituencies, Donegal South–West and Donegal North–East, with both having three representatives in Dáil Éireann. For elections to the European Parliament, the county is part of the North–West constituency (formerly Connacht–Ulster)
An extensive rail network used to exist throughout the county and was mainly operated by the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company (known as the L. & L.S.R. or the Lough Swilly Company for short). The Great Northern Railway (Ireland) L.t.d. (the G.N.R.) also ran a line from Strabane through The Laggan, a district in the east of the county, along the River Foyle into Derry. However, the railway network within County Donegal was completely closed by 1960. Today, the closest railway station to the county is Waterside Station in the City of Derry, which is operated by Northern Ireland Railways (N.I.R.).
County Donegal is served by both Donegal Airport, located at Carrickfinn in The Rosses in the west of the county, and by City of Derry Airport, located at Eglinton to the east. The nearest main international airport to the county is Belfast International Airport (popularly known as Aldergrove Airport), which is located to the east at Aldergrove, near Antrim Town, in County Antrim, around fifty-seven miles from Derry City and around seventy-five miles from Letterkenny.Culture:
The variant of the Irish language spoken in Donegal shares many traits with Scottish Gaelic. The Irish spoken in the Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) is of the Ulster dialect, while Inishowen (parts of which only became English-speaking in the early 20th century) used the East Ulster dialect. Ulster Scots is often spoken in both the Finn Valley and The Laggan district of East Donegal. Donegal Irish has a strong influence on learnt Irish across Ulster.Like other areas on the western seaboard of Ireland, Donegal has a distinctive fiddle tradition which is of world renown. Donegal is also well known for its songs which have, like the instrumental music, a distinctive sound. Donegal musical artists such as the bands Clannad and Altan and solo artist Enya, all from Gaoth Dobhair, have had international success with traditional or traditional flavoured music. Donegal music has also influenced people not originally from the county including folk and pop singer Paul Brady. Popular music is also common, the county’s most acclaimed rock artist being the Ballyshannon-born Rory Gallagher.Donegal has a long literary tradition in both Irish and English. The famous Irish navvy-turned-novelist Patrick MacGill, author of many books about the experiences of Irish migrant itinerant labourers in Britain at around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, such as The Rat Pit and the autobiographical Children of the Dead End, is from the Glenties area. There is a literary summer school in Glentiesnamed in his honour. The novelist and socialist politician Peadar O’Donnell hailed from The Rosses in west Donegal. The poet William Allingham was also from Ballyshannon. Modern exponents include the Inishowen playwright and poet Frank McGuinness and the playwright Brian Friel. Many of Friel’s plays are set in the fictional Donegal town of Ballybeg.
Authors in Donegal have been creating works, like the Annals of the Four Masters, in Gaelic and Latin since the Early Middle Ages. The Irish philosopher John Toland was born in Inishowen in 1670. He was thought of as the original freethinker by George Berkeley. Toland was also instrumental in the spread of freemasonry throughout Continental Europe. In modern Irish Donegal has produced famous, and sometimes controversial, authors such as the brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna from The Rossesand the contemporary (and controversial) Irish-language poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh from Gortahork in Cloughaneely, and where he is known to locals as Gúrú na gCnoc (‘the Guru of the Hills’).
Although approximately 85% of its population is Catholic, County Donegal also has a sizeable Protestant minority. Most Donegal Protestants would trace their ancestors to settlers who arrived during the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th-century. The Church of Ireland is the largest Protestant denomination but is closely rivalled by a large number of Presbyterians. The areas of Donegal with the highest percentage of Protestants are The Laggan area of East Donegal around Raphoe, the Finn Valley and areas around Ramelton, Milford and Dunfanaghy – where their proportion reaches up to 30–45 percent. There is also a large Protestant population between Donegal Town and Ballyshannon in the south of the county. In absolute terms, Letterkenny has the largest number of Protestants (over 1000) and is the most Presbyterian town (among those settlements with more than 3000 people) in the Republic of Ireland. Some County Donegal Protestants (mainly those concentrated in The Laggan, the Finn Valley, Inishowen and the Donegal Town/Ballintraareas) are members of the Orange Order.
The Earagail Arts Festival is held within the county each July. It is considered to be one of the best arts festivals in Ireland, North or South. It is certainly one of the main arts festivals within Ulster.
People from Donegal has also contributed to culture elsewhere. Francis Alison was one of the founders of the College of Philadelphia, which would later become the University of Pennsylvania.
The Rev. Francis Makemie (originally from Ramelton) founded the Presbyterian Church in America. The Rev. David Steele, from Upper Creevaugh, was a prominent Reformed Presbyterian, or Covenanter, minister who emigrated to the United States in 1824. The Right Reverend Dr. Charles Inglis, who was the first Church of England Bishop of the Diocese of Nova Scotia, was the third son of The Rev. Archibald Inglis, the Rector in Glencolumbkille.
Glenveagh National Park.
Places of interest:
With its sandy beaches, unspoilt boglands and friendly communities, County Donegal is a favoured destination for many travellers, Irish (especially Northern Irish) and foreign alike. One of the county treasures is Glenveagh National Park (formerly part of the Glenveagh Estate), as yet (March 2012) the only official national parkanywhere in the Province of Ulster. The park is a 140 km² (about 35,000 acre) nature reserve with spectacular scenery of mountains, raised boglands, lakes and woodlands. At its heart is Glenveagh Castle, a beautiful late Victorian ‘folly’ that was originally built as a summer residence.
The Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking district) also attracts young people to County Donegal each year during the school summer holidays. The three week long summer Gaeltacht courses give young Irish people from other parts of the country a chance to learn the Irish language and traditional Irish cultural traditions that are still prevalent in parts of Donegal. The Donegal Gaeltacht has traditionally been a very popular destination each summer for young people from Northern Ireland. Scuba Diving is also very popular with a club being located in Donegal Town.
Third-level education within the county is provided by Letterkenny Institute of Technology (L.Y.I.T.; popularly known locally as ‘the Regional’), established in the 1970s in Letterkenny. In addition, many young people from the county attend third-level institutions elsewhere in Ireland, especially in Derry and also at the University of Ulster at Coleraine (U.U.C.), the University of Ulster at Jordanstown (U.U.J.), The Queen’s University of Belfast (‘Queen’s’), and NUI Galway. Many Donegal students also attend the Limavady Campus of the North West Regional College (popularly known as Limavady Tech) and the Omagh Campus of South West College (popularly known as Omagh Tech or Omagh College).
Gaelic football and hurling The Gaelic Athletic Association sport of Gaelic football is very popular in Donegal. Donegal’s inter-county football team have won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship title once (in 1992). In 2007 Donegal won only their second national title by winning the National Football League. On 24 April 2011, Donegal added their third national title when they defeated Laois to capture the National Football League Division Two. There are 16 clubs in the Donegal Senior Football Championship, with many others playing at a lower level.
Hurling, handball and rounders are also played but are less widespread, as in other parts of northwestern Ireland. The Donegal county senior hurling won the Lory Meagher Cup in 2011.
There are several rugby teams in the county. These include Ulster Qualifying League Two side Letterkenny RFC, whose ground is named after Dave Gallaher, the captain of the 1905 New Zealand All Blacks touring team, who have since become known as The Originals. He was born in nearby Ramelton.
Ulster Qualifying League Three sides include Ballyshannon RFC, Donegal Town RFC and Inishowen RFC. Finn Valley RFC and Tir Chonaill RFC both compete in the Ulster Minor League North.
Finn Harps plays in the League of Ireland and won promotion to the Premier Division in 2007 following a 6–3 aggregate win in the playoff final. They are now back alongside their arch-rivals Derry City F.C., with whom they contest Ireland’s North-West Derby. There are numerous other clubs in Donegal, but none has achieved the status of Finn Harps.
Many people travel to Donegal for the superb golf links—long sandy beaches and extensive dune systems are a feature of the county, and many links courses have been developed. Golf is a very popular sport within the county, including world class golf courses such as Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Ballyliffin (Old),both of whch are located in the Inishowen peninsula. Other courses to note are Murvagh (located outside Donegal Town) and Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) located in Downings (near Carrigart). The Glashedy Links has been ranked 6th in a recent ranking taken by Golf Digest on the best courses in Ireland. The Old links was ranked 28th, Murvagh 36th and Sandy Hills 38th.Mountain Biking:
Because of Donegal’s hilly and mountain landscape, Mountain Biking has become a significant and growing interest. The Donegal Mountain Bike Club is the newest Mountain Bike club in Donegal, and held its first race on 31 August 2011. The ‘Bogman Race’ was entered by more than 50 people from different backgrounds of cycling. Due to the overwhelming popularity of their first ever race, the club plans to organize more races in the near future over different seasons, and aims to make it a major tourist attraction throughout Donegal.
Cricket is also played in County Donegal. This sport is chiefly confined to The Laggan district and the Finn Valley in the east of the county. The town of Raphoe and the nearby village of St. Johnston, both in The Laggan, are the traditional strongholds of cricket within the county. The game is mainly played and followed by members of County Donegal’s Protestant community.
Donegal’s rugged landscape lends itself to active sports like climbing, hillwalking, surfing and kite-flying.
Rock climbing is of very high quality and still under-developed in the county. There is a wealth of good quality climbs in the county, from granite rocks in the south to quartzite and dolerite in the north; from long mountain routes in the Poisoned Glen to boulder challenges of excellent quality in the west and in the Inishowen Peninsula.
Surfing on Donegal’s Atlantic coast is considered to be as good as any in Ireland. The seaside resort of Bundoran, located in the very south of the county, along with nearby Rossnowlagh, have been ‘reborn’ as the centre of surfing in County Donegal. Indeed, these areas are renowned as the main surfing centres in Ulster.
People from County Donegal:
- Adomnán – or Saint Eunan, Abbot of Iona 679–704.
- William Allingham – Victorian poet.
- Altan – folk group.
- Sir Alexander Armstrong – Arctic explorer.
- Neil Blaney – Long-serving T.D. for the county and a former Irish Government minister. Founder of Independent Fianna Fáil.
- Oliver Bond (died in 1796) – A possible St. Johnston native who was a Dublin-based member of the United Irishmen.
- Packie Bonner – former goalkeeper for both the Republic of Ireland and Celtic F.C..
- Sir Bob Cooper – A former Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the long-serving head of the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland. Born and raised in East Donegal.
- Isaac Butt – barrister, M.P. and founder of the Irish Home Rule movement.
- Clannad – folk and pop group.
- Columba – or Saint Colmcille, one of the three patron saints of Ireland.
- Mary Coughlan – Former Tánaiste and former T.D. for Donegal South–West.
- Michelle Doherty – Dublin-based model and radio/television presenter from north Inishowen.
- Moya Doherty – producer and co-founder of Riverdance, born in Pettigoe but raised in Dublin.
- Enya – musician and singer.
- Bridie Gallagher – singer.
- Dave Gallaher – first All Blacks Rugby captain.
- Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher – MEP.
- Rory Gallagher – guitarist and singer.
- Tommy Gallagher – An S.D.L.P. politician who was formerly an M.L.A. for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
- Shay Given – professional goalkeeper.
- Willie Hay, M.L.A. – current Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
- Cahir Healy – A journalist who was a very prominent Irish Nationalist politician and who was a long-serving M.P. for County Fermanagh.
- John Kells Ingram – economist, Irish patriot and poet.
- Dr. Michael Logue – Cardinal-Archbishop of Armagh.
- Charles Macklin – London-based actor, director and writer.
- Ray McAnally – Actor and theatrical director, famed for his parts in A Very British Coup, The Mission and My Left Foot.
- Dr. Daniel McGettigan – Archbishop of Armagh.
- Seán McGinley – Actor.
- Frank McGuinness – playwright.
- Bl. Conor O’Devany – Martyred by the English Crown.
- Daniel O’Donnell – singer.
- Dr. Patrick O’Donnell – Cardinal-Archbishop of Armagh.
- Peadar O’Donnell – Irish revolutionary and socialist.
- Red Hugh O’Donnell – second-last King of Tír Chonaill.
- Séamus Ó Grianna – Irish-language novelist.
- Cathal Ó Searcaigh – Irish-language poet.
- Sir Gerry Robinson – Businessman and former head of Granada Television.
- Bríd Rodgers – A former M.L.A. who was the former S.D.L.P. Deputy Leader and the former Northern Irish Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.
- Dr. George Otto Simms – Archbishop of Armagh and historian.
- John Toland – philosopher.
- W.D. (Billy) Flackes, O.B.E. (1921-1993) – Legendary Belfast-based correspondent for BBC News and BBC Northern Ireland. Born and raised in Burt.