County Donegal

The most northerly county in Ireland and one of the three in the province of Ulster that are part of the Republic Of Ireland. The county capital is Lifford. One of Ireland’s most scenic counties’ Donegal (area of 1,876 square miles) has a population of 137,383 (2002 census). The County has a spectacular two hundred mile coastline and its rugged interior regions are dominated by the majestic Mount Errigal. Slieve Liag in the south of the county boasts the highest sea cliffs in Europe (1’972).

The county is often referred to as Tir Chonaill or “the land of Conall.” The High King Niall of the Nine Hostages who ruled between 379 to 405 carved up much of west Ulster between his two sons, Conall and Eoghan. Conall received most of Donegal while his brother Eoghan was given Tyrone (Tir Eoghan – the land of Eoghan) and Inishowen (Eoghan’s island). The term Tir Chonaill, therefore, refers only to those parts of County Donegal outside of the Inishowen peninsula.

St. Colm Cille has a strong association with the county. he is reputed to have been born in Gartan in 521 and is believed to have spent some time in Glencolumbcille and Tory Island.

The O’Donnell clan ruled most of Donegal until the Flight of the Earls in 1609 shattered the dynasty’s control of the county, which now became known as Donegal, or Dun na nGall – “the fort of the foreigner.”

A large cottage has been built in the county around tweed, especially in the towns of Ardara and Downings. Killybegs is a major fishing port and Bundoran, a popular seaside resort. Among Donegal’s many tourist attractions are Glenveagh Castle and national Park and the magnificent art collection of Glebe House. The county’s most important archeological site is the Grianan of Aileach, a circular stone fort that dates back to around 1500 B.C. and was reputed to have been the residence of various northern chieftains.

The Annals of the Four Masters, the famous compilation of annals that records the history of Ireland from early times to 1616, was written between the years 1632 and 1636 at the Donegal Abbey, by the Franciscan brothers collectively known as “the four masters” (1474). Each year thousands of pilgrims visit Station Island in Lough Derg, known as St. Patrick’s Purgatory. A typical retreat lasts for three days and participants go without sleep or food (except for black tea and toast) and walk barefoot around the rocky island saying prayers. Much of the county is Irish speaking.

Well worth visiting on any tour of Ireland…..but not really possible on a day tour