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County Donegal ( – ) is one of the traditional counties of Ireland. It is located within the Province of Ulster and is part of the Republic of Irelandmarker. It was named after the town of Donegalmarker ( ).

Throughout its history, it has sometimes been referred to as County Tirconaill or County Tyrconnell. The former was used as its official name during 1922–1927. This is in reference to both the old original Tír Chonaill kingdom and the Tyrconnell earldom that succeeded it.

Uniquely, County Donegal shares a border with only one other county in the Republic of Irelandmarker, County Leitrimmarker. The majority of its land border is shared with Northern Irelandmarker (the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanagh). This apparent economic isolation 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. Much of the county is seen as being a bastion of Gaelic culture and the Irish language holding the second-largest Gaeltacht area in the country with a population of 24,504. Despite Liffordmarker being the County Town, the largest town is Letterkennymarker.


County Donegal is famous for being the home of the once mighty Clan Dálaigh, whose most famous branch were the Clan Ó Domhnaill, better known in English as the O'Donnell Clan. Until around A.D. 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 Clan 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 thirteenth-century through to the start of the seventeenth-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 Castlemarker in Dún na nGall (modern Donegal Townmarker), the O'Donnell Kings of Tír Chonaill were traditionally inaugurated at Doon Rock near Kilmacrenanmarker. 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 Rathmullanmarker. 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 Englishmarker Crown in 1585. The English authorities at Dublin Castlemarker formed the new county by amalgamating the old Kingdom of Tír Chonaill with the old Lordship of Inishowenmarker. 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.

County Donegal was one of the worst affected parts of Ulster during the Great Famine of the late 1840s in Irelandmarker. 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, especially through Londonderry Port. Huge numbers of the county's people who emigrated were to settle in Glasgowmarker in southern Scotlandmarker.


Shrove Beach, Donegal.
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 Swillymarker and Lough Foylemarker are the most notable. The famous mountains or Hills of Donegal consist of two major ranges, the Derryveagh Mountainsmarker in the north and the Bluestack Mountains in the south, with Mount Errigalmarker at the highest peak. The Slieve Leaguemarker cliffs are the highest sea cliffs in Europe, while Donegal's Malin Headmarker 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, Arranmoremarker and Tory Islandmarker lie off the coast, along with a large number of islands with only transient inhabitants. Ireland's second longest river, the Ernemarker, enters Donegal Baymarker near the town of Ballyshannonmarker. The River Ernemarker, along with other Donegal waterways, has been dammed to produce hydroelectric power. The River Foylemarker separates part of County Donegal from parts of both County Londonderry and County Tyrone
Map of Donegal.
An extensive rail network used to exist through out 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 L.t.d. also ran a line through The Laggan, a district in the east of the county, along the River Foylemarker into Derry. Even though the railways in Donegal are fondly remembered, the network 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 Airportmarker, located at Carrickfinn in The Rosses in the west of the county, and by City of Derry Airportmarker, located at Eglintonmarker to the east. The nearest main international airport to the county is Belfast International Airportmarker (popularly known as Aldergrove Airport), which is located to the east at Aldergrove, near Antrim Townmarker, in County Antrim, around fifty-seven miles from Derry City and around seventy-five miles from Letterkenny.

County Donegal can be divided up into a number of traditional districts. In the west there is The Rosses (Irish: Na Rosa), centered on the town of Dungloemarker (Irish: An Clochán Liath), and Gweedoremarker (Irish: Gaoth Dobhairmarker). Both of these are formally Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas, although little or no Irish is spoken in Dungloe. In the county's north-west is Cloghaneely (Irish: Cloich Chionnaola), centered on the town of Falcarraghmarker (Irish: An Fál Carrach), also in the Gaeltacht. Inishowenmarker, Fanadmarker and Rosguillmarker are three peninsulas in the north of the county. Inishowenmarker (centered on the town of Buncranamarker) is one of Ireland's largest peninsulas. In the east of the county is located the Finn Valley (centered on Ballybofeymarker) and a district called The Laggan (this Laggan is usually spelled with two g's in order to distinguish it from the more famous Lagan Valley in the south of County Antrim. Donegal's Laggan is centered on the town of Raphoemarker). Both of these districts have very fertile land.


According to the 1841 Census, County Donegal had a population of 296,000 people. Due to 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 Donegal's population standing at 147,264.

Culture and heritage

The variant of the Irish language spoken in Donegal shares traits with Scottish Gaelic. The Irish spoken in the Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) is of the Ulster dialect, while Inishowenmarker, which became English-speaking only 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 Dobhairmarker, 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 famous f rock artist being the Ballyshannonmarker born Rory Gallagher, Kilcarmarker based indie band The Revs also had some good success in the Irish charts. A well known fiddler from Donegal is P.V. O'Donnell, though he currently lives in Manchester, Connecticutmarker, in the United States.

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 Britainmarker at around the turn of the 20th century, such as The Rat Pit and the autobiographical Children of the Dead End, is from the Glentiesmarker area. There is a literary summer school in Glenties named in his honour. The novelist and socialist politician Peadar O'Donnell hails from The Rosses in west Donegal. The Poet William Allinghamwas also from Ballyshannon.

Modern exponents include the Inishowenmarker 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 Rosses and the contemporary (and controversial) Irish-language poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh from Gortahorkmarker 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 sizable Protestant minority. Most Donegal Protestants would trace their ancestors to settlers who arrived during the Plantation of Ulster in the early seventeenth-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 Raphoemarker, 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 Townmarker and Ballyshannonmarker in the south of the county. In absolute terms, Letterkennymarker 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 Irelandmarker. Some, albeit a minority who are concentrated in the Raphoe and Donegal Town/Ballintra areas, County Donegal Protestants are members of the Orange Order, a religious and social society.

Donegal has also contributed to culture elsewhere. One Donegal native, Francis Alison, was one of the founders of the College of Philadelphia, which would later become the University of Pennsylvaniamarker. The Rev. Francis Makemie from Rathmullanmarker founded the Presbyterian Church in America.

Relationship with Derry

County Donegal has always had a very strong and close relationship with the nearby City of Derrymarker. Indeed, before the very early 1600s, Derry was seen as being part of Inishowenmarker. Many Donegal people live and/or work in the city. Likewise many Derry City natives live and/or work in County Donegal. In addition, many young people from County Donegal attend schools and third-level institutions in Derry, especially Magee College (part of the University of Ulster) and the North West Regional Collegemarker (popularly known as Derry Tech). Donegal County Council and Derry City Councilmarker co-operate on many projects and initiatives as well. Letterkenny, in East Donegal, and Derrymarker form the main 'economic axis' of the North-West of Ireland. Derry, together with Letterkenny, is also a major transport hub for County Donegal.

Further and Higher Education

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 Letterkennymarker. In addition, many young people from the county attend third-level institutions elsewhere in Ireland, especially in Derrymarker 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 Belfastmarker ('Queen's'), and NUI Galwaymarker. Many Donegal students also attend the Limavadymarker Campus of the North West Regional Collegemarker (popularly known as Limavady Tech) and the Omagh Campus of South West College (popularly known as Omagh Tech or Omagh College).


Donegal County Council (which has officially been in existence since 1899) has responsibility for local administration, and is headquartered at the County House in Liffordmarker. The County Council runs alongside Town Councils in Letterkennymarker, Bundoranmarker, Ballyshannonmarker and Buncranamarker. Both the County Council and Town Councils have elections every five years (alongside local elections nationally, and elections to the European Parliamentmarker), the last of which took place on the 5 June 2009. Twenty nine councillors are elected using the system of Proportional Representation-Singe Transferable Vote (STV), across five electoral areas (Inishowenmarker - 7 seats, Letterkennymarker - 7 seats, Donegalmarker - 5 seats, Stranorlarmarker - 5 seats, and Glentiesmarker - 5 seats.

For general (national) 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 Parliamentmarker, the county is part of the North–West constituency (formerly Connacht–Ulster).


Gaelic football and hurling

The Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) sport of Gaelic football is very popular in Donegal. Hurling is not such a big sport in the North-West of Ireland. 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. The county senior hurling team has never managed a title. There are 16 senior G.A.A. Clubs in county Donegal, with many others playing at a lower level.

Rugby Union

There are several Rugby Union 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 Rameltonmarker.

Ulster Qualifying League Three sides include Ballyshannon RFC, Donegal Town RFC and Inishowen RFC.


Finn Harps play 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 the North-West Derby. No other Donegal teams have achieved the status of Finn Harps, but teams abound across the county.


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 Raphoemarker and the nearby village of St. Johnstonmarker, 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.

Other sports

Beach near Ardara, Co.
Donegal's rugged landscape lends itself to active sports like climbing, hillwalking, surfing and kite-flying. 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.

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 Inishowenmarker Peninsula.

Surfing on Donegal's Atlantic coast is considered to be as good as any in Ireland. The Victorian seaside resort of Bundoranmarker, located in the very south of the county, has been 'reborn' as the centre of surfing in County Donegal. Indeed, Bundoran is now the main surfing 'resort' in Ulster.


Glenveagh National Park.
With its sandy beaches, unspoilt boglands and friendly communities, Co. Donegal is a favoured destination for many travellers, Irish (especially Northern Irishmarker) and foreign alike. One of the county treasures is Glenveaghmarker National Park (formerly part of the Glenveagh Estate), as yet (February 2008) the only official national park anywhere in the Province of Ulster. The park is a 140 km² nature reserve with spectacular scenery of mountains, raised boglands, lakes and woodlands. At its heart is Glenveagh Castlemarker, 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 Irelandmarker.

Scuba Diving is also very popular with a club being located in Donegal Town.

Towns and villages

Notable natives

Flora and fauna

Seaweed: Morton, O. 2003. The marine macroalgae of County Donegal, Ireland. Bull. Ir. Soc. No. 27: 3–164. Mammals: Fairley, J.S. 1975. An Irish Beast Book. Blackstaff Press, Belfast. SBN 85640 090 4.

See also

Further reading

  • (Ireland in Old Photographs series)
  • Morton, O. 2003. The marine macroalgae of County Donegal, Ireland. Bull. Ir. biogeog.soc. 27: 3–164.
  • Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (Annála Ríoghachta Éireann) by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616, compiled during the period 1632–36 by Brother Michael O’Clery, translated and edited by John O'Donovan in 1856, and re-published in 1998 by De Burca, Dublin.
  • Parks, H.M. 1958. A general survey of the marine algae of Mulroy Bay, Co. Donegal. Ir. Nat. J. 12: 277–83.
  • Parks, H.M. 1958. A general survey of the marine algae of Mulroy Bay, Co. Donegal: II Ir. Nat. J. 12: 324–30.
  • Brian Lalor (General Editor), The Encyclopaedia of Ireland. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2003.
  • Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Paperback Edition). Blackstaff Press, Belfast 2005.
  • Willie Nolan, Máiread Dunleavy and Liam Ronayne (Ed.'s), Donegal: History & Society. Geography Publications, Dublin 1995.
  • Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North-West Ulster (Pevsner Guides). Yale University Press, London 1979.
  • Jim MacLaughlin (Editor), Donegal: The Making of a Northern County. Four Courts Press, Dublin 2007.
  • John McCavitt, The Flight of the Earls. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2005.


  1. Renamed "County Tirconaill" 1922 by resolution of the county council.(Place Name Confusion Donegal or Tirconaill, The Irish Times, April 24, 1924). After historians and Gaelic scholars pointed out that the historic territory of Tirconaill did not include the whole county, the name Donegal was readopted in 1927 (Back to "Donegal", The Irish Times, 22 November 1927).
  4. Ireland Northwest.
  5. Club GAA - Donegal -

External links

Commemorative Biographical of the Counties of Wayne and Holmes, Ohio 1889

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