Towns, Villages, Islands & important places
This text is to be included in the ‘Places’ part of ‘Our County’s Memory’. I have put the text in a separate file because it is so long. You might consider whether this should be in pdf format because of its size. Also as it would be called down in different ways, e.g. by clicking on the map or by clicking on text in the introductory paragraphs and each individual bit on particular towns needs to be retrieved individually , it might be better to set it up as pdf’s rather than scrolled as with other texts.
Towns & Villages
Map of county, all towns and villages underlined can be clicked
List of towns and villages to be included on map
An Bun Beag [Bunbeg] Buncrana
An Charraig [Carrick] An Clochán Liath [Dungloe]
Dún Lúiche [Dunlewey] Dungloe see An Clochán Liath An Fál Carrach [Falcarragh]
Gleann Cholm Cille [Glencolumbkille]
Portnoo / Narin
List of other places to be included on map Barnesmore
St John's Point
List of islands to be included on map
Tóraigh [Tory Island]
Donegal tweeds and knitwear are famous around the world, and it is for its woollen goods and tweed that Ardara is best known. The small town, with around 700 inhabitants, is one of the most attractive in the county, set in the valley where the Owentocker River enters the bay of Loughros More. The town in fact gives access to three peninsulas: to the north-west lies the peninsula ending in Dawros Head, home of the resorts of Portnoo and Narin; to the west the smaller Lughros peninsula; and to the south west the majestic Sliabh a‟Liag peninsula. Coming from the direction of Glenties you move down a steep street, crossing the bridge over the Owentocker to reach the pretty town centre near the Market House, before the street turns west again for Killybegs and Gleann Cholm Cille, past the Holy Family Catholic Church (built in 1904), with its stained glass window by Evie Hone.
Spinning and weaving have been practiced in South West Donegal as long as people have lived here. By the mid nineteenth century the weaving trade was in decline all over Ireland. In the Ardara area a number of people helped to put the trade back on its feet from the 1870s on, including Neil McNelis, who established a hand-spun cottage industry; Mrs. Ernest Hart, who revived the art of dying; and the Gillespie Brothers, originally from County Down, who made high quality looms. The revival was enormously boosted when the Congested Districts Board was set up in 1891. The CDB established the Market House in 1912, which quickly became the focus of the industry, and a centre for measuring and inspecting the tweed, and a place where the hand-crafted produce could be stored and sold. More recently Ardara was designated a heritage theme town with a special focus on weaving, and the story of weaving is told in the heritage centre located in the former Market House in the middle of the town.
Nineteenth century visitors to South-west Donegal tended to be impressed both by the town itself and countryside they passed through as they approached it. Ardara remains a traditional Donegal town which has held onto its small shops and pubs, when other towns have had cause to regret the passing of such institutions of community life. Shops where you can buy woollen goods for example, but also fishing licenses and tackle, as well as getting useful advice on fishing into the bargain.
If you are planning to explore Ardara and South West Donegal you might bring with you a copy of In Conall‟s Footsteps by Lochlann McGill. By tracing the
traditions associated with the sixth century Saint Conall, up mountain and down glen, from Doochary on the Gweebarra River, to Inver, the book gives an unique insight into South West Donegal. The heart of the book is the area around Ardara, Lochlann McGill‟s native place, and the town whose history was so lovingly recorded by his father, P.J. McGill.
The twin towns of Ballybofey/Stranorlar lie on either side of the River Finn. These towns are the market centres for the fertile Finn Valley and the gateway to the wild and beautiful Glenfin.
The River Finn is popular with anglers, as it is rich in freshwater fish. Near Stranorlar lie the ruins of Drumboe Castle, built in Elizabethan times, and Drumboe Woods, now a place for pleasant walks but a scene of tragedy during the Civil War.
Isaac Butt, the leader of Irish nationalism before Parnell, was born not far from Ballybofey, and after he died in 1879 was buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Stranorlar.
The old and attractive town of Ballyshannon is laid out on the hilly banks of the river Erne where it meets the sea. The steep streets, the ecclesiastical remains, the falls of Asaroe and the Erne itself all combine to make this town well worth getting to know. Ballyshannon can claim to be one of Ireland‟s oldest settlements, when the Parthalonians settled in Ins Saimer in the Erne. The architectural heritage of the town – along the Mall, the Workhouse at the Rock,
St. Anne‟s Church of Ireland - reflects its rich history as an important political, ecclesiastical, and maritime center.
Ballyshannon has something of the border town about it. Although the county boundary is four miles further on at the Bundrowes River, the Erne which flows through Ballyshannon marked the southern boundary of historical Tír Chonaill, and still divides the dioceses of Raphoe and Clogher – the town has two Catholic
parishes, one in each Diocese. There is something different about the Ballyshannon accent; it has more in common with West Fermanagh and North Leitrim, despite the fact that Donegal Town is only some fourteen miles to the north, a short journey by the fine road that was opened in the early 1980s.
Ballyshannon had long been an important stronghold for the O‟Donnells.
Although the Erne was, as we seen, a historical frontier, for long periods the reach of the O‟Donnells extended much further, beyond the river Drowes and into North Sligo, and eastwards into Maguire country. It was because of a perceived vulnerability to attack from Connacht that Niall Garbh O Domhnaill built the castle in Ballyshannon in 1423. This remained one of the chief seats of O‟Donnell power, until the O‟Donnells themselves had to give way to a stronger force. It was from Ballyshanon Castle that Aodh Ruadh II set out in 1592 for his inauguration at the traditional centre of Doon Rock in the North of the county.
Important „though the castle was in its time, Ballyshannon is in essence an eighteenth and nineteenth century town. A well known early nineteeth century print shows the town climbing the hill, above the bridge. Along the Mall you can see some of the fine eighteenth century houses, including the Condon House which has, admittedly, seen better days. It received its first patent to hold a weekly market in August of 1639, but it had been an important centre of trade and learning for many centuries before that. Because of its crucial position on the Erne it has been a gateway to Donegal and the west of Ulster. Ballyshannon was a trading port, and a prosperous one supplying not only south Donegal but Fermanagh and Cavan, until ships grew so big that they found the bar at the mouth of the Erne too great an obstacle.
The Erne gives the town of Ballyshannon much of its character. One of the earliest stories relating to the area tells of how the Assaroe waterfall got its name. Some two thousand years ago the kingship of Ireland was given to three princes, the sons of three brothers, to hold for seven years each in rotation. One of them was named Aodh Ruadh, a name that was to prove very popular in the history of Donegal. Towards the end of his third period of kingship, when he was an old man, he fell into the river and drowned. He was buried on the hill overlooking the waterfall, and from then on it was known as Eas Aoidh Ruadh (the waterfall
of Red Hugh).
The river provided the town‟s best known poet, William Allingham, with the inspiration for some of his best known poems. Allingham was born in Ballyshannon in 1824, two days after St. Patrick‟s Day. His first job was in a bank in the town, but he joined the civil service at the age of twenty two, and was posted as a Customs official on the south coast of Donegal. In 1863 he was transferred to Lymongton in Hampshire and remained in the job until 1870. His first book was published in 18x8, and he continued to write and be published until his death in 1889. Despite moving in literary circles and receiving praise
from fellow writers such as Ruskin, Turgenev and Tennyson, Allingham never loosened his emotional ties to Ballyshannon.
Allingham is not the town‟s only famous son or daughter. Rory Gallagher, the late blues and rock guitarist was born and spent the first few years of his life here before moving to his mother‟s home city of Cork. Current British Prime Minister Tony Blair‟s grandmother came from Ballyshannon. Further back in time Micheál Ó Cleirigh, chief of the Four Masters came from here, while the writer and emancipationist Mary Wollstonecraft also had associations with the town.
The „Big Gap‟ - Bearnas Mór – is one of great attractions of Donegal, the
gateway between the north and south of the county and perhaps the most dramatic stretch of National Primary Road [N15] in the network. Barnesmore is both the link and the dividing point between north and south, so it is perhaps fitting that the Gap was probably fashioned by a glacial movement seeking an outlet to the south, scooping all before it. This view of how the Gap was created is borne out by the eskers - the ridges of sand and gravel - which are so common in the Gap, and which have provided building materials for generations of local people.
Through Barnesmore ran the great bealach or highway of Tír Chonaill, joining
Donegal Town with an important ford on the river Finn; on one side of this ford was Srath Bó Féich (the „flat ground near a river where Foy‟s cows grazed‟, from which Ballybofey takes its name) and on the other Srath an Urláir, modern day
Stranorlar. The Gap did not only divide North and South, however. The prominent hill to the east of the Gap, near Lough Mourne, is Croaghonagh, or Cruach Eoghanach, signifying the western boundary of Cenel or Tír Eoghain, while the hill facing it on the western side is Croaghconnelagh or Cruach
, the frontier of Tír Chonaill. Conallach
Local tradition used to maintain that the Gap was home to groups of thieves and outlaws, the “ancient woodkerne of Ireland”. Baron Finglas, the Chief Baron of Ireland in 1529, noted that Barnesmore was the most dangerous and least traversible of all of the passes in Ireland, and recommended to the Lord Deputy that an armed force should spend part of each Summer cutting a path through the woods at the approaches to the Gap. Later that century, when Don Alonzo Cobo, a Spanish envoy, was making his way from Killybegs to meet the O‟Donnell chieftain in Lifford, he had to be accompanied by an armed group of Sweeneys and Boyles, to guarantee his safety. Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh, the
biographer of Aodh Ruadh II Ó Domhnaill, credited his hero with solving the problem
“this Barenesmore is an intricate mountain to pass over and it was a refuge for robbers and rogues, robbing and plundering, until Hugh Roe banished them”.
With the Donegal Town by-pass, and the soon to be improved road from Clar to the edge of Barnesmore, those days seem very far away indeed.