Donegal – in Gaelic – Dun na nGall (Fort of the Foreigner) an area where the friendliness is legendary and hospitality second to none. Built at the confluence of the River Eske and Atlantic Ocean – nestling in the shadows of the majestic Bluestack Mountains saw it established as an important trading location since the first foreigners – the Gauls arrived possibly in the ninth century to the site where the present day O’Donnell Castle stands.
The ‘Annals of Tirchonaill’ record the presence of Vikings in Donegal Bay in 807.So it has a very long tradition in making the visitor feel at home.Donegal Town links a dynamic present with an historical past – the coming to power of the O’Donnell Clan 1200 – 1607 AD.
The construction of both Donegal Castle and Donegal Abbey in 1474 – saw the area emerge as the ruling seat for this most powerful and wealthy clan – who held sway over fortytwo castles and nine monasteries within their boundaries.
Donegal Castle was used as a base by ‘The O’Donnell’ to communicate with the Kings of Spain/ France and the Holy See, Rome. Donegal Harbour was frequently used by Spanish and Bristol traders – as ‘The O’Donnell’ were known on the continent as the” Lords of the Fish” .
It was in small huts amongst the ruins of the destroyed Donegal Abbey in 1632 that the Four Masters- Micheal O’Cleirigh ; Cucoigriche O’Cleirigh ; Cucoigriche O’Duignan ; Fearfeasa OMaolchonaire conceived and commenced work on the most famous comprehensive history of Ireland at that time – ‘The Annals of the Four Masters’.
For generations historians still argue the location where the works were finally completed on several sites in south Donegal.
The Flight of the Earls in 1607 witnessed ‘The O’Donnell’ chieftains depart from Tirconaill and ultimately the demise of the Gaelic way of life. The Plantation of Ulster granted Donegal Castle and lands to an English servitor Sir Basil Brooke – who set about repairing the partially destroyed Donegal Castle and extending a new wing – The Manor House, using the stones from the then Donegal Abbey which had been destroyed some years previous. He also commenced planning and building the present day structure of the town – complete with a central market place – The Diamond.
This 1998 reconstructed castle attracts thousands of visitors each year and on occasions – events of a cultural nature are staged there.In 1612 Donegal was granted a royal charter returning two MP’s to Irish parliament and continued to develop as a market town.
The Diamond was used as a market area for goods and livestock and ”Market or Fair Days” complete with “trick o the loop” men – were held there up until the late 1950’s.
The twentyfive feet obelisk in the centre of the Diamond – built of Mountcharles sandstone – to the memory of ‘The Four Masters’ – with funds donated by a noted local solicitor who was involved along with a then young barrister Padraig Pearse in his only case in the famous Neil Mac Ghiolla Bhride Gaelic language affair.
The town also has involvement with the second French invasion, of September 1798 – the frigate ‘Romaine’ sheltering in inner Donegal Bay – upon being routed by the English forces – cut loose her anchor and fled.The huge anchor is still on display at the harbour area. Another French ship ‘Le Hoche’ was captured in an outer Donegal Bay battle and renamed ‘HMS Donegal’ and later seconded to the fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
The First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Jack Fisher(Lord Kilverston) served on board ‘HMS Donegal’ which is ironic considering the fact that his descendants to this day still have close family connections with Donegal Town.
The family seat of Kilverston Hall Norfolk has a ‘Donegal room’. Donegal Courthouse complete with basement cells was only one of two Bridewells in the county and in the 1920’s was burnt to the ground – following a night time gunfight between armed police and the Old IRA.The Courthouse was reconstructed and is still in everyday use.