Donegal Town - in gaelic Dun na nGall (The Fort of the Foreigner) - gives ample evidence of a settlement in this area from at least Neolithic times, 2000 BC. The Gaels established a base here 2000 years ago, and the Vikings of the 9th and 10th century did likewise. But it was not until the emergence of the O'Donnell Dynasty (1200 to 1600 AD) that Donegal Town attained its rightful importance. Donegal links a dynamic present with an historical past: the O'Donnell Castle, former home of the Earls of Tirchonnail; the ruins of the Franciscan Abbey where the Annals of the History of Ireland were compiled; one of the Spanish Armada ships, the San Martin, was abandoned as a wreck near Donegal Harbour; the large anchor sited on the harbour green is from the French frigate the Romaine from the French invasion fleet of 1798.
(Donegal Town from the Pier)
Since neolithic times this site at the confluence of the River Eske and the Atlantic Ocean has attracted settlers from all over the world. With the arrival of the Gaels 2000 years ago and the Norse raiders in the 9th century, Donegal Town, in the shadow of the Blue Stack Mountains, established itself as an important trading point.
The rise of the O'Donnell clan in the 13th century saw the emergence of Donegal Town as the ruling seat of the Kingdom of Tir Chonaill (the present County Donegal). It was the first Red Hugh O'Donnell who built the original Norman-style tower house on the site of the old Fort of the Foreigners and, with his wife Nuala O'Brien, brought the Franciscan friars to Donegal in 1474 with the construction of Mainistir Dhun na nGall (Donegal Monastery). It was here that the 'Annals of the Four Masters', the famous comprehensive history of Ireland, were conceived and begun.
(Turn around and you look out over the Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, past the Abbey which is on the left)
(The anchor of the Romaine lost from the French invasion fleet of 1798)
(The Monument in the Diamond to the Four Masters)
It was during the reign of the second Red Hugh in the late 1500's that the course of history was changed for Donegal. Red Hugh died in Spain in 1602 while seeking aid against the English, leaving his brother Rory to continue the fight. When after the nine years war the English were still not driven off, Rory took part in the 'Flight of the Earls' in 1607 and Donegal Town then fell to English hands. The new landlord, Sir Basil Brooke, repaired and extended the original castle to attain its present appearance.
In 1612 Donegal Town became a corporate town under royal charter and continued to develop its role as an important market town. As late as the 1940's the Diamond was used as a market with livestock and goods traded.
Things to Do and Places to Go in Donegal Town
1. Take the Island Tours Waterbus from the Pier, for a 90 minute guided tour of Donegal Bay
2. Eat at the Blueberry Tea Room - its near the Castle, the food is wonderful, and the service is great
3. Tour the pubs - there's plenty to choose from, but I liked McGroarty's Bar, next to the Blueberry
4. Go to the Four masters Bookshop on the Diamond - specialist books of Irish interest, chrystal, ironstone, gold and silver jewellery
5. Take your credit card shopping at John Molloy - beautiful Aran knitwear made by hand and Donegal Tweed (I bought myself a Donegal Tweed cape!)
6. Tour Donegal Castle - at least twice....it has been wonderfully restored and the top level has various displays and exhibits
7. Sit in the Diamond, marvel at the Monument to the Four Masters, and watch this busy little town
8. Wait until about 8:30 pm, then walk along the Pier to the edge of the Abbey, where you can sit and look out on the Bay
9. Visit the Donegal Craft Village a short distance south of Donegal Town on your left - excellent handmade crafts for sale, including tweed which you can watch being woven and jewellery, as well as ceramics
(My wee guide, pointing out a site of interest)