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County Donegal

County Donegal, located in northwest Ireland, is within Ulster province but not part of Northern Ireland. Its rugged landscape makes the area attractive and alluring, covered in part by blanket bogs, with sea coasts and mountains and thickly wooded inland forests.

Outdoor activities are popular here, with golf, fishing and hiking at the top of the list.

Heritage centres and archaeological interest sites are also plentiful in County Donegal, whose name means 'fort of the foreigners', an allusion to the Viking settlers that once occupied the area. County Donegal's main industries include fishing and production of tweed.

Larger towns such as Letterkenny offer shopping, entertainment, and world class resorts. The county is known for achievements in music and literature - artists of worldwide renown such as Clannad and Enya come from the area, which is known for a distinctive style of music and vocals.

Highlights of County Donegal

The remote location of County Donegal makes it the perfect place to experience the authentic unspoiled beauty of Ireland's rocky coastline, deep woods, and sleepy fishing villages.

Donegal Town offers shopping, pubs and night life as well as the historic attractions of Donegal Castle and the spectacular view from the ruins of 13th century Franciscan Abbey founded by Hugh O' Donnell at the point where the River Eske meets Donegal Bay.

The village of Glencolumbkille is a rural Irish delight, with the hilltop House of St. Columba and a charming Folk Village Museum located at the edge of the moors and in the centre of the Gaeltacht of Donegal County.

Rathmullan features an ancient harbour with a heritage centre that memorializes the beginning of the Plantation era. The beauty of the outdoors can be enjoyed in County Donegal's many forest and woodland retreats, such as Ards Forest Park, complete with walking and hiking trails, picnic grounds, rivers, loughs, plants and animals.

Glenveagh National Park contains some of the deepest woodlands in the country, and Tory Island is an isolated place where the past and present come together in an independent, simple and unique artistic community. 

History of County Donegal

The roots of mankind are planted deeply in County Donegal, as evidenced by Beltany Stone Circle, where ancient sun worship rituals were performed. Iron Age structures still survive, along with the ruins of monasteries and castles.

Formerly called the Kingdom of Tirconnel, the O'Donnell family ruled during the period before the 12th century invasion of the Normans. Remote as it was, County Donegal wasn't taken by the English until the late 16th century. Its history was entwined with the rest of Ulster when the 1592 rebellion led by Red Hugh O'Donnell was defeated, and the plantation system was extended into Donegal.

County Donegal lost about 50,000 residents to the Great Famine and emigration in the mid 1800'

Popular Donegal Surnames

Common surnames in the area include:

  • Campbell
  • Anderson
  • Thompson
  • Browne
  • Smith
  • Morrison
  • White
  • Irwin


Malin Head, County Donegal. Image: Grace Smith.


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