The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"COUNTY DONEGAL, a maritime county of Ireland, in the province of Ulster. It is bounded on the N. and W. by the Atlantic Ocean, on the E. by Lough Foyle, Londonderry, and Tyrone, and on the S. by Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Leitrim. It lies between 54° 28' and 55° 20' N. lat., and 6° 48' and 8° 40' W. long., comprising a surface of 1,865 square miles, or 1,193,443 acres, of which 393,191 are under cultivation, 769,587 uncultivated, bog, mountain, &c., 7,079 in plantations, 23,107 water, &c., and the remaining 479 occupied by towns. The greatest length is from N.E. to S.W., 85 miles; the greatest breadth, S.E. to N. W., 41 miles. In the time of Ptolemy, Donegal was inhabited by the two tribes of Venicnii and Rhobogdii. It subsequently formed part of the district of Eircael, or Eargal, and was the seat of the sept of the O'Donells, who were descended from Conal Golban, son of Nial of the Nine Hostages. From him the county was named Tyr-Conall, until the plantation of Ulster by James I. in 1612.

There were several other septa in Tyrconnel subject to the O'Donells, and descended from the common ancestor, Conal Golban. The chief of these were the O'Dohertys, O'Boyles, O'Donaghs, O'Gallaghers, O'Clerys, MacWards, and MacSuibhne, or Sweeneys. In the early part of the 15th century, Nial Garbb, the chief of the sept, was engaged in war with the English, which terminated in his capture and death. The district was erected into a county under its present name in 1584, and Hugh Roe O'Donell, then chieftain, was entrapped by Sir John Perrot, and detained as a hostage for the peaceable behaviour of his sept. After three years confinement he escaped, and devised a plan for a rebellion in concert with Hugh, Earl of Tyrone, in whose favour he compelled Tirlogh Luineagh O'Neil to resign the title of O'Neil. An English force was sent against them in 1592, and the convent of Donegal and a few castles were seized, but soon recovered by the Irish. In company with Tyrone, O'Donell was present at the battle of Blackwater, and Maguire and O'Rourke, two of his partisans, defeated Sir Conyers Clifford in a pass of the Carlow mountains. This encouraged him to make an expedition into Thomond and other parts more immediately under English rule, but in his absence Sir Henry Docura, Governor of Loch Foyle, landed in Innishowen, and took the castles of Culmore, Derry, and Dunnalong, and soon afterwards that of Donegal also. At this time O'Donell's cousin, Nial Gaw O'Donell, and his brothers, were persuaded to join the English and to give up the town of Lifford, when Docura set up Nial in his place as chief. In 1601 Tyrone and O'Donell marched to the relief of the Spanish forces sent to their assistance by Philip III., who were blockaded at Kinsale. Here they were totally defeated, and O'Donell in consequence sailed to Spain, to solicit further aid in men and money, but after spending a year and a half to no purpose, died at Valladolid. He was the last chief acknowledged by the whole sept as "The O'Donell." As Nial Gaw did not prove so subservient to the English as was thought desirable, Rory O'Donell was promoted to the chieftain-ship, and also created Earl of Tyrone. In 1607 he was accused of a conspiracy, with other lords, all of whom fled the country, and the year after Sir Cahir O'Dogherty, chief of the sept of that name, broke out into rebellion, and took Culmore and Derry. He then fortified the rock of Doune, where the O'Donells had been crowned for many centuries, and was besieged there for five months, being, at the expiration of that time, shot while leaning over the edge of the rock. In 1612 O'Donell and his fellow conspirators were attainted of high treason, and Donegal and five other counties in Ulster escheated to the king. The survey taken at the time gives the area of the "profitable land" in the county as 110,700 acres. Of these the termon lands, 9,160 acres, were assigned to the see of Raphoe; 3,680 acres were assigned as the bishop's mensal lands; 6,600 acres as glebe-land for 87 parishes; 9,224 acres of monastery land to the college of Dublin; 300 acres to Culmore Fort: 1,000 to Ballyshannon; and 1,024 to Sir Ralph Bingley. Other "undertakers "were Sir John Kingsmill, John Murray, Sir John Stewart, Sir James Cunningham, Sir George Marhurie, &c. Muff, in Innishowen, was granted to the Grocers' Company. In 1798 the French fleet was captured by Sir John Warren off Tory Island, and in the same year his Majesty's ship Saldanah was lost close to the Fannet Light. The surface of Donegal is mostly covered with mountains, rivers, and lakes, affording grand and picturesque scenery. The midland district, however, from the liberty of Londonderry westward to Letterkenny and Rathmelton, and southward along the Foyle to Lifford and Castle Finn, is comparatively flat, and suitable for cultivation. The country round Ballyshanuon and Donegal to the S. of the county, and round Buncrana and Dunfanaghy to the N., is of the same character; but with these exceptions the county consists of mountain and moorland, interspersed with fertile valleys. The general direction of the mountain chains is from S.W. to N.E. In the N.E. of the county, between loughs Swilly and Foyle, are the mountains of Slieve Snaght, 2,019 feet in height, and Knockalla, 1,196 feet. To the W. of Sheephaven is Muckish, 2,190 feet, and near the Bloody Foreland, Cartreena, 1,396 feet. In the chain which runs to the S. of these mountains, the highest points are Errigal, 2,463 feet, and Dovish, 2,143 feet; and again, S. of these, Bluestack, 2,213 feet, and Silverhill, 1,967 feet. Other considerable mountains are Knockroe, 2,202 feet; Agla, 1,953 feet; Gangin, 1,859 feet; and Croaghnagur, 1,793 feet. The rivers in the county are numerous but small, the most important being the Foyle. This river rises in Lough Finn, in the Branagh hills, to the N. of Aghla, passes Stranorlar and Lifford, and enters the sea through Lough Foyle, on which Londonderry is situated. The river is called the Finn from its source to Lifford, where it is joined on the E. by the Strule, into which the Derg, rising in Lough Derg, flows, after a course of about 20 miles. On the W. the Deele flows from Lough Deele, nearly parallel to the Finn, joining the Foyle below Lifford. The Swilly flows into the head of Lough Swilly, after a course of not more than 15 miles. Letterkenny stands on the Swilly, about 4 miles from its entrance into the lough. The Deannan also flows into the lough near Rathmelton. Other smaller rivers are the Lackagh, flowing into Sheephaven; the Clady and Gweedore, into Gweedore Bay; the Gweebarra, at the mouth of which stands Ballinacarrick; the Owenea, which discharges itself into Loughrussmore Bay; the Eask, on which Donegal stands; and the Erne, flowing from Lough Erne, with Ballyshannon at its mouth. The southern part of the county is chiefly limestone, covered with a deep and rich soil. N. of the Barnesmore mountains, the formation is igneous, excepting a tract of transition formation along the course of the river Foyle. The Derrynaght range consists chiefly of mica-slate, topped with granite; and Horn Head is entirely composed of trap, greenstone, and porphyry. Limestone of various colours occurs in the mountain districts, and the marble of Dunlewry is considered equal to that from Carrara. Lead ore has been discovered at Boylagh, Loughna-Broden, on the Derryveagh mountains, and at Kieldrum, in Kilmacrenan. Copper and iron pyrites are found at Errigal, Muckish, and Horn Head. There is a thin seam of coal at Dromore, near Lough Swilly, and also in Innishowen, but it has not yet been worked. Avery peculiar steatite is found near Convoy, on the Deele, which is used by the people in the neighbourhood for the manufacture of tobacco pipes. Pipe and potters' clay are frequently found, but not much used. Considerable quantities of siliceous sand are exported from Lough Salt for the glass manufacture. On the western side of Horn Head there is a natural perforation in a cliff overhanging the sea, through which the water is driven during gales from the N.W. to a considerable height, and the noise thus produced is audible for several miles. It is known as MacSwiney's Gun. Near Bundoran there is a similar orifice called the Fairy Gun. At Brown Hall there is a subterranean river, possessing a very strong power of petrifaction. The climate is cold and damp, as the country is exposed along its whole coast-line to the north-western gales, but the improvements in the draining of late years have much increased both the salubrity of the atmosphere and the fertility of the soil. The S.E. portion of the county is by far the most fertile, the limestone formation between Ballyshannon and Donegal being covered with a warm friable soil. From Dunkaneely to Kellybegs and Tollen Head, the soil is light and gravelly in the lowlands, and in the mountain sides consists of peat overlying quartz gravel. A light clay, suitable for potatoes, flax, oats, and barley, covers the transition formation, and, along the Foyle and Finn, is sufficient to produce abundance of wheat. In the N. of the county, near Fannet Head, the dales consist of brown gravelly mould, but most of the land on the N. coast is spoiled by the sand which is incessantly blown up from the sea. Rosapenna House, built by Lord Boyne on Rossguill Point, between Sheephaven and Mulroy Bay, has been entirely buried by the sand, with the exception of the extremities of the chimneys. In addition to the grains, flax, and potatoes, which have already been mentioned, turnips, vetches, and mangold-wurzel are now common. The agriculture of the county has been much improved by the exertions of the agricultural societies established in Raphoe and Tyrhugh baronies at the commencement of the present century. The fertile champaign districts afford good grass for feeding sheep, young cattle, and milch cows, but oxen do not fatten readily in any part of the county. In the mountainous districts, where, the grass is principally rushes and coarse herbage, the cattle ate subject to a sort of ague, known as the "cruppan," cured only by removal to better pasture; but even this change, if persisted in too long, induces another equally severe disease called the " galar." The breed of cattle which seems to thrive best is a cross between the Limerick and old Leicester, crossed again with the Devon or Hereford. The breed of pigs has been much improved, and great numbers are fattened for the Strabane and Londonderry markets. Eggs and fowls are largely exported. Wood is scarce, except in the parks of the gentry. Donegal is divided into 6 baronies: Bannagh, in the S.W. of the county; Boylagh, W.; Innishowen, East and West, N.E.; Kilmacrenan, N.; Raphoe, North and South, E.; and Tyrhugh, S. The parishes number 50, and parts of 2 others are also in the county. Of these Inniskeel is the largest, containing 100,068 acres. There are 12 market towns: Lifford, the county, assize, sessions, and election town; Donegal and Letterkenny, sessions towns; Ballyshannon, Stranorlar, Rathmelton, Carndonagh, Buncrana (a sessions town), Raphoe, Moville, St. Johnstown, and Killybegs. Donegal and the three following towns, with Dunfanaghy, Glenties, and Milford, are Poor-law Unions; the property rated to the poor being £276,884. Ballyshannon, Letterkenny, Rathmelton, and the three following towns have police district stations. The population of the county in 1861 was 236,859, being a decrease of 59,589 since 1841, when the number of persons in the county was 296,448. Two members are sent to the imperial parliament for the county, but before the Union two members were sent to the Irish parliament in addition by each of the disfranchised boroughs of Lifford, Donegal, Ballyshannon, and St. Johnstown. The local government is carried on by a lord-lieutenant, vice-lieutenant, 22 deputy-lieutenants, custos, high sheriff, and about 80 magistrates. Donegal is in the north-western circuit, and the north, or Belfast, military district. Quarter sessions are held quarterly at Donegal, half-yearly at Letterkenny, and once a year at Lifford and Buncrana. There are 29 constabulary stations, and the force in connection with them consists of 1 stipendiary magistrate, 7 chief constables, 20 subordinates, and 116 men. A force of infantry is maintained in the barracks of Ballyshannon and Lifford, and a small number of artillery are distributed among the forts of Rathmullen, Knockalla, Macomish, Dunree, Inch, and Red Point, on Lough Swilly, and Greencastle on Lough Foyle. There is a lighthouse, with a revolving light, on Innistrahul Island, N. of Malin Head, and fixed lights on Tory Island, Fannet Point, Rathlin, O'Beirne's Island, and St. John's Point, Killybegs. The county infirmary is at Lifford, and the district lunatic asylum at Londonderry, to which Donegal sends 85 patients. There are fever hospitals at Letterkenny, Rathmullen, and Dunfanaghy, and dispensaries at Raphoe, Taughboyne, Killybegs, Moville, Clonmany, Killygawan, Dunkaneely, Kilmacrenan, Kilcar, Letterkenny, Donegal, Muff, Culdaff, Stranorlar, Rutland, Donagh, Killygorden, Ramelton, Buncrana, Careygart, Ballyshannon, Dunfanaghy, and Mount Charles. They are maintained by voluntary subscriptions and grand jury presentments. Donegal contains the diocese of Raphoe and portions of the dioceses of Derry and Clogher. The population of Donegal is chiefly engaged in agriculture, but manufacture is much on the increase. The chief articles manufactured are linen cloth, worked muslin, and stockings. The neighbourhoods of Raphoe, Lifford, and Ballyshannon are much occupied with the growth of flax and its conversion into linen, for which the chief markets are at Strabane, Londonderry, and Letterkenny. The woollen stockings made in Beylagh find a ready sale in most parts of the island, and the demand for them is increasing. A large number of the female population are engaged in the worked muslin trade. Bleach-greens are numerous near Stranorlar. Innishowen is celebrated for the quality of its whisky. Some years ago private distillation was carried on to a large extent, but it has lately been checked by the vigilance of the Excise officers. On the coast the inhabitants are engaged in making kelp from seaweed, and in the fisheries. The kelp is sent principally to Glasgow. Since 1830 the herring fishery has revived, but before that time the shoals had quite deserted the coast. In addition to herring, cod, ling, haddocks, turbot, and other flat fish are caught. Salmon run up the Erne, and loughs Swilly and Foyle. Donegal contains many objects of great interest to the antiquary, as well medieval remains as relics of the earliest periods of Irish history. Near the junction of the county with Fermanagh, there is a cave, the walls and ceiling formed of large blocks of unhewn stone, known as the "Giant's Grave." Another remarkable relic of mediaeval superstition is St. Patrick's Purgatory, on an island in Lough Derg. It consists of a cave and building for the reception of the pilgrims, who still visit the place in great numbers, and for the celebration of Divine service. The time for the pilgrimage is from the 1st June to the 15th August, and during that period from 10,000 to 20,000 pilgrims from all parts of Ireland, England, and even America, visit the place, and perform the penances enjoined by the priest. These consist of fasting, prayer, and a vigil of 24 hours in a vault called "the, prison." Nothing is allowed to be eaten except oat-cake and water. The latter, when boiled in a large cauldron kept on the island, is supposed to possess many virtues. The place has been repeatedly destroyed, and as many times repaired. The first demolition took place in 1497 by order of Pope Alexander VI.; the second in 1632, by Sir James Balfour and Sir William Stewart, who were commissioned for that purpose by the Irish Government. During the reign of James II. the cave was reopened, but closed again in 1780. It has, however, been since re-established, but on a different island, farther from the shore than the one on which the Purgatory was anciently situated. The remains of an ancient palace called "the Grianan of Aileach," are visible on the summit of a mountain, 802 feet in height, between loughs Swilly and Foyle. Eochy Ollahir, one of the earliest of the kings of Northern Ireland, is supposed to have built it, and it was inhabited by his successors till the 12th century. The top of the mountain is encircled by three walls of earth and uncemented stones. Within these is a fortress, the walls of which vary from 15 feet to 11 feet in thickness; the stones of which they are composed are mostly polygonal, about 2 feet in length, and piled up without any attempt at chiseling or arrangement in courses. The whole space covered is about 5½ acres. The palace was demolished in 1101 by Murtagh O'Brien, King of Munster. Another instance of this early architecture exists in the shape of a round tower on Tory Island, where are also the ruins of seven churches and two stone crosses. A Druid temple stands on Battony Hill, near Raphoe. There are remains of cathedrals at Raphoe and Lynsfort, and traces of more than, thirty religious houses, mostly founded by St. Colub, who was born at Gartan, near Kilmacrenan, have been noticed in the county. The most interesting of these are Astrath, near Ballyshannon, Bally Mac-Swiney, Donegal, Kilmacrenan, Lough Derg, Tory Island, Rathmullen, Killybegs, Kilbaron, and Drumshane. A singular relic of St. Columb belongs to the O'Donell family. It is a small box, known as the "Cash," containing a Psalter written by him. Near Derry is the stone on which the ancient Irish kings were crowned, and at Donne the rock where the O'Donells were inaugurated. The castles now remaining are-Kilbaron, Killybegs, Donegal, Castle MacSwiney, Dungloe, Ballyshannon; Fort Stewart, Burt, Doe, and Green Castle, at the mouth of Loiugh. Foyle. In Drumkellin bog, in the parish of Meer, a wooden house with a flat roof was found 16 feet below the surface of the ground. No railways have as yet been constructed in this county, but the Irish North-Western skirts the eastern boundary, and is intended to have branch lines to Letterkenny, Ballybofey, and Donegal. An extension of the Midland Great Western line, from Sligo to Donegal, is also in contemplation. The roads which intersect the county are the following:-From. Lifford to Derry, 13, miles; Muff, 19; Buncrana, 25; Carrowkeel, 24; and Moville, 31; From Lifford to Raphoe, 6 miles; Letterkenny, 15; Rathmelton, or Ramelton, 22; Kilmacrenan, 21; Lough Salt, 25; and Carrickhart, 32 or over the mountains to Kilmacrenan, Lough Beagh, 28; Lough Nagan, under Erigal, 36; and Gweedore Bay, 44. From Lifford to Castlefinn, 5 miles; Stranorlar, 13; Barnes Gap, 23; Donegal, 31; Ballyshannon, 43; and Bundara, 48 miles. The chief seats are, Baron's Court, Marquis of Abercorn; Mount Charles, Marquis of Conyngham; Fort Stewart, Stewart, Bart.; Drumboe Castle, Hayes, Bart., M.P.; Cloghan Lodge, Style, Bart.; Greenhills, Fenwick, Esq.; Cliff, Conolly, Esq., M.P.; Brownhall, Hamilton, Esq.; Ballymacool, Boyd, Esq.; Malin Hall, Harvey, Esq.; Convoy House, Montgomery, Esq.; Buncrana Castle, Todd, Esq."


[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018