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Donegal History, Ireland

Donegal History – Origins

The history of Donegal, Ireland begins in prehistoric times when the inhabitants of the area constructed earthen buildings and fortifications. The first record of Donegal history takes place in 1159 A.D. with the destruction of a Viking settlement. By this time, the Danes had conquered much of Ireland and Donegal was most likely one of their fortresses. The city was destroyed by Muirchertach MacLochlainn who was the High King of Ireland at the time.

Donegal History – The O’Donnell Clan

Donegal history is perhaps most well-known for one family, the O’Donnell Clan, who inhabited the town during the Middle Ages. The O’Donnell’s were a noble family and Irish folk heroes due to the fact that they fought for the independence of Ireland against Great Britain. During the 15th-17th centuries there was a push by England to colonize Ireland. Members of the O’Donnell Clan were some of the main rivals to this plan.

In 1474, an O’Donnell chief commissioned the building of Donegal Castle. It still stands today and is remembered as one of the most beautiful Gaelic castles in all of Ireland. He and his wife also commissioned the building of a Franciscan Abbey in that same year. It is said that the “Annals of the Four Masters”, a chronology of Irish history, began in the Donegal abbey.

One of the most famous of the O’Donnell’s is Red Hugh O’Donnell, the Lord of Tyrconnell. Several books and films have been made based on his life. He led a revolt against the English crown known as the Nine Years War. The revolt was not successful and Hugh O’Donnell, along with his brother Rory O’Donnell were forced to flee from Ireland. This escape came to be known as the Flight of the Earls.

Donegal History – Under British Rule

After the Flight of the Earls, Donegal history takes a major turn. All of the land belonging to the O’Donnells and other Irish noble families in the Ulster province were confiscated and handed out to English settlers who would then colonize the area as part of the Plantation of Ulster. Donegal Castle and the surrounding lands were given to Basil Brooke who added a new wing to the castle. Under his ownership, the town of Donegal was planned and constructed with a beautiful town square.

Donegal History – The Modern Eras

During the 17th through the 20th centuries, Donegal history tells of major improvements to the town under the Gore family, whose large estate included Donegal. During this time, Donegal experienced the same ups and downs as the rest of Ireland. This includes the Irish Potato Famine of which evidence can still be found in Donegal.

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