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County Donegal
Contae Dhún na nGall / Contae Thír Chonaill
Coontie Dunnygal / Coontie Dinnygal

Coat of arms
Motto: Mutuam habeatis caritatem  (Latin)
"Have love for one another"
Location in Ireland, indicated in darker green
Coordinates: 54°55′01″N 8°00′00″W / 54.917, -8.000Coordinates: 54°55′01″N 8°00′00″W / 54.917, -8.000
Country Ireland
Province Ulster
Dáil Éireann Donegal North–East,
Donegal South–West
EU Parliament Midlands–North-West
County town Lifford
 • Type County Council
 • Total 4,861 km2 (1,877 sq mi)
Area rank  (4th)
Population (2011)[1] 161,137
 • Rank  (10th)
Vehicle index
mark code
Coontie Dunnygal[2][3] and Coontie Dinnygal[4] are Ulster Scots spellings.

County Donegal (pronounced /ˈdʌnɪɡɔːl/ or /ˌdʌnɪˈɡɔːl/; Irish: Contae Dhún na nGall) is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal (Dún na nGall) in the south of the county. Donegal County Council is the local council for the county and Lifford serves as the county town. The population of the county was 161,137 according to the 2011 census. It has also been known as (County) Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill), after the historic territory of the same name.

Geography and political subdivisions[]

In terms of size and area, it is the largest county in Ulster and the fourth-largest county in all of Ireland. Uniquely, County Donegal shares a small border with only one other county in the Republic of IrelandCounty Leitrim. The greater part of its land border is shared with three counties of Northern Ireland: County Londonderry, County Tyrone and County Fermanagh. This geographic isolation from the rest of the Republic has led to Donegal people maintaining a distinct cultural identity[5] and has been used to market the county with the slogan "Up here it's different".[6] While Lifford is the county town, Letterkenny is by far the largest town in the county with a population of 19,588. Letterkenny and the nearby city of Derry form the main economic axis of the northwest of Ireland.[7]


The Poison Glen, in North West Donegal.

There are eight historic baronies in the county:

  • Banagh
  • Boylagh
  • Inishowen East
  • Inishowen West
  • Kilmacrennan
  • Raphoe North
  • Raphoe South
  • Tirhugh

Informal districts[]

The county may be informally divided into a number of traditional districts. There are two Gaeltacht districts in the west: The Rosses (Irish: Na Rosa), centred on the town of Dungloe (Irish: An Clochán Liath), and Gweedore (Irish: Gaoth Dobhair). Another Gaeltacht district is located in the north-west: Cloughaneely (Irish: Cloich Chionnaola), centred on the town of Falcarragh (Irish: An Fál Carrach). The most northerly part of the island of Ireland is the location for three peninsulas of outstanding natural beauty: Inishowen, Fanad and Rosguill. The main population centre of Inishowen, Ireland's largest peninsula, is Buncrana. In the east of the county lies the Finn Valley (centred on Ballybofey). The Laggan district (not to be confused with the more famous Lagan Valley in the south of County Antrim) is centred on the town of Raphoe.

Seen from Space: County Donegal with the Ulster coastline with Lough Swilly and Inishowen west of Derry and County Londonderry with Lough Foyle east thereof.


According to the 1841 Census, County Donegal had a population of 296,000 people. As a result of famine and emigration, the population had reduced by 41,000 by 1851 and further reduced by 18,000 by 1861. By the time of the 1951 Census the population was only 44% of what it had been in 1841.[14] The 2006 Census, undertaken by the State's Central Statistics Office, had County Donegal's population standing at 147,264. According to the 2011 Census, the county's population had grown to 161,137.

Largest towns (2011 Census)[]

Town Population (2011 Census)
Letterkenny 19,588
Buncrana 7,199
Ballybofey/Stranorlar 4,852
Donegal Town 2,607
Carndonagh 2,534
Ballyshannon 2,504
Bundoran 2,140
Lifford 1,658
Bunbeg/Derrybeg 1,553
Milford 1,530
Moville 1,481
Convoy 1,438
Killybegs 1,297
Muff 1,271
Ramelton 1,212
Dungloe 1,183
Raphoe 1,157
Newtowncunningham 1,067

Physical geography[]

Horse riding on Tramore Beach in Downings

Slieve League cliffs, the second tallest in Ireland

Glengesh Pass, near Ardara

Map of County Donegal

The county is the most mountainous in Ulster consisting chiefly of two ranges of low mountains; the Derryveagh Mountains in the north and the Bluestack Mountains in the south, with Mount Errigal at 749 metres (2,457 ft) the highest peak. It has a deeply indented coastline forming natural sea loughs, of which both Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle are the most notable. The Slieve League cliffs are the sixth-highest sea cliffs in Europe, while Malin Head is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland.

The climate is temperate and dominated by the Gulf Stream, with warm, damp summers and mild wet winters. Two permanently inhabited islands, Arranmore and Tory Island, lie off the coast, along with a large number of islands with only transient inhabitants. Ireland's second longest river, the Erne, enters Donegal Bay near the town of Ballyshannon. The River Erne, along with other Donegal waterways, has been dammed to produce hydroelectric power. The River Foyle separates part of County Donegal from parts of both counties Londonderry and Tyrone.


A survey of the macroscopic marine algae of County Donegal was published in 2003.[15] The survey was compiled using the algal records held in the herbaria of the following institutions: the Ulster Museum, Belfast; Trinity College, Dublin; National University of Ireland, Galway, and the Natural History Museum, London. Records of flowering plants include: Dactylorhiza purpurella (Stephenson and Stephenson) Soó.[16]


The animals included in the county include Badgers (Meles meles L.)[17]

There are habitats for the rare Corncrake in the county.[18]


Donegal Castle, former seat of the O'Donnell clan.

Kilclooney dolmen, which is over 4,000 years old.[19]

At various times in its history, it has been known as County Tirconaill, County Tirconnell or County Tyrconnell (Irish: Tír Chonaill). The former was used as its official name during 1922–1927.[20] This is in reference to both the old túath of Tír Chonaill and the earldom that succeeded it.

County Donegal is famous for being the home of the once mighty Clann Dálaigh, whose most famous branch were the Clann Ó Domhnaill, better known in English as the O'Donnell Clan. Until around 1600, the O'Donnells were one of Ireland's richest and most powerful Gaelic (native Irish) ruling-families. Within the Province of Ulster only the Clann Uí Néill (known in English as the O'Neill Clan) of modern County Tyrone were more powerful. The O'Donnells were Ulster's second most powerful clan or ruling-family from the early 13th-century through to the start of the 17th-century. For several centuries the O'Donnells ruled Tír Chonaill, a Gaelic kingdom in West Ulster that covered almost all of modern County Donegal. The head of the O'Donnell family had the titles An Ó Domhnaill (meaning The O'Donnell in English) and Rí Thír Chonaill (meaning King of Tír Chonaill in English). Based at Donegal Castle in Dún na nGall (modern Donegal Town), the O'Donnell Kings of Tír Chonaill were traditionally inaugurated at Doon Rock near Kilmacrenan. O'Donnell royal or chiefly power was finally ended in what was then the newly created County Donegal in September 1607, following the Flight of the Earls from near Rathmullan. The modern County Arms of Donegal (dating from the early 1970s) was influenced by the design of the old O'Donnell royal arms. The County Arms is the official coat of arms of both County Donegal and Donegal County Council.

A view of Lough Swilly with Muckish mountain in the background.

Inch Island Causeway.

The modern County Donegal was shired[21] by order of the English Crown in 1585. The English authorities at Dublin Castle formed the new county by amalgamating the old Kingdom of Tír Chonaill with the old Lordship of Inishowen. However, the English authorities were unable to establish control over Tír Chonaill and Inishowen until after the Battle of Kinsale in 1602. Full control over the new County Donegal was only achieved after the Flight of the Earls in September 1607. The county was one of those 'planted' during the Plantation of Ulster from around 1610 onwards.

County Donegal was one of the worst affected parts of Ulster during the Great Famine of the late 1840s in Ireland. Vast swathes of the county were devastated by this catastrophe, many areas becoming permanently depopulated. Vast numbers of County Donegal's people emigrated at this time, chiefly through Londonderry Port.

The Partition of Ireland in the early 1920s had a massive direct impact on County Donegal. Partition cut the county off, economically and administratively, from Derry, which had acted for centuries as the county's main port, transport hub and financial centre. Derry, together with west Tyrone, was henceforward in a new, different jurisdiction officially called Northern Ireland. Partition also meant that County Donegal was now almost entirely cut off from the rest of the jurisdiction in which it now found itself, the new dominion called the Irish Free State, which in April 1949 became the Republic of Ireland. Only a few miles of the county is physically connected by land to the rest of the Republic. The existence of a border cutting Donegal off from her natural hinterlands in Derry City and West Tyrone greatly exacerbated the economic difficulties of the county after partition. The county's economy is particularly susceptible, just like that of Derry City, to the currency fluctuations of the Euro against sterling.

Added to all this, in the late 20th century County Donegal was adversely affected by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The county suffered several bombings and assassinations. In June 1987, Constable Samuel McClean, a Donegal man who was a serving member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was shot dead by the Provisional Irish Republican Army at his family home near Drumkeen. In May 1991, the prominent Sinn Féin politician Councillor Eddie Fullerton was assassinated by the Ulster Defence Association at his home in Buncrana. This added further to the economic and social difficulties of the county. However, the greater economic and administrative integration following the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998 has been of benefit to the county.

It has been labelled the 'forgotten county' by its own politicians, owing to the perception that it is ignored by the Irish Government, even in times of crisis.[22][23]

Irish language[]

Road signs in Irish in the Gweedore Gaeltacht.

Much of the county is seen as being a bastion of Gaelic culture and the Irish language, the Donegal Gaeltacht being the second-largest in the country. The version of the Irish language spoken in County Donegal is Ulster Irish.

Of the Gaeltacht population of 24,744,[1] 16% of the county's total, 17,132 say they can speak Irish.[24] There are three Irish-speaking parishes: Gweedore, The Rosses and Cloughaneely. Other Irish-speaking areas include Gaeltacht an Láir: Glencolmcille, Fanad and Rosguill, the islands of Aranmore, Tory Island and Inishbofin. Gweedore is the largest Irish-speaking parish, with over 5,000 inhabitants. All schools in the region use Irish as the language of instruction. One of the constituent colleges of NUI Galway, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, is based in Gweedore.

There are 1,005 students attending the five Gaelscoileanna and two Gaelcholáistí in the rest of the county. According to the 2006 Census, there are also 7,218 people who identify as being daily Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht in the rest of the county.

Government and politics[]

Glenveagh Castle.

Donegal County Council (which has officially been in existence since 1899) has responsibility for local administration, and is headquartered at the County House in Lifford. The County Council runs alongside Town Councils in Letterkenny, Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Buncrana. Both the County Council and the Town Councils have elections every five years (alongside local elections nationally, and elections to the European Parliament), the last of which took place on 5 June 2009. Twenty-nine councillors are elected using the system of Proportional representation-Singe Transferable Vote (STV), across five electoral areas (also known as wards). These electoral areas are: Inishowen – 7 seats, Letterkenny – 7 seats, Donegal – 5 seats, Stranorlar – 5 seats, and Glenties – 5 seats.

For General elections, the county is divided into two constituencies, Donegal South–West and Donegal North–East, with both having three representatives in Dáil Éireann. For elections to the European Parliament, the county is part of the Midlands–North-West constituency.

Freedom of Donegal[]

The Freedom of Donegal is an award that is given to people who have been recognised for outstanding achievements on behalf of the people and county of Donegal. Such people include Daniel O' Donnell, Phil Coulter, Shay Given, Packie Bonner, Paddy Crerand and the Brennan family. In 2009 the members of the 28th Infantry Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces were also awarded the Freedom of the County from Donegal County Council "in recognition of their longstanding service to the County of Donegal".


An extensive rail network used to exist throughout the county and was mainly operated by the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company (known as the L. & L.S.R. or the Lough Swilly Company for short). Unfortunately all theses lines were laid to a 3-foot gauge where the connecting lines were all laid to the Irish standard gauge of 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in). This meant that all goods had to be transhipped at Derry and Strabane. Like all narrow gauge railways this became a major handicap after World War 1 when road transport began to seriously erode the railways goods traffic. By 1953 the Lough Swilly had closed its entire railway system and become a bus and road haulage concern. The County Donegal lasted until 1960 as it had largely dieselised its passenger trains by 1951. By the late 1950s major work was required to upgrade the track and the Irish Government was unwilling to supply the necessary funds, so 'the Wee Donegal', as it was affectionally known, was closed in 1960. The Great Northern Railway (Ireland) L.t.d. (the G.N.R.) also ran a line from Strabane through The Laggan, a district in the east of the county, along the River Foyle into Derry. However, the railway network within County Donegal was completely closed by 1960.[25] Today, the closest railway station to the county is Waterside Station in the City of Derry, which is operated by Northern Ireland Railways (N.I.R.). Train services along the Belfast-Derry railway line run, via Coleraine, to Belfast Central and Belfast Great Victoria Street.

County Donegal is served by both Donegal Airport, located at Carrickfinn in The Rosses in the west of the county, and by City of Derry Airport, located at Eglinton to the east. The nearest main international airport to the county is Belfast International Airport (popularly known as Aldergrove Airport), which is located to the east at Aldergrove, near Antrim Town, in County Antrim, 92 km (57 mi) from Derry City and 127 km (79 mi) from Letterkenny.


The Iron Age fortress Grianán Ailigh.

The variant of the Irish language spoken in Donegal shares many traits with Scottish Gaelic. The Irish spoken in the Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) is of the Ulster dialect, while Inishowen (parts of which only became English-speaking in the early 20th century) used the East Ulster dialect. Ulster Scots is often spoken in both the Finn Valley and The Laggan district of East Donegal. Donegal Irish has a strong influence on learnt Irish across Ulster.

Like other areas on the western seaboard of Ireland, Donegal has a distinctive fiddle tradition which is of world renown. Donegal is also well known for its songs which have, like the instrumental music, a distinctive sound. Donegal musical artists such as the bands Clannad and Altan and solo artist Enya, all from Gweedore, have had international success with traditional or traditional flavoured music. Donegal music has also influenced people not originally from the county including folk and pop singers Paul Brady and Phil Coulter. Singer Daniel O'Donnell has become a popular ambassador for the county. Popular music is also common, the county's most acclaimed rock artist being the Ballyshannon-born Rory Gallagher. Other famous acts to come out of Donegal include folk-rock band Goats Don't Shave, Eurovision contestant Mickey Joe Harte and indie rock group The Revs and in more recent years bands such as In Their Thousands and Mojo Gogo have featured on the front page of Hot Press Magazine.

Mount Errigal sits over Gweedore and Cloughaneely.

Kinnagoe Bay, Inishowen.

Donegal has a long literary tradition in both Irish and English. The famous Irish navvy-turned-novelist Patrick MacGill, author of many books about the experiences of Irish migrant itinerant labourers in Britain at around the start of the 20th century, such as The Rat Pit and the autobiographical Children of the Dead End, is from the Glenties area. There is a literary summer school in Glenties named in his honour. The novelist and socialist politician Peadar O'Donnell hailed from The Rosses in west Donegal. The poet William Allingham was also from Ballyshannon. Modern exponents include the Inishowen playwright and poet Frank McGuinness and the playwright Brian Friel. Many of Friel's plays are set in the fictional Donegal town of Ballybeg.

Authors in Donegal have been creating works, like the Annals of the Four Masters, in Gaelic and Latin since the Early Middle Ages. The Irish philosopher John Toland was born in Inishowen in 1670. He was thought of as the original freethinker by George Berkeley. Toland was also instrumental in the spread of freemasonry throughout Continental Europe. In modern Irish Donegal has produced famous, and sometimes controversial, authors such as the brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna from The Rosses and the contemporary (and controversial) Irish-language poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh from Gortahork in Cloughaneely, and where he is known to locals as Gúrú na gCnoc ('the Guru of the Hills').

Although approximately 85% of its population is Catholic, County Donegal also has a sizeable Protestant minority. Most Donegal Protestants would trace their ancestors to settlers who arrived during the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th-century. The Church of Ireland is the largest Protestant denomination but is closely rivalled by a large number of Presbyterians. The areas of Donegal with the highest percentage of Protestants are The Laggan area of East Donegal around Raphoe, the Finn Valley and areas around Ramelton, Milford and Dunfanaghy – where their proportion reaches up to 30–45 percent. There is also a large Protestant population between Donegal Town and Ballyshannon in the south of the county. In absolute terms, Letterkenny has the largest number of Protestants (over 1000) and is the most Presbyterian town (among those settlements with more than 3000 people) in the Republic of Ireland. Some County Donegal Protestants (mainly those concentrated in The Laggan, the Finn Valley, Inishowen and the Donegal Town/Ballintra areas) are members of the Orange Order.

The Earagail Arts Festival is held within the county each July.

People from Donegal have also contributed to culture elsewhere. Francis Alison was one of the founders of the College of Philadelphia, which would later become the University of Pennsylvania.[26] The Rev. Francis Makemie (originally from Ramelton) founded the Presbyterian Church in America. The Rev. David Steele, from Upper Creevaugh, was a prominent Reformed Presbyterian, or Covenanter, minister who emigrated to the United States in 1824. The Rt. Rev. Dr Charles Inglis, who was the first Church of England Bishop of the Diocese of Nova Scotia, was the third son of The Rev. Archibald Inglis, the Rector in Glencolumbkille.

Places of interest[]

Glenveagh National Park.

County Donegal is a favoured destination for many travellers. One of the attractions is Glenveagh National Park (formerly part of the Glenveagh Estate), as yet (March 2012) the only official national park anywhere in the Province of Ulster. The park is a 140 km² (about 35,000 acre) nature reserve with scenery of mountains, raised boglands, lakes and woodlands. At its heart is Glenveagh Castle, a late Victorian 'folly' that was originally built as a summer residence.

The Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking district) also attracts young people to County Donegal each year during the school summer holidays. The three-week-long summer Gaeltacht courses give young Irish people from other parts of the country a chance to learn the Irish language and traditional Irish cultural traditions that are still prevalent in parts of Donegal. The Donegal Gaeltacht has traditionally been a very popular destination each summer for young people from Northern Ireland. Scuba diving is also very popular with a club being located in Donegal Town.


Third-level education within the county is provided by Letterkenny Institute of Technology (L.Y.I.T.; popularly known locally as 'the Regional'), established in the 1970s in Letterkenny. In addition, many young people from the county attend third-level institutions elsewhere in Ireland, especially in Derry and also at the University of Ulster at Coleraine (U.U.C.), the University of Ulster at Jordanstown (U.U.J.), The Queen's University of Belfast ('Queen's'), and NUI Galway. Many Donegal students also attend the Limavady Campus of the North West Regional College (popularly known as Limavady Tech) and the Omagh Campus of South West College (popularly known as Omagh Tech or Omagh College).


Gaoth Dobhair GAA grounds.

Gaelic football and hurling[]

The Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) sport of Gaelic football is very popular in County Donegal. Donegal's inter-county football team have won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship title twice (in 1992 and 2012). Donegal emerged victorious from the 2012 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final on 23 September 2012 to take the Sam Maguire Cup for only the second time, with early goals from Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden setting up victory of 2–11 to 0–13 over Mayo. In 2007, Donegal won only their second national title by winning the National Football League. On 24 April 2011, Donegal added their third national title when they defeated Laois to capture the National Football League Division Two. There are 16 clubs in the Donegal Senior Football Championship, with many others playing at a lower level.[27]

Hurling, handball and rounders are also played but are less widespread, as in other parts of northwestern Ireland. The Donegal county senior hurling won the Lory Meagher Cup in 2011 and the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2013

Rugby Union[]

There are several rugby teams in the county. These include Ulster Qualifying League Two side Letterkenny RFC, whose ground is named after Dave Gallaher, the captain of the 1905 New Zealand All Blacks touring team, who have since become known as The Originals. He was born in nearby Ramelton.

Ulster Qualifying League Three sides include Ballyshannon RFC, Donegal Town RFC and Inishowen RFC. Finn Valley RFC and Tir Chonaill RFC both compete in the Ulster Minor League North.

Association football[]

Finn Harps plays in the League of Ireland and won promotion to the Premier Division in 2007 following a 6–3 aggregate win in the playoff final. They are now back alongside their arch-rivals Derry City F.C., with whom they contest Ireland's North-West Derby. There are numerous other clubs in Donegal, but none has achieved the status of Finn Harps.


Many people travel to Donegal for the superb golf links—long sandy beaches and extensive dune systems are a feature of the county, and many links courses have been developed. Golf is a very popular sport within the county, including world class golf courses such as Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Ballyliffin (Old), both of which are located in the Inishowen peninsula. Other courses to note are Murvagh (located outside Donegal Town) and Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) located in Downings (near Carrigart). The Glashedy Links has been ranked 6th in a recent ranking taken by Golf Digest on the best courses in Ireland. The Old links was ranked 28th, Murvagh 36th and Sandy Hills 38th.

Bundoran is regarded as one of the best surfing spots in Ireland and Europe.

Mountain Biking[]

Because of Donegal's hilly and mountain landscape, Mountain Biking has become a significant and growing interest. The Donegal Mountain Bike Club is the newest Mountain Bike club in Donegal, and held its first race on 31 August 2011. The 'Bogman Race' was entered by more than 50 people from different backgrounds of cycling. Due to the overwhelming popularity of their first ever race, the club plans to organise more races in the near future over different seasons, and aims to make it a major tourist attraction throughout Donegal.


Cricket is also played in County Donegal. This sport is chiefly confined to The Laggan district and the Finn Valley in the east of the county. The town of Raphoe and the nearby village of St. Johnston, both in The Laggan, are the traditional strongholds of cricket within the county. The game is mainly played and followed by members of County Donegal's Protestant community.

Other sports[]

Donegal's rugged landscape lends itself to active sports like climbing, hillwalking, surfing and kite-flying.

Rock climbing is of very high quality and still under-developed in the county. There is a wealth of good quality climbs in the county, from granite rocks in the south to quartzite and dolerite in the north; from long mountain routes in the Poisoned Glen to boulder challenges of excellent quality in the west and in the Inishowen Peninsula. The current Donegal rock climbing guidebook contains over 2800 recorded rock climbs covering the entire county including the Donegal Sea Stacks, Malinbeg, Gola, and Cruit Islands.

Surfing on Donegal's Atlantic coast is considered to be as good as any in Ireland. The seaside resort of Bundoran, located in the very south of the county, along with nearby Rossnowlagh, have been 'reborn' as the centre of surfing in County Donegal. Indeed, these areas are renowned as the main surfing centres in Ulster.

Greyhound racing based in Lifford is home to the Lifford Greyhound Racing Stadium, a state of the art stadium built at a cost of €12 million and also the East Donegal Coursing Club.

Panoramic view of Mount Errigal's summit.
Panoramic view of Mount Errigal's summit.



  • Adomnán – or Saint Eunan, Abbot of Iona 679–704.
  • The Reverend Dr Francis Alison – prominent Presbyterian minister in the Thirteen Colonies and a leading member of the Synod of Philadelphia. At least three of the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence were former students of Dr Alison, who was born and raised in the Parish of Leck, on the outskirts of Letterkenny.
  • William AllinghamVictorian poet from Ballyshannon.
  • Altan – folk group.
  • Ian Anderson – prominent Manx politician who was a long-serving member of the Tynwald. From Rathmullan.
  • Kay Maunchly Antonelli (née McNulty) – one of the original programmers of the ENIAC during the Second World War. Born in Creeslough and raised in Philadelphia.
  • Sir Alexander ArmstrongArctic explorer.


  • General Sir Andrew Barnard – famous senior British Army commander, particularly associated with the Napoleonic Wars. Born at Fahan in Inishowen.
  • Bibi Baskin – former television presenter with RTÉ. Now a businesswoman and practitioner of Ayurveda in Kerala. Born and raised in Ardara.
  • Neil Blaney – formerly a long-serving TD for the county and a former Irish Government minister. Founder of Independent Fianna Fáil.
  • Oliver Bond (died in 1796) – a possible St Johnston native who was a Dublin-based member of the United Irishmen.
  • Packie Bonner – former goalkeeper for both the Republic of Ireland and Celtic.
  • Ed Boyce – former trade unionist and former radical socialist in Idaho and Montana who later became a wealthy businessman. Helped form the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in 1893.
  • The Reverend Stopford BrookeAnglican and, later, Unitarian clergyman and literary historian. He served as chaplain to The Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, 1863–1865, and later served as chaplain-in-ordinary to her mother, Queen Victoria, 1875–1880. Was born and raised in Glendowan, just west of Letterkenny.
  • Isaac Buttbarrister, MP and founder of the Irish Home Rule movement. Born and raised in Glenfin, a district near Ballybofey.


  • Clannad – folk and pop group.
  • Séamus Colemanfootballer for both the Republic of Ireland and Everton. He is from Killybegs.
  • Columba – or Saint Colmcille, one of the three patron saints of Ireland.
  • Sir Bob Cooper – a former Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and formerly the long-serving head of the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland. Born and raised in East Donegal.
  • Mary Coughlan – former Tánaiste and former TD for Donegal South–West. First woman to be appointed as Minister for Agriculture in the Irish Government.
  • Eithne Coyle – famous Irish republican and socialist. Was a prominent member of both Conradh na Gaeilge and Cumann na mBan. From Killult, near Falcarragh.


  • Breandán de Gallaí – actor, television presenter and dancer from Gweedore. Was formerly the lead dancer with Riverdance.
  • John Doherty – famous Manchester-based Victorian trade unionist. From Buncrana.
  • Michelle DohertyDublin-based model and radio/television presenter from north Inishowen.
  • Moya Doherty – producer and co-founder of Riverdance, born in Pettigoe but raised in Dublin.
  • Pearse Doherty, TD – currently a TD for Donegal South–West and Sinn Féin Spokesman for Finance in the Oireachtas. Born in Glasgow, but raised and currently living in Gweedore.


  • Felim Egan – artist based in Sandymount. Was born in County Donegal but was raised in Strabane.
  • Enya – musician and singer.
  • E. Rentoul Esler – Late Victorian and Edwardian novelist. Born in Manorcunningham.


  • Patsy Gallacher (or Patsy Gallagher) – famous footballer popularly known as 'the Mighty Atom'. Played for both Ireland and Celtic F.C.. Born in Milford and raised in Glasgow.
  • Bridie Gallagher – singer known as 'the Girl from Donegal'. Born and raised in Creeslough, she spent most of her adult life in Belfast.
  • Conrad Gallagherchef and businessman from Letterkenny. Particularly famous for his work as a young head chef at Peacock Alley in central Dublin.
  • Paddy 'the Cope' Gallagher – businessman, writer and campaigner for West Donegal. Founder of The Cope. He was commemorated by An Post with a postage stamp in early 2006.
  • Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher – businessman who was formerly a Fianna Fáil MEP for North-West Ireland and was also formerly a TD. Grandson of Paddy 'the Cope'.
  • Rory Gallagher – guitarist and singer. Born into a Donegal family in Ballyshannon, he was raised in Cork.
  • Tommy Gallagher – an SDLP politician who was formerly an MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
  • Dave Gallaher – first All Blacks rugby captain. He was from Ramelton.
  • Conal Gallen – stand-up comedian from Ballybofey.
  • Shay Given – former goalkeeper for both the Republic of Ireland and Newcastle United FC.


  • Paddy Harte – formerly a long-serving Fine Gael TD for Donegal North–East and a former Irish Government minister. From Lifford but based in Raphoe.
  • Willie Hay, MLASpeaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 2007-2014.
  • Cahir Healy – a journalist who was a very prominent Irish Nationalist politician and who was a long-serving MP for County Fermanagh. Born and raised near Mountcharles.


  • Professor John Kells Ingram – economist, Irish patriot and poet who was based at Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Major-General Sir James Murray Irwin – famous senior doctor in the British Army. From Manorcunningham.


  • Major Robert Johnston – recipient of the Victoria Cross and rugby union international


  • Brigadier-General Andrew Lewis – military commander, on the American side, in the Revolutionary War. Born in County Donegal and raised in the Colony of Virginia.
  • Dr Michael LogueCardinal who served as the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh.
  • Professor Pat Loughrey – current Warden of Goldsmith's College, part of the University of London. Formerly Controller (or Head) of BBC Northern Ireland, 1994–2000, and former Director of BBC Nations and Regions, 2000–2009. From Ray, near Ramelton.


  • Micí Mac Gabhann – writer, farmer and businessman from Cloughaneely. Famous for writing Rotha Mór an tSaoil, which is mainly the story of his life as a miner in Butte and in the Klondike in the 1880s and 1890s.
  • Patrick MacGill – writer.
  • Pádraig MacLochlainn, TD – currently a Sinn Féin TD for Donegal North–East.
  • Ray McAnally – actor and theatrical director, famed for his parts in A Very British Coup, The Mission and My Left Foot.
  • Frank McBrearty, Sr.publican and businessman from Raphoe, where his businesses are based. Famously, he and his family were the victims of police harassment from the Garda Síochána during the 1990s. His experiences, and those of some other people, led to the establishment of the Morris Tribunal in March 2002, which investigated widespread Garda corruption in County Donegal.
  • Frankie McCafferty – Belfast-based actor, best known for his rôle as Donal Docherty in Ballykissangel in the late 1990s.
  • Enda McCallion – film and television director and producer. Particularly famous for directing the Forrest advertisement made for the Metz alcopop in 2001. The ad is best known for featuring a character called 'the Judderman'.
  • Colonel Sir Michael McCorkell – distinguished British Army soldier who became a prominent UUP politician in Derry. He served as Lord Lieutenant of County Londonderry, 1975–2000. Born in Buncrana.
  • Basil McCrea, MLA – prominent Unionist politician in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Now the leader of NI21, he was formerly a member of the UUP. He was born in Ramelton.
  • Columba McDyer – the first person from County Donegal to win an All-Ireland senior medal when he played for Cavan in the 1947 All Ireland Final at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan, New York City. He later managed the Donegal team.
  • The Very Reverend James Canon McDyer – Catholic priest who was a campaigner for the rights of people in south-west County Donegal in the mid- to late-twentieth century, particularly during his time as Parish Priest in Glencolumbkille.
  • Brian McEniff – businessman who was formerly the long-serving manager of the Donegal senior football team, a team that won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 1992. Manager of the Ireland Compromise rules team, 2000–2001.
  • Keith McErlean – Dublin-based actor. Famous in Ireland for his parts as Barry in Bachelors Walk, as Adam Duffy in Trivia, and as Shane Harte in Raw, all television programmes made for RTÉ. Born and raised in Carndonagh.
  • Dr Daniel McGettigan – Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh.
  • Dinny McGinley, TD – a long-serving Fine Gael TD for Donegal South–West and currently a Minister of State in the Irish Government.
  • Seán McGinley – actor. Born in Pettigoe but raised in nearby Ballyshannon.
  • Frank McGuinness – playwright, particularly famous for writing both The Factory Girls and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. Born and raised in Buncrana, he has been based at University College, Dublin (UCD), as writer-in-residence for many years now. He previously lectured at the University of Ulster.
  • Jim McGuinness – current manager of the Donegal senior football team, a team that won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2012. Has also served, since November 2012, as Performance Consultant at Celtic F.C..
  • Joe McHugh, TD – currently a Fine Gael TD for Donegal North–East. Married to Olwyn Enright, a businesswoman and former TD for Laois-Offaly. Deputy McHugh is from Carrigart.
  • Martin McHugh – businessman and commentator on Gaelic football for BBC Northern Ireland. Was a member of the Donegal senior football team that won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in the 1992 Final.
  • Ernan McMullin – philosopher priest who was based at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana for many years. He was from Ballybofey.
  • Sir Roy McNulty – formerly the chief executive of Short Brothers in Belfast. He later served as Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain, 2001–2009. He also served as Deputy-Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority in London. Born and raised in Raphoe.


  • Charles Macklin – London-based actor, director and writer in the eighteenth century from north Inishowen. Particularly associated with The Theatre Royal on Drury Lane.
  • Francis Makemie – founder of Presbyterianism in what later became the United States. He was from Ramelton.
  • Margo – singer from The Rosses. Older sister of Daniel O'Donnell.
  • Anthony Molloy – captain of the Donegal team that won the All-Ireland in 1992. He is from Ardara.
  • General Sir Robert Montgomery – soldier and proconsul in British India. A native of Moville, he was the grandfather of Field Marshal The 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein


  • Michael Murphy – captain of the Donegal team that won the All-Ireland in 2012. He is from Glenswilly, a small district near Letterkenny.


  • Blessed Conor O'DevanyMartyr. Born near Raphoe.
  • Sir Cathaoir Ó Dochartaigh (Sir Cahir O'Dougherty or Sir Cahir O'Doherty) – last reigning Gaelic Lord of Inishowen. Originally an ally of the English, the young Chieftain led a rebellion against the English Crown in 1608.
  • Malachi O'DohertyBelfast-based writer and journalist who writes for The Belfast Telegraph and is a regular contributor to Sunday Sequence on BBC Radio Ulster. Married to Maureen Boyle, a poet from Sion Mills, he was born in Muff in Inishowen.
  • Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill (Red Hugh O'Donnell) – second-last King of Tír Chonaill. Famous Gaelic prince in the 1590s and very early 1600s. Famous for his part in the Nine Years' War. The film The Fighting Prince of Donegal, released in 1966, was made about him.
  • Maghnus Ó Domhnaill (Manus O'Donnell) – King of Tír Chonaill for much of the first half of the sixteenth century and learned Irish Renaissance prince. Commissioned the Life of Columba to be written.
  • Daniel O'Donnell – singer.
  • Dr Patrick O'DonnellCardinal who served as the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh.
  • Peadar O'Donnell – Irish revolutionary and socialist.
  • Gavin Ó Fearraigh – model and actor from Gweedore. Best known in Ireland for playing Conal Daly in Ros na Rún on TG4. He also appeared on Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels in 2007 on RTÉ 1.
  • Séamus Ó Grianna – Irish-language novelist.
  • Cathal Ó Searcaigh – Irish-language poet from Cloughaneely.


  • Thomas Pringle, TD – former trawlerman who is now an Independent TD for Donegal South–West. From Killybegs.


  • Sir Gerry Robinson – businessman and former head of Granada Television. Presented Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? on BBC 2, which was broadcast in January 2007. Born in Dunfanaghy, he now has a second home near Raphoe.
  • Bríd Rodgers – a former MLA who was the former SDLP Deputy Leader and the former Northern Irish Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born and raised in Gweedore.


  • Kevin SharkeyDublin-based actor, artist, businessman and former model. Was a television presenter on The Roxy on ITV in the late 1980s. Raised and educated in Killybegs.
  • Kevin Sharkey – currently a broadcast journalist with BBC Northern Ireland.
  • Dr George Otto SimmsChurch of Ireland Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh. A well known historian, he was from Lifford.
  • Ricky Simms – London-based manager of Usain Bolt. Simms is a native of Milford.
  • Andrew Simpson – actor who starred in both Song for a Raggy Boy and Notes on a Scandal. Born in Altnagelvin Hospital but raised in Inishowen.
  • Sir Jim Starritt – Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London in the early 1970s. Born in Carrigans, but raised in Magherafelt.
  • Major-General Joe Sweeney – senior IRA commander during the War of Independence. He later served as a senior Irish Army commander during the Irish Civil War. In the early 1920s he served as MP and TD for West Donegal in the 1st Dáil and, later, as Pro-Treaty TD for Donegal. From Burtonport, but spent most of his life in Dublin.
  • Pauric Sweeney – London-based luxury handbag designer. Born in County Donegal and educated at Blackrock College and Temple University.


  • John TolandProtestant philosopher at the end of the seventeenth century and in the early eighteenth century. He was from Ardagh, a townland near Ballyliffin.

See also[]

Cut turf between Carndonagh and Redcastle.

  • List of towns and villages in the Republic of Ireland
  • List of abbeys and priories in the Republic of Ireland (County Donegal)
  • People from County Donegal
  • Donegal County (Parliament of Ireland constituency)
  • Lord Lieutenant of Donegal
  • High Sheriff of Donegal
  • Earagail Arts Festival
  • The Troubles
  • Wild Atlantic Way


  1. ^ a b "County Donegal". Central Statistics Office. 2011. 
  2. ^ North-South Ministerial Council: 2006 Annual Report in Ulster Scots
  3. ^ North-South Ministerial Council: 2002 Annual Report in Ulster Scots
  4. ^ Tourism Ireland – Yeirly Report 2009
  5. ^ "Donegal Library Services". Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Ireland Northwest.
  7. ^ "Derry and Donegal Sinn Féin Councillors join forces to push North West tourism". 16 February 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  8. ^ For 1653 and 1659 figures from Civil Survey Census of those years, Paper of Mr Hardinge to Royal Irish Academy 14 March 1865.
  9. ^ Census for post 1821 figures.
  10. ^ "A collection of British Historical Population Reports". University of Essex. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "NISRA – Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (c) 2013". 27 September 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Lee, JJ (1981). "On the accuracy of the Pre-famine Irish censuses". In Goldstrom, J. M.; Clarkson, L. A.. Irish Population, Economy, and Society: Essays in Honour of the Late K. H. Connell. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press. 
  13. ^ Mokyr, Joel (November 1984). "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700–1850". The Economic History eview 37 (4): 473–488. DOI:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1984.tb00344.x. 
  14. ^ Patterson, Edward M (1962). The County Donegal Railways. Dawlish: David and Charles. pp. 9–10. 
  15. ^ Morton, O. 2003. The marine macroalgae of County Donegal, Ireland. Bull. Ir. biogeog. Soc. 27: 3 – 164
  16. ^ Ennis, T. 2014. The occurrence of Dactylorhiza purpurella (T.Stephenson and T.S.Stephenson) Soó Ir Nat. J. 33: 128
  17. ^ Sleeman, P.D. et al 2009. The small-bodied Badgers (Meles meles (L.) of Rutland Island, Co. Donegal. Ir. Nat. J. 30: 1 – 6
  18. ^ "Crex Crex Corncrake, Priority Species Northern Ireland". 
  19. ^ "Dolmen Centre, Kilclooney, Portnoo, Co.Donegal". Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  20. ^ Renamed "County Tirconaill" 1922 by resolution of the county council.(Place Name Confusion – Donegal or Tirconaill, The Irish Times, 24 April 1924). After historians and Gaelic scholars pointed out that the historic territory of Tirconaill did not include the whole county, the name Donegal was re-adopted in 1927 (Back to "Donegal", The Irish Times, 22 November 1927).
  21. ^ Connolly, S.J., Oxford Companion to Irish History, page 129. Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-923483-7
  22. ^ County 'wiped off crisis HQ maps'. The Belfast Telegraph. 21 April 2010.
  23. ^ Donegal ‘disappears’ from crisis response maps. Ocean FM. 21 April 2010.
  24. ^ Donegal Gaeltacht statistics
  25. ^ "Closure of the 'Derry Road' a great loss to Ireland – Derry Journal". Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  26. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963. 
  27. ^ Club GAA – Donegal -

Further reading[]

  • Seán Beattie (2004). Donegal. Sutton: Printing Press. ISBN 0-7509-3825-0. (Ireland in Old Photographs series)
  • Morton, O. 2003. The marine macroalgae of County Donegal, Ireland. Bull. Ir. biogeog.soc. 27: 3–164.
  • Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (Annála Ríoghachta Éireann) by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616, compiled during the period 1632–36 by Brother Michael O'Clery, translated and edited by John O'Donovan in 1856, and re-published in 1998 by De Burca, Dublin.
  • Parks, H.M. 1958. A general survey of the marine algae of Mulroy Bay, Co. Donegal. Ir. Nat. J. 12: 277–83.
  • Parks, H.M. 1958. A general survey of the marine algae of Mulroy Bay, Co. Donegal: II Ir. Nat. J. 12: 324–30.
  • Brian Lalor (General Editor), The Encyclopaedia of Ireland. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2003.
  • Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Paperback Edition). Blackstaff Press, Belfast 2005.
  • Willie Nolan, Máiread Dunleavy and Liam Ronayne (Ed.'s), Donegal: History & Society. Geography Publications, Dublin 1995.
  • Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (Pevsner Guides). Yale University Press, London 1979.
  • Jim MacLaughlin (Editor), Donegal: The Making of a Northern County. Four Courts Press, Dublin 2007.
  • John McCavitt, The Flight of the Earls. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2005.
  • Seán Beattie, Ancient Monuments of Inishowen, North Donegal. Lighthouse Publications, Carndonagh, Inishowen, County Donegal, 1994 & 2009.
  • Carole Pollard, Liam McCormick: Seven Donegal Churches. Gandon Editions, Kinsale, County Cork, 2011.
  • Lios-seachas o iar Thir Chonaill, A.J. Hughes, Donegal Annual 37, 1985, pp. 27–31.
  • Orthographical evidence of developments in Donegal Irish, A.J. Hughes, Eigse 22, 1987, pp. 126–34.
  • Rang scoile a teagascadh i dTir Chonaill?, A.J. Hughes, Donegal annual 39, 1987, pp. 99–102
  • John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy (Ed.'s), Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Cork University Press, Cork, 2012.

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