ByRoute 1.7 Co. Sligo (E) // Co. Donegal




Donegal Town is situated on the Eske River which flows into Donegal Bay. The town is the gateway to south Donegal and in summer time visitors flock to the 15th century Donegal Castle which was built by the O’Donnell’s, the ruling family in west Donegal until the 17th century. Donegal Town is also home to the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre which contains many artifacts of railway history from the County. Just outside the town is the Donegal Craft Village which is very popular with tourists throughout the summer. There are also the ruins of a 15th century Franciscan Abbey at the mouth of the Bay, generally agreed to be where the Four Masters wrote their famous Annals. The Monastery was sacked many times and was twice burned down before its demise in 1601


Letterkenny (was once the fastest growing town in Western Europe) Letterkenny (Irish: Leitir Ceanain – translated literally as “The Slope of the Cannon Family”) is the largest town in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, located 35 miles north of Donegal Town and 20 miles west of Derry in Northern Ireland. Its name is an Anglicisation of the Irish language name, which,

The current population of Letterkenny is approximately 12,000, and the total population of the areas surrounding it is estimated to be 25,000-30,000 people. Despite its size, it is not the administrative center of Donegal, which is Lifford. It is situated at the base of the picturesque Lough Swilly.

Letterkenny began as a market in the 17th century and was the first crossing point of the River Swilly. Letterkenny achieved town status in the early 1970s when the Irish punt replaced the English Pound Sterling as the national currency of Ireland. This led to many Irish banks that had been previously located in Derry in Northern Ireland being forced to open branches in Co. Donegal, including in Letterkenny. Public services and industry followed the banks and led to Letterkenny being the fastest growing town in the European Union for many years. Some of the towns most industrious employers, including the General Hospital (which grew from St. Conal’s Asylum), Unifi, and a large branch office of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, led to Letterkenny quickly becoming the largest town in Co. Donegal.

Its proximity to the border with Northern Ireland, along with its geographic isolation from the rest of the Republic of Ireland, has led to Letterkenny (and indeed, the rest of Co. Donegal) diverging in attitude substantially from that of either side of the border. The economy in the town is strongly dependent on cross-border trade, and times of ecomonic boom are determined mostly by the currency exchange rate between the Euro and the English Pound.

The town was, in times past, connected with the once extensive narrow gauge rail network of County Donegal. This provided connections to Derry (and through there to Dublin and Belfast), to Lifford and Strabane, to Gweedore and Burtonport, and to Carndonagh, north of Derry. The rail system was built in the late 19th century, with the last extensions opening in the 1900s. Some of these lines were never profitable, built using British government subsidies, described as an attempt to kill the Home Rule movement “with kindness”. Only a couple of decades later, political events resulted in rail companies operating across two jurisdictions where there had previously been one. This had devastating effects on an already fragile economic situation, resulting eventually in the total closure of all parts of the rail system in the area by 1953. See History of rail transport in Ireland.

The railway station was converted to a bus station that today serves Bus Eireann. However, poor public transport in the region has led to the development of local privately-owned bus companies such as Lough Swilly Bus, which are often based in the surrounding Gaeltacht. The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway company has continued to operate as a bus company. These private companies often provide the best transport links in the area.

Other prominent buildings in Letterkenny include St. Eunan’s Cathedral, St. Eunan’s College, the Workhouse (now functioning as the town’s museum), and St. Conal’s Hospital.

Letterkenny Institute of Technology is a higher education institution in the town.

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