The Story of Donegal Town
Donegal, or Dún na nGall, was a townland or locality in Tír Chonaill long before the O’Donnells arrived there to build their keep/castle. There is a mention of such a place in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1159 when it said that Muircheartach, son of Niall Ua Lochlainn burned it. So perhaps there was some sort of fortification there. We do know that it got its name from the Viking fort that was built there around the 9th century hence the name ‘Fort of the Foreigners’.
The O’Donnells, who originally came from the centre of Tír Chonaill and then moved south to the Ballyshannon area, as the clan got stronger, got their name from Domhnall Mór who was a famous warrior and fought many battles. The source of the O’Donnell power was their prowess in battle and their ability to rustle cattle from their neighbours. Cattle was the main medium of exchange in medieval times.
Having established their power base in Tír Chonaill the O’Donnell chieftains ran their kingdom through a system of sub-chiefs who paid tribute to the O’Donnells in the form of cattle and military service when required. In 1474 Aodh Ruadh O’Donnell, or Red Hugh the first, was the chieftain of the O’Donnell clan and by that time the family had grown rich through fishing, trading with European nations such as the Spanish and the French, and raiding their neighbours. Aodh Ruadh decide he wanted a Franciscan Abbey where he could get his children educated, where is family could receive the sacraments and as a place of final rest where the family could be buried in safety.
To this end he sent his mother, Nuala O’Connor, wife of Niall Garbh, and a very religious woman to a chapter meeting of the Franciscans in Ros Friary in Galway. She implored the Franciscans to build an abbey in Donegal and promised support from her son, Aodh Ruadh.
The permission was granted and she returned to Donegal with a number of friars to begin the work right away.
Donegal now had a keep and an abbey less than 500 meters apart and we can envisage the followers of the O’Donnell clan and others building their huts etc. in this area, extending what was the first recorded settlement for Donegal established 550 years ago.
Buy this beautiful 2024 Calendar commemorating the 550th anniversary of Donegal Town. Containing new images of the town both past and present as well as dedicated months to Red Hugh O’Donnell, the Four Masters and the story of Donegal Town.
A great Christmas for any home and one ideal for sending to relatives abroad. Click on the image to buy now.