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Donegal Self Guided Historic Town Walk

Donegal was founded in 1612, when Captain Basil Brooke was granted lands and agreed to build a town on the River Eske. The town’s true history goes much deeper, however - as reflected in its name, Dún na nGall, meaning ‘Fort of the Foreigners’.

The foreigners in question were Vikings who arrived here in the ninth century. They were replaced by the legendary O’Donnell clan, who built their 12th-century castle here on the southern banks of the river. Featuring additions by Basil Brooke, the castle remains at the heart of the town today – and is open to visitors.

Donegal’s heritage trail starts at the paupers’ graveyard, a memorial on the site of an old famine graveyard, before passing St. Patrick’s Church (constructed in 1935, from granite quarried in the local Bluestack Mountains) en route to Magee’s Tweed.

Magee’s was founded in Donegal in 1866, and has since grown from a small draper to a factory world-famous for its hand-woven tweeds. Today, weavers continue to work from their homes in the traditional way, gathering their colours locally (gorse, fuchsia, lichen and blackberries originally gave Donegal tweed its distinctive flecks).

Magee’s is located on The Diamond, the centre of this market town since the 1600s. At its heart is a 20-foot obelisk dedicated to the authors of the 17th-century ‘Annals of the

Kingdom of Ireland’, which originated in Donegal’s Old Abbey. The abbey itself dates from 1474 and Red Hugh O’Donnell is believed to be buried in its graveyard.

Also on Donegal’s heritage trail is the Railway Centre, a heritage centre telling the story of the old track that ran from Derry to Ballyshannon until 1959. You can see a model of the old railway here, as well as restored railcars and carriages from the era.

The annual Donegal Town Heritage Festival is held in March.

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