Donegal one of those towns that you might just drive through, assuming there’s nothing really worth stopping for (except maybe lunch and the loo!). Needless to say – as with millions of such places worldwide – its full of little gems when you actually get out of the car and wander.
As part of the Wild Atlantic Way, it is rightly being marketed as a destination in itself and not just a base and gateway to southwest Donegal. You could easily idle away a day here. There’s a lot of history to absorb as well as river walks, boat trips and shopping.
The town developed where the River Eske flows into Donegal Bay.
The strategic importance of the site is reflected in the location of Donegal Castle, built on the banks of the river in 1474 by the famous Red Hugh O’Donnell whose clan ruled the region from 1200. It remained their stronghold and main residence until 1601. Restored in the 1990’s, its worth a visit if you have time….
There isn’t much left of the original Franciscan Friary which looks out over the bay. It was built by Red Hugh around the same time as the castle. There was supposedly a tunnel linking the two buildings.
The centre of town is dominated by the Diamond, a pedestrian space surrounded by hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops.
Franciscan monk Michael O’Cleary was working on the lives of Irish saints when he got the idea of compiling the Annals of Irish history. From 1632 -1636, O’Cleary and three assistants worked on what was to become known as the Annals of the Masters. The manuscript covers Irish history from 2242BC to 1616AD. He took off around Ireland every summer and came back to the friary in Donegal armed with historical and mythical data and stories. The four of them then spent the winter writing up the information gathered. This is still one of our most important historical manuscripts.
The Obelisk in the Diamond commemorates the Four Masters.
The 2.5km Town Bank Walk brings you along by the river and out towards the bay….
Donegal Harbour served as a commercial port from the Viking invasion in the 8th century right up until the 1960’s. Nowadays, activity centres around rowing clubs, pleasure craft and tours.
The Vikings built a garrison here after the invasion. The name Donegal comes from that era – Dún na nGall means Fort of the Foreigners
Red Hugh strutting his stuff on the pier……
The 75 minute Waterbus tour offers commentary on local history and geography. You might spot some seals and you can dance to live music on the way back!
Head to the Craft Village for jewellery, crafts, paintings, textiles or just a coffee…
The Magee name has been associated with Donegal Tweed since 1866. They still employ hand weavers but most fabric today is woven on powerlooms.
Located a few kms outside town, Lough Eske is a great spot for salmon and trout fishing but is probably best known for its luxury hotels – Harvey’s Point and Lough Eske Castle.
Food and Drink – there are lots of options in and around town:
Something more substantial – The Olde Castle Bar and Red Hugh Restaurant is one of our family favourites….
…and there are plenty of pubs for ceol agus craic!
We’ve stayed a few times at the Central Hotel which is right on the Diamond. Parking is in the town car park, 2 minutes walk and at about €2 per day it won’t break the bank. The staff are renowned for their warmth and friendliness and the whole establishment is very Covid aware.
Donegal Town is about a 3 hour drive from Dublin and 2 hours from Belfast. Bus Eireann connects the town with Dublin, Derry, Belfast….
Just park and walk – most attractions are within easy distance of the main car park. The Craft Village is about 2km out of town and Lough Eske is a 10 minute drive.
Before you go……
Have a look at this South West Donegal Drive which makes for a perfect day out from Donegal Town.