A Damp Day in Donegal Town
A Damp Day in Donegal Town
I had some idea of the size of Donegal Town from the fact it has only around 2600 residents living within, but that did not dissuade us from an early start aboard the 8.15 community bus for the half hour bouncy ride around the coast to our destination, Donegal has a long history after all. Alongside the road is a corridor of homes all benefiting from the road access to town centres and many fallow fields full with grasses and wildflowers; lazy fields after the potato blight when the leaves withered and the potatoes putrefied in their rows, a kind of circumstantial rewilding.
We wondered if the misty rain would become heavier or maybe clear up but it stayed the same all day and was not a problem at all. Good for the complexion.
Before we met Niamh at midday, we wandered all over this characterful little place. Coaches were getting ready to take their passengers off on their tours along the Wild Atlantic Way and a boat load of visitors were taken out on a water tour of the harbour.
Rob and I had read about a riverside walk, a fairy walk for the children, with little doors pinned on trees but a track which once had a much more significant purpose for the local people.
Over the last few centuries families and individuals walked down this track to a small quay in to be ferried out to the deep anchorage where ocean going sailing ships would be waiting to carry them away to a new life in the Americas and beyond. Times no doubt of heartbreak and fear and maybe excitement for the adventurous with hopes of prosperity for the enterprising among them.
Today it is a delightful walk beside the River Eske amongst native labelled trees, home not only to fairies but also red squirrels and with fine views across to the 15th century abbey ruins and graveyard. Sadly, the last section was closed due to a landslide so we couldn’t see the final departure point.
Niamh showed us a picture of brigs tied up at the two town piers when this was a busy trading port and in the centre of the town is Donegal castle, seat of the once powerful O’Donnell clan who ruled Donegal from the 12th to the 16th century. Beef and fish were exported in exchange for wines and wood etc. Apparently there were no sheep in Ireland back then.
It was common then for the wealthy and noble families of the Gaelic clans or septs to build abbeys near their homes so they had somewhere to worship and eventually to be buried. Donegal Abbey on its beautiful location at the head of the bay is a typical example and was built by Red Hugh O’Donnell in 1474 under the guidance and financial support of his mother and wife, both named Nuala. If my maths and
As you know the English under Queen Elizabeth I were keen to claim Ireland as theirs and in 1602 with the taking of Kinsale on the south coast the O’Donnell sept was damaged beyond repair and prominent members of the family fled to Europe. Anglicisation of Ireland was well underway and it was this threat to the existing history and traditions of Ireland and the Gaelic way of life that inspired four friars led by Brother Michael O’Cleary to gather a mass of information from parish records, diaries written and spoken accounts and write it up into a magnificent document known as The Annals of the Four Masters which is still used for reference by students and historians.
As I stood at the north entrance of the Abbey and looked through the ruins and across the estuary, I imagined these brave men hunched over their desks writing furiously but carefully, knowing that the English were not far away and they would eventually have to escape and complete the work elsewhere in hiding.
Niamh mentioned that it is thought Red Hugh and some of his family were eventually buried in the Abbey but it is obvious that the rubble that fell when the Abbey was blown up in 1601 has raised the floor level, so that, combined with the presence of many more recent burials within its ruined walls, would make excavation a difficult process. But what treasures both animate and inanimate may well lie beneath. One arch doorway is now just tall enough for little children to run through.
Red Hugh also built the castle in town (seen through railings at the front and over the river at the back in my photos), in which he resided and when the English arrived in 1616 it became the residence of Sir Basil Brooke who also designed the town centre around the central open area called the Diamond.
We were back on board Zoonie in time for Rob to walk round to find out if Lee at the shipyard would agree to a better price for lifting Zoons and cleaning her hull. Success!
morning we watched as a lifeboat was lowered back into the water
which was our
cue to make our way over to the hoist. The hull was not badly
fouled, but at
least we now know she is clean and ready for the strong tides we
meeting, hopefully in our favour, provided we do the
calculations correctly, for our
crossing to Scotland. The bow roller is all straightened out and
ready to take the next mooring line or anchor chain.
had planned to leave dear Killybegs today (Friday July 8th) and
head north around the spectacular County Donegal coast past
Rossan Point to a nice little anchorage tucked behind Arranmore
Island today but there is much power behind the wind which is
forecast to be up to 20 knots and from our excursion yesterday
we know there is a lot of fog on that coast at the moment. Plus
it is a lee-shore with the westerly wind, also there are
numerous uncharted rocks and with visibility sometimes reduced
to a few metres, spotting the numerous pots would be tricky, so
a number of reasons to tell us we should stay here today and
write to you, my dear readers!
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