DONEGAL HIGHLANDS...continued

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil Richard Lovett

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Donegal
Donegal

The town, which has given its name to the county, stands at the head of the great arm of the sea called Donegal Bay. The word is Irish, and means Dun-nan-Gal, 'the fort of the stranger,' and the name is comparatively modern. In ancient days all this region was known as Tyrconnell, that is, the Land of Connel or Conall, a son of Nial of the Nine Hostages. The houses for the most part cluster around a central space called the Diamond; but although Donegal is a port and a county town, there are not many signs of business activity. There are only two structures of special note, the castle and the monastery, both in ruins. Each is associated in a most interesting way with the history of the country. To fairly appreciate the castle, a glance must be taken at ancient history. A little before the time when St. Patrick worked as a slave in Antrim there ruled over Ireland one of the most celebrated of pagan kings, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Two of his sons, Conall and Eoghan (Owen) settled in the north, and gave their names to the districts of Tyr-conall and Tyr-eoghan (Tyrone), and became respectively the ancestors of the powerful Ulster Septs, the O'Donnells and O'Neils.

From the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries internecine war raged fiercely between these great clans, a fact which here, as in other parts of the kingdom, facilitated its subjugation by England. About the middle of the fifteenth century Hugh Roe became chief of the O'Donnells, and in 1474 founded the Franciscan monastery at Donegal. In the latter part of the sixteenth century it had become customary for each chieftain in turn to seek English support, for the purpose of attacking the other. In 1585 Sir John Perrott, the Lord Deputy, divided Ulster into counties, decreeing that Tyrconnell should in future be known as Donegal. Hugh O'Donnell, the head of the Sept at that time, vehemently resisted this policy. He was an old man, and becoming feeble. His son Hugh, who was a prince of great promise, happened to be staying, according to the Irish custom, with his foster-father, MacSweeny, at Fanad. Thinking that they could manage the old O'Donnell more easily than the young one, the English determined to get the latter out of the way. He was enticed on board a ship at Rathmullan on Lough Swilly, made prisoner and carried to Dublin Castle. In 1590, after more than three years' imprisonment, he escaped, but was recaptured. In 1592 he and a prince of the rival Sept of O'Neils escaped, but lost their way during a snowstorm in Glenmalure, County Wicklow; the O'Neil died, Hugh Roe was rescued, and brought back from the point of death, and finally reached Donegal in safety. His feelings towards the English can easily be imagined. He became head of the Sept on the resignation of his father, made his home at Donegal Castle, and at once attacked the English in Tyrone. In 1597 he captured Ballyshannon; in 1598 he aided Hugh O'Neil to defeat the English at the Yellow Ford, two miles from Armagh; in 1599 he defeated the English at Ballaghboy, and slew their leader, Sir Conyers Clifford. But treachery was too strong in the end even for Hugh Roe. He was deserted, at the time when he most needed support, by his brother-in-law, Nial Garv, who joined the English in attacking him. After performing brilliant deeds in the ensuing struggle, he went at length to Spain, to seek help from Philip III. Help was freely promised, but never came. Hugh Roe waited, and waited in vain, at Corunna for the fleet, strong enough to liberate Ulster, that was to bear him back to Ireland. His fiery spirit wore out its casket. Starting for the court to urge once more his suit before the King, at Simancas he was seized with fatal illness, died in the King's house there, and was honoured with a splendid burial in the cathedral of Valladolid, on September 10th 1602. At the time of his death he was only twenty-eight years old. Thus closed a most romantic, brilliant and courageous career. Among the multitude of fierce, agile, and warlike chieftains of Ireland Hugh Roe holds one of the highest places.

It is with the fortunes of this chief and his immediate ancestors that the old Donegal Castle was concerned. The original structure was built by the Hugh O'Donnell who was ruling Tyrconnell in 1505, but little or nothing of this building survives. The extant ruins are those of the castle rebuilt upon the old foundation by Sir Basil Brooke in 1610. When complete it must have been a fine specimen of its class, consisting chiefly of a tall, gabled tower, with turrets and the necessary out-buildings. The greater part of the tower is still standing. The chief room in it possesses a very fine mullioned window and a splendid chimney-piece. The situation is charming, the castle being surrounded by a lovely garden, and overhanging the river Esk.

The monastery, of which only the scantiest remains exist, was founded in 1474. When Nial Garv betrayed the cause of Hugh Roe he seized and fortified this monastery. There he was attacked by his brother-in-law, and a fire happening to break out, Hugh Roe seized upon that moment as the time for an assault, in which Nial was defeated and driven out, and the monastery reduced to ruin. Some years later the friars began to gather again upon the old spot, and built themselves some cottages amongst the ruins. In these cottages was compiled the most famous of those great Annals for which Irish literature is so noted, viz., the Annals of the Four Masters. The book was so called because it was the work of four friars of great learning, the chief being Michael O'Leary, a native of Ballyshannon. The work these four men produced consists of 11,000 quarto pages, begins with the year of the world, 2242, and closes with A.D. 1616. The Annals are made up largely of brief details and records of battles, of the foundation and destruction of churches and abbeys, and of the deaths of chieftains, kings, abbots, &c.; nevertheless they form a priceless storehouse of information about Irish history. In recent years these Annals have been twice edited, the last edition being a handsomely printed book in four large quarto volumes.

Donegal is the gate to the beautiful southern district of the county. The ride along the north coast of Donegal Bay is exceedingly lovely. Fine sea views are obtained on the one hand, and on the other very extensive and very fine mountainous landscapes everywhere occur. The mail-car route to Killybegs is a splendid example of a fine Irish road. The first place of interest is Mount Charles, situated on the slope of a hill, from which, above the village, a most magnificent view is obtained over the demesne of the Marquis of Conyngham, over the bay, and over the wild highland region of the Blue Stack Mountains, and on very favourable days even the Connaught coast may be clearly seen in the distant south. Passing by Bruckless, a pretty village, and leaving the ruins of MacSwyne's Castle on the left hand, after a pleasant ride of some miles, Killybegs is reached. This is a snug little seaport, well situated on the shore of a fine land-locked harbour. The road from this place to Kilcar hugs the coast at a considerable elevation above the sea, and thus affords the traveller a constant succession of superb views. He is, of course, largely dependent upon the weather. If the sun be shining, nothing can be more delightful than this ride; and even if it be seen through a Donegal 'smirr' (a drizzling rain)--and here the writer speaks from experience—-it can still impart pleasure to the traveller. Not far from Kilcar is Muckross, a mountain nearly 1,000 feet high, with a promontory jutting out boldly into the sea. The rocks here, and especially the mass known as the Market House, will delight the lover of cliff scenery. Yet all but leisurely travellers will be eager to push on to Slieve League, now only a few miles distant. The road after leaving Kilcar crosses the Ballyduff River, passes over a high moorland--and if the traveller meets the 'smirr' here he is apt to remember it--and then runs along the eastern bank of Teelin Bay and River, with splendid views of the bay in the foreground, and with the mighty mass of Slieve League shutting in the distant view across the valley. At the village of Carrick most comfortable hotel accommodation is to be found, and no better centre for the exploration of the Slieve League district could be desired.

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