Extract from: Lewis – A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
DONEGAL, a sea-port, market, and post town, a parish, the head of a union, and formerly an incorporated parliamentary borough, in the barony of Tyrhugh, county of Donegal, and province of Ulster, 24 miles (8. W.) from Lifford, and 113 (N. W.) from Dublin; containing 6588 inhabitants, of whom 1013 are in the town. In 1150 Murtogh O’Loghlen burnt this town, and devastated the surrounding country. A castle was built here by the O’Donells about the same century; and a monastery for Franciscan friars of the Observantine order was founded in 1474, by Hugh Roe, son of O’Donell, Prince of Tyrconnell, and by his wife, Fiongala, daughter of O’Brien, Prince of Thomond. O’Donell, a later chief, in 1587 bade defiance to the English government, and refused to admit any sheriff into his district. The council at Dublin not having sufficient troops to compel his submission, Sir John Perrot, lord-deputy, proposed either to entrap him or his son. He accomplished his object by sending a ship freighted with Spanish wines to Donegal, the captain of which entertained all who would partake of his liberality. Young O’Donell and two of his companions; accepted his invitation, and when intoxicated were made prisoners and conveyed to Dublin as hostages for the chief of Tyrconnell. After remaining a prisoner in the castle for a considerable time, he, in company with several other hostages, effected his escape, and returned to Donegal, where he was invested with the chieftaincy of Tyrconnell, and married a daughter of O’Nial, chief of Tyrone. In 1592, an English force under Cap tarns Willis and Convill took possession of the convent and the surrounding country, but were quickly expelled by the young Hugh Roe O’Donell, with the loss of their baggage. In 1600, O’Nial met O’Donell and the Spanish emissary, Oviedo, here, on the arrival of supplies from Spain at Killybegs, to concert the plan of a rebellion. Shortly after this, the English, taking advantage of O’Donell’s absence in Connaught, marched a strong party to Donegal, and took possession of the monastery, which was unsuccessfully assaulted by O’Donell; and the debarkation of the Spaniards at Kinsale, about this time, occasioned him to go to their assistance, leaving the English in undisturbed possession. In 1631, the Annals of Donegal, generally called the “Annals of the Four Masters,” were compiled in the convent: the original of the first part of this work is in the Duke of Buckingham’s library at Stowe, and of the second in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy; part of these interesting annals have been published by Dr. O’Conor, under the title of “Rerun Hibernicarum Scriptores.” The castle was taken, in 1651, by the Marquess of Clanricarde, who was, however, soon obliged to surrender it to a superior force. On the 15th of October, 1798, a French frigate of 30 guns anchored close to the town, and two more appeared in the bay; but the militia, and inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, showing a determination to resist a landing, they left the harbour.
The town is pleasantly situated at the mouth of the river Esk, and consists of three streets, comprising 177 houses, and a large triangular market-place: the market is held on Saturday; and fairs on the second Friday in each month. Here is a constabulary police station. The harbour is formed by a pool on the east side of the peninsula of Durin, where, at the distance of two miles below the town, small vessels may ride in two or three fathoms of water, about half a cable’s length from the shore. There is a good herring-fishery in the bay of Donegal, in summer. The borough was incorporated by a charter of James I., dated Feb. 27th, 1612, in pursuance of the plan of forming a new plantation in Ulster. The corporation consisted of a portreeve, twelve free burgesses, and an unlimited number of free-men; and the charter created a borough court, of which the portreeve was president, but it has long since been disused. From its incorporation till the Union the borough returned two members to the Irish parliament, and on the abolition of its franchise, £15,000 were paid as compensation to the Earl or Arran and Viscount Dudley. Since that period the corporation has ceased to exist. By a grant to Henry Brook, in 1639, a manor was erected, comprehending the town of Donegal, with a court leet and court baron, to be held before a seneschal appointed by the patentee, having a civil jurisdiction to the extent of 40s. The manorial court is still held monthly, on Mondays, except during the summer: petty-sessions are held every alternate week; and the general quarter-sessions for the county are held here in March, June, October, and December, in a small sessions-house. There is a bridewell, having three cells, two day-rooms, and two yards.
The parish comprises 23,260 statute acres, including 503 ¼ in Lough Esk, and 214 ¾ in small lakes; there are about 900 acres of bog, and a large tract of mountain land. Among the mountains is the beautiful lake of Esk, at the upper end of which is the romantic and picturesque place called Ardnamona, and from which the river Esk descends southward to its estuary, in the in-most recess of the bay of Donegal: pearls, some of them of great beauty, have been found in the stream. About a quarter of the profitable land is arable, the remainder pasture. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Raphoe, and in the patronage of the Bishop; the rectory is impropriated in Colonel Conolly. The tithe rent-charge is £257. 17., of which £80. 15. 5. are payable to the impropriator, and the remainder to the vicar: the glebe-house was rebuilt by aid of a gift of £100 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1816; there is a glebe of 36 acres. The church is a handsome structure, built in 1825, by aid of a donation of £100 from John Hamilton, Esq , and a loan of £1300 from the same Board. The Roman Catholic parish is co-extensive with that of the Established Church, and has a chapel at Donegal and one at Townawilly. There are two meeting-houses for Presbyterians in connexion with the General Assembly, also two for Independents, and one for Wesleyan Methodists. The parochial school was built on land given by the Earl of Arran: there are a school on Erasmus Smith’s foundation, and various others aided by different societies, and by subscription. About the close of the last century, Colonel Robertson, son of a clergyman of this town, bequeathed a sum of money, out of the interest of which £15 per annum were to be paid to each of the parishes in the diocese of Raphoe, for the support of a schoolmaster to instruct children of all religious denominations. This fund has so much increased as to enable the trustees to grant £40 to each parish, for the erection of a school-house, provided an acre of land on a perpetually renewable lease be obtained for a site. A dispensary is supported in the customary manner. The union workhouse, on a site of 6£ acres purchased for £235, was completed in 1842, at an expense of £5785, and is constructed to contain 500 paupers. The remains of the monastery are still visible at a short distance from the town: the cloister is composed of small arches supported by coupled pillars on a basement; in one part of it are two narrow passages, one over the other, about four feet wide, ten long, and seven high, which were probably intended as depositories for valuables in times of danger. A considerable part of the castle also remains, and forms an interesting feature in the beautiful view of the bay: although it, and the other property granted to the patentee, at a rent of 13s. 4d. per annum, have passed into other families, one of his descendants still pays a rent to the crown for it. Donegal gives the titles of Marquess and Earl to the Chichester family.