Mountainous county in the northwest of the Republic of Ireland, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, and bordering the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone, and Fermanagh (Northern Ireland), and Leitrim (Republic of Ireland); area 4,830 sq km/1,864 sq mi; county town Lifford; population (2002) 137,600. Ballyshannon is the largest town, and the market town and port of Donegal is at the head of Donegal Bay in the southwest. The severe climate renders much of the county barren, although the soil is suitable for potatoes, oats, and barley (in places). Commercial activities include sheep and cattle raising, tweed, linen, and carpet manufacture, and some salmon and deep-sea fishing. Tourism is also very important; the county is noted for dramatic scenery and geology as well as archaeological and historic remains, and the castles of Donegal and Glenveagh as well as Glenveagh National Park are among the top visitor attractions in the county. The River Erne hydroelectric project (1952) involved the building of a large artificial lake (405 ha/1,000 acres) and a power station at Ballyshannon.
Features The county is rich in early remains from the Bronze Age and the early Christian period, as well as early fortifications. The most interesting historical remains are perhaps those of the Grianan of Aileach, a large circular stone fort, built about 1700 BC as the stronghold of the kings of Ulster, the O'Neills. The famous St Patrick's Purgatory pilgrimage takes place on Station Island in the middle of Lough Derg. At Donegal Abbey (founded 1474) an important early literary work, The Annals of the Four Masters, was written between 1632 and 1636, and is an important source for early Irish history and mythology.
Colum Cille (St Columba) was born at Garton, where there is a heritage centre depicting his life; a flagstone on a hill near Lough Gartan is reputed to mark his birthplace. He founded an abbey at Kilmacrenan (of which nothing remains, although there are ruins of a 15th-century Franciscan friary on the site). Other sites include Glencolumkille, named after the saint who was reputed to have a retreat in the Glen; a large, high cross reputed to have been erected by St Colmcille in Myrath churchyard; the ruined monastery on Tory Island reputed to have been funded by Colum Cille.
Physical Donegal is mainly mountainous with dramatic cliff scenery, being geologically a continuation of the Highlands of Scotland. The coastline is very irregular, being broken by Lough Swilly, Sheep Haven, Boylagh Bay, Gweebarra Bay, and Donegal Bay; there are high-cliffed peninsulas to the north. There are many islands off the coast, the main ones being Inistrahul, Tory Island, and Aran Island. The chief rivers are the Foyle, the Finn, the Swilly, the Erne, the Gweebarra, the Gweedore, and the Owenea, and the chief lakes Loughs Derg, Deele, Gartan, Eask, and Glen. The highest mountain is Mount Errigal (752 m/2,467 ft), and the glaciated Derryveagh Mountains have a series of peaks over 610 m/2,000 ft. At Malin Head in the west of Donegal Bay there is a sea cliff 600 m/1,969 ft in height. Malin Head is the most northerly point of Ireland.
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