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Gaoth Dobhair

District and Parish
An aerial view of Gweedore, with Errigal and Magheraclogher Beach
An aerial view of Gweedore, with Errigal and Magheraclogher Beach
Gweedore is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Country Ireland
Province Ulster
County County Donegal
 • Total 4,065
Time zone UTC+0 (WET)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-1 (IST (WEST))
Area code(s) 074 95, +000 353 74 95
Irish Grid Reference B847228

Gweedore ( GWEE-dor; officially known by its Irish language name, Gaoth Dobhair) is an Irish-speaking district and parish located on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal in the north-west of Ireland. Gweedore stretches some 26 kilometres (16 mi) from Glasserchoo in the north to Crolly in the south and around 14 kilometres (9 mi) from Dunlewey in the east to Magheraclogher in the west, and is one of Europe's most densely populated rural areas. It is the largest Irish-speaking parish in Ireland with a population of around 4,065, and is also the home of the northwest regional studios of the Irish-language radio service RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, as well as an external campus of National University of Ireland, Galway. Gweedore includes the villages Bunbeg, Derrybeg, Dunlewey, Crolly and Brinlack, and sits in the shade of County Donegal's highest peak, Errigal.

Gweedore is known for being a cradle of Irish culture, with old Irish customs, traditional music, theatre, Gaelic games and the Irish language playing a central and pivotal role in the lives of the local people. This, along with its scenery and many beaches, has made the area a popular tourist destination, especially with visitors from Northern Ireland. Gweedore and the neighbouring districts of Cloughaneely and the Rosses are collectively known locally as "the three parishes"; they form a social and cultural region distinct from the rest of the county, with Gweedore serving as the main centre for socialising and industry.


Men fishing with Mount Errigal in the background

Gweedore is the anglicisation of the original and official Irish name Gaoth Dobhair. Gaoth refers to an inlet of the sea at the mouth of the Crolly River, known as An Ghaoth. It is the boundary between Gweedore to the north and The Rosses to the south. Dobhar is an old Irish word for water. Therefore, Gaoth Dobhair translates as "the aqueous estuary".

The name Gweedore or Gaoth Dobhair refers to the Catholic parish of the same name, not to any one village or town. The villages of Bunbeg, Derrybeg, Dunlewey and others are collectively known as Gweedore.


Gweedore has a population of 4,500 and is divided into 3 EDs:

  • Machaire Chlochair with a population of 2,651 and an estimated 77% native Irish speakers.
  • Cnoc Fola/Mín an Chladaigh with a population of 1,326 and 83% Irish speakers.
  • Dún Lúiche with a population of 695 and 76% Irish speakers.

The predominant spoken language of the district is Irish, but English can be widely heard as well. All schools, religious services, and advertisements are through Irish. Thousands of second-level and some third-level students from all over Ireland attend summer schools at Coláiste Cholmcille (Columba's College), Coláiste Bun an Inbhir, Coláiste Chú Chulainn, Coláiste Mhuire and Coláiste an Phiarsaigh in Gaoth Dobhair every summer to further their knowledge and understanding of the Irish language. This is a Gaeltacht, an where the Irish language is the first language, providing an unbroken link with millennia of Irish history and culture.

A view of Gweedore from Bloody Foreland.

Since most of the inhabitants of the village are bilingual, it is common to hear English vocabulary used within an Irish sentence and vice versa. A rich subset of unique vocabulary and phrases has arisen from this bilingualism and owing to this, the parish has attracted some curious interest from both lexicographers and etymologists in the past. For example, the Irish suffix -ailte or -eáilte is used to form a Gaelicised version of English verbs, as in wreckailte "tired".


Bunbeg - Magheragallon Cemetery - - 1177902
Magheragallon Cemetery, Derrybeg.
Preparing to land at Donegal - - 1159605
An aerial view of Gweedore.

The Plantation of Ulster in 1609 added a twist to the fate of the parish. Irish-speaking families who were driven from their fertile lands in the Lagan Valley and the surrounding areas made their way to the poor boglands of west Donegal. Some of them made it as far as Gweedore and could go no further west. Around the same time, English and Scottish colonists began to arrive when this uncharted territory was converted to baronies. It appears the parish was very sparsely populated up until the 17th century. The first people to arrive lived on the islands or by the shore in clusters, pockets of houses built close together and in each other's shade.

Up until the early 19th century the parish was only lightly populated and it seems the people had an amicable relationship with the landowners.

The standard of life was to deteriorate with the arrival of new landlords in the 19th century, in particular Lord George Augusta Hill (1801–1879) and his son Arthur. The people of the parish led by James McFadden (Irish: Séamus Mac Pháidín), the parish priest in 1875–1901, challenged the landlords with the founding of the Land League and the Plan of Campaign. The killing by parishioners of Royal Irish Constabulary District Inspector William Limbrick Martin (locally known as An Mháirtínigh) outside the local church, Teach Phobail Mhuire, in Derrybeg on Sunday 3 February 1889, while rushing Father McFadden with a drawn sword, was the climax of the Land War in Gweedore. The case was recalled in the 1928 memoirs of Tim Healy, who defended Father McFadden and his parishioners.

An Irish American journalist, W.H. Hurlbert, also investigated the landlord-tenant dispute in Gweedore in minute detail in his book Ireland under Coercion, published in 1888.

Many books have been published in Irish, and several in English, detailing Gweedore's rich history. One of the most prolific of local historians was Cáit Nic Giolla Bhríde.

Freak storm

On the afternoon of 23 June 2009, a severe thunderstorm struck Gweedore. It was centred on the adjoining villages of Bunbeg and Derrybeg, and lasted for several hours, causing two rivers to burst their banks, flooding houses, shops and factories, ripping up roads and destroying bridges. Lightning which lasted for two hours damaged power lines and caused a major breakdown of mobile phone service, leaving people trapped by the floods unable to contact help. Up to 20 houses were cut off from the outside world after three access bridges were carried away by the swollen rivers.

Described as the worst storm "in living memory", it was also the most severe since 1880 when five people drowned in Derrybeg. Owing to the highly localised nature of the storm, the areas of maximum rainfall missed the network of rain gauges but Met Éireann estimated that between 2pm and 6pm, up to 60 centimetres (24 in) of rain fell at the core.

Physical features

Gweedore area - Bloody Foreland - - 1337837
The rugged Gweedore coast, shown here in Bloody Foreland.

Gweedore is close to Mount Errigal, the tallest mountain in County Donegal, which overshadows the picturesque Dunlewey Lough. It is surrounded by the deep glens and lakes of the Poisoned Glen, and further on, Glenveagh national park and castle, the largest national park in Ireland. Bád Eddie ("Eddie's Boat"), the Cara na Mara ("Friend of the Sea"), is the wreck of a ship which ran ashore on Magherclogher beach due to rough seas.

The Gweedore coastline consists of long sandy beaches and rugged cliffs with small islands, including Gola Island, and Tory Island.


Gweedore railway station, opened on 9 March 1903, closed for passenger traffic on 3 June 1940 and finally closed altogether on 6 January 1947. The chief railway engineer was Taggart Aston, from Belfast. He was responsible for the design and construction of many of the bridges on the Letterkenny to Burtonport Extension narrow-gauge railway (L&BER), a company jointly owned by the State and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway (L&LSR). Coaches that operate from Gweedore include Collins Coaches Donegal to Glasgow, Feda Ó Dónaill, Coyle's Coaches, John McGinley, Patrick Gallagher Coaches, Crónán Mac Pháidín private hire coaches, and a bus route serving the local airport. For many years the Lough Swilly Railway company provided a bus service for the area, which transported people to places such as Letterkenny and other surrounding parishes.

Arts and culture

Panoramic view of Magheraclogher beach and Gweedore Bay, also the site of the famous shipwreck, the Cara Na Mara (Friend of the Sea) on the tidal sandbanks. The boat, best known as 'Bád Eddie' (Eddie's Boat), ran ashore due to rough seas in the early 1970s.


Gweedore is famed for its traditional Irish music scene, which is prevalent in local taverns, especially at Hiúdaí Beag's Tavern in Bunbeg. Gweedore has produced a number of well-known musicians. Clannad were formed in 1972, and have since gone on to sell over 15 million records. Lead singer Moya Brennan has also enjoyed a successful solo career, providing musical scores for several Hollywood films. Altan (initially Ceoltóirí Altan), another highly successful local band, is led by Coshclady fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Gweedore's most successful musician is Enya, born as Eithne Ní Bhraonáin; she first appeared on stage in Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair as a member of Clannad, before going on to become one of the world's biggest-selling artists, with sales exceeding 80 million. Other local singers include Aoife Ní Fhearraigh, Brídín Brennan, Na Casaidigh, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, Gearóidín Bhreathnach, Seamus McGee and Maria McCool. The well-known 1970s group Skara Brae also had strong links with the district. There are two active choirs in the area. Cór Mhuire Doirí Beaga, led by Baba Brennan and Eileen Nic Suibhne and Cór Thaobh 'a Leithid, led by Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde. Both have recorded successful albums.

The song "Gleanntáin Ghlas' Ghaoth Dobhair" was written by local musician Francie Mooney, expressing an exile's final farewell to the green valleys of Gweedore. It has become a modern Irish classic and it has been covered by the likes of Clannad, Paul Brady, Dáithí Sproule, The Johnstons and most notably by Altan. Other well-known songs to have come from the area are "Trasna na dTonnta" and "Báidín Fheilimí".


Gweedore holds one of the largest St. Patrick's Day parades in County Donegal.

The popular Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy ("Frankie Kennedy Winter School") took place in Gweedore every New Year until January 2014 in memory of the eponymous Belfast musician, who was married to its founder, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, until he died of cancer in 1994. It has been replaced by the Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair ("Gweedore Winter School").

Several attempts have been made recently to revive festivals in the summer months, including Féile Earthcore, Loinneog Lúnasa and Féile Ceoil Ghaoth Dobhair. The annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade which goes from Bunbeg crossroads to Derrybeg attracts thousands of participants and spectators each year.


Gweedore has a rich history of theatre and drama productions. The local theatre Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair was constructed in 1961. A local theatre group known as Aisteoirí Ghaoth Dobhair ('actors of Gweedore') was established in 1932. Their first production was called In Aimsir an Mháirtínigh, an original play by Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde which was staged in the parish hall in Derrybeg. Their plays and pantomimes, which were all staged in Irish, became a staple of Gaeltacht social life, drawing audiences from as far as Belfast and they performed throughout Ireland and Scotland. Members of the theatre group have gone on to create TV shows including CU Burn (Seán Mac Fhionnghaile), and have appeared on Ros na Rún (Gavin Ó Fearraigh). Many of Gweedore's musicians were associated with the group. Aisteoirí Ghaoth Dobhair are still active and performed shows at An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny as part of the Earagail Arts Festival in 2010 and 2011.


Gaoth Dobhair is home to two art galleries which house work by some of the area's best known painters. An Clachán claims to be the largest art gallery in Donegal, whilst An Gailearaí at Áislann Ghaoth Dobhair has staged exhibitions based on the work of the world-renowned Derek Hill.


The Catholic parish of Gweedore has four churches: Teach Pobal Mhuire (St Mary's) in Derrybeg (built in 1972, after the previous 'old chapel' had flooded on many occasions), Teach Pobail an Chroí Naofa (Sacred Heart) in Dunlewey (built in 1877), Teach Pobail Naomh Pádraig (St Patrick's) in Meenaweel (built in 1938) and Séipéal Cholmcille (St Columba's) in Bloody Foreland (built in 1933). The only Protestant church in Gweedore is St Patrick's Church of Ireland, in Bunbeg.

Place names in Gweedore

Because Gweedore is in the Gaeltacht and partly due to the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003, only the original Irish versions of placenames have any legal status, and these are used on road signage. However Anglicised versions were created for most placenames and are still in informal use in English.

View across Dunmore Strand to Inishinny - - 305455
A view of Inishinny island.

Alphabetical listing

  • An tArd Donn (Arduns)
  • Ard na gCeapairí (Ardnagappery)
  • Baile an Droichid (Ballindrait)
  • An Baile Láir (Middletown)
  • An Bun Beag (Bunbeg)
  • Bun an Inbhir (Bunaninver)
  • Bun an Leaca (Brinalack or Brinaleck)
Mount Errigal is one of Gweedore's most significant physical features.
  • An Charraic (Carrick)
  • Carraig an tSeascain (Carrickataskin)
  • Cnoc an Stolaire (Knockastolar)
  • Cnoc Fola (Bloody Foreland)
  • Coitín or An Choiteann (Cotteen)
  • Croichshlí or Croithlí (Crolly)
  • Dobhar (Dore)
  • Na Doirí Beaga or Doire Beag (Derrybeg)
Poison glen derryveagh
The Poison Glen, situated in the east of Gweedore, near the village of Dunlewey.
A view of Gweedore.
  • Dún Lúiche (Dunlewey)
  • Glaise Chú (Glasserchoo)
  • Glaiseach or An Ghlaisigh (Glassagh)
  • Gleann Tornáin (Glentornan)
  • Gleann Ualach (Glenhola)
  • Luinneach (Lunniagh)
  • Loughkeel (Loch Caol)
  • Machaire Chlochair (Magheraclogher)
  • Machaire Gathlán (Magheragallon or Magheragallen)
  • Mín an Chladaigh (Meenacladdy)
  • Mín a Dubh (Meenaduff)
  • Mín an Iolair (Meenaniller)
  • Mín na Cuinge (Meenacuing)
  • Mín na Leice (Meenaleck)
  • Mín Uí Bhaoill (Meenaweel)
  • Port Uí Chuireáin (Curransport)
  • Seascann Beag (Sheskinbeg)
  • An Sloitheán (Sleghan)
  • Srath na Corcra (Stranacorkra)
  • An Tor (Torr)
Gweedore area - Sheep grazing along R257 - - 1337991
Sheep grazing along a road in Meenaclady, a regular sight in Gweedore.


  • Toraigh (Tory), although not directly situated off the coast of Gweedore, the main ferry crossings are from the area.


The main R257 road which runs right through Gweedore, seen here in Derrybeg, is known locally as the 'Golden Mile'

In the 1980s and 1990s, Gweedore had a thriving factory industry, where up to 20 large companies were established producing rubber, carpets, body toning equipment and cleaning agents. However, by 2001 most of these companies had closed due to competition from Eastern Europe. Up to 4,000 jobs were lost, and this had a serious economic and social effect on Gweedore and surrounding areas. The factory in the townland of Crolly has been manufacturing porcelain dolls since 1939 under the name Crolly Dolls.

In 2003, the estate was renamed Páirc Ghnó Ghaoth Dobhair (Gweedore Business Park) and the Gaeltacht body, Údarás na Gaeltachta, started a campaign to try to entice businesses to Gweedore in hope of reviving the local economy. A Scottish company opened a call centre on the estate, but this subsequently closed. Other businesses include a number of supermarkets, convenience stores, beauticians, hairdressers, contractors, garages, pharmacists, pubs, cafes and three well-established hotels: Derrybeg Hotel, Teach Jack and An Chúirt Hotel.


The Gaoth Dobhair GAA clubhouse and grounds, with Gweedore and Errigal seen in the background

Sports played locally include Gaelic football, golf and soccer.

Gaelic games

The local Gaelic games club, CLG Ghaoth Dobhair, is located in Machaire Gathlán and provides facilities for all GAA sports. The Gaoth Dobhair senior team is the most successful club in the Donegal Senior Football Championship and Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta. It won the 2018 Ulster Senior Club Football Championship. Players such as Kevin Cassidy and the McGee brothers—Eamon and Neil—are known nationally for their exploits with the senior Donegal county football team. Newcomers, such as Odhrán Mac Niallais, Kieran Gillespie, Michael Carroll and Cian Mulligan have secured places in the senior county football team in recent years. Hurling was never a popular sport in Gweedore, with the exception of a briefly successful minor team in the late 1990s.


Gailf Chumann Ghaoth Dobhair, the local golf club, is also situated in Machaire Gathlán. The 14-hole course hugs the picturesque north-west coast and holds several high-profile tournaments throughout the year, most notably, 'The Clannad Classic', sponsored by the world-renowned local folk band.


Soccer clubs active in the area include Gweedore Celtic, Gweedore United, Glenea United and Dunlewey Celtic. All teams take part in both county and national competitions. Scottish soccer player Paddy Crerand's mother hailed from Gweedore. Still a regular visitor to the area, Crerand broadcast an episode of his MUTV show The Paddy Crerand Show live from the Ostan Gweedore Hotel in March 2012. Aiden McGeady's paternal grandparents also hail from Gweedore and he spent many of his summer holidays in the parish.

Currach racing

Cumann na gCurach, based at Machaire Gathlán, is a voluntary group that organises currach races and takes part in numerous races all over the country.


Áislann Ghaoth Dobhair (opened in 2011) is a state of the art building which houses the local library, playschool and an exhibition gallery

Primary level

All five primary schools in the area are Irish-speaking schools. Children are not taught English until higher infants level (5–6 years old).

  • Scoil Chonaill, Bunbeg (An Bun Beag)
  • Scoil Mhuire, Derrybeg (Doirí Beaga)
  • Scoil Phádraig, Dore (Dobhar)
  • Scoil Bhríde, Mín an Chladaigh
  • Scoil Adhamhnáin, Lunniagh (Luinneach)

Secondary level

The only community school (post-primary) is Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, established in Lunniagh in 1977. As with the local primary schools, all students are educated through the medium of Irish and most sit their public examinations in Irish.

Third level

In 2004, NUI Galway expanded to Gweedore when it opened Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, providing third-level education through the medium of the Irish language to over 80 students every year. Several diplomas are available as well as a new bachelor's degree in business studies.

Notable people

The following is a list of notable people from the area:

Images for kids

See also

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