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Letterkenny
Leitir Ceanainn
From top, left to right: St. Eunan's Cathedral, An Grianán Theatre, Market Square, St. Eunan's College, Polestar Roundabout, Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
From top, left to right: St. Eunan's Cathedral, An Grianán Theatre, Market Square, St. Eunan's College, Polestar Roundabout, Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
Coat of arms of Letterkenny
Coat of arms
Motto: Ubique Urbem Reminiscar
"Remember the town wherever I am"
Country Ireland
Province Ulster
County County Donegal
Dáil Éireann Donegal
Elevation 52 m (171 ft)
Population (2011)
 • City 19,588
 • Urban 22,455
Irish Grid Reference C171121
Dialing code 074 91// 0035374

Letterkenny (Irish: Leitir Ceanainn, meaning hillside of the O'Cannons), nicknamed "the Cathedral Town", is the largest and most populous town in County Donegal, Ireland. It lies on the River Swilly in east Donegal and has a population of 19,588. Along with the nearby city of Derry, Letterkenny forms the major economic core of the island's north-west.

Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. A castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, Donegal's only Roman Catholic cathedral, stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mt Southwell on Castle Street. Donegal's premier third-level institution, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), is located in the town, as are Saint Eunan's College, Highland Radio, and the only Hindu temple in the Republic of Ireland. Letterkenny was also the original home of Oatfield Sweet Factory, the confectionery manufacturer,Letterkenny was also the original home of Oatfield Sweet Factory, the confectionery manufacturer, the factory was closed and the building was knocked down in 2014 and is renowned for its night-life, with enterprises such as Club Voodoo, The Grill, and The Pulse regularly attracting international names. The Aura Complex, near O'Donnell Park, includes an Olympic-standard swimming pool, the Danny McDaid Athletic Track and an arena capable of hosting top-level events. The town also boasts the location of rebel Theobald Wolfe Tone's 1798 landing and subsequent arrest at Lairds Hotel.

In 2015 it was awarded the accolade of being judged to be the tidiest town in Ireland.

Etymology

Letterkenny takes its name from the Irish Leitirceanainn, meaning "Hillside of the O'Cannons" – the O'Cannons being the last of the ancient chieftains of Tír Conaill. Although the O'Cannons were the last ruling chieftains in Tír Conaill, no evidence of forts or castles belonging to the clan exists in or around the Letterkenny district (leading to speculation on a possible derivation of the name Letterkenny: from the Irish 'Leitir Ceann-Fhoinn', meaning 'Fairheaded Hillside').

The O'Cannons are allegedly descended from Conn of the Hundred Battles and Niall of the Nine Hostages, two of Ireland's most famous Kings. The O'Cannons have been described as 'Ancient Princes of Tír Connaill' and 'Valiant Chiefs'. However, their 350-year dynasty in Tír Connaill ended in 1250. Their ancient territory would seem to have been Tír Aeda (now the barony of Tirhugh).

Riverswilly
The mouth of the River Swilly at Lough Swilly in Letterkenny.

After the deaths of Ruairí Ó Canannain (Rory O'Cannon) and his son Niall Ó Canannain in 1250, the sept declined greatly in power. Brian Ó Néill (Brian O'Neill) died ten years later in 1260; he had supported an Ó Canannain claimant to Tír Conaill, i.e. to the Kingdom of Tír Conaill (Tirconnell). However, the O'Cannon Clan remained subserviant to the O'Donnell Clan, the Kings of Tír Chonaill from the early thirteenth century onwards. The personal name Canannain is a diminutive of Cano meaning 'wolf cub'. Canannain was fifth in descent from Flaithbertach mac Loingsig (died 765), high-king of Ireland; they were the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages (Irish: Niall Noigiallach), who died c. 405 A.D. by his son, Conall Gulban who gave his name to Tír Conaill, the 'Land of Conall', now County Donegal.

By the early 17th century the name Uí Canannain had been anglicised to O'Cannon. Further anglicisation took place during the Penal Laws in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the name in Co. Dun Na nGall became Cannon. In the early 1880s, there were just 200 families bearing the Cannon surname living in Co. Donegal, who were mainly tenant farmers. The Cannons/O'Canannains were of the ancient sept of Cenell Conaill, a branch of the northern Uí Néill and descend from Ruaidrí ua Canannain (died 30 November 950), King of Cenel Conaill, and grandson of Canannain, who flourished in the second half of the 9th century. The site of the ancient seat of the Ó Canannain was near Letterkenny (the largest town of County Donegal only since the 1950s), which is said on good authority (?) to represent the countryside of the O'Cannons (English translation).

Geographical location

Letterkenny is County Donegal's largest and most important town. Hundreds of people travel to and from Letterkenny every day for work, whether in the town's many I.T. companies, General Hospital, schools and retail outlets. Letterkenny is around 25 km from Derry across the border in Northern Ireland. The following indicate the distances between Letterkenny and Donegal's other main centres:

Letterkenny vue globale
Letterkenny skyline
  • Ballybofey – 21.3 km
  • Ballyshannon – 68.7 km
  • Buncrana – 40.1 km
  • Carndonagh – 60.1 km
  • Creeslough – 26.2 km
  • Donegal Town – 48.5 km
  • Dunfanaghy – 36.1 km
  • Dungloe – 50.1 km
  • Falcarragh – 39.7 km
  • Glenties – 44 km
  • Gweedore – 46.4 km
  • Killybegs (via Donegal Town) – 75.7 km
  • Lifford – 25.4 km
  • Milford – 19.9 km
  • Malin - 60 km
  • Lurgybrack - 2 km
  • Bundoran - 76.5 km
  • Ravensdale 6000 km
  • Killygordon 26.8km
  • Glenveagh National Park 22.2 km
  • St Johnston 20.5km

History

Above: The Market Square district c.1900;
Below: The Market Square district c.2007

The modern town of Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. It may have been established on the site of an earlier Gaelic settlement. It was the first crossing point of the River Swilly. In the recent past, Letterkenny was a largely agricultural town, surrounded by extensive cattle and sheep grazing on what was then untilled hillside – at a time when Conwal (3 km west of Letterkenny) was the ecclesiastical and seaport centre. The waters of the Atlantic had not yet retreated from the basin of the Swilly, whose estuary at that time extended up almost as far as New Mills – proof of this may be found in those alluvial flat-lands between Oldtown and Port Road.

Rory O'Cannon, the last chieftain of the O'Cannon Clan, was killed in 1248. Godfrey O'Donnell succeeded Rory O'Cannon as King of Tír Conaill. He engaged the Norman lord Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Lord of Offaly, in battle at Credan in the north of what is now County Sligo in 1257 in which both were badly wounded – Fitzgerald immediately fatally so. Godfrey (also dying from his wounds) retired to a crannóg in Lough Beag (Gartan Lake). O'Neill of Tyrone – taking advantage of Godfrey's fatal illness – demanded submission, hostages and pledges from the Cenél Conaill since they had no strong chieftain since the wounding of Godfrey. Godfrey summoned his forces and led them himself, although he had to be carried on a litter (stretcher). O'Neill and his men were completely defeated by the Swilly in 1258. Godfrey died however after the battle near where the town of Letterkenny is today. He was buried in Conwal Cemetery. A cross-shaped coffin slab marks his grave to this day.

The receding of the waters of the Atlantic eastwards enabled progress, and with the building of bridges etc., the town of Letterkenny started to take the shape it has today. In the wake of the Plantation of Ulster (which began around 1609), when a 4 square kilometres (990 acres) area was granted to a Scotsman Patrick Crawford, the compact community formed.

The honour of formally launching the town fell to Sir George Marbury who married Patrick Crawford's widow – Crawford having died suddenly while on a return visit to his native Scotland. Initially there were possibly fifty simple habitations sited where the Oldtown is situated today.

The main streets, though now suffering traffic congestion, were simple pony tracks used by the hill farmers to come to the markets. The markets – started by Patrick Crawford with only a few animals – grew into much busier mart which are not present today.

Market Square, Letterkenny (8611952691)
Traffic in Market Square in 1928.

An ancient castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mt Southwell on Castle Street. Outlaw Redmond O' Hanlon found refuge there in 1690. No remains of the castle exist today.

During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, on 12 October, a large French force consisting of 3,000 men, and including Wolfe Tone, attempted to land in County Donegal near Lough Swilly. They were intercepted by a large British Royal Navy force, and finally surrendered after a three-hour battle without ever landing in Ireland. After Wolfe Tone was captured he was held for a short time at Laird's Hotel (opposite the Market Square) in the Main Street of Letterkenny before being transferred to the nearby Derry Gaol. He was later tried by court-martial in Dublin and found guilty. He committed suicide in prison.

Wolfe Tone sign Letterkenny
Sign erected to commemorate Tone's arrest in the town

In 1824, when the first description of Letterkenny as a modern town was written, it was stated that: "Within half a mile is the Port of Ballyraine, whither vessels of 100 tons bring iron, salt and colonial produce and whence they export hides and butter". Nothing remains now except the warehouses with the example of 19th century warehouse architecture.

Letterkenny achieved town status in the early 1920s following the partition of Ireland. When the Irish punt replaced the British pound sterling in County Donegal in 1928, many Irish banks that had been previously located in Derry (in the new Northern Ireland) opened branches in Letterkenny.

Letterkenny made history in August 2012 when two winning Lotto tickets using the same numbers for the same draw were bought at two different locations in the town – Mac's Mace on the High Road and The Paper Post on Main Street. The occurrence made national news. A spokesperson for Lotto HQ in Dublin said it was the first time this had happened.

Demographics

Letterkennymainstreet
A view of Letterkenny Main Street

The population of Letterkenny and environs is 19,588 (based on the 2011 census carried out by the CSO).

Letterkenny is the largest town in County Donegal. Despite having a long tradition of emigration that continued until the early 1990s, Letterkenny has recently had net immigration. The recent immigrants are mostly of foreign origin, with many immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. This is reflected in the recent growth of immigrant restaurants and shops, including Chinese and Indian restaurants, as well as specialised shops run by and providing goods for Africans, Asians, South Americans, and Eastern Europeans. Letterkenny is home to the only Hindu temple in the Republic of Ireland.

The figures for ethnic and cultural background for people in the State in 2006 reveals that 16% of Letterkenny's population are non-nationals. The figures also show that most of Donegal's non-national population are living in the town. Of the town's total population 2,709 are non-nationals. According to the 2006 census 4,957 people have a disability illness, 640 people have a registered disability, 537 have a chronic illness while 345 suffer from a psychological or an emotional condition. The 2006 census also revealed that there were 199 travellers living within the towns environs.

Climate

Climate data for Letterkenny is recorded at Malin Head in the far northern tip of the county. Malin Head's climate is classified as Temperate Oceanic (Köppen Cfb) and is significantly milder than some other locations in the world at a similar latitude, this is due to the stations position near the Atlantic Coast and exposure to the warmth of the Gulf Stream. Due to its northerly latitude, Malin Head experiences long summer days and short winter days. Summers are cool with temperatures rarely exceeding 25 °C (77 °F), while winters are relatively mild with daytime temperatures rarely dropping below 0 °C (32 °F). Extreme heat is very rare, however the town can on occasion receive extreme cold from the Arctic where temperatures drop several degrees below 0 °C (32 °F). Snow is relatively uncommon and the station receives on average 20 days of recorded snowfall per year, the vast majority of this occurring between December and March. Humidity is high year round and rainfall is spread quite evenly throughout the year, with winter months receiving the most rainy days, however Letterkenny can have 4 seasons in one day, rain, snow, sunshine, hail.

Climate data for Letterkenny, Donegal (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 8
(46)
8
(46)
10
(50)
12
(54)
14
(57)
16
(61)
17
(63)
18
(64)
16
(61)
13
(55)
10
(50)
8
(46)
12.2
(54)
Average low °C (°F) 4
(39)
3
(37)
4
(39)
6
(43)
8
(46)
10
(50)
12
(54)
12
(54)
11
(52)
9
(48)
6
(43)
4
(39)
7.5
(45.5)
Precipitation mm (inches) 117.4
(4.622)
84.8
(3.339)
85.9
(3.382)
63.1
(2.484)
56.9
(2.24)
69.1
(2.72)
76.8
(3.024)
93.2
(3.669)
91.8
(3.614)
118.4
(4.661)
104.5
(4.114)
114.2
(4.496)
1,076.1
(42.366)
Avg. precipitation days 18 13 15 12 11 11 14 14 14 17 17 16 172
Avg. snowy days 5.1 5.2 3.4 1.6 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 1.1 3.8 20.3
Sunshine hours 38.2 65.0 94.1 152.9 201.5 166.0 142.7 140.1 112.2 80.6 44.3 34.1 1,271.7
Source #1: ECA&D
Source #2: Met Éireann

Architecture

See also: Public art in Letterkenny
St Eunans Cathedral Letterkenny
The Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raphoe, dominates the Letterkenny skyline.

Many of Letterkenny's more notable buildings were built in the early 1850s—or earlier. These include educational and ecclesiastical buildings. The town's tallest building is the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, which was completed in 1901. The Cathedral was designed by William Hague from County Cavan. It is built in a light Victorian neo-Gothic version of the French 13th-century Gothic style. Located opposite the Cathedral, at the junction of Church Street with Cathedral Square, is Conwal Parish Church, parts of which date from the 17th century.

Another dominant building in the town is the historic Saint Eunan's College. Saint Eunan's is a three-storey castelated structure with four round towers at each corner of the building. It was constructed in the Edwardian version of the neo-Hiberno-Romanesque style.

Other architecturally notable buildings can be found at Mount Southwell Terrace, which is located at the top of the Market Square, just off Castle Street. This Georgian-style terrace of red brick was built in 1837 by Lord Southwell. The terrace contains five of the most distinctive examples of Georgian houses in Letterkenny and also served as the holiday home of Maud Gonne who stayed here while on holiday in Donegal. St. Conal's Psychiatric Hospital is a large Victorian neo-Georgian structure located on the Kilmacrennan Road in the town. One of the most notable buildings in West Ulster, the oldest parts date from the 1860s. The hospital's chapel was built in the neo-Norman style in the 1930s.

The Donegal County Museum is housed in the old workhouse and is located on the High Road. It was built in 1843 in the neo-Tudor style typical of this kind of building.

In more recent years, Letterkenny has seen more unusual architectural development. The new Letterkenny Town Council offices, known locally as "The Grasshouse", were designed by Donegal-based MacGabhann Architects. One of its most notable features is its distinctive sloping grass roof situated above a broad band of aluka matt cladding although it is also noticeable for its runway-like ramp to the first-floor concourse. It is said to be a building of international interest.

Media and the arts

Theatre

Georgian-lk
Mount Southwell Terrace

There is a large cinema complex in the town. Located on Canal Lane, Century Cinemas is an eight-screen cinema. For live performancesAn Grianán Theatre, is the largest theatre in County Donegal with a seating capacity of 383. . Letterkenny Regional Cultural Centre, located behind An Grianán Theatre, opened on 9 July 2007.

Festivals

The town recently hosted the annual Irish traditional music festival, the Fleadh Cheoil for two consecutive years. Both festivals were organised by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. The town has also hosted the international Pan Celtic Festival for two consecutive years (2006 and 2007). Celts from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Brittany and Cornwall visited Letterkenny for the "craic agus ceoil". Along with the daily street performances on Market Square, An Grianán Theatre and The Courtyard Shopping Centre, song, fiddle, harp and dance contests also featured.

Social

The town is a popular nightlife location for the local catchment area and, indeed, for the rest of Ulster – especially at the weekends and particularly for visitors from nearby Derry City. The Main Street, originally the retail centre of the town, has become a centre for popular night clubs and pubs, boosted by the remnants of its old shopping district. There are several nightclubs in the area including Voodoo on the lower Main street and The Pulse on the Port Road. The Grill Music Venue is a popular nightclub on Sundays. There are many pubs such as The Central Bar (established 1808), The Cavern, Sister Sara's, Josie's Bar, McGinley's, The Cottage Bar and Warehouse.

Events

Annual events include the:

  • St. Patrick's Day Parade (March)
  • North West 10K (May)
  • St Eunans College 5k (May/April)
  • Donegal International Rally (June)
  • Earagail Arts Festival (June/July)
  • Donegal Harvest Rally (October)

Media

Polestar at Port Bridge - geograph.org.uk - 910693
The Polestar sculpture at the Port Bridge is a landmark of Letterkenny

Letterkenny can receive all national radio stations, television stations and cable and satellite services. The area can also receive many Northern Irish stations, including C9TV, a local television station based in Derry. The national broadcaster RTÉ has a studio located in the Ballyraine district.

The regional radio station is Highland Radio which broadcasts from the town to north, east and west County Donegal, West Tyrone and the City of Derry. It began broadcasting in 1990.

Letterkenny is home to several media companies. The main regional newspaper in the town and county is The Donegal Democrat (owned by The Derry Journal), whose offices also prints two other titles every week – the Donegal People's Press on Tuesday and also Donegal on Sunday. Another local paper is The Derry People Donegal News (popularly known locally as The Derry People). It is distributed on a Friday, as well as having a Monday edition. The Milford-based Tirconaill Tribune, printed in Letterkenny, is distributed throughout the county. The town also produces two freesheet newspapers, the Letterkenny People (previously the Letterkenny Listener), which is distributed on a Thursday, and the Letterkenny Post, which prints on a Thursday night for Friday circulation. The Derry Journal based in Derry itself is also a major newspaper in the town and its environs.

Transport

Border diagram 2007
Letterkenny Infrastructure Hub & Midlands Gateway access

Air

The nearest airport is City of Derry Airport, which is located about 48 kilometres (30 mi) to the east at Eglinton. Donegal Airport (locally known as Carrickfinn Airport) is less than an hour away, located to the west in The Rosses.

Map Rail Ireland Viceregal Commission 1906
1906 Irish Rail Infrastructure (including Letterkenny station)

Letterkenny has a small privately operated airfield situated on the outskirts of the town which is operational; it has both hard and grass of 620 meters, hangars available for overnight guests, ICAO EILT. There is also a small private airfield at Finn Valley approx 8 miles away. It is run and operated by the Finn valley Flying Club. The airstrip is 700 metres of grass; it is mainly for use by ultralights and light aircraft. The airfield is home to quite a few ultralights, and the Flying Club run a big open weekend each August where many planes fly in to attend it. The airfield is only suitable for small private aircraft and ultralights, and there is no commercial traffic whatsoever there; it is occasionally used by businessmen to land their small aircraft, at and it is approximately 8 miles from the town.

Rail

See also: History of Irish railways

The town was, in times past, connected with the once extensive narrow gauge rail network of County Donegal. This provided connections to Derry (and through there to Dublin and Belfast), to Lifford and Strabane, to Gweedore and Burtonport, and to Carndonagh, north of Derry. The rail system was built in the late 19th century, with the last extensions opening in the 20th century. Some of these lines were never profitable, built using then UK government subsidies. Only a couple of decades later, the independence of the Irish Free State from the rest of the UK resulted in rail companies operating across two jurisdictions where there had previously been one. This had devastating effects on an already fragile economic situation, resulting eventually in the final closure of all parts of the rail system in the area by 1960.

Today, the closest railway station to County Donegal is Londonderry railway station in the nearby City of Derry. This station is owned and run by Northern Ireland Railways (N.I.R.) and runs via Coleraine to Belfast Central railway station and Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station. The strategically important Belfast-Londonderry railway line is to be upgraded to facilitate more frequent trains and improvements to the permanent way such as track and signalling to enable faster services. N I Railways (Translink)

Road

Letterkenny bus station, Co Donegal - geograph.org.uk - 461426
Bus station outside of Letterkenny Shopping Centre.

Letterkenny is well served by road transport. Bus Éireann operates multiple daily services from its bus depot to Ireland's larger urban areas like Dublin (number 32), Derry and Galway (both number 64). Private coach companies operate daily services to and from town. The Lough Swilly Bus Company (popularly known locally as Lough Swilly or the Swilly Bus) operated a local transport service until they ceased trading in April 2014. Bus Éireann is now the main bus service provider in the town. Currently, access from Dublin is improving with motorway status roads being constructed along the route, allowing cars to complete the Dublin-Letterkenny journey in about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Galway, to the south, is 4 hours away by car, while Belfast, to the south-east, is 2 hours away by car.

Private companies provide daily bus services to Belfast. Letterkenny has no cross-border service linking it directly to Belfast.

Taxi services are available from a rank on the Main St. at the Market Square.

Two national primary roads serve the town: the N13 from the South (Stranorlar) and the N14 from the East (Lifford). The N13 also links into the A2 road (Northern Ireland) to Derry. The N56 secondary road, beginning at the N14 in the town, travels in a loop around the county, ending in Donegal town. Regional roads include the R245, connecting Letterkenny northward to the Fanad and Rosguill peninsulas, and the R250 southwest to Glenties.

Community

See also: List of Letterkenny people and List of Donegal people

Jean Glover died at Letterkenny in 1801.

Letterkenny Community Centre on Pearse Road runs regular carboot sales on Saturdays.

Tidy Towns

Letterkenny has a long history in Ireland's national Tidy Towns competition, first entering in 1959 and achieving its best result in 2015.

In 2002, a National Anti-Litter League survey carried out by An Taisce compared Letterkenny's excess litter to that normally associated with The Liberties, a litter black spot located in Dublin's impoverished inner city. It was voted "Best Kept Urban Centre" in the 2007 'Best Kept Town Awards' and took top prize in the "Large Urban Centre" category at the 2007 Tidy Towns competition. It appeared to maintain its litter-free status for the remainder of that decade, judging by the results of a study by business group Irish Business Against Litter, published on 23 August 2010.

In 2011, it was named as its county's tidiest town, receiving 306 points, four less than overall winner Killarney. This included 47/50 points for its landscaping, the highest number of points scored by any town in this category. Out of the 821 entrants in the 2011 competition, Letterkenny finished in eighth place and received a gold medal for a ninth consecutive year. In the 2012 competition, it was selected as the tidiest town in the north-west of the country. In 2013, it was selected as one of Ireland's top ten towns.

In 2015, Letterkenny achieved its best result in the Tidy Towns competition, being awarded top prize in the "Large Urban Centre" category and receiving the overall award as Ireland's tidiest, Ireland's best.

Twins

The following places are twinned with Letterkenny:

Images for kids


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