We have many relics of the past to remind us of our proud heritage. The town is set in a valley girdled by Barnesmore Mountains and Donegal Bay and overlooking the town can be seen the remains of several earthen forts.
There is a record of an early Danish fortress being destroyed in the town by Murtagh Mac Lochlainn, High King of Ireland in 1159. The O'Donnell Castle in the town was built by the first Red Hugh and his wife Lady Nuala. They also brought the Franciscan Monks to Donegal. The Abbey was built in the same year, 1474. As you know there were two Red Hughs. The last one was the most colourful. He was captured by the English and thrown into Dublin Castle but he eventually escaped and managed to make his way back to Donegal. It was said that he suffered frostbite during his escape and as a result lost a big toe and had to ride into battle from then on.
The O'Donnells were noted for their patronage of the church and learning. The Chieftains were always inaugurated head of the clan at a simple ceremony held on Doon Rock at Kilmacrennan. The Chief, or King, was inaugurated by one of the nobles of the clan presenting him with a straight white wand saying, 'Receive the sovereignty of this county and preserve equal and impartial justice in every part of its dominions'. The white wand was to remind him that he should be unbiased in his judgments and upright in his actions. I am afraid his cousin Niall Garbh O'Donnell did not subscribe to these high sentiments for he betrayed the family by throwing in his lot with the English. However, he became reconciled with his clan and was in fact the last Chieftain of Tirconaill. He was inaugurated at Doon in 1603. Ironically he was imprisoned by his one time friends the English and died in the tower of London in 1621.
The last great battle in which the O'Donnells were involved was the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 where they were badly defeated. Red Hugh went to Spain to seek help to resume the fight but he died there. Other Chieftains including the O'Donnells and O'Neills were forced into exile. This became known as the Flight of the Earls and it took place from Rathmullan in 1607. Before going they partially destroyed the castle to prevent the English using it.
This led to the plantation of Ulster. O'Donnell Castle and their lands were given to an English Captain, Basil Brooke, who carried out major reconstruction work and added a wing to it known as the manor house. Basil Brooke eventually moved to Lough Eske where he built a house.
The Franciscans were brought to Donegal by Hugh O'Donnell and his wife Lady Nuala and it was at her request that they set up a community here. They contributed greatly to the spiritual needs of the area. It was here that Brother Michael O'Cleary with Peregrine O'Cleary, Peregrine O'Duignean and Fearfasa O'Maolconry worked on their famous Annals of The Four Masters which is a full account of Gaelic Ireland since what they took to be its birth until the Flight of the Earls. It took several years to compile but was actually written up from 1632 to 1636.