Maguire: Letterkenny Past and Present

Pdf Maguire, Canon. Letterkenny: Past and present. Letterkenny: Donegal Printing, 1917.
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Letterkenny: Past And Present by Canon Maguire was first published in 1917. It is an account of the Letterkenny area from ancient times to the early 20th century. Letterkenny or Leitir Ceanainn or ‘The hillside of the O’Cannons’ takes its name from the Gaelic O’Cannon clan who were once the chieftains of Tyrconnell. The book explains the coming of Christianity to the region, the downfall of Gaelic Ireland and rebellion and religious conflict under English rule.

Canon Maguire wrote his book because of the percieved ignorance of the local people about sites of religious significance and places associated with important historical events. He tells the story of Conwal Abbey established by Celtic monks which dates to the period following St. Patrick’s conversion of the Gaelic Irish. He describes Templedouglas where St. Colmcille who would go on to convert Scotland to Christianity was himself baptised.

The Gaelic Irish chieftains such as the O’Cannons, the O’Neills and the O’Donnells and other families fought continuous wars for supremacy before and after the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. The Norman families intermarried with the Gaelic Irish and much of the country came under English rule when the Gaelic chieftains of the south recognised the English monarch as their overlord.

The Gaelic chieftains of Ulster however continued to defy English power until the early 17th century. The O’Cannon clan lost their position as kings of Tyrconnell when Rory O’Cannon died in 1248 and was succeeded by Godfrey O’Donnell. Godfrey defeated the 2nd Lord of Offaly, Maurice Fitzgerald in 1257 in County Sligo. Later under the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, the O’Donnell heirs were given the hereditary title of Earl of Tyrone in a failed attempt to Anglicise the native Irish.

After defeat at Kinsale, County Cork in 1602 and deserted by their Catholic Spanish allies, the chiefs of the O’Donnell and O’Neill clans left Ireland forever in 1607. James I, who had united the kingdoms of Scotland and England, began the plantation of Ulster and invited Protestant settlers to fill the power vacuum. The modern market town of Letterkenny was established by Patrick Crawford, who originated in Scotland.

The Cromwellian invasion of the 1650s and the defeat from the Catholic allies of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 established Anglo-Irish Protestant domination of Ireland until the late 19th century. Catholic rebellion continued to religious persecution and political exclusion. In 1798 the rebel leader Wolfe Tone and a force of French troops were intercepted off Lough Swilly. Tone was held captive in Laird's Hotel, Letterkenny before he court-martial and death in Dublin .

The effects of the Great Famine were acutely felt in Donegal with areas left depopulated due to starvation, disease and emigration. This spurred Irish Catholics and nationalists in County Donegal to dismantle landlordism and the Protestant Ascendancy and secure the rights of tenant farmers. The Land League and the Catholic Church in Letterkenny were very active in the late 19th century in this regard and by the 20th century most farmers owned their land.

The repeal of the Penal Laws from the late 18th century and Catholic Emancipation led to an improvement in the status of the Catholic Church. St. Eunan's Cathedral was between 1890 and 1900. It was a major achievement from the Bishop of Raphoe and future Cardinal, Patrick O’Donnell who was aged only thirty-two when was appointed in 1888.

St. Eunan’s College was founded in 1906 as both a seminary and as a boarding school for boys while the Loreto College began educating girls in the 1850s.


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