Ballyshannon is situated at the mouth of the River Erne adjacent to the counties of Fermanagh and Leitrim. Because of its crucial position on the Erne, the town has always been a gateway to Donegal and the west of Ulster.

The Mall, Back Mall and College Street date from the late C18 and early C19. On the southern side of the river Erne, East Port and West Port developed as suburbs early in the post-medieval period. Ballyshannon has something of the border town about it. Although the county boundary is four miles further on at the Drowes river, it is the Erne flowing through Ballyshannon that marks the southern boundary of historic Tir Chonaill, and still divides the dioceses of Raphoe and Clogher. Ballyshannon had long been an important stronghold for the O'Donnells. Even though the river Erne was a natural and historical frontier, for long periods the reach of the O'Donnells extended much further, beyond the river Drowes and into North Sligo, and eastwards into the Maguire country of South Fermanagh.

It was because of a perceived vulnerability to attack from Connacht that Niall Garbh O Domhnaill built the castle at Ballyshannon in 1423, and it was from Ballyshannon Castle that Aodh Rua O'Domhnaill set out in 1592 for his inauguration at the traditional royal centre of Doon Rock in the north of the county. In 1597, Red Hugh O'Donnell defeated an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford. After the conclusion of the 9-Years War (1594-1603) and peace was made with Rory O'Donnell, the Dublin Government retained Ballyshannon castle and fort together with 1,000 acres on which it was intended to develop a town. The task of development was entrusted to Sir Henry Ffolliot and the borough was incorporated in 1613.

The garrison was the initial vector for the development of the town in the C17. In 1700 the barracks was completed to the designs of Thomas Burgh, the first Irish architect. In this period, the town became the pre-eminent merchant town in the region.

Its main industries included distilling, brewing, tanning, tobacco processing and saw milling. This prosperity continued in the C19 with the town consolidating its role with increased foreign trade. It was during this period that many of the most significant buildings that characterise the town were built. Tourism also developed, with the estuary and river being nationally significant for recreational fishing. The most significant  development in the C20 was the hydroelectric development of the Erne. While the development of the dam brought some benefits on a local and national scale, its construction resulted in the loss of the beautiful Assaroe Falls.


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