Roads & Bridges in County Donegal - Beginnings

It is interesting to see on the back of our euro notes illustrations of large and grandiose bridges, reflecting the notion that a common currency reaches across the member countries of the European Union, uniting them in a common monetary system. United too became the communities of County Donegal when infrastructure began to metamorphose from the wooden planked pathways of the pre-Christian era to the multi-lane highways of modern times.

The echoes of these ancient roadways can be discerned today - 'Casan na mBrathar' (the Monks' Pathway) crosses the foothills of the Bluestack Mountains near Donegal Town and in Inishowen, Glentogher and Maghtogher (togher meaning causeway) are reminiscent of ancient causeways before bridges were constructed.

In the seventeenth century the lack of success of previous attempts at parish road building schemes led to the degeneration of the existing roads or causeways. At that time, the Vicar General of the diocese of Raphoe referred to the roads in the diocese as "those rugged paths truly like to those of the Alps or the Appenines" ('Ancient Roadways of Donegal' by Patrick McGill, The Donegal Annual, 1954).

The funding, building and maintenance of roads and bridges was left largely in the hands of landlords, with varying degrees of success. They built these roads primarily as links from their own mansions to the main areas of commerce, such as markets. Indeed it could be argued that the roads they built were self-serving power structures, linking the gentry to each other.

A look at this map of the Letterkenny area shows the residences of the landed classes, the Grove family of Castlegrove, and the Wrays of Castlewray linked by road both to each other's demesnes, (right-hand side of map, on the left bank of the Swilly) and to the main road leading into the main market town of Letterkenny.

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