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16 October 2014
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BEGINNERS' BLAS 9
LOGAINMNEACHA/ PLACENAMES

Donegal, ‘Dún na nGall’ or Tír Chonaill.

This week we’ll take a look at Donegal. The county of Donegal has two names in Irish, the easiest to recognise being Dún na nGall, meaning the fort of the foreigners or the fort of the strangers. ‘Dún’ means fort and is found in a lot of place names. It is sometimes anglisiced as ‘down’ such as Condae an Dún, county down and Dún Padraic, Down Patrick, Patrick’s Fort.

Dún an nGall, the fort of the strangers, is the name given to Donegal town from which the county gets it’s name. There is some confusion as to who these foreigners were, some believe it refers to the Vikings who were reported to be active in the bay of Donegal in the ninth century. Yet others believe that the strangers referred to are Scottish mercenaries who were brought in by the Irish to fight for them in their local and national battles. Donegal town itself did not grow until after the establishment of a castle there built by the Ó Domhnaill or O’ Donnell clan in the year 1474.

The O’Donnell’s were a famous Donegal family who ruled the North west of the county now known as Donegal and by the late 15th and early 16th Centuries ruled Fermanagh and parts of North Connaght also.

Another name given to the County of Donegal is Tír Chonaill, meaning Conall’s land or territory ‘Tír’ being territory. This name historically only refered to the west of the county. The Conall in question, was sometimes refered to as Conall Gulban was a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Amongst the descendants of Conall were 41 saints and 10 High Kings, perhaps the most famous of them being Naomh Colm Cille or Saint Colm Cille, a man who could have been High King, but opted instead for a life in the church. Conall Gulban is not to be confused with another Conall, the sixth century saint who is linked with South West Donegal.

So there you have it Donegal, ‘Dún na nGall’ The fort of the Strangers or Tír Chonaill, Conall’s territory.


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