Where is Letterkenny?

Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland

(The following is adapted from Wikipedia.)

Letterkenny (Irish: Leitir Ceanainn, meaning "Hillside of the O'Cannons") is the largest and most populous town in County Donegal, Ireland. Its English name is derived from the Irish name Leitir Ceanainn, meaning "Hillside of the O'Cannons" – the O'Cannons being the last of the ancient chieftains of Tír Conaill. With a population of 19,588, Letterkenny is located on the River Swilly in east Donegal. Letterkenny, along with the nearby city of Derry, forms the major economic core of the north-west of the island of Ireland.

The modern urban centre of Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. An ancient castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, Donegal's only Roman Catholic cathedral, stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mount Southwell on Castle Street. Donegal's premier third-level institution, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), is located in the town, as are Saint Eunan's College, Highland Radio, and the only Hindu temple in the Republic of Ireland. Letterkenny is also the original home of Oatfield, the confectionery manufacturer, and is renowned for its night-life, with enterprises such as Club Voodoo, The Grill, Milan and The Pulse regularly attracting international names. The Aura Complex, near O'Donnell Park, includes an Olympic-standard swimming pool, the Danny McDaid Athletic Track and an arena capable of hosting top-level events.

Etymology

Letterkenny takes its name from the Irish Leitirceanainn, meaning "Hillside of the O'Cannons" – the O'Cannons being the last of the ancient chieftains of Tír Conaill. Although the O'Cannons were the last ruling chieftains in Tír Conaill, no evidence of forts or castles belonging to the clan exists in or around the Letterkenny district (leading to speculation on a possible derivation of the name Letterkenny: from the Irish 'Leitir Ceann-Fhoinn', meaning 'Fairheaded Hillside').

The O'Cannons are allegedly descended from Conn of the Hundred Battles and Niall of the Nine Hostages, two of Ireland's most renowned Kings. The O'Cannons have been described as 'Ancient Princes of Tír Connaill' and 'Valiant Chiefs'. However, their 350-year dynasty in Tír Connaill ended in 1250. Their ancient territory would seem to have been Tír Aeda (now the barony of Tirhugh).

After the deaths of Ruairí Ó Canannain (Rory O'Cannon) and his son Niall Ó Canannain in 1250, the sept declined greatly in power. Brian Ó Néill (Brian O'Neill) died ten years later in 1260; he had supported an Ó Canannain claimant to Tír Conaill, i.e. to the Kingdom of Tír Conaill (Tirconnell). However, the O'Cannon Clan remained subserviant to the O'Donnell Clan, the Kings of Tír Chonaill from the early thirteenth century onwards. The personal name Canannain is a diminutive of Cano meaning 'wolf cub'. Canannain was fifth in descent from Flaithbertach mac Loingsig (died 765), high-king of Ireland; they were the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages (Irish: Niall Noigiallach), who died c. 405 A.D. by his son, Conall Gulban who gave his name to Tír Conaill, the 'Land of Conall', now County Donegal.

By the early 17th century the name Uí Canannain had been anglicised to O'Cannon. Further anglicisation took place during the Penal Laws in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the name in County Donegal became Cannon. In the early 1880s, there were just 200 families bearing the Cannon surname living in Co. Donegal, who were mainly tenant farmers. The Cannons/O'Canannains were of the ancient sept of Cenell Conaill, a branch of the northern Ui Neill and descend from Ruaidrí ua Canannain (died 30 November 950), King of Cenel Conaill, and grandson of Canannain, who flourished in the second half of the 9th century. One of Neill's most famous descendants was George Washington (?), the first President of the United States. The site of the ancient seat of the Ó Canannain was near Letterkenny (the largest town of County Donegal only since the 1950s), which is said on good authority (?) to represent the hillside of the O'Cannons (English translation).

Geographical location

Letterkenny is County Donegal's largest and most important town, providing the county with the necessary commercial, retail, social and economic facilities. Hundreds of people travel to and from Letterkenny everyday for work, whether in the town's many I.T. companies, General Hospital, schools and retail outlets. The following indicates the distance and travel time (on main routeways) between Letterkenny and Donegal's other main centres:

Letterkenny is around 25 km from Derry. One of Ireland's top 10 towns, it is also the largest and tidiest urban centre in the north-west of the country.

History

The modern town of Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. It may have been established on the site of an earlier Gaelic settlement. It was the first crossing point of the River Swilly. In the recent past, Letterkenny was a largely agricultural town, surrounded by extensive cattle and sheep grazing on what was then untilled hillside – at a time when Conwall (3 km west of Letterkenny) was the ecclesiastical and seaport centre. The waters of the Atlantic had not yet retreated from the basin of the Swilly, whose estuary at that time extended up almost as far as New Mills – proof of this may be found in those alluvial flat-lands between Oldtown and Port Road.

Rory O'Cannon, the last chieftain of the O'Cannon Clan, was killed in 1248. Godfrey O'Donnell succeeded Rory O'Cannon as King of Tír Conaill. He engaged the Norman lord Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Lord of Offaly, in battle at Credan in the north of what is now County Sligo in 1257 in which both were badly wounded – Fitzgerald immediately fatally so. Godfrey (also dying from his wounds) retired to a crannóg in Lough Beag (Gartan Lake). O'Neill of Tyrone – taking advantage of Godfrey's fatal illness – demanded submission, hostages and pledges from the Cenél Conaill since they had no strong chieftain since the wounding of Godfrey. Godfrey summoned his forces and led them himself, although he had to be carried on a litter (stretcher). O'Neill and his men were completely defeated by the Swilly in 1258. Godfrey died however after the battle as he was being carried through the town. He was buried in Conwall Cemetery. A cross-shaped coffin slab marks his grave to this day.

The receding of the waters of the Atlantic eastwards enabled progress, and with the building of bridges etc., the town of Letterkenny started to take the shape it has today. In the wake of the Plantation of Ulster (which began around 1609), when a 4 square kilometres (990 acres) area was granted to a Scotsman Patrick Crawford, the compact community formed.

The honour of formally launching the town fell to Sir George Marbury who married Patrick Crawford's widow – Crawford having died suddenly while on a return visit to his native Scotland. Initially there were possibly fifty simple habitations sited where the Oldtown is situated today.

The main streets, though now suffering traffic congestion, were simple pony tracks used by the hill farmers to come to the markets. The markets – started by Patrick Crawford with only a few animals – grew into much busier mart which are not present today.

An ancient castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mount Southwell on Castle Street. Outlaw Redmond O' Hanlon found refuge there in 1690. No remains of the castle exist today.

During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, on 12 October, a large French force consisting of 3,000 men, and including Wolfe Tone, attempted to land in County Donegal near Lough Swilly. They were intercepted by a large British Royal Navy force, and finally surrendered after a three-hour battle without ever landing in Ireland. After Wolfe Tone was captured he was held for a short time at Laird's Hotel (opposite the Market Square) in the Main Street of Letterkenny before being transferred to the nearby Derry Gaol. He was later tried by court-martial in Dublin and found guilty. He committed suicide in prison.

In 1824, when the first description of Letterkenny as a modern town was written, it was stated that: "Within half a mile is the Port of Ballyraine, whither vessels of 100 tons bring iron, salt and colonial produce and whence they export hides and butter". Nothing remains now except the warehouses with the example of 19th century warehouse architecture.

Letterkenny achieved town status in the early 1920s following the partition of Ireland. When the Irish punt replaced the British pound sterling in County Donegal in 1928, many Irish banks that had been previously located in Derry (in the new Northern Ireland) opened branches in Letterkenny.

Demographics

Letterkenny is the largest town in County Donegal. Despite having a long tradition of emigration that continued until the early 1990s, Letterkenny has recently had net immigration. The recent immigrants are mostly of foreign origin, with many immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. This is reflected in the recent growth of immigrant restaurants and shops, including Chinese and Indian restaurants, as well as specialised shops run by and providing goods for Africans, Asians, South Americans, and Eastern Europeans. Letterkenny is home to the only Hindu temple in the Republic of Ireland.

Letterkenny is part of the Donegal North–East constituency of Dáil Éireann. There are three TDs (Teachtaí Dáil) in this constituency, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin, Joe McHugh of Fine Gael, and Charlie McConalogue of Fianna Fáil.

Architecture

The Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raphoe, dominates the Letterkenny skyline.

Many of Letterkenny's more notable buildings were built in the early 1850s—or earlier. These include educational and ecclesiastical buildings. The town's tallest building is the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, which was completed in 1901. The Cathedral was designed by William Hague from County Cavan. It is built in a light Victorian neo-Gothic version of the French 13th-century Gothic style. Located opposite the Cathedral, at the junction of Church Street with Cathedral Square, is Conwal Parish Church, parts of which date from the 17th century.

Another dominant building in the town is the historic Saint Eunan's College. Saint Eunan's is a three-storey castelated structure with four round towers at each corner of the building. It was constructed in the Edwardian version of the neo-Hiberno-Romanesque style. Other architecturally notable buildings can be found at Mount Southwell Terrace, which is located at the top of the Market Square, just off Castle Street. This Georgian-style terrace of red brick was built in 1837 by Lord Southwell. The terrace contains five of the most distinctive examples of Georgian houses in Letterkenny and also served as the holiday home of Maud Gonne who stayed here while on holiday in Donegal.[16] St. Conal's Psychiatric Hospital is a large Victorian neo-Georgian structure located on the Kilmacrennan Road in the town. One of the most notable buildings in West Ulster, the oldest parts date from the 1860s. The hospital's chapel was built in the neo-Norman style in the 1930s.

Previously, Main Street served as the main shopping area in the town but trade has now shifted further afield expanding the town in the process. The Main Street is home to many older establishments including R. McCullagh Jewellers, dating from 1869, and Speers Department Store. Newer shopping areas in the town include the Letterkenny Retail Parks on Pearse Street and Canal Lane. Smaller streets such as Church Street and Castle Street have grown in recent years with businesses such as bakeries, pharmacies and fashion outlets having opened. The Market Square has also attracted fresh business.

Tidy Towns

In 2011, Letterkenny was named as the tidiest town in County Donegal, receiving 306 points, only four points behind the overall national winner, which was Killarney in County Kerry. It received a total of 47/50 points in the landscaping category and this was the highest number of points scored of any town in this category. Out of the 821 entrants in the 2011 competition, Letterkenny came in 8th place overall and received a gold medal for the 9th consecutive year. In recent years, The town was voted 'Best Kept Urban Centre' in the 2007 'Best Kept Town Awards  and 'Tidiest Large Urban Centre' in the 2007 Tidy Towns competition, an improvement on 2002 when, after a National Anti-Litter League survey carried out by An Taisce, the town was compared to The Liberties in Dublin in relation to litter. The region has maintained its litter free status according to the latest study by business group Irish Business Against Litter, published on 23 August 2010.