Donegal Discover Ireland Centre The Quay Donegal Donegal Republic of Ireland
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Ballyshannon was created a borough by Royal Charter in 1613, but its history stretches back much further – to some of the earliest settlements in Ireland on Inis Saimer. Viking invaders followed and, in 1597, Red Hugh O’Donnell defeated English forces in the Battle of Ballyshannon.
This is a town with several layers of heritage and an architectural fabric that reflects its rich history as a political, ecclesiastical and maritime centre. Always a strategic crossing on the River Erne, it now boasts three heritage routes – purple (1.8km), green (2.7km) and blue (1.2km).
The trails start at Mall Quay, formerly a thriving port where wool, leather and salted fish were loaded for export overseas. From here, you can also see Inis Saimer island, said to be the spot where Parthalon, a chieftain from Scythia (near modern Macedonia), landed around 2,700 B.C.
Ballyshannon was once the frontier base of the O’Donnell Clan and the site of the O’Donnell Castle can be seen by the river off Castle Street. Check out the town’s old 18th-century barracks too – legend says they are haunted by the Green Lady, a British officer’s wife who was killed in the building.
Other notable stops include a workhouse that housed 900 souls at the height of the famine (there is a famine graveyard on Bishop Street and a ‘departure point’ on Assaroe Road).
Also on Assaroe Road is the Port of the Dead, named for a spot where the recently deceased were transported before bridges were built across the Erne. The journey was made in silence until the boats crossed the water and the dead were brought to rest at nearby Assaroe Abbey.
Ballyshannon boasts an idyllic setting in Donegal, with stunning views over mountains, lakes, forests and the Erne estuary. But its heroes come from recent history too. Rock and blues guitarist, Rory Gallagher, was born here in 1948 - at the aptly titled Rock Hospital!