Letterkenny

The largest town in Donegal, with a population of about 18,000. With adequate road infrastructure, Letterkenny boasts a good nightlife with plenty of third-level college students to create a lively atmosphere. It has plenty of decent pubs, and more than enough places to eat, to suit all ages. It is popular with hen and stag parties. Letterkenny is arguably the shopping capital of the North-west, though Derry in Northern Ireland is larger.

It is the ideal place to base yourself if you want to explore regions like the Rosses, Glenveagh National Park and the Fanad Peninsula. It is a fast expanding town, with many housing developments being built. This has spoiled much of the scenic environment close to the town.

Understand

Poised at the mouth of the Lough Swilly, the town grew in the 17th century from a small market village to a prosperous town in Donegal and was the Ecclesiastical Seat for the Diocese of Raphoe. Situated on Lough Swilly, the town was an important shipping port in the past with goods such as coal and grain landing here (the Swilly river has silted up in recent decades, which makes it difficult to conceive that ships came as far as the "Oldtown Bridge"). A railway service also thrived in the town. There is evidence of these long-past activities still, with place names such as Station Road and Port Bridge. Some monuments also commemorate Letterkenny's proud shipping and rail past.

Letterkenny’s name come from the Irish Leitir Ceannain meaning Hillside of the O’Canainn clan, the earliest recorded overlords of this Swilly region. Letterkenny is now a busy working town but with all the major amenities needed to cater for tourists and visitors.

The Main Street, which was once the commercial centre of the town, has now given way to the newer shopping centres that are located on the town's boundaries. This makes the Main Street a pleasant, quieter place to stroll about, with more traditional shops in evidence. The Upper Main Street starts at the traffic lights near the town's courthouse and runs to the Market Square, where the Courtyard Shopping Center (mall) is located. Lower Main Street, which has fewer shops or businesses, runs downhill from the Market Square to the roundabout, known locally as the "Dunne's Stores Roundabout".

Letterkenny was voted as Ireland's tidiest large urban area in the Tidy Towns' competition 2007.

History

Although the O'Cannons were the last chieftains of Tir Conaill no evidence of forts or castles belonging to the clan exists in or around the Letterkenny district.

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 Tir Conaill. He engaged Maurice Fitzgerald, the Norman Lord, in battle at Credan in North Sligo in 1257 in which both received serious wounds. Godfrey retired to a crannóg (a man-made island) in Gartan Lake. O'Neill of Tyrone, taking advantage of Godfrey's fatal illness demanded submission, from the Cenel Conail since they lacked a strong chieftain. Godfrey summoned his forces and led them himself although he had to be carried on a litter (stretcher). O'Neill and his men were defeated here by the Swilly in 1258. Godfrey died after the battle as he was being carried down Letterkenny's Main Street. He was buried in Conwal Cemetery, located just outside the town on the Glenties/Churchill road. A coffin-shaped cross slab marks his grave.

The receding of the waters of the Atlantic eastwards enabled progress - the building of bridges etc.- and the town of Letterkenny as we know it today developed. It began in the wake of the Ulster Plantation 1610-1611 when 1000 acres were granted to a Scotsman Patrick Crawford who then formed a compact community. The honour of formally launching the town is supposed to go to Sir George Marbury, who married Patrick Crawford's widow, - Crawford died suddenly while on a return visit to his native Scotland.

Get in

Getting to Letterkenny is by means of car or bus only, as the town lacks a rail link.

By Car

There are three main road arteries into Letterkenny. One is via Derry if you are travelling from Northern Ireland. This is the best route if you are coming from Great Britain by air or sea.

Another is the N13 from Sligo via Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Donegal town, all of which are bypassed.

The third route from Dublin is the N2 via Monaghan, Strabane and Lifford. This journey takes about 4 hours. Use the M1 motorway from Dublin Airport, leave the motorway at Ardee exit to join the N2 and travel via Monaghan towards Derry, crossing the border into Northern Ireland at Aughnacloy. Turn off at Strabane for Lifford and then onto "Letterkenny". Many of the towns along this route are now by-passed by good roads, making the journey more pleasant than it has been in the past.

By Bus

The national bus company, Bus Éireann runs nine trips per day to and from Dublin to Letterkenny. An adult single fare currently costs €17.50 and a return costs €27.00. The Bus Eireann time table from Letterkenny has recently been revamped and offers services during the night as well as early morning runs via the Airport. There are also private bus companies who run similar type services: McGinley from Dublin, Gallagher from Belfast and O'Donnell from Galway, who also offer services into rural west Donegal.

By Air

Alternatively, visitors can fly to Donegal International Airport or City of Derry Airport.

FlyBe/Loganair operate a daily return service from Dublin and Glasgow to Donegal, while Ryanair service Derry Airport from London.

Car hire services are available at the airport.

Get around

By Taxi

There is a plentiful taxi service with fares governed by national regulations. There is a call-out charge of €2.00. The standard fare is €3.80 (€4.10 after 8.00PM), plus €1.00 for each additional passenger. Thereafter, the rate is approx. €1.00 per kilometer.

The best place to get a taxi is at the Market Square, which is in the town centre. There is also a rank near the bus station, at the Port Road roundabout. There are a number of cab companies that can be called and most public phone boxes have numbers displayed.

By Bus

There is also a bus service in the town which covers most areas of interest. Information on timetables, routes and fares can be found locally.

By Foot

Letterkenny has a long main street and walking is a good option within the town limits, as you can get around most of the places of interest by foot.

By Bicycle

Renting a bike is a pleasant way to explore the town and surrounding environs. Be warned though, Letterkenny is a very hilly town and you will rarely be travelling on the flat! Also, like many other Irish towns, it lacks dedicated cycle paths and drivers tend to ignore cyclists' rights on the road.

See

St. Eunan's Cathedral

Market Square has a nice monument commemorating the times when "Hiring Fairs" were held there, called "The Rabble Children". These fairs were held so that farmers could hire people, including young children, to live and work on their farms, for periods of six months or more.

Letterkenny Town Park is located at the Hospital Roundabout and is a nice place for a relaxing stroll away from the hubbub of the town. The park has a herb garden, flower beds, new and mature trees, an orchard area, playing areas, bowling green, walks, playgrounds and a Garden of Remembrance.

St. Eunan's Cathedral , the only cathedral in the county, dominates the skyline and is well worth a visit. Also at Cathedral Square you can see the newly erected Celtic Cross, which is the largest in Europe.

There is also a designated signposted walk-way (Slí na Sláinte) which takes you out along the Swilly River, which runs through the town. It starts at the Station Roundabout near the bus depot and continues out the Derry road, looping around to come back into the town by Ramelton road.

If you are entering Letterkenny via the Derry Road, you cannot miss a sculpture called Polestar, erected in the centre of the Port Roundabout, near the Tourist Centre.This monument commemorates the fact that Letterkenny was once an important sea port and railway depot.

Do

Call to the Tourist Centre to get up-to-date information on what's on in the town when you're there. There is a touchscreen information booth available here. The tourist centre is located outside the town (about 1-2 Km) just off the Port Roundabout on the Derry Road. It is a stone-fronted building, fairly visible on the right hand side as you come towards the town from Sligo (N13) or Derry.

Golfing in the locality

Donegal has many beautiful golfcourses, some beside these beaches, and Letterkenny is the ideal base for visiting golfers. The town's own golf course, The Letterkenny Golf Club at Barnhill is located about 3 Km on the road to Ramelton. Green Fees are €25.00 per person on weekdays. There is a driving range just outside the town on the same road and a nine-hole golf course at Otway, near Rathmullen. In the nearby town of Ballybofey/Stranorlar is the Ballybofey Golf Club located on the Northwest part of town. It is open to the public, and reasonably priced. Another nearby club worth the visit is the Northwest Golf Club Near Buncrana. It is a friendly links course that is playable in all weather conditions.

Further afield, you can play the Nick Faldo-designed Ballyliffen course (follow the road to Derry, go through Buncrana and Clonmany to get to Ballyliffen), in the Inishowen Peninsula. Or experience Portsalon Golfcourse (Follow the Ramelton road, through Milford and Kerrykeel village to get to Portsalon) on the Fanad Peninsula, another coastal gem for serious golfers. Portsalon is a 'must' when playing a course in the Letterkenny areas. These courses are about an hour's drive from Letterkenny.

Go-Karting

There is a Go-Kart track near the Silver Tassie hotel, bar and restaurant, about 10km from Letterkenny on the Ramelton road.

Casinos

There are two casinos in the town. One is part of the Ocean Restaurant, off the Port Road, and the other is located in Glencar.

Buy

Letterkenny has three shopping centres with a variety of stores.

Letterkenny's revellers on the Main Street at night

Many well-known "High Street" chainstores have opened branches in the town and Letterkenny has a growing reputation as a good place to visit for a day's serious shopping. Supermarkets in the town include Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Marks And Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, Costcutter, Centra, Spar and Vivo. Other outlets include Homebase, Atlantic Homecare, Heatons, Harry Corrys, Right Price Tiles, Clarks Shoes, Tempest Clothing, Menarys Clothing, The Jean Scene, Jack & Jones, TK Maxx, New Look, Penneys, Next, Bennetton, Paco, Lifestyle Sports, Elvery Sports, Superdrug, Boots, Eason, Argos, Toymaster, Gamestop and Xtravision.

Local shops

For gifts and souvenirs, Victor's Giftshop on the Main Street should be visited and stroll along the Main Street to check the stalls and other craft shops, such as the Donegal Sweater Shop. Inspired by the fantastic scenery that surrounds them, artists abound in Donegal and their work can be purchased in several Letterkenny galleries and craftshops. Watch out for the uniquely sculpted "Bog-oak" (preserved wood retrieved from the bogs and crafted into artistic shapes and forms before a polished finish is applied). For flowers and gifts, visit Aimee's Flower Shop on the Main Street.

The Cristeph Gallery, located on the Port Road beside the Oaktree Restaurant, has local artists' work for sale. Opposite this, there is an antiques shop, worth a browse too.

On Saturday mornings, there is a "Car-Boot" sale held in the grounds of the Community Centre on the Port Road, where all sorts of unusual odds and ends can be bought as souvenirs.

Eat

Restaurants

There are numerous good restaurants in the town. Most of the hotels also offer restaurant facilities to non-residents. The Ramada hotel is worth mentioning in this respect as it offers a somewhat different menu, with crocodile meat and kangeroo meat incorporated into some dishes!

Booking is advisable for most of these restaurants if you are visiting at high season or holiday weekends. Most, if not all, hotels have restaurants too which are not restricted to guests.

Cafés and Snackbars

There are many other cheaper cafés that serve food and snacks all day at reasonable (€5.00 to €10.00) prices:

Pub food

Fast Food

Fast Food lovers are spoiled for choice in Letterkenny.

Ethnic Restaurants

Drink

Bars

Remember, as with the rest of Ireland, there is no smoking allowed by law in the bars in Letterkenny. Some bars have a heated outside smoking area.

Price for the traditional pint of stout are about €3.70-4.00. Most pubs have no cover charge for music, and these sessions range from the mediocre singalong type of bands, to rock outfits and traditional Irish music sessions.

Nightclubs

Entry prices for nightclubs range from €5-10 upwards, depending on the night you go there. Midweek special admission prices of €5 can be available at certain times. Drink is much more expensive in the nightclubs than in the ordinary bars, especially for spirits, although some clubs do offer €3 drinks. Best prices on Wednesday Nights in Milan where all drinks are €3.

Sleep

There are plenty of top class hotels to stay in, as well as numerous Bed and Breakfasts and guesthouses.

Self Catering

There are a number of Self Catering holiday homes in Letterkenny

Bed and breakfasts

The ubiquitous Irish "Bed and Breakfast" houses abound on every road into Letterkenny and you can expect to pay in the region of €25-€45 for a single room, with full Irish breakfast.

Hostels

Backpackers can avail of two hostels, both within the town (Port Hostel and Rosemount Hostel), at cheaper rates (around €15.00 per night).

Booking advice

Pre-booking is advisably at peak times such as when the Donegal International Rally is in town (June every year).

Stay safe

Letterkenny is relatively safe to walk around. However, like all major towns it is best to take care in the early hours of the morning, particularly when nightclubs are emptying.

Go next

If the weather is good, take advantage and visit the surrounding countryside, including the Famine village at Gartan, The Derek Hill studio, as well as the Gartan Outdoor Pursuits centre itself and maybe even climb Mount Errigal, Donegal's highest peak. A visit to nearby Glenveagh National Park is a must if you have transport.

Award-winning beaches are plentiful in the locality. Marble Hill is about half an hour's drive from Letterkenny, Portsalon is about a 40 minute drive and Portnoo beach is less then an hour's drive from Letterkenny.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 02, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.