History of Letterkenny

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 completely defeated here by the Swilly in 1258. Godfrey died after the battle as he was being carried down Letterkenny Main Street. He was buried in Conwal Cemetery. A coffin-shaped cross slab marks his grave to this day.

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.

Poised at the mouth of the Lough Swilly, the town grew in the 17th century from a small fishing village to a prosperous town in Donegal and the Ecclesiastical Seat for the Diocese of Raphoe. 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.