Donegal or Donegal Town (/ˈdʌnɪɡɔːl/ or /ˌdʌnɪˈɡɔːl/; Irish: Dún na nGall, meaning "fort of the foreigners")[2] is a town in County Donegal in Ulster, Ireland. The name was historically written in English as 'Dunnagall' or 'Dunagall'. Donegal gave its name to County Donegal, although Lifford is now the county town. From the 1470s until the very early 17th century, Donegal was the 'capital' of Tyrconnell (Irish: Tír Chonaill), a Gaelic kingdom controlled by the O'Donnell dynasty of the Northern Uí Néill.

Donegal sits at the mouth of the River Eske and Donegal Bay, which is overshadowed by the Blue Stack Mountains ('the Croaghs'). The Drummenny Burn, which flows along the eastern edge of Donegal Town, flows into the River Eske on the north-eastern edge of the town, between the Community Hospital and The Northern Garage. The Ballybofey Road (the R267) crosses the Drummenny Burn near where it flows into the River Eske. The town is bypassed by the N15 and N56 roads. The centre of the town, known as The Diamond, is a hub for music, poetic and cultural gatherings in the area.


Dún na nGall
Donegal Town
Donegal Town
Coat of arms of Donegal

Coat of arms
Donegal is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 54°39′00″N 8°07′01″W / 54.650°N 8.117°WCoordinates: 54°39′00″N 8°07′01″W / 54.650°N 8.117°W
CountyCounty Donegal
Dáil ÉireannDonegal
 • Town2.65 km2 (1.02 sq mi)
32 m (105 ft)
 • Density891.4/km2 (2,309/sq mi)
 • Urban
Time zoneUTC±0 (WET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+1 (IST)
Eircode routing key
Telephone area code+353(0)74
Irish Grid ReferenceG924789


Approach to Donegal Town by Sea - - 914362
Approaching Donegal Town by sea

There is archaeological evidence for settlements around the town dating to prehistoric times, including the remains of ringforts and other defensive earthworks.

Saint Patrick was captured by raiders from the clans governed by Niall of the Nine Hostages, and this region is that to which Patrick returned, being familiar with the people, language, customs and lands. The first clan to convert to Christianity as the result of St Patrick's efforts was Clan Connaill (also known at one time as Clan Dálaigh: in English, this is pronounced Daley and it translates as "one in a leadership role"). Connall was a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. As a result of their acceptance of Christianity, Patrick blessed the clan members; the sign of the cross appeared on the chieftain's shield and this became not only the heraldic device for the clan but also for County Donegal.

Donegal Town itself is famous for being the former centre of government of the O'Donnell dynasty, the great Gaelic royal family who ruled Tír Chonaill in west Ulster for centuries and who played a pivotal rôle in Irish history. Their original homeland lay further to the north in the area of Kilmacrennan. From the 15th to the 17th century, they were an important part of the opposition to the colonisation of Ireland by England. The town itself contains Donegal Castle, on the banks of the River Eske, and the remains of Donegal Abbey a Franciscan abbey which dates back to the 15th century on the Southern shore of the Bay. The Annals of the Four Masters may have been partially written in the old abbey in the 1630s. The story of Hugh Roe O'Donnell (Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill, also known as "Red" Hugh II), Lord of Tyrconnell, was the inspiration behind many books and films, not least, Disney's The Fighting Prince of Donegal.

In 1601 the Siege of Donegal took place during the Nine Years' War. After the Flight of the Earls from near Rathmullan in September 1607, the castle and its lands were seized by the English Crown and given to an Englishman, Captain Basil Brooke, as part of the Plantation of Ulster. Captain (later Sir) Basil Brooke (ancestor of the Viscounts Brookeborough) was granted the castle around 1611 and he proceeded to carry out major reconstruction work and added a wing to the castle in the Jacobean style. The current plan of the town was also laid out by Brooke, including an attractive town square known as The Diamond. From the late 17th until the early 20th centuries, Donegal Town formed part of the vast estates of the Gore family (from 1762 Earls of Arran in the Peerage of Ireland) and it was during their ownership that the town took on its present appearance. Donegal Borough returned two members to the Irish House of Commons, the lower house of the Parliament of Ireland, until the Acts of Union 1800 came into force in January 1801. Evidence of the Great Famine still exists, including a workhouse, whose buildings are now part of the local hospital, and many famine graves.

Buildings of note

St. Patrick's Church of the Four Masters

Dedicated to Saint Patrick and 'the Four Masters', this Catholic church was built in the early 1930s and was completed in 1935.[3] Known locally as 'the Chapel' or 'the Town Chapel', it was designed by Ralph Byrne, the famous Dublin architect, in a mixed neo-Irish Romanesque and neo-Gothic style.[4]

Donegal Parish Church

This Church of Ireland church was built in a simple Gothic style mainly in the late 1820s and was completed in 1828. The main church appears to have been designed by a Mr Graham of Donegal Town. A chancel was added in 1890.[5] The chancel of 1890 was designed by the office of J. Guy Ferguson in Derry and built in a neo-Gothic style by James McClean builders from Strabane.

Industry and tourism

Church of Ireland, Donegal Town - - 1065379
The Church of Ireland at night in Donegal Town.

There are many sandy beaches in the area of Donegal, such as Murvagh beach, and some boasting good surfing conditions, such as Rossnowlagh. Donegal is also used as a base for hill-walking in the nearby Blue Stack Mountains. The town has many hotels catering for visitors, and nearby towns such as Letterkenny offer public swimming pools, cinemas and large shopping centres.[6]

Like most clothing manufacturers in Ireland, the size of the workforce has been in decline for many years. Donegal also has a long tradition of weaving carpets. Donegal Carpets have been made in Killybegs for over one hundred years and have been found in Áras an Uachtaráin, the University of Notre Dame and the White House.

On 1 December 2016, National Geographic Traveller named Donegal as the number 1 coolest destination of 2017. According to Pat Riddell, editor of the UK magazine, “It’s a warm-hearted place, but wilderness always feels just a stone’s throw away. And it is wilderness . . . world-class wilderness. We think it’s due a big year.”[7]


The Abbey Hotel, The Diamond - - 1016168
The Abbey Hotel in the Diamond

The Bus Éireann service number 64 Derry/Galway route: this makes several other stops including Letterkenny and Sligo (which allows for rail connections by Iarnród Éireann, from Sligo Mac Diarmada railway station in Sligo to Dublin Connolly railway station. This route also allows for rail connections from Londonderry railway station to Belfast, via Coleraine. The number 30 Donegal Town/Dublin route which makes stops at other key towns such as Enniskillen (which provides connections to Belfast via Ulsterbus).[8] Two private companies operate the other routes: 'McGeehan Bus' operates a regular service, from Glencolumbcille[9] and Dungloe[10] in West Donegal to Dublin Airport and Busáras in Dublin, which passes through the town;[11] while Feda O'Donnell Coaches (also known as Bus Feda) operates a regular Glenties/Galway service that stops in Donegal.[12]

Donegal railway station opened on 16 September 1889 and finally closed on 1 January 1960.[13] The site of the old station is now used by CIÉ as a bus depot while the actual building is the home of the Donegal Railway Centre.[14]


Donegal town is home to many amateur sports clubs. The most popular sport in the area is Gaelic football and the local GAA club is Four Masters. The club also has been developing hurling. Other popular sports include association football, rugby union, basketball and track and field.

Donegal Town was host to the final stage of the World Rally Championship on 1 February 2009 and was viewed by 68 million people worldwide.


The town is home to the regional newspapers Donegal Democrat and Donegal Post and the local Donegal Times[15] newspaper. The Northwest Express regional newspaper is also distributed throughout the town and surrounding county, as is The Derry Journal. Ocean FM, an independent local radio station from Collooney in County Sligo, has one of its three studios in the town, which broadcasts to most of south County Donegal. Highland Radio, which is based in Letterkenny, can also be received in the town.

Donegal Town was host to the final stage of the World Rally Championship on 1 February 2009 and viewed by 68 million people worldwide.

Notable people

Donegal town centre at night


Most common surnames in Donegal at the time of the United Kingdom Census of 1901:[16]


Climate in this area has mild differences between highs and lows, and there is adequate rainfall year-round. The Köppen climate classification subtype for this climate is "Cfb" (Marine West Coast Climate/Oceanic climate).[17]

Climate data for Donegal
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 8
Average low °C (°F) 3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 110
Average precipitation days 19 13 16 12 12 13 13 15 16 18 18 18 183
Source: Weatherbase[18]

See also


  1. ^ "Population Density and Area Size 2016 by Towns by Size, CensusYear and Statistic". Central Statistics Office (Ireland). Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  2. ^ Placenames Database of Ireland: Dún na nGall/Donegal
  3. ^ Alistair John Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (popularly known as the Pevsner Guide to North West Ulster), p. 238. Yale, London, 2003 (originally published by Penguin, London, 1979).
  4. ^ Alistair John Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (popularly known as the Pevsner Guide to North West Ulster), p. 238. Yale, London, 2003 (originally published by Penguin, London, 1979).
  5. ^ Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (popularly known as the Pevsner Guide to North West Ulster), p. 238. Yale, London, 2003 (originally published by Penguin, London, 1979).
  6. ^ Letterkenny Information- Letterkenny Reunion, Earagail Arts festival, Donegal rally, St Patricks Day Archived 24 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. (18 August 2008). Retrieved on 23 July 2013.
  7. ^ Digby, Marie Claire (1 December 2016). "Donegal named coolest place on planet by National Geographic". The Irish Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  8. ^ Bue Éireann homepage
  9. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-02-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-02-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ McGeehan Bus homepage
  12. ^ Bus Feda homepage
  13. ^ "Donegal station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 23 September 2007.
  14. ^ County Donegal Railway Restoration Ltd. homepage
  15. ^ The Donegal Times On-line
  16. ^ Most Common Surnames in Donegal
  17. ^ Climate Summary for Donegal
  18. ^ "". Weatherbase. 2013. Retrieved on 12 July 2013.

Further reading

  • Aldwell, B. 2003. A survey of local resident butterflies in County Donegal. Bull. Ir. biogeog. Soc. No. 27. 202–226.

External links

2012 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final

The 2012 All-Ireland Football Final, the 125th event of its kind and the culmination of the 2012 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, was played at Croke Park, Dublin, on 23 September 2012. Donegal and Mayo, widely considered "one of the most novel final pairings of all time", met to decide the destination of the Sam Maguire Cup, with Donegal ultimately emerging victorious as Mayo were yet again undone by "the curse".Dublin were the defending champions after defeating Kerry by a single point, 1–12 to 1–11, in the 2011 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final. Neither side made it to the 2012 decider; Mayo defeated defending champions Dublin by three points in their semi-final encounter and Donegal defeated Kerry at the quarter-final stage. After the game, Neil Lennon offered Donegal manager Jim McGuinness a professional role as a performance consultant at Celtic F.C.'s Lennoxtown training centre.The match was screened live internationally, including in Australia, India, South Africa, Thailand, the United States, and elsewhere, while cinemas also showed the game. More than a quarter of Ireland's population watched the match live on RTÉ Two and RTÉ Online, the second highest audience in eight years. Donegal's success spawned a controversial interview with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show the following week, as well as the documentary Jimmy's Winnin' Matches—its title derived from the similarly named anthem that celebrated Donegal's 2012 Championship success.

County Donegal

County Donegal (; Irish: Contae Dhún na nGall) is a county of Ireland in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal (Irish: Dún na nGall, meaning "fort of the foreigners") in the south of the county. Donegal County Council is the local council and Lifford the county town.

The population was 159,192 at the 2016 census. It has also been known as (County) Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill, meaning 'Land of Conall'), after the historic territory of the same name.

Diocese of Derry and Raphoe

The Diocese of Derry and Raphoe is a Diocese of the Church of Ireland in the north-west of Ireland. It is in the ecclesiastical province of Armagh. Its geographical remit straddles two civil jurisdictions: in Northern Ireland, it covers all of County Londonderry and large parts of County Tyrone while in the Republic of Ireland it covers County Donegal.

Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle (Irish: Caisleán Dhún na nGall) is a castle situated in the centre of Donegal Town in County Donegal in Ulster, Ireland. For most of the last two centuries, the majority of the buildings lay in ruins but the castle was almost fully restored in the early 1990s.

The castle consists of a 15th-century rectangular keep with a later Jacobean style wing. The complex is sited on a bend in the River Eske, near the mouth of Donegal Bay, and is surrounded by a 17th-century boundary wall. There is a small gatehouse at its entrance mirroring the design of the keep. Most of the stonework was constructed from locally sourced limestone with some sandstone. The castle was the stronghold of the O'Donnell clan, Lords of Tír Conaill and one of the most powerful Gaelic families in Ireland from the 5th to the 16th centuries.

Donegal Celtic F.C.

Donegal Celtic Football Club is an intermediate football club based in Belfast, Northern Ireland who currently play in the Ballymena & Provincial Football League. The club, founded in 1970, plays its home matches at Donegal Celtic Park. Club colours are green and white in Celtic-style hoops.

Donegal GAA

The Donegal County Board of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) (Irish: Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Coiste Dhún na nGall) or Donegal GAA is one of the GAA's 32 county boards in Ireland. It is responsible for Gaelic games in County Donegal. The county board is also responsible for the Donegal inter-county teams. There are currently 40 clubs under the auspices of the Donegal County Board.The Donegal senior football team is a major force in Gaelic football. Currently regarded as one of the best teams in the sport, they last won the All-Ireland Championship in 2012. Donegal players comprised most of the 2012 All Stars Team of the Year, and the three nominations for the All Stars Footballer of the Year, ultimately won by Karl Lacey. In addition, having been invited to assist the Celtic soccer team in Scotland, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness became the first Gaelic football inter-county manager to have been offered a role at a professional sports team abroad. McGuinness's services have also been sought by Premier League soccer teams.In terms of style, "the system" deployed by the Donegal senior football team has been likened to that of the Spanish association football team FC Barcelona. They are also one of only five counties to have defeated Kerry in their first Championship meeting — the others being Down (1960), Derry (1958), Dublin (1893) and Cork (1889).

Donegal tweed

Donegal tweed is a handwoven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland. Donegal has for centuries been producing tweed from local materials in the making of caps, suits and vests. Sheep thrive in the hills and bogs of Donegal, and indigenous plants such as blackberries, fuchsia, gorse (whins), and moss provide dyes. Towards the end of the eighteenth century The Royal Linen Manufacturers of Ulster distributed approximately six thousand flax wheels for spinning wool and sixty looms for weaving to various Donegal homesteads. These machines helped establish the homespun tweed industry in nineteenth-century Donegal. Although Donegal tweed has been manufactured for centuries it took on its modern form in the 1880s, largely due to the pioneering work of English philanthropist Alice Rowland Hart.

While the weavers in County Donegal produce a number of different tweed fabrics, including herringbone and check patterns, the area is best known for a plain-weave cloth of differently-coloured warp and weft, with small pieces of yarn in various colours woven in at irregular intervals to produce a heathered effect. Such fabric is often labelled as "donegal" (with a lowercase "d") regardless of its provenance.

Along with Harris Tweed manufactured in the Scottish Highlands, Donegal is the most famous tweed in the world. It was used in several of the fashion designer Sybil Connolly's pieces.


Gweedore (officially known by its Irish language name, Gaoth Dobhair, Irish pronunciation: [ˌɡˠi ˈd̪ˠoːɾʲ]) is an Irish-speaking district and parish located on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal in the west of Ulster in the north-west of Ireland. Gweedore stretches some 26 kilometres (16 mi) from Glasserchoo in the north to Crolly in the south and around 14 kilometres (9 mi) from Dunlewey in the east to Magheraclogher in the west, and is one of Europe's most densely populated rural areas. It is the largest Irish-speaking parish in Ireland with a population of around 4,065, and is also the home of the northwest regional studios of the Irish-language radio service RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, as well as an external campus of National University of Ireland, Galway. Gweedore includes the villages Bunbeg, Derrybeg, Dunlewey, Crolly and Brinalack, and sits in the shade of County Donegal's highest peak, Mount Errigal.Gweedore is known for being a cradle of Irish culture, with old Irish customs, traditional music, theatre, Gaelic games and the Irish language playing a central and pivotal role in the lives of the local people. This, along with its scenery and many beaches, has made the area a popular tourist destination, especially with visitors from Northern Ireland. Gweedore and the neighbouring districts of Cloughaneely and the Rosses are collectively known locally as "the three parishes"; they form a social and cultural region distinct from the rest of the county, with Gweedore serving as the main centre for socialising and industry.


Letterkenny (Irish: Leitir Ceanainn, meaning "hillside of the O'Cannons"), nicknamed "the Cathedral Town", is the largest and most populous town in County Donegal in Ulster, Ireland. It lies on the River Swilly in East Donegal and has a population of 19,274. Along with the nearby city of Derry, Letterkenny is considered a regional economic gateway for the North-West of Ireland. Letterkenny acts as an urban gateway to the Ulster Gaeltacht, similar to Galway's relationship to the Connemara Gaeltacht.

Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. A castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba, County Donegal's only Catholic cathedral, stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mt Southwell on Castle Street. County 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 a Hindu temple. Letterkenny was also the original home of Oatfield Sweet Factory, the confectionery manufacturer; however, the factory was closed and the building was knocked down in 2014. The town is renowned for its night-life, with enterprises such as Club Voodoo, The Grill, 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.

The town also boasts the location of rebel Theobald Wolfe Tone's 1798 landing and subsequent arrest at Laird's Hotel.In 2015 it was judged to be the tidiest town in Ireland.

List of Dáil by-elections

This is a list of by-elections to Dáil Éireann, the house of representatives of the Oireachtas, the Irish legislature. By-elections in Ireland occur to fill vacant seats which can be caused by the death, resignation or expulsion of a sitting Teachta Dála (member of parliament).

There have been 131 by-elections since 1923, to fill 133 vacancies. 92 of these were caused by the death of a sitting Teachta Dála (TD). There were seven by-elections during the lifetime of the 31st Dáil. There were no by-elections during the 3rd, 7th, 9th, 11th, 22nd, 25th and 26th Dála. The longest period without a by-election was almost 10 years between 1984 and 1994. The largest number of by-elections on one day was on 11 March 1925, when seven constituencies filled nine vacancies caused by the National Party's split from Cumann na nGaedheal. Those seven by-elections included two which filled two vacancies, via the single transferable vote. All the other by-elections have used its single-winner analogue, the alternative vote.

Twenty-two TDs were first elected at a by-election and never subsequently re-elected at a general election. The only person twice elected at by-elections was Thomas Hennessy.

R238 road (Ireland)

The R238 road is a regional road in Ireland. It is a ring road around the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. The R238 is also part of the main road from Derry to Buncrana. Sections of the road form part of the Wild Atlantic Way. In July 2010, the road was the site of Ireland's worst road crash resulting in eight deaths.The R238 travels north from the N13 at Bridge End. The road travels along Lough Swilly to reach Buncrana. From there the road proceeds inland to Carndonagh. After Carndonagh, the road goes to meet the Lough Foyle coast at Moville. From Moville the road proceeds southwest to end at the County Londonderry border just past Muff. The R238 is 88.1 km (54.7 mi) long.

R242 road (Ireland)

The R242 road is a regional road in Ireland. It is a road on the northern Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. The R242 is Ireland's northernmost regional road and leads to Malin Head. The road forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way.The R242 travels north from the R238 at Drumaville to Malin village. From Malin the road travels along Trawbreaga Bay before turning inland and northward. The R242 ends at the coastguard station at Slievebawn, but minor roads continue from here towards Malin Head. The R242 is 15.1 km (9.4 mi) long.

R245 road (Ireland)

The R245 road is a regional road in Ireland. It is a loop road from the N56 road in County Donegal. Sections of the road form part of the Wild Atlantic Way.The R245 travels north from the N56 at Letterkenny to Ramelton. From Ramelton the road travels north again to Milford and then along Mulroy Bay before turning west to Carrigart. At Carrigart, the R248 road leads to the Rosguill Peninsula and its Atlantic Drive. From Carrigart the R245 turns southwest crossing the Lackagh River before rejoining the N56. The R245 is 44.9 km (27.9 mi) long.

R246 road (Ireland)

The R246 road is a regional road in Ireland. It is a road mostly on the Fanad peninsula in County Donegal. The northernmost section of the road at Portsalon forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way.The R246 branches north from the R249, then passing Lough Fern on the way to Milford. From Milford the road travels along the east shore of Mulroy Bay before turning east to Lough Swilly at Portsalon. Just off the road, the beach at Ballymastocker Bay (Portsalon) has been considered one of the world's finest. The R246 is 23.1 km (14.4 mi) long.

R251 road (Ireland)

The R251 road is a regional road in Ireland. It is located entirely in County Donegal and runs in a northerly then westerly direction from its junction with the R250 road west of Letterkenny to the N56 east of Gweedore. The route is very scenic: it passes Glenveagh, skirts around the base of Mount Errigal and offers excellent views of the Derryveagh Mountains.

R261 road (Ireland)

The R261 road is a regional road in Ireland. It is a loop road from the N56 road on the Loughrea Peninsula in County Donegal. The road forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way.The R261 travels west from the N56 at Maas to a minor road leading to the beach villages of Narin and Portnoo. From this junction the road travels south, passing the megalithic tombs of Kilclooney More, to rejoin the N56 at Ardara. The R261 is 13.5 km (8.4 mi) long.

Regional road (Ireland)

A regional road (Irish: bóthar réigiúnach) in Ireland is a class of road not forming a major route (such as a national primary road or national secondary road), but nevertheless forming a link in the national route network. There are over 11,600 kilometres of regional roads. Regional roads are numbered with three-digit route numbers, prefixed by "R" (e.g. R105).

Tory Island

Tory Island, or simply Tory (officially known by its Irish name Toraigh), is an island 14.5 kilometres (9.0 miles) off the north-west coast of County Donegal in Ulster, Ireland, and is the most remote inhabited island of Ireland. It is also known in Irish as Oileán Thoraí or, historically, Oileán Thúr Rí. The word Tory comes from the Middle Irish word Tóraidhe which means bandit.


Ulster (; Irish: Ulaidh pronounced [ˈul̪ˠəi] or Cúige Uladh pronounced [ˈkuːɟə ˈul̪ˠə], Ulster Scots: Ulstèr or Ulster) is a province in the north of the island of Ireland. It is made up of nine counties, six of which are in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom) and three of which are in the Republic of Ireland. It is the second largest (after Munster) and second most populous (after Leinster) of Ireland's four provinces, with Belfast being its biggest city. Unlike the other provinces, Ulster has a high percentage of Protestants, making up almost half of its population. English is the main language and Ulster English the main dialect. A minority also speak Irish, and there are Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking regions) in southern Londonderry, the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast and in Donegal, where 25% of the total Gaeltacht population of Ireland is located. Lough Neagh, in the east, is the largest lake in the British Isles, while Lough Erne in the west is one of its largest lake networks. The main mountain ranges are the Mournes, Sperrins, Croaghgorms and Derryveagh Mountains.

Historically, Ulster lay at the heart of the Gaelic world made up of Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. According to tradition, in ancient Ireland it was one of the fifths (Irish: cúige) ruled by a rí ruirech, or "king of over-kings". It is named after the overkingdom of Ulaid, in the east of the province, which was in turn named after the Ulaid folk. The other overkingdoms in Ulster were Airgíalla and Ailech. After the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, eastern Ulster was conquered by the Anglo-Normans and became the Earldom of Ulster. By the late 14th century the Earldom had collapsed and the O'Neill dynasty had come to dominate most of Ulster, claiming the title King of Ulster. Ulster became the most thoroughly Gaelic and independent of Ireland's provinces. Its rulers resisted English encroachment but were defeated in the Nine Years' War (1594–1603). King James I then colonized Ulster with English-speaking Protestant settlers from Britain, in the Plantation of Ulster. This led to the founding of many of Ulster's towns. The inflow of Protestant settlers and migrants also led to bouts of sectarian violence with Catholics, notably during the 1641 rebellion and the Armagh disturbances. Along with the rest of Ireland, Ulster became part of the United Kingdom in 1801. In the early 20th century, moves towards Irish self-rule were opposed by many Ulster Protestants, sparking the Home Rule Crisis. This, and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, led to the partition of Ireland. Six Ulster counties became Northern Ireland, a self-governing territory within the United Kingdom, while the rest of Ireland became the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland.

Ulster has no official function for local government purposes in either country. However, for the purposes of ISO 3166-2, Ulster is used to refer to the three counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan only, which are given country sub-division code "IE-U". The name is also used by various organisations such as cultural and sporting bodies.

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