Béal Átha Seanaidh

Ballyshannon as seen from the Beleek Road in the morning


Location in Ireland

Coordinates: 54°30′05″N 8°11′24″W / 54.5015°N 8.1901°W / 54.5015; -8.1901Coordinates: 54°30′05″N 8°11′24″W / 54.5015°N 8.1901°W / 54.5015; -8.1901
Country Ireland
Province Ulster
County County Donegal
  Dáil Éireann Donegal
  EU Parliament Midlands–North-West
Population (2011)
  Total 2,504
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
  Summer (DST) IST (WEST) (UTC-1)
Area code(s) +353 71 98 5
Irish Grid Reference G876614

Ballyshannon (Irish: Béal Átha Seanaidh, meaning "The Mouth of Seannach's ford") is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. It is located at the southern end of the county where the N3 and N15 cross the River Erne, and claims to be the oldest town in Ireland.[6][7][8][9]


Ballyshannon town centre.

Ballyshannon, which means "The Mouth of Seannach's Ford", after a fifth-century warrior, Seannach, who was slain there, lies at the mouth of the river Erne. Just west of the town, the Erne widens and its waters meander over a long sandy estuary. The northern bank of the river rises steeply away from the riverbank, while the southern bank is flat with a small cliff that runs parallel to the river. From its idyllic setting, the town looks out over the estuary and has panoramic views of mountains, lakes and forests.


Archaeological sites dating as far back as the Neolithic period (4000 BC – 2500 BC) have been excavated in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas, representing settlement and ritual activity from early periods of human settlement. Finds have ranged from fulachta fiadh (burnt mounds) dating from the Bronze Age (2500–500 BC), to a possible brushwood trackway thought to date to an earlier Neolithic period, to the recent discovery of a previously unknown medieval church and cemetery containing hundreds of skeletons thought to date from between 1100 and 1400. This site yielded numerous artefacts including silver long cross pennies and halfpennies dating from the reign of Henry III (1251–1276) and Edward I (c.1280–1302). Other finds included bone beads, shroud pins, and pieces of quartz which were found placed in the hands of many of the skeletons.

Numerous other sites from various periods are thought to exist, including a neolithic tomb, and the grave of Aed Ruad, High King of Ireland, upon which St. Anne's church (Church of Ireland) was supposedly built, occupying the highest of the town's vantage points—Mullgoose. Nothing remains to mark either tomb, the last vestige of the mound on Mullaghnashee having been obliterated in 1798 when a fort was constructed on the hill-top. The 18th-century churchyard and the paupers' burial ground were both referred to as Sidh Aedh Ruaidh, the Fairy Mound of Red Hugh. The 'sheeman' (Anglicisation of the Irish sidh) in Mullgoose means 'fairies'. Popular belief assigned the interior of hills to fairies' dwelling places and local tradition has handed down accounts of the exploits of the fairy folk, especially among the Finner sand-hills and in the Wardtown district of Ballyshannon.

Lough Erne and Ballyshannon.

The Vikings, according to the Annals of Ulster, attacked nearby Inishmurray Island in 795. Later they used the River Erne to attack inland, burning Devenish Island Monastery in 822. The Annals also record that in 836, all the churches of Loch Erne, together with Cluain Eois (Clones) and Daimhinis (Devenish Island) were destroyed by the "gentiles". In 923 and 916 respectively, "a fleet of foreigners on Loch Erne plundered the islands of the lake", as well as the surrounding territories.

In 1775 the salmon-leap of Assaroe at Ballyshannon was praised by the traveller Richard Twiss in A Tour in Ireland[10] (p. 157):

The Giants Causeway is an object which is scarcely worthy of going so far to see; however that is to be determined by the degree of curiosity of which the traveller is possessed. But the salmon-leap at Ballyshannon is a scene of such a singular nature, as is not to be found elsewhere, and is as peculiar to Ireland as the bullfights are to Spain.....

It was in Ballyshannon, around 1793, that Viscount Castlereagh, the future Chief Secretary for Ireland and, later, British Foreign Secretary, had his famous vision of the radiant boy. Known at the time as The Hon. Robert Stewart (he became Lord Castlereagh in 1796), he was serving as a young Army officer and M.P. for Down in the Irish Parliament at the time. Lodging in the old Military Barracks in the town, Stewart (as he then was) retired for the night. Looking into the fire he saw the form of a boy emerge from the flames, grow larger and larger and vanish.[11] The radiant boy is a well-known figure in English and Irish folklore, and is often supposed to foretell death. William Allingham later wrote a poem about the incident.[12]

The Enniskillen and Bundoran Railway (E&BR) opened in 1868 and had a station at Ballyshannon.[13] The Great Northern Railway (GNR) operated the E&BR line from 1876 and absorbed the company in 1896.[14] The partition of Ireland in 1922 turned the boundary with County Fermanagh into an international frontier. Henceforth Ballyshannon's only railway link with the rest of the Irish Free State was via Northern Ireland, and as such was subject to delays for customs inspections. The Government of Northern Ireland closed much of the GNR network on its side of the border in 1957, including the E&BR as far as the border.[15][16] This gave the Republic no practical alternative but to allow the closure of the line through Ballyshannon between the border and Bundoran. Thereafter the nearest railheads for Ballyshannon were Sligo in the Republic and Omagh in Northern Ireland, until in 1965 the Ulster Transport Authority closed the line through Omagh as well.[15][17]

A hydroelectric power station was built in the town in the 1950s. The project, or 'Scheme' as it was then referred to, brought engineers, electricians, and specialists in hydroelectricity from many parts of the country and abroad to the town, which experienced a boom during the decade-long construction period. This involved building a dam upriver from the town at Cathleen's Falls (also known as Assaroe Falls) and digging out a deep channel to lower the riverbed through the town to increase the head of water at the dam to drive the turbines. Before the station was built, the river was wide, and the water level much higher than it is today. A long bridge spanned from the northern shore to the 'port' on the southern bank. The waters spilled over a number of waterfalls, among them Cathleen's Falls, before meandering out to sea. Today, however, the river runs through a narrow channel, far below the level of either bank and a narrower single arch bridge has replaced the old one. The newly built Ballyshannon – Bundoran bypass has added a new, more modern bridge over the river. A pedestrian bridge was also constructed to mark the millennium.

During the Second World War the British and Irish governments quietly reached an agreement to create an air corridor between nearby Belleek and Ballyshannon, the "Donegal Corridor", which was used by British Royal Air Force flights from Northern Ireland into the Atlantic Ocean.[18] This was used by the aircraft which located the German battleship Bismarck.[19]

Local attractions

Transport and communications

Bus Éireann[22] offers routes to cities and major towns in Ireland including Cavan and Dublin. Ulsterbus[23] offers services to cities and major towns in Northern Ireland including Belfast and Derry. Feda ODonnell[24] offers routes to and from Gweedore to the west of Ireland, including Sligo and Galway, via Ballyshannon.

The nearest railway to Ballyshannon is Sligo station which is served by trains to Dublin Connolly and is operated by Iarnród Éireann.[25]

Commercial broadband is available in Ballyshannon, installed by Donegal County Council and provided by all major broadband providers.


A statue of Ballyshannon native, rock singer, guitar player Rory Gallagher

International relations

See also List of twin towns and sister cities in Ireland

Twin towns – Sister cities

Ballyshannon is twinned with:



Adult education

See also


  1. Census for post 1821 figures. Archived 20 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  4. Lee, JJ (1981). "On the accuracy of the Pre-famine Irish censuses". In Goldstrom, J. M.; Clarkson, L. A. Irish Population, Economy, and Society: Essays in Honour of the Late K. H. Connell. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
  5. Mokyr, Joel; O Grada, Cormac (November 1984). "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700–1850". The Economic History Review. 37 (4): 473–488. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1984.tb00344.x.
  6. "Ballyshannon Donegal Ireland - Hotels, B&B, Hostels, Self Catering, Guesthouse Holiday Accommodation".
  8. "About Creevy Experience Ballyshannon, Creevy Co-operative Ltd".
  9. "An Error has occurred".
  10. "A tour in Ireland in 1775".
  11. Hyde, Montgomery The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh William Heinemann 1959 pp.161–2
  12. Hyde, p.162
  13. Hajducki, S. Maxwell (1974). A Railway Atlas of Ireland. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. map 6. ISBN 0-7153-5167-2.
  14. Hajducki, op. cit., page xiii
  15. 1 2 Hajducki, op. cit., map 39
  16. McCutcheon, Alan (1970). Ireland. Railway History in Pictures. 2. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. pp. 153, 207. ISBN 0-7153-4998-8.
  17. McCutcheon, 1970, pages 155, 209
  18. Guidera, Anita (19 April 2007). "Plaques mark secret wartime air corridor in Donegal". Irish Independent. Retrieved 4 September 2008.
  19. Kennedy, Ludovic (1975). Pursuit: The Sinking of the Bismarck. London: Book Club Associates. p. 137. ISBN 0-00-634014-8.
  20. "RORY GALLAGHER INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 2015 - Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, Ireland - Thursday 28th May to Sunday 31st May 2015". RORY GALLAGHER INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 2015 - Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, Ireland - Thursday 28th May to Sunday 31st May 2015.
  21. "Ballyshannon Folk & Traditional Music Festival. Donegal Ireland. - – Mad For Trad".
  23. Translink. "Home - Translink".
  24. "Bus Feda".
  25. "Ireland rail travel information - Iarnród Éireann - Irish Rail". Irish Rail.
  26. "Rory's rocking again for Donegal". Donegal Democrat. 20 September 2012. Retrieved 20 September 2012.

External links

Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Ballyshannon.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ballyshannon.
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