This article is about the town in County Donegal, Ireland. For other uses, see Lifford (disambiguation).

The Three Coins sculpture, Lifford

Location in Ireland

Coordinates: 54°50′08″N 7°28′40″W / 54.835599°N 7.477913°W / 54.835599; -7.477913Coordinates: 54°50′08″N 7°28′40″W / 54.835599°N 7.477913°W / 54.835599; -7.477913
Country  Ireland
Province  Ulster
County County Donegal
Dáil Éireann Donegal
Elevation 6 m (20 ft)
Population (2011)
  Urban 1,658
Irish Grid Reference H330984
Dialing code +353 (0)74

Lifford (Irish: Leifear, historically anglicised as Liffer)[1] is the county town of County Donegal, Ireland. It is the administrative capital of the county and the seat of Donegal County Council, although the town of Letterkenny is often mistaken for fulfilling this role.

Lifford lies in the Finn Valley area of East Donegal where the River Finn meets the River Mourne to create the River Foyle. The Burn Deele (also spelled as the Burn Dale), a burn (small river), flows into the River Foyle just north of Lifford.


The Main Street in Lifford.

The town grew up around a castle built there by Manghus Ó Domhnaill, ruler of Tír Chonaill (mostly modern County Donegal), in the 16th century. It later became a British Army garrison town until most of Ireland won independence as a dominion in early December 1922. It lies across the River Foyle from Strabane (in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland) and is linked to that town by Lifford Bridge. Manus O'Donnell began building the castle in 1527[2] on the Wednesday after St. Brendan's day (Saint Brendan's feast day is celebrated on May 16). He completed the masonry and woodwork by the end of that summer even though the O’Neill’s of Tyrone were at war with him. In 1543 the castle of Leithbher was given to Cahir (the son of Donnell Balbh) O'Gallagher to be guarded for the O’Donnell clan. He then proceeded to banish the people loyal to the O’Donnell’s from the castle so that he could keep it for himself. In 1544 Calvagh, the son of O'Donnell, went to the English Lord Justice, and brought back English soldiers with him to Tirconnell, the olden name for County Donegal. O'Donnell, Calvagh, and these men went with ‘ordnance and engines for taking towns’ to the castle of Lifford to take it back from the descendants of the O'Gallaghers.

Cahir, the son of Tuathal Balbh & Turlough, the son of Felim Fin O'Gallagher, who had been taken hostage earlier, were brought to the castle to see if the O’Gallagher’s would surrender. Which they wouldn’t. As the English attacked one was killed instantly so they killed Cahir, the son of Tuathal on the spot. The castle was then surrendered to O’Donnell to spare the life of Turlough, the son of Felim Fin and another son of Tuathal Balbh.

St. Lugadius Church of Ireland Church in Lifford.

Sadly, Lifford Castle is no longer standing but here is a poem[1] from the late 16th century about the castle, it describes the owners and surroundings at the time.

"A beloved dwelling is the castle of Lifford, homestead of a wealth abounding encampment; forge of hospitality for the men of Ulster, a dwelling it is hard to leave.
Beloved are the two who keep that house without excess, without lack; the ward of the stout, even-surfaced tower are the supporting pillars of the province.
Short is the day, no matter what its length, in the company of the royal warrior of Conchobhar's Plain; fleet are the long days from the lady of bright-walled Tara.
The daughter of noble Shane O'Neill, and the son of O'Donnell of Dún Iomgháin—they are in the ancient, comely dwelling as entertainers of guests.
Dear the hostel in which these are wont to be, dear the folk who dwell in the hostel; the people of the house and the house of that people happy is any who shall get honor such as theirs.
Beloved the delightful, lofty building, its tables, its coverlets, its cupboards; its wondrous, handsome, firm walls, its smooth marble arches.
Beloved is the castle in which we used to spend a while at chess-playing, a while with the daughters of the men of Bregia, a while with the fair books of the poets.
The fortress of smooth-lawned Lifford no one in the world can leave it once it is found; that dwelling is the Durlas of the north.
Or else it is Eamhain which used to vary in form, or Croghan of the children of Mágha, or Tara of the race of Cobhthach—this bright castle, rich in trees and horses.
Or it is Naas, the fortress of Leinster, as it was first fashioned; or the fertile, ancient abode of the children of Corc, green, conspicuous Cashel.
Or it is fair Lifford itself—hardly is any of these castles better—which hath of yore assumed those shapes ye are wont to hold dear".

  1. ^ "The bardic poems of Tadhg Dall Ó Huiginn (1550–1591)" CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts. Retrieved 16 May 2013

The Battle of Lifford was fought in 1600 during Tyrone's Rebellion.

Following the defeat of O'Doherty's Rebellion at the Battle of Kilmacrennan in 1608, a number of captured rebels were brought to Lifford where they were tried by Irish civilian courts and executed. The most notable rebel to be executed was Phelim Reagh MacDavitt.

In 1611[3] Lifford came into the possession of Sir Richard Hansard during the Plantation of Ulster. One of the conditions of his grant was that a ferry crossing be provided over the River Finn. This service continued until 1730 when the first bridge linking Lifford and Strabane was built.

In the 19th century a curious custom existed when if, by the end of the Assizes in Lifford or Omagh courthouses, a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in a case, they were sent to the "verge" of the county to be dismissed.[4] In some of the cases of counties Donegal and Tyrone this would have been the middle of Lifford Bridge.

The present bridge was constructed by engineering company McAlpines in 1964, jointly funded by Donegal County Council and the old Tyrone County Council (the present Strabane District Council was only formed in the early 1970s). During The Troubles in 1968, an attempt was made to blow the bridge up. However, it was only closed for a short time and today remains an important road link.

Lifford achieved national recognition in the 2008 Tidy Towns Awards [5] as the best newcomer to the competition in Category 'C'.


Ogham stone in the Diamond, Lifford.

National Government

Lifford was once a constituency that elected two M.P.s (Members of Parliament) from the area to the Irish House of Commons from the years 1692 until 1800. More information on who represented the area can be found here at Lifford (Parliament of Ireland constituency).

Lifford is now part of the county-wide five-seat Donegal constituency. Prior to that, it was in the Dáil Éireann constituency of Donegal South-West. It had formerly been in Donegal North-East, but due to the population shift within the County an electoral boundary review in 2008 moved the town and environs to Donegal SW. The town also moved from the Letterkenny Electoral Area to the Stranorlar Electoral Area as part of that boundary review.[6] In the 2016 General Election, the constituency returned Charlie McConalogue (Fianna Fáil), Pearse Doherty (Sinn Féin), Pat the Cope Gallagher (Fianna Fáil), Joe McHugh (Fine Gael) and Thomas Pringle (Independent).

Local Government

The town is part of the Stranorlar Municipal District which returns local residents to Donegal County Council. Currently there are two local residents who are councillors with Donegal County Council, namely Gerry Crawford (Fianna Fáil) and Gary Doherty (Sinn Féin).[7]


Lifford Town has a population of 1,658 as of 2011 census [8] an increase of 210 on the 2006 census [9] of the Republic of Ireland. In 2002 there were 1,395 residents in the town. The town population (2011) divides up as 777 male and 881 female residents. Lifford is part of the Parish of Clonleigh with a population of 3,681, the parish is sub-divided for electoral purposes into two separate Electoral Districts, Clonleigh North, population 1,466 and Clonleigh South, population 2,215.


Lifford is served by several schools all of which are Primary/National Schools. For Second level education students must travel to either, Raphoe, Stranorlar or Strabane in Northern Ireland. Primary schools cater for children from age 5 to 13 in yearly classes from Junior Infants to sixth class. All children must receive an education in the Republic of Ireland between the ages of five and sixteen. More information can be found by clicking HERE.

Primary Schools in Lifford are:

There were other primary schools in the parish but are long since gone, namely Blackrock National School and Ballindrait National School.[15] The Prior Endowed School and The Hansard Grammar School were fee paying schools in Lifford and are now also closed; see below for further information on these schools.

Historical Buildings & Places of Interest

The Old Courthouse, Lifford.

Lifford Courthouse

The courthouse is now a restaurant and heritage centre and is located across from the County House, the HQ of Donegal County Council, in The Diamond area of the town. The courthouse was designed by Michael Priestly of Dublin and built in 1746. The museum houses a permanent display of O'Donnell clan documents and artefacts, as well as minute books from various institutes in County Donegal. It also houses some of the original cells belonging to the Courthouse.

Lifford Gaol was formerly the County Gaol for County Donegal. It was located on the north-eastern side of The Diamond. The old gaol was demolished in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Cavanacor House

Cavanacor House is located just off the N14 on the outskirts of the town - which is the ancestral home of the 11th President of the United States of America, James Knox Polk. His great, great, great grandmother (Magdelene Tasker) was born here[16] in 1634, she later married Capt. Robert Bruce Pollock and emigrated to the USA. King James II & VII dined at Cavanacor House on his way to the Siege of Derry in 1689.[16]

Prior Endowed School

The school was built in 1880 to cater for local Protestant children with monies bequeathed by Miss Eleanor Prior from nearby Ballindrait. The Prior School closed in 1972, being amalgamated with The Royal School in Raphoe to create "The Royal & Prior Comprehensive School".[17] The school and grounds were first taken over by the then Irish Department of Posts and Telegraphs, and later (from 1974) by the Irish Defence Forces for use as a military barracks. The Barracks has since closed along with Rockhill House Military Post in Letterkenny, on 31 January 2009.

St. Lugadius Church

Clonleigh (Church of Ireland) Parish Church was built in 1621. Sir Richard Hansard who had been granted land at Lifford directed in his will that a church be built in Lifford. There is a monument to Sir Richard and his wife Dame Anne inside the church with a plaque on the wall detailing his wishes and who the executors of his will were. In the graveyard George Gardiner is buried, he won a Victoria Cross during the Crimean War in 1855.

St. Patrick’s (Roman Catholic) Church

St. Patrick's Roman Catholic church at Murlog, Lifford

St. Patrick’s is the second church on the present site. The first church was built here at Murlog in the 18th century after the Earl of Erne saw Catholic worshippers praying in the open. The church was later demolished to make way for the new church which was built in 1963. A three-stage gothic tower dating from about 1820 was attached to the old church and was saved by the parish; it is still standing next to new church. The church is in the parish of Clonleigh, formerly Clonleigh and Camus until it was established as an independent parish in 1974.

Lifford Community Hospital

The Hospital was once the County Hospital catering for all of County Donegal. It is located on the banks of the River Foyle just before you cross the bridge into Northern Ireland. Although this is not the first location of the County Hospital, It was originally in the diamond area of the town in a place called the Barrack yard. The Hospital first opened in this location in 1773. The first surgeon was a man called Mr. William Hamilton from nearby Strabane. In 1780 it was proposed to move to new premises with the Cavalry Barracks and stables in the town being sought, it was not until 1799 that the premises were renovated and ready to be occupied. In the early 1900s the hospital was operating at full strength with the Maternity and Surgical wards treating on average 400 patients and carrying out around 350 operations annually.[18] The hospital today caters for long and short term residents by providing a convalescent and respite service. Physiotherapy and chiropody services are also provided in the hospital for the in-patients and out-patients from the greater East Donegal area.[19]

Hansard's Grammar School

The will of Sir Richard Hansard in 1619, endowed a private school,[20] in Lifford. The will provided for 30 pounds sterling a year for a master, and 20 pounds sterling a year for an usher. The school was intended to cater for classical studies. All children of Clonleigh parish were to be entitled to attend for a free education. Hansards' Grammar School commenced operations in 1697. In 1791, the Commissioners of Education reported that there were no free scholars in the school out of an attendance of 18, of whom 6 were boarders. The Commissioners of 1807–1812 reported the school as being in a very unsatisfactory condition. While the head master and usher were being paid salaries according to the endowment, the teaching had been handed off to a third person on a wage of 6 pounds sterling a year. Furthermore, classical subjects were not being taught, only arithmetic. The school continued in decline until 1840, until an inspection by the Commissioners precipitated the resignation of the master, who was accused of major neglect. Attendance which had been as low as three pupils, rapidly increased under a new classical teacher. Sometime before 1856, the Earl Erne (whose family, the Creightons / Crichtons, had originally settled in Ulster at Lifford before moving south to County Fermanagh), on behalf of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, converted the school into an English-style school, and hired a master and mistress. Both were dismissed in 1856. At this time there was a dwelling house attached to the school, lived in by a previous master. In 1857, the school was reopened as an English school under the management of the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.



Lifford is known as the ‘Gateway to Donegal’, this is because it is the first town you enter in County Donegal when travelling from Dublin on the N2 (A5/A38 through County Tyrone). Two national primary routes, the N15 to Sligo via Stranorlar, Donegal Town and Ballyshannon and also the N14 to Letterkenny, take travellers to all parts in the County. There is also the R265/R236/A40 national secondary route to Derry City. Lifford has several daily bus services operated by Bus Éireann to Dublin Airport / Dublin City Centre (Busáras). They also serve Letterkenny and Ballybofey, where connections can be had for travelling onwards to Sligo with its railway station and bus station. Lifford is also very close to Strabane Bus Depot, located on Bradley Way in Strabane. From here, Ulsterbus operate services to Derry, Belfast, Omagh and other places in Northern Ireland.


City of Derry Airport is the nearest major airport to Lifford, approximately a 40-minute drive (22 Miles/35 km). Daily flights to and from the airport include London Stansted, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Faro, Lanzarote, Alicante, Majorca during the summer months.

Donegal Airport is a regional airport located at Carrickfinn in West Donegal, approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes from Lifford, (52 Miles/83 km). Flights from here go to Dublin and Glasgow several times weekly.

Belfast International Airport is located 62 Miles/100 km to the east of Lifford near the town of Antrim in Northern Ireland. Driving time to here is approximately an hour and a half.

Dublin International Airport (The busiest airport in Ireland)[21] lies 128 Miles/206 km South-East of Lifford. Driving time from here is just under 3 hours.



The nearest railway station is Waterside Station in Derry. This station is operated by Northern Ireland Railways (N.I.R.) and runs from Derry, via Coleraine, to Central Station and Great Victoria Street Station in Belfast. The strategically important Belfast-Derry railway line is to be upgraded to facilitate more frequent trains and improvements to the permanent way, such as track and signalling, to enable faster services.


Lifford Greyhound Stadium

Lifford is home to a number of sporting clubs, including:

Voluntary organisations

Notable people

See also


  1. Placenames Database of Ireland (see archival records)
  2. (p665)
  3. Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command - Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons - Google Books. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  4. The Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, Page 547
  5. "Welcome to TidyTowns Ireland". Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  6. Electoral Area Committees - Home Page
  7. "Donegal County Council".
  9. Beyond 20/20 WDS - Table View
  10. St Patricks National School, Donegal on. (2014-02-03). Retrieved on 2014-02-03.
  11. Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál, Donegal on. (2014-02-03). Retrieved on 2014-02-03.
  12. Scoil Cholmcille Naofa, Donegal on. (2014-02-03). Retrieved on 2014-02-03.
  13. Scoil Bhrighde, Donegal on. (2014-02-03). Retrieved on 2014-02-03.
  14. Scoil Cholmcille / Cloughfin National School, Donegal on. (2014-02-03). Retrieved on 2014-02-03.
  16. 1 2 © "Donegal & Dún na - Cavanacor House". Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  17. "Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Raphoe". Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  18. History Links Project. Accessed 08 July 2013
  19. "my Home from Home". Retrieved 2013-07-08.
  20. Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Endownments, Funds and Actual Condition of all Schools Endowed for the Purposes of Education in Ireland, 1858
  21. Overview. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  22. "Lifford Halt station" (PDF). Railscot - Irish Railways. Retrieved 2007-10-28.
  23. Official Website of Naomh Padraig Lifford
  24. 1 2 Donegal Junior Football League > Home
  25. Deele Harps captain Gary Crawford receiving the Glencar Inn Saturday Division Two Trophy from League administrator Terry Leyden. Donegal Daily (2013-04-07). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  27. Lifford Athletic Club and Gym
  28. /Donegal Bowling League
  29. The Rotary Club of Strabane Lifford. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  30. Lifford Youthreach Centre | VEC. (2012-10-01). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  31. 19th Donegal (Lifford) Scout Group. Facebook. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  32. Friends of the Metropolitan Archives. (2005-07-26). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  33. "official website for Shay Given" Check |url= value (help).
  34. Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane set to make record-breaking 126th appearance in World Cup qualifier | Mail Online. (2013-06-06). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
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