Ráth Bhoth

The Diamond, Raphoe, in 2008.

Location in Ireland

Coordinates: 54°52′26″N 7°36′02″W / 54.873923°N 7.600486°W / 54.873923; -7.600486Coordinates: 54°52′26″N 7°36′02″W / 54.873923°N 7.600486°W / 54.873923; -7.600486
Country Ireland
Province Ulster
County County Donegal
  Dáil Éireann Donegal (formerly Donegal North-East)
Population (2011)[1]
  Urban 1,154
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
  Summer (DST) IST (WEST) (UTC-1)

Raphoe (/ˈræf/; Irish: Ráth Bhoth) is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. It is the main town in the fertile district of East Donegal known as the Laggan, as well as giving its name to the Barony of Raphoe and also as to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raphoe and the Church of Ireland (or Anglican) Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.

The Burn Deele (Irish: An Daoil; also spelled in English as the Burn Dale) is a burn (a small river) that flows a short distance to the south of Raphoe. The Burn Deele eventually flows, via the village of Ballindrait, into the River Foyle just north of Lifford.


Raphoe, historically Raffoe,[2] comes from the Irish Ráth Bhoth, which is made up of the words ráth (fort) and both (hut). This likely refers to clay and wattle huts surrounded with a strong fortified mound.[3] It is believed these huts were built by monks in the early Christian period.


The rich agricultural land around Raphoe has been inhabited and cultivated for thousands of years,and evidence of this can be seen through monuments such as the Beltany stone circle, just outside the town. The stone circle is one of the largest in Ireland with a diameter of 44 metres (165 feet) and made up of more than sixty stones in all. The site is believed to date to around 2000 BC, and that it was originally an enclosed cairn. Its name is believed to be linked to the Celtic festival of fertility known as 'Beltane'.[4]

The Diamond, Raphoe.

Around 550 AD Columba (also known as Colmcille), one of the three patron saints of Ireland, founded a monastic settlement in the area. This site was further developed by his kinsman Eunan, who gives his name to the town's cathedral and is patron saint of the Diocese of Raphoe.

Raphoe Castle.

In 1198, John de Courcy, a Norman knight who had invaded Ulster in 1177, returned to County Donegal to devastate Inishowen and on his way destroyed churches at Ardstraw, County Tyrone and Raphoe.[5]

The design of the modern town is traced to the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century, when the town was granted to English and Scottish settlers. It was these settlers who laid out the town with the 'Diamond' at its centre, in a similar manner to other Plantation towns like Derry and Donegal.

Raphoe Castle

Main article: Raphoe Castle

Built in the 1630s as the Bishop's Palace, the 'castle', which is now a ruin, was laid siege to during the Irish Rebellion of 1641, captured by Cromwell's troops in 1650 and was damaged by supporters of King James II & VII in 1689. Although still awaiting restoration, Raphoe Castle is probably the most impressive castle in Donegal. In 1633, John Leslie was translated from the Scottish See of the Isles to become the Bishop of Raphoe. Marrying at the age of 67, absorbing the Bishopric of Clogher at the age of 90, Leslie dominated the area until his death, aged 100, in 1671. Feeling threatened in his new location, he built himself a new palace on a hill overlooking the town using stone from an ancient Round Tower in 1637. This proved fortuitous when rebellion broke out in 1641 and the Bishop was forced to shelter in the "castle", as it has come to be known, until relieved by the Lagganeer army. Eight years later, Leslie, a Royalist was besieged by Cromwellian troops. This time, he was forced to surrender but unlike virtually every other bishop in Ireland, Leslie survived and was returned to his See at the Restoration in 1660. A leading figure in the Established Church, Bishop Leslie was no friend of either Catholic or Non-conformist. In 1664, he ordered four dissenting Presbyterian ministers to appear before his court, and when they failed to appear, had them arrested and imprisoned in Lifford gaol.[6] A century later, in 1798, the castle was attacked again, this time by the United Irishmen, three of whom were killed. The castle was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1838[7]

Raphoe Roman Catholic church.

Raphoe Cathedral

St. Columcille and St. Eunan, ninth abbot of Iona, had churches at Raphoe in the 5h and 6th centuries. Several 9th century blocks of stone can be found in the porch and in the north wall of the present cathedral. The south-east corner dates from the 12th century. The latest building dates from the 1730s. The communion plate is also noteworthy.

Notable bishops include Bishop George Montgomery, first Protestant bishop 1605-1610, a Scot, who was mainly involved in reclaiming church lands, and Bishop Andrew Knox 1611-1633, who set about repairing and rebuilding the cathedral. A stone inscribed "And. Knox II. Epi. Cura", set in the porch, commemorates him. Bishop John Leslie had formerly been a soldier and had his own private army which he led into battle. Bishop Philip Twysden, 1747–1752, spent little time in Raphoe but squandered the family fortune in London; according to later reports, he was shot whilst robbing a stagecoach.

Sandy Montgomery, a kinsman of Bishop Montgomery lies within the churchyard. His inscription reads, "Here lyeth the Body of Alexander Montgomery Esq., who departed this Life 29 September 1800, aged 78. He Represented this once Independent Country, 32 years"[6]

Raphoe St.Eunan Church of Ireland Cathedral

Beltany Stone Circle

Main article: Beltany stone circle

On the summit of Beltany Hill, just over a mile from Raphoe there stands one of the finest stone circles in Ireland. Reputedly older than Stonehenge, it consists of 64 standing stones out of an original 80. The stones range in height from 4 ft to 9 ft (1.2-2.7 metres) while the diameter of the circle is 145 ft (44.2 metres). To the S E of the circle is a standing stone 6 ft (2 metres) high. Beltony is a corruption of Baal tine, the fire of Baal; this suggests that the inhabitants of this area worshipped Baal, the sun god, and ruler of nature. Tradition tells us that the principal ceremonies were performed at the summer solstice; a sacred fire was lit in the centre of the circle of stones, which represented the stars and fire of the sun god Baal.[8]


The town lends its name to both the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland dioceses, which covers nearly all except the very southern section of County Donegal including Inishowen as well as County Londonderry and northern section of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Raphoe's status has declined significantly in recent centuries however, with the Anglican diocese being merged with Derry, while the Roman Catholic bishop now has his See in the larger town of Letterkenny. The Church of Ireland Cathedral, built on the site of Columba's monastery, is named for St Eunan (as is the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Letterkenny). There is also a Presbyterian Church in Ireland in Raphoe.


Raphoe railway station opened on 1 January 1909 and finally closed on 31 January 1959.[9]

Royal School Boarding House, Raphoe.

The nearest railway station is operated by Northern Ireland Railways and runs from Derry / Londonderry railway station via Coleraine to Belfast Central railway station and Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station. 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.


Raphoe has two secondary schools and two primary schools. The Royal and Prior comprehensive school is of the Protestant ethos and Deele College is non-denominational.[10]

Recent history

In recent years, Raphoe has come under the media spotlight following the establishment of the Morris Tribunal to investigate allegations of corrupt and dishonest policing in the County by the Garda Síochána. The Tribunal's second report related to Garda attempts to frame a local publican, Frankie McBrearty, for the murder of cattle dealer Richie Barron.[11]

On 27 August 2005, the first main Royal Black Preceptory demonstration in Ireland was held in Raphoe, although local preceptories have been parading in the county for decades.[12]

Gerry Robinson is an Irish businessman and television personality currently living in Raphoe. He is the former non-executive Chairman of Allied Domecq and the ex-Chairman/Chief Executive of Granada. He owns an estate on the outskirts of Raphoe named Oakfield Park, which contains a Georgian country house and a botanical garden with a 15 in (381 mm) gauge[13] railway, the Difflin Lake Railway. The gardens and railway are open to the public.

Notable people

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Raphoe.


  1. http://www.donegalcoco.ie/NR/rdonlyres/30A6B96A-C356-4738-9DEC-902E05A9286F/0/OverallCensusUpdate.pdf
  2. Placenames Database of Ireland (see archival records)
  3. In and Around Raphoe published 1999
  4. Noonan, D: "Castles & Ancient Monuments of Ireland", page 137. Aurum Press, 2001
  5. DeBreffny, D & Mott, G (1976). The Churches and Abbeys of Ireland. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 60–61.
  6. 1 2 Archived 25 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. Noonan 2001, p.146.
  8. Beltony Stone Circle. Askaboutireland.ie. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  9. "Raphoe station" (PDF). Railscot - Irish Railways. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  10. Deele College Raphoe | (074) 91 45493 –. Deelecollege.ie (2013-04-23). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  11. Irish Examiner: 'Morris Tribunal condemns garda negligence'; 2 June 2005. Viewed 2008-04-14
  12. RTÉ News: 'Royal Black Preceptory holds Donegal parade'; 27 August 2005. Viewed 2008-04-14
  13. Oakfield Park - Trains
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