Located 20 miles west of Derry City and 35 miles north of Donegal Town, Letterkenny is the largest town in Co. Donegal. The town has a buzzing nightlife and offers great historical and recreational opportunities for visitors to the area.
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In the recent past the population of Letterkenny consisted of cattle and sheep grazing on what were then untilled hillside in those very early days when Conwall was the ecclesiastical and seaport centre ( 2 miles west of Letterkenny). The waters of the Atlantic had not yet reached from the basin of the Swilly whose estuary at that time extended up almost as far as New Mills - proof of this may be found in those alluvial flat-lands between Oldtown and Port Road.
Letterkenny takes its name from the Irish " Leitirceanainn " - meaning the "Hillside of the O'Cannons" - the O'Cannons being the last of the ancient chieftains of Tir Conaill. Another derivation of the name Letterkenny from the Irish "Leitir Ceann-Fhoinn" could possibly be the "Fairheaded Hillside".
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 finally fatal wounds. Godfrey retired to a crannog in Lough Beag (Garten Lake). O'Neill of Tyrone taking advantage of Godfrey's fatal illness demanded submission, hostages and pledges from the Cenel Conail since they had no strong chieftain since the wounding of Godfrey. 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 1258. Godfrey died after the battle as he was being carried down Letterkenny Main Street. He was buried in Conwall 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 took place. It all began in the wake of the Ulster Plantation 1610-'11 when 1000 acres were granted to a Scotsman Patrick Crawford who then formed a compact community presumably made up of his own friends.
But the honour of formally launching the town is supposed to go to Sir George Marbury, who married Patrick Crawford's widow, - Crawford having died suddenly while on a return visit to his native Scotland. Initially there were about fifty drab habitations possibly sited where the Oldtown is situated today - perhaps that's how the area got it's name as it is the oldest part of the town.
The main streets as we know them today with their traffic congestion, were then no more than pony tracks used by the hill farmers to come to the markets - these were started by Patrick Crawford with only a few animals - a far cry from the busy mart days of the present.