Lifford (Irish: Leifear, historically anglicised as Liffer) 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.
The Three Coins sculpture, Lifford
Location in Ireland
|Coordinates: 54.835599°N 7.477913°W|
|Elevation||6 m (20 ft)|
|Time zone||UTC±0 (WET)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC+1 (IST)|
|Eircode routing key|
|Telephone area code||+353(0)74|
|Irish Grid Reference||H330984|
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 spelt as the Burn Dale), a burn (small river), flows into the River Foyle just north of 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 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 on the Wednesday after St. Brendan's day (Saint Brendan's feast day is celebrated on 16 May). He completed the masonry and woodwork by the end of that summer even though the O’Neill’s of Tír Eoghain 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, was 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.
Sadly, Lifford Castle is no longer standing but here is a poem 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".
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 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. In some of the cases of counties Donegal and Tyrone this would have been the middle of Lifford Bridge.
Lifford achieved national recognition in the 2008 Tidy Towns Awards as the best newcomer to the competition in Category 'C'.
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 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. 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).
Lifford is part of the Parish of Clonleigh with a population of 3,547, the parish is subdivided for electoral purposes into two separate Electoral Districts, Clonleigh North and Clonleigh South, in 2016 the population of Clonleigh North was 1,374 (711 male and 663 female) and in Clonleigh South the 2016 population was 2,173 (1,078 male and 1,095 female).
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:
- St. Patrick’s, (Murlog National School). A 162 pupil school (Enrolment: Boys: 99 Girls: 63 (2012/13)).
- Scoil Mhuire gan Smal, (Lifford National School). A 102 pupil school (Enrolment: Boys: 52 Girls: 50 (2012/13)).
- Scoil Cholmcille Naofa, (Ballylast National School). A 68 pupil school (Enrolment: Boys: 34 Girls: 34 (2012/13)).
- Scoil Bhrighde, (Boyagh National School). A 35 pupil school (Enrolment: Boys: 17 Girls: 18 (2012/13)).
- Scoil Cholmcille, (Cloughfin National School). A 32 pupil school (Enrolment: Boys: 11 Girls: 21 (2012/13)).
There were other primary schools in the parish but are long since gone, namely Blackrock National School and Ballindrait National School. 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 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 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 in 1634, she later married Capt. Robert Bruce Pollock and emigrated to the US. King James II & VII dined at Cavanacor House on his way to the Siege of Derry in 1689.
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". 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 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. 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.
Hansard's Grammar School
The will of Sir Richard Hansard in 1619, endowed a private school, 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 headmaster 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). As you enter you cross Lifford Bridge. 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.
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.
Dublin Airport (The busiest airport in Ireland) lies 128 Miles/206 km South-East of Lifford. Driving time from here is just under 3 hours.
- In 1792 the 6 km (4 mi) Strabane Canal was constructed from the tidal waters of Lough Foyle at Leck, to Strabane. The canal fell into disuse in 1962. In June 2006 the Strabane Lifford Development Commission awarded a £1.3m cross-border waterways restoration contract. The project was launched by Her Excellency Prof. Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland, in Lifford and involves the restoration of 2.4 km (1.5 mi) of canal and two locks to working order. Work is due to start on the Lough Foyle side of the canal in the summer of 2006.
- Lifford Halt railway station opened on 1 January 1909 and finally closed on 1 January 1960. Lifford was a stop on the Strabane to Letterkenny narrow gauge rail line. It was run by the CDR, as it was known at the time or County Donegal Railways Joint Committee. This line also stopped at Ballindrait, Raphoe and Convoy en route to Letterkenny.
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 is home to a number of sporting clubs, including:
- Naomh Pádraig GAA Club. Founded in 1953 as Lifford GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) Club, in 1992 the club was renamed Naomh Padraig, Leifear. The club play in the Donegal Football League Division 5, they play their home games at McDermott Park in the Roughan.
- Lifford Celtic Football Club The club play in Division One (Second Tier) of the Donegal Junior Football League, their home ground is at Greenbrae Park. Lifford Celtic have won the Donegal League Premier Division in the 2012/2013 season.
- Deele Harps Football Club The club play in the Division Two (Third Tier) of the Donegal Junior Football League.
- Lifford Strabane Athletic Club train at their athletic track and grounds in the Roughan.
- The Three Rivers Shotokan Karate Club, The karate club train all age groups from beginner to black belt in the Lifford/Clonleigh Community Resource Centre on the Gallows Lane.
- St. Patrick's (Clonleigh) Bowling Club. They play in the Donegal Indoor Bowling League Division Two.
- Strabane/Lifford Rotary Club is a non-political, non-religious charitable organisation run by the business and professional leaders of the community. The main objective of Rotary is "service—in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world". Its aim also is to raise funds to help the disadvantaged of the local area and around the world. Rotary International has over 1.2 million members, known as Rotarians, around the world that belong to more than 30,000 clubs. The Rotary motto is Service Above Self.
- Lifford Youthreach is part of Donegal Education and Training Board. It provides training and education for early school leavers from the area. The Youthreach programme began in the town in May 2000, it started as an outreach from the Letterkenny Youthreach centre and then operated as an independent centre from 2001. Its premises are in the Diamond in the town centre. Various training programmes offered are up to FETAC Level 4.
- Lifford Scout Group. The full title of the Scout group is the 19th Donegal (Lifford) Scout Group. The group was formed in 1985 to cater for the children of the parish. Lifford Scouts are members of Errigal Scout County which encompass all the Scout groups from County Donegal and parts of Counties Tyrone and Londonderry. The county group is, in turn, part of the Northern Scout Province, this group then is part of Scouting Ireland. Scouting Ireland covers Scouting on the island of Ireland, although it operates alongside The Scout Association in Northern Ireland.
- The Lifford Circle Group. This voluntary community group was set up in 2009 by five people from the local area who had participated in an International Fund for Ireland (IFI) funded programme called ‘Experiences of the Troubles’. The aim of this group is to ‘channel the knowledge, skills, ideas and networks that have been forged to invigorate a stronger sense of community spirit’. The group has been instrumental in the setting up of community allotments for use by the people of the town and wider community.
- Lifford Clonleigh Resource Centre. The Resource Centre was founded by a group of people from Croaghan Heights, a local housing estate. Local people had been frustrated by a lack of resources and proper facilities in the area; they wanted to make Lifford a better place in which to live. In the beginning, the group worked from a portacabin but soon realised that a larger more suitable premises would be needed. Funding was sought from the then North-Western Health Board who appointed a part-time Community Worker. Later, In December 1992, the Project was included in the Community Development Programme (CDP), funded by the Department of Social Welfare. The CDP assisted the Resource Centre to pay the staff and purchase equipment. The centre is run on a Voluntary Management Committee basis backed up by volunteers who assist in running various projects within the Resource Centre. The aim of the Centre is ‘To promote changes collectively in the Lifford / Clonleigh area to enhance people’s quality of life by bringing about equality of opportunity and justice in a holistic way’.
- Alexander Allison (1799–1862) – Lifford-born Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee, from 1847 to 1849.
- Sharon Foley – Athlete, Senior Irish National Record holder for the Heptathlon.
- George Gardiner, V.C. – He won his V.C. at Sebastopol during the Crimean War on 22 March 1855. Died in 1891 aged 70 and is buried in Clonleigh Churchyard.
- Shay Given – Association football goalkeeper. Ireland's record holder of appearances with 125 caps until 7 June 2013.
- Mickey Joe Harte – Singer-songwriter. Represented the Republic of Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in Riga, Latvia, in 2003 with the song "We've Got the World".
- Paddy Harte – Former Fine Gael TD for Donegal North-East and former Irish Government minister.
- Senator Patrick McGowan (1926–1999) – Politician. He was a member of Seanad Éireann from 1965 to 1981 and from 1987 until his death in 1999.
- Alexander Montgomery – Politician. Represented Lifford in the Irish Parliament from 1768 to 1800. He was also High Sheriff of Donegal in 1773.
- Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill (Red Hugh O'Donnell), was An Ó Domhnaill (The O'Donnell) and Rí (king) of Tír Chonaill
- His Grace The Most Rev. Dr George Otto Simms – historian who also served as Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh.
- Matthew Sweeney – Poet. Born in Lifford.
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