Second in size only to County Cork, County Donegal has unquestionably the richest scenery in the whole of Ireland, featuring a spectacular three-hundred-kilometre coastline – an intoxicating run of headlands, promontories and peninsulas rising to the highest sea-cliffs in Europe at Slieve League. Inland is a terrain of glens, rivers and bogland hills, of which the best-known destinations are the Glencolmcille Peninsula and around Ardara and Glenties in the southern part of the county. The Glencolmcille area attracts more visitors than any other, yet the landscape of northern Donegal is, if anything, even more satisfying, especially the Rosguill and Inishowen peninsulas (though certain parts have been blighted by ugly, modern housing developments) and the interior region around Errigal Mountain, Lough Beagh and Lough Gartan. Other noteworthy areas are the Rosses and Gweedore, which are reminiscent of the more barren stretches of Connemara and make up the strongest Irish-speaking districts in the county.
Donegal’s original name was Tír Chonaill, which translates as “the land of Conal”; Chonaill was one of the twelve sons of Niall of the Nine Hostages, reputed to have ruled Ireland in the fifth century. After the Flight of the Earls in 1607, the English changed the name to that of their main garrison Dún na nGall (“fort of the foreigners”), which has a certain irony, because Donegal always eluded the grip of English power thanks to its wild and infertile terrain. Donegal is the most northerly part of Ireland, which confuses some into believing that it is part of Northern Ireland. It never actually has been, since in 1922, at the time of Partition, the Unionists believed that Donegal’s Catholic population would threaten the stability of the new statelet by voting the county and the whole of the North back into the Republic.