I only had a brief encounter with Killybegs which is one of the most famous ports in Ireland. Though not famous for tourism, it is still an essential part of the first 100 years of Ireland since independence – a sort of jewel in the crown of rural Ireland.
Killybegs, in Donegal is the largest fishing port in the country and on the island of Ireland. It is located on the south coast of the county, north of Donegal Bay, near Donegal Town. The town is situated at the head of a scenic harbour and at the base of a vast mountainous tract extending northward. Its harbour is often full with trawlers.
According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the town was ransacked by the notorious Irish pirates the O’Malley’s in 1513 while its men folk were off fighting. Killybegs was the chief port of Tír Chonaill in the sixteenth century when the O’Donnell chieftains were known as the “best lord(s) of fish in Ireland”.
Ireland wasn’t always the best place to land if you were a Spanish sailor of the 16th century. The ships of the Spanish Armada which ended up on Irish shores received different sorts of welcomes. Some chieftains killed the Spanish in order to obtain their gold. Other’s aided them. In 1588, Killybegs was the last port of call for the Spanish vessel La Girona, which had dropped anchor in the harbour when the Spanish Armada fetched up on the Irish coast during Spain’s war with England. With the assistance of a Killybegs chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, the Girona’s personnel were fed, her rudder repaired, and she set sail for Scotland, but was wrecked off the Antrim coast with the loss of nearly 1,300 lives.
This place, which is situated on the north-west coast, was at a very early period one of the principal sea-ports in this part of the country, and formed a portion of the territories of the chiefs of Tyrconnell. The emissary of Philip II., King of Spain, landed here in 1596, and in April of the following year, a vessel from that country, laden with supplies for O’Donnell, and having some confidential agents on board, arrived for the purpose of conferring with that chieftain. In 1600, another vessel from Spain, with supplies for O’Donnell and O’Nial, landed here, and brought also a large sum of money, in order to promote the object they had in contemplation.
Killybegs also had a place in another event of longer term significance, the plantation of Ulster by the English from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland
On the plantation of Ulster, 200 acres of laud were granted by James I. to Roger Jones, Esq., on condition of his laying out the site of a town, building 20 houses with lands for burgesses, and assigning convenient spots for market-places, a church and churchyard, a public school and playground, and 30 acres of common.
Killybegs is a natural deepwater harbour with a depth of 12 meters at low water spring tide at the new €50 million pier completed in 2004. The harbour is home to all the largest Irish midwater pelagic trawlers, and a modest whitefish fleet, but it handles many other types of shipping as well. These include passenger cruise liners and mixed specialist cargoes. In recent years Killybegs has become the favoured port for the importation of wind turbines, and is a service port for the offshore gas/oil drilling rigs.
Fintra beach (registered blue flag) is located on the outskirts of Killybegs town.