History of Killybegs

Killybegs is a picturesque fishing village (pop. 2,500 approx) on the north west coast of Ireland - on the edge of Europe, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the rolling hills of Donegal. For generations the people of Killybegs have made their living from the sea, and this was never as true as it is today. Killybegs is the fishing capital of Ireland.

The name Killybegs comes from Irish "Na Cealla Beaga", the little cells. Remains of stone huts have been identified in the general area.

It is believed Christianity came to Killybegs before the 6th century, when St. Colmcille was active along this south-west Donegal coastline. Unusually, Killybegs is identified not with a local saint but with St. Catherine, a 4th century martyr in Alexandria. There is a holy well named after her close to the shore past the boatyard. Nearby are the ruins of St. Catherine's Church, thought to go back to the 12th century. On the hill above is the stump of the tower of Kit's Castle, the manor house built by Bishop Mc Monagle around 1355. Several bishops of the Raphoe diocese lived here.

In early history, Killybegs came under the sway of the Scottish Mc Sweeney clan from around 14th century, who gave their name to the bay nearby.

It is from an English spy in Killybegs in 1588, Patrick Blane, that we have an account of ships from the great Spanish Armada in the port. Three ships came in but only one remained afloat, the Girona. The Spanish contingent was joined by perhaps a 1,000 men from the wreckage of the Duquesa Santa Ann near Ardara. The Girona left with 1,300 men on board and sank in a storm off Antrim. Only 9 men survived. There is a plaque outlining the history of the Spanish Armada at the entrance to the town.

The 16th century was a lively time in Killybegs. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the town was attacked by the notorious Irish pirates the O'Malleys in 1513 while its menfolk were off fighting. However, the 3 boats involved were forced to take shelter in a storm at the eye of Largy, on the way to Kilcar, it's said - and some local youngsters fell on them killing Owen O'Malley and 120 of his followers, and freeing prisoners. The famous Granuile, Grace O'Malley, escaped with her father in one boat.