Milford, County Donegal
Milford Town in the Parish of Tullyfern.
Brief History of Milford Town - Milford and its hinterland played an important role in early Irish history, being home to Congal of Ceann Maghair, who became King of Ireland in 702 AD. King Congal lived close to Kinnaweer (Ceann Maghair in Irish), a heavily wooded area stretching from Bunlin Bridge to Cranford.
The region was then a stronghold of the Cineal Conaill, a clan descended from Conal Gulban, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Conal and his brother Eoghan between them ruled all of Donegal, Derry and Tyrone and were known as the Northern Ui Neill. They gave their names to the Counties of Tir Chonaill (Donegal) and Tir Eoghain (Tyrone). Their later descendants, the O’Donnells and the O’Neills played a major role in the political life of Ireland. The famous Saint Colmcille was also a descendant of this clan.
At Cratlagh and Woodquarter, a ringfort, souterrain and enclosure site can be seen archaeological evidence of the importance of the area in early times. In the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster, it records Congal, son of Fergus of Fanad becoming King. In the Annals of Clonmacnoise it states “Congal reigned for nineteen years and died of a sudden sickness.” The Ceann Maghair settlement continued as an O’Donnell stronghold until the Plantation of Ireland in the 17th Century.
The region was also strongly associated with the Gallowglasses from the 13th Century. It was these Scottish mercenaries who gave Milford its original Gaelic name, Baile na nGalloglach. These heavily armed, paid soldiers came to the area to fight in the service of local chieftains. Dressed in coats of chain mail and iron helmets, they carried long swords and battle-axes. The MacSuibhne Family of Fanad were a Gallowglass family who settled in the region. A number of the mercenaries’ families became permanent residents in Ireland after the Scottish War of Independence (1286- 1314).
The native O’Donnell were quick to recognise the value of such highly trained warriors and welcomed them to the country. They then joined forces and overcame three local chieftains at Fanad, Doe and Bannagh. Local folk memory recalls the Gallowglasses establishing a camp along the ridge at the top of Milford’s Main Street, which later became the local livestock mart.
The rule of the local chieftains ended in 1607 when O’Donnell, O’Neill and almost 100 leading Ulster clansmen chose voluntary exile rather than submit to the English Crown. This became known as the Flight of the Earls, which left the local people leaderless and saw the plantation of the area with Scots and English settlers loyal to the English Crown. These events are often described as the beginning of modem Irish history. The MacSuibhnes did not leave with the Earls as they had already made their peace with the English and went so far as to try to stop the fleeing chieftains taking wood and water aboard their outbound vessels. In the Annals of the Four Masters, it is stated that in 1608 MacSuibhne fought against Sir Cahair O’Doherty at Ceann Maghair under the leadership of Sir Richard Winkel. The old gaelic way of life changed from the time of the plantation.
During the Plantation of Ulster Milford and the surrounding area was allocated to Trinity College, Dublin. In 1713 the residents of the town wrote to Trinity requesting permission to have a fair at Baile na nGalloglach. The first precise map of the area was done by Trinity College in 1715. In the 1700’s Milford seems to have been an established market town and many of the roads in the area were developed at that time. In 1748 Milford and much of the surrounding area was leased from Trinity by one Nathanial Clements who was later succeeded by his son Robert who became 1st Earl of Leitrim. (Nathanial built himself a house in Phoenix Park which was later bought by the Government and is now Aras an Uachtarain. (extended since then, of course) It was during this time that the name was changed from Baile na nGalloglach to Milford. (somewhere between 1783-1794)
The English name comes from the mill that stood on Maggie’s burn which runs through at the bottom of the town. The first mention of a mill there is in the Civil Survey 1654-56. In the Ordinance Survey Memoirs of 1834 the mill is described “as being the best I have yet seen.” The corn-mill continued in constant use right up to the late 1930’s. It was destroyed by fire in 1964 and was later demolished.
During the 19th Century Milford continued to grow and develop and people were encouraged by the 2nd Earl of Leitrim to improve their houses and many of the thatched roofs were changed to slate during this time. However this was also the time of the Great Famine in Ireland and a Workhouse was built in Milford in 1846. It was later closed in 1922 and demolished in 1967.
In 1854 William Sydney Clements succeeded his father to become the 3rd Earl of Leitrim. However, where his father had been a good landlord the 3rd Earl was very different. Rents were increased, evictions took place and within a short space of time he was very much hated. On the 2nd April 1878 the Earl left his home in Carrigart and headed towards Milford. A few miles from the town he was attacked by three men from Fanad who had crossed the Mulroy and lay in wait for him. The Earl, his driver and clerk were all killed.
In 1883 the 4th Earl of Leitrim set up a steamer service from Milford to Glasgow. This greatly increased Milford’s reputation as a market town and for the next thirty years this service greatly helped the local businesses and farmers. They also helped the newly expanding tourist industry by making it easier for visitors to reach the area. It was during these years that Milford gained a reputation as a tourist destination being the gateway to both the Fanad and Rossguill Peninsulas. People came for the scenery and the fishing and Milford gained a reputation as a fishing centre. Milford Hotel in the centre of the town was built around 1894 and many visitors stayed there over the years. This continued right up until the 1960’s when the Troubles started and the tourists stopped coming.
The local Fair Day in Milford was the 23rd of the month and a hiring fair was also held during the months of May and October. The fair was one of the best in Donegal, particularly for cattle and horses. The fairs were a big occasion in the life of the town. However by the 1960’s the fairs were dying and in 1967 Milford Co-Operative Livestock Market opened. The last fair day in Milford was the May Fair 1972.
During the 20th Century the main industries in Milford were the Milford Bakery and Flour Mills on the shores of Mulroy Bay and McMahon’s Garage at the foot of the town. Milford bread and flour was sold throughout Ireland and McMahon’s was the largest garage in Ireland in the 1960’s and at one stage employed over one hundred people. Unfortunately, both of these businesses are now closed.
Despite the loss of these and other businesses and the decline in tourists Milford continues to thrive. It is still the gateway to the Fanad and Rossguill Peninsulas as it is the academic centre for both areas as it contains two Secondary schools and an Adult Education Centre. It also has the Fire Brigade, the Garda District Headquarters, the Health Centre, the Council Offices, the Post Office, Bank and many other shops and businesses.
PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEO
NEARBY LOCAL GUIDES:
Note* Some towns and villages will have both an Historical and a Visitor Guide.
Photo: Aerial View of Milford Town – courtesy of Proinsias Carr - Aerial Views
Shared on IrelandXO by: S.Callaghan (Kerrykeel)
INTERESTING SURROUNDING PARISHES IN NORTH-WEST DONEGAL:
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