The Diamond's many tales
a key part of our soon to be launched 2021 Bluestack Way podcast series*
Before moving off from the Bluestack Way sign, savour the rich heritage that The Diamond offers. Salute a time that may be long gone, but where the beauty and the serenity of the area remain intact; this is a town from which to base yourself for hillwalking, golf, scenic drives, water sports and fine dining. Like the thousands of foreigners that have marveled at its many assets throughout history, we believe that you will be delighted with your time in the town.
The Diamond is the rather fanciful name that squares in the northwest are called - you'll see Diamonds in Ardara, Carndonagh, Raphoe and Derry as well. Donegal Town served as the market town for the surrounding villages and hinterland as far as Ballintra to the west, Barnesmore to the north and Killybegs to the east. For centuries, it has been the hub of commerce and socialising, where the sounds and smells could be overwhelming and there was eating and drinking to be done in the local hostelries at the end of it all.
The Diamond is where folk would travel for the fair day and the market day. Patents for these days go back as far as the early 1600s when Sir Basil Brooke had taken over the castle from the O'Donnells. The fair day was held on the second Friday of each month while the market occurred every Saturday.
Hiring fairs where young men were 'sold' to farmers for up to six months at a time took place here - Paddy and Mairead tell us more in the audio piece.
The Four Masters obelisk
In front of the Abbey Hotel, you’ll see the impressive Mountcharles sandstone monument in the centre of the town was erected in 1935 from funding by local solicitor P.M. Gallagher. It honours the four men who helped to write the celebrated Annals of the Four Masters, Brother Michael O'Cleary and laymen Peregrine O'Clery, Peregrine O'Duignan and Fearfeasa O'Maolconry.
It serves as a full account of Gaelic Ireland from its origins until the end of established Gaelic order when the last of the chieftains fled in 1607 from Rathmullan, Co. Donegal in what is known as the Flight of the Earls. To read the Annals would take you several months and set you back about e900 - not quite a breezy holiday read if you're thinking about it! With every second building in town named after them, you may be wondering where exactly are the Annals of the Four Masters today? They're now kept by the Franciscans in Switzerland, but details can be obtained from the National Library on Kildare Street in Dublin, as well as from the Four Masters bookshop.
'Four meek men around the cresset,
With the scrolls of other days;
Four unwearied scribes who treasure
Every word and every line.
Not for fame or not for fortune,
Do these eager penmen dream.
Oh ! that we who now inherit
All their trust, with half their toil,
Were but fit to trace their footsteps
Through the Annals of the Isle;
Oh ! that the bright Angel, Duty,
Guardian of our task might be,
Teach us as she taught our Masters,
In that Abbey by the sea,
Faithful, grateful, just to be!'
- T.D. McGee
These days the Diamond area is used to celebrate the homecoming of local heroes such as the victorious Donegal Gaelic football team in 1992 and more recently on a wet night in September 2012 when over 20,000 watched the team raise the Sam Maguire cup to the adoring fans.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, it also played host to Irish Eurovision phenomenons, Jedward, as well as 2008 X Factor winner, Alexandra Burke behind a fortress of industrial bin bags to keep onlookers out. Farmers' markets and fayres occur here on a regular basis. The chroniclers of medieval Ireland may not approve of everything they'd see before them today, but in the town of the Four Masters, they are not forgotten and we'd like to think they'd be proud to be in the heart of the action of this thriving historic town.
Looking for more heritage information on the town? The two best books to have (and are gratefully acknowledged as sources for this part of the App!) are: Joe McGarrigle's 'Donegal, past and present' and Malachy Sweeney's 'The Sands of Time; a history of Donegal Town and its environs', the later of which you should be able to get in The Four Masters bookshop.
Audio: Mairead McNulty and Paddy Meehan
Photo: LinenHall Digital Collection, Belfast