The Co Donegal Historical Society

The County Donegal Historical Society was founded on 20th December 1946. Its founder, Chris MacDonagh, a native of Ballymote, Co Sligo, came to the county as an official of the Bank of Ireland in Ballybofey. Amongst his achievements was the revival of the O'Donnell "dynasty" and the establishment of a clan rally in Ballyshannon in 1954. The inaugural meeting of the society was held in Lifford, with Andrew Lowry elected as its first president.

The society's objective is to preserve and record the history of the county. Since that date it has awakened a new interest in the Donegal story and has brought together people of different traditions and backgrounds. It also established a museum at the Franciscan Friary in Rossnowlagh. The annual Harley/MacDonagh competition and the Fr Fitzgerald competition for schools have made a significant contribution to the education of the youth of the county. Hugh Harley, retired U S financier, on winding up his Wall Street concern in the mid-1950s, returned to his ancestral home in Mountcharles, and settled there. He gave the society the considerable sum of 1,000, which was invested in government stock, the yearly interest from which funds the prizes awarded.


The notable success of the society is due in no small measure to the efficiency of Kathleen Emerson who, until the time of her death in 2004, was Hon. Secretary. Her husband, Lucius, who died in 2005, as well as being an acclaimed local historian, was since 1963 curator of the society's museum. The museum's collection includes stone ores, flint arrowheads, scrapers, querns, a Penal chalice, 1798 pike head and an Armada anchor, to name but a few.

The society celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1995, and published an index to all the 50 annuals in the same year.


Lectures are organised several times a year, and field days are popular during the summer months. The society's publication, the "Donegal Annual" has been in print continuously since 1951 and is received by almost 1,000 members and institutions both in Ireland and abroad. The DHS has close links with historical societies in the neighbouring counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Derry and Armagh, and several DHS members are also affiliated with the Federation for Ulster Local Studies, based in Northern Ireland. Over the next two years, plans are in motion for events marking the 400th anniversary of the Flight of the Earls from Rathmullan in 1607, when the Donegal Historical Society will be liasing with historical societies countrywide who are connected by a shared history to this event.


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