Infrastructure in County Donegal in the 19th Cen.

Donegal's Roads

During the Great Famine of 1845, local Relief Committees were set up to give employment to the poor. Public works schemes were devised to keep the able-bodied poor from having to enter the workhouse and becoming a financial burden on the locality. Among such schemes was the building of roads, piers and walls in the Poor Law Union in each county. This move however proved unpractical in reality because the roads were roughly constructed, often leading nowhere in particular and ending in deserted areas. Quite often, the poor employed in these schemes were paid in grain or oats, giving rise to the naming of such roads "Bothar an Bhrachain", as was the Gortahork-Gweedore road, and "Ballaghanrahan" at Meenacruit in south of the county ("brachan" meaning porridge or stirabout).

The Land Act of 1891 established the Congested Districts Board. Its aim was to help people help themselves by making improvements to their economic condition, which was desperately poor in most instances. There were to be no more relief works nor charitable handouts, funding was only given for viable projects. The main emphasis at this time was the continuation of the rail system, with roads connecting to the main stations so that goods could be transported to the marketplace more efficiently. New piers were built at the main fishing ports, and the roads laid down by the board became the foundation of our present day infrastructure, which totals over 7,000 km of public roads.

Reporting from Fanad for the Congested Districts Board in 1891, the Board's inspector F. G. Townsend Gahan stated:

"The road facilities of the district are not good. …In some cases the hills are so steep as utterly to preclude any idea of taking a load up or down them - hills with a gradient of one in five being quite common… At present some of the farmers in Killygarvan have to cart their turf nine miles to their houses, although the distance from the bog is only about four miles.

Indeed, reports on the poor conditions of Donegal's roads were echoed by the board's inspectors throughout the entire county. While the primary thrust of the board's policies was the establishment of railways throughout the county, the building of roads was of parallel importance as both people and market goods needed access to the railway itself.

This postcard from the 1890s shows Barnes Gap, Creeslough, with the road winding its way to Letterkenny, and the Owencarrow railway viaduct in the far right. On the evening of 30th January 1925, one of the carriages of the Letterkenny-Burtonport train was derailed at this spot during a violent storm. Four passengers lost their lives. The ruined pillars of the viaduct still remain today, a forlorn reminder of this tragedy.

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