Fort Dunree and its surroundings are possibly the richest site from which to reflect on several momentous events in not just local history, but in our national heritage. Hear more in this audio piece from racontour founder, John Ward. Find Fort Dunree as Point of Interest #17 on our Greatest Shrines tour of the Donegal App.
Certain landscapes, such as the Boyne valley or Kinsale harbour, have borne witness to seminal dates in Irish history. Lough Swilly, whose name appropriately derives from the Gaelic for eyes, “suile” on account of St. Colmcille slaughtering a beast with many eyes on its shores, must rank highly amongst such sites. It is said that when the human memory has been outlived, the landscape remembers; peering across Lough Swilly from Dunree Head, feeling the Atlantic breeze upon one’s face, take a few minutes to sense the redolence of momentous events that helped shape Ireland’s destiny.
To the left of the lough beyond Fahan lies the ancient seat of the high kings of Ireland at Grianan of Aileach. On the right of the lough is the port of Rathmullan, where the old Gaelic order came to an end with the Flight of the Earls on the 14th September 1607. In the garrison town of Buncrana, the Irish patriot Wolfe Tone‘s crusade for Irish freedom came to an end on November 3rd 1798 after his boat The Hoche foundered and he was arrested. On the 18th September 1914, the inhabitants along the shore awoke to find the lough filled with warships, becoming the main base of the British fleet under Admiral Jellicoe in World War One. Finally, consider the very soil of Dunree itself and neighbouring Leenan fort, the last parcels of land to be handed back by the British to the Irish on the 3rd October 1938.
The handover ceremony at Fort Dunree on the 3rd October, 1938
Consider the thousands of souls that have passed between Dunree and Saldanha Head across the lough: the forlorn hopes of Wolfe Tone before being apprehended; the despondency of the chieftains fleeing these shores, never to return; the imminent death of 274 people on the H.M.S. Saldanha on the 4th December 1811; the relief of an incoming British battleship at escaping the German mines or the gratitude of the wary traveller such as John Newton arriving on the 8th April 1748 from a tempest, immortalised in his song, Amazing Grace.