Why is Donegal not in Northern Ireland?

The county of Donegal is located in the north west of the island of Ireland and shares its name with the town of Donegal which lies to the south of the county. The county of Donegal is the fourth largest in Ireland and home to approximately 160,000 people but, despite its location in the north of the island, it isn’t part of Northern Ireland.

This leads to funny scenarios like Northern Irish people saying “I’m going down to Donegal” because in their head, they’re “heading down south” to the Republic of Ireland, even though they’re actually travelling north west in most cases…

But why is Donegal not in Northern Ireland?

Why is Donegal not in Northern Ireland?

History of Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland

Today the island of Ireland is separated into two parts; Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland being a separate nation state.

However, it hasn’t always been this way and it wasn’t until the 3rd May 1921 that Northern Ireland was established, effectively splitting Ireland into two parts. 

During the early 20th century amidst the First World War there was a lot happening in Ireland concerning civil unrest, politics, government acts, a general election and the Irish War of Independence, which all contributed to the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921. 

The story of Irish republicanism is long and bloodied, but some of the key events related to the modern day situation happened between 1913 and the end of 1921, but see a brief overview below:

  • 1913 – forty workers suspected of being part of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union are fired, leading to civil unrest and the Dublin lockout which was a major industrial dispute between approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers. 
  • 1914 – the Government of Ireland Act is passed allowing for Irish Home Rule, however this is postponed due to the First World War. Irish Home Rule was a movement that campaigned for self-government in Ireland. 
  • 1916 – the Easter Rising occurred which saw the Irish Republican Brotherhood seize key government buildings. Also know as the Easter Rebellion the aim was to establish an independent Irish Republic. 
  • 1918 – A majority win for Sin Fein in the general election. Sinn Fein was the name of an Irish political party who became associated with the independence movement. 
  • 1919-1921 – the Irish War of Independence occurred between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British forces. 
  • 1921 – the partition of Ireland occurs and Northern Ireland is established.
  • 1921 – the Irish War of Independence ends. 
  • 1969 – 1998 – 30 years of civil war occurs in Northern Ireland described as “The Troubles”. 

Why was Donegal not included in Northern Ireland?

When the Irish Partition happened the island was divided into two self-governing areas known as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In short, one of the main reasons for the split was due to religion. The territory that became Northern Ireland was designed in such a way as to establish a Protestant and Unionist majority, in the north east of the island centred around Belfast, who wanted to remain part of Great Britain. The rest of Ireland (now known as the Republic of Ireland) had a Catholic and Irish Nationalist majority who wanted to see an independent Ireland. 

How did this Affect Donegal? 

The county of Donegal was severely adversely affected by the Irish partition due to the geography of the county and the fact that it shares the majority of its borders with Northern Ireland and only a small amount with the Republic of Ireland. 

Firstly, under the new partition Donegal had been cut off from the county (and city) of Derry, which had acted as the main port for the county for centuries, as it was now located in Northern Ireland. 

Donegal was only connected to the Republic of Ireland by a very small border which left it in a precarious position and highly susceptible to economic problems and isolation. 

Throughout the rest of the 20th Century, Donegals geographical position also acted against it, and because it shared such a large border with Northern Ireland it was adversely affected by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The county saw its fair share of trouble which included several bombings and assassinations, even though it was not part of Northern Ireland. 

Poignantly, the County of Donegal is often referred to as ‘The Forgotten County’ by its politicians as a nod to the fact that it has so often been forgotten about by centralised Dublin government.  

As we’ve said before, the history of Ireland is deep and complex with many factors affecting the country and the nature of Donegal is no different.

Whilst this might sound like doom and gloom, Donegal is quite the opposite. For many, the rugged landscape of the rural north west is one of the most romantic, and widely visited, parts of Ireland.