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The 1659 Donegal Census Report

the Leader, 27 June 2018, pg. 16
Written by Kieran Kelly, Letterkenny Historical Society
Submitted by William Houston
Transcribed by
Jim McKane, Ontario, Canada


This file of The 1659 Donegal Census Report forms part of the vast archive of 3,000+ pages of genealogical records relating to COUNTIES TYRONE, DONEGAL, LONDONDERRY & FERMANAGH, IRELAND provided without charge or subscription by CoTyroneIreland Welcome to the Premier Website & Research Tool for Cos. Tyrone, Donegal, Londonderry & Fermanagh Genealogy Many records pertaining to County Donegal uploaded on this website can be found at the foot of this file.

The 1659 Donegal Census Report

In 1659, a Census of Donegal took place and stated that the population of the town of Letterkenny was 73 people with 49 English/Scottish and 24 Irish residents. The principal landowners are given as Alexander Cunningham, James Cunningham, Alexander Ewing, Levinnus Sempill, Gilbert McIlwee, Peter Colhoune, William Jamisone, Walter Buchanan, Will Anderson and John Colhoune. The numbers of the neighbouring areas of Lisnennan, Carnamuggagh, Gortlee, Ballyraine, Glencar, Sallaghraine and Ballymacool are also given:

Townland No. People English/Scottish Irish
Letterkenny 73 49 24
Lisnennan 4 2 2
Carnamuggah 5 3 2
Gortlee 6 6 0
Ballyraine 5 0 5
Glencar 5 3 2
Sallaghraine 1 0 1
Ballymacool 8 6 2
For the barony of Kilmacrennan as a whole, there were 2,156 people in total recorded with 605 English/Scottish and 1,551 Irish, clearly showing the dominance of the Native Irish in this barony.
The only barony in Donegal in which the planters outnumbered the Irish was teh barony of Raphoe with 1,825 English/Scottish and 1,330 Irish. The total population of the county of Donegal was given as 12,001 with 3,413 English/Scottish and 8,589 Irish.
The size of Letterkenny's population at this time can be compared with other towns of Donegal:
Townland No. People English/Scottish Irish
Ballyshannon 134 63 71
Raphoe 104 80 24
Donegal Town 95 24 71
Letterkenny 73 49 24
Lifford 68 44 24

Although the population appears quite small, Letterkenny's growth in just over 40 years was very impressive, considering that it did not exist as a town prior to 1611, overtaking the older settlement of Lifford quite rapidly, indicating a determination amongst the first settlers to make the town prosper.

British Tenants

In 1619,Pynnar's survey stated that in Letterkenny there were "40 houses...and all these houses are inhabited with British tenants" whereas by 1659 the Census noted the existence of 24 Irish in the town. This clearly shows that the development and growth of the Market town, the natvie Irish began to move from the surrounding areas to the town of Letterkenny and settle there.

This 1659 Census shows no settlement in the area around modern day Oldtown, certainly appearing to disregard the local tradition of the 'original town' being located here after the setttlement of Conwal was destroyed by a cat knocking over a lantern. The census states that in the townland of Leck there were only 13 people, nine being English/Scottish and four being Irish. Even allowing for possible discrepancies in the data, this number of Irish residents in thee area is quite small for any 'Old-town' to be in existence.

In all of the areas immediately south of the River Swilly, the largest grouping of irish in one place is recorded as 13 people, recorded as being  located in two separate places at 'Lergee' (Lurgy) and 'Cullen' (Cullion), neither of which correspond to the area of Oldtown today.

What is most probable is that something occurred between th erecordking of Nicholas Pynnar's survey in 1619 and teh recording of the census 40 years later that would necessitate the migration of teh Gaelic Irish from Conwal neaerer to the new town of Letterkenny. The even that most likely would have caused this migration was not a cat knocking over a lantern at all but rather the savage and bloddy Battle of Scarrifhollis, which took place in June 1650.


Further County Donegal records can be viewed here:

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