Fanad (official name: Fánaid) is a peninsula that lies between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay on the north coast of County Donegal in Ireland. It encompasses the parishes of Clondavaddog, Killygarvan and parts of Tullyfern and Aughinish. The peninsula includes the towns and villages of Rathmullan, Milford, Kerrykeel (Carrowkeel), Tamney, Rosnakill and Portsalon. Fanad measures approximately 25 km north-south measured from Fanad Head to Ramelton and approximately 12 km east-west measured from Doaghbeg to Glinsk. There is a signposted scenic tour around the peninsula.

The origins of the name Fanad (Irish: Fánaid) are lost in time though there is some speculation that the name derives from an old Gaelic word Fana for “sloping ground”. It is also possible that the word means deer. It is also referred to as Fannet or Fannett in older records.

The southern boundary of Fanad has been the subject of some dispute over the centuries. In the 16th century, during the time of the MacSuibhnes as rulers of Fanad, it was stated that the territory of Fanaid stretched as far south as the River Lennon between Kilmacrennan and Ramelton. In 1835, the surveyor John O’Donovan referred to Rathmullan as the capital of Fanad, and he also refers to Clondavaddog as “the most northern parish of Fanaid”, suggesting that Fanad included parishes other than Clondavaddog. O’Donovan also noted that “The inhabitants of Inishowen state that Fanaid extends from Rathmeltan to Mulroy Lough , but the natives of the Parishes of Killygarvan, Tully and Aughnish, who considered themselves civilised, deny that they themselves are of the men of Fanaid”.

Family names commonly recorded in Fanad since the mid-19th century include Callaghan, Cannon/Canning, Carr/Kerr, Coll, Coyle, Deeney, Doherty, Friel, Gallagher, Martin, McAteer/McIntyre, McConigley/McGunnigal, McGinley/McKinley, Sheil/Sheilds and Sweeney/McSwyne. Fanad is noted for its rugged coastline - which provides many areas for pollock fishing.


Fanad was originally occupied by the Corpraige from whom St. Colmcille’s mother Eithne is said to have come. The Corpraige may have occupied a territory as far south as the River Swilly and Binswilly Mountain including Gartan. From about the early 6th century onwards Fanad was occupied by the Cenel Conaill, one of the tribes of Donegal said to be descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages (Gaelic: Niall Noigiallach). Congal Cennemigher Mac Fergus Fanad was high king of Ireland from 700 ad until his death in 710 ad. It is held that the royal seat of Cenel Connell power in Fanad was at Cashelmor in "between the waters" in the north-west of Fanad. The Cenel Conaill were subsequently reduced in power by the expansion of the Cenel Eoghain from Inishowen during the 8th century. About this time there are records of attacks by Vikings in Mulroy Bay – specifically at Kinnaweer near Milford.

With the reduction of power of the Cenel Conaill, the territory of Fanad came under the control of the O’Breslins who were decended from Congel Cennemigher's son. Their power in Fanad lasted into the late 13th century when the Chieftains of Tir Conaill, the O’Donnells, granted the sub-chieftaincy of Fanad to the MacSweeneys (Gaelic: MacSuibhne) in the 14th century, in return for their support of certain O’Donnell families in their struggle for chieftaincy of the clan. The MacSweeneys who were galloglasses, (mercenary warriors) from Scotland, were responsible for the building of the castle and the Carmelite Monastery at Rathmullan at the end of the 16th century.

The power of the Sweeneys as Lords of Fanad ended with the Flight of the Earls in 1607 and the subsequent plantation of Ulster, though they continued to hold some lands in Fanad as proprietors until the 1641 rising, following which all remaining Sweeney lands were confiscated. The "hereditary commandery" of Fanad remains in the Sweeney family.

Settlers in Fanad noted in the 1654 Civil Survey include Richard Perkins at BelliclanmcCallen (sic), William and David Lyne at Bunintyne (Bunnaton?), John Rowly at Ballymastocker, Craveross (Croaghross?) and Magherawarden, Thomas Stewart at Carlan, Knockbrack and Drumfad, William Patton at Croghan, Colin and Patrick Campbell at Moross and Luke Ashe at Ballyhork. Some lands at Tullynadall were granted to the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College Dublin. Notable at this stage was the building of the Church of Ireland in Rosnakill in 1693.

The 18th century saw the introduction into Fanad of rural industry with a corresponding improvement in infrastructure. Rearing cattle commercially, herring fishing, flax growing and linen production came to feature in the local economy from the mid-18th century. By the early 19th century, manufacture of bent hats, shoes and kelp production were also evident. Rathmelton was a major focus of the linen industry and was stated to have had the largest bleaching green in Donegal during the late 18th century and early 19th century – a time of major prosperity in the town. It also thrived as a port at this time. However, linen and domestic shoe production went into decline by the 1820s and the herring fisheries had also declined. As a result, emigration became a greater feature of life as the local population increased.

Improvements in local infrastructure and facilities during the early part of the 19th century included the construction of a lighthouse at Fanad Head in 1818 in response to the sinking of the frigate Saldanah in Lough Swillly in 1804. Gun batteries for coastal defence were built in a number of locations along Lough Swilly including Knockalla and Rathmullen around 1810. A Workhouse was constructed at Milford about 1840 and a network of National Schools emerged, some sponsored by landlord and some by churches and religious organisations.

The early 19th century also saw the building of Roman Catholic places of worship starting with the building of the chapel at Massmount near Tamney about 1780 on a site donated by the Pattons of Croghan. Further building continued throughout the period including a chapel of ease in Fanavolty circa 1840.

In 1837, Samuel Lewis published a topographical dictionary which included the following contemporary description of the Parish of Clondavaddog:

The 19th century was furthermore a time of great change and upheaval in farming practice. In the first half of the century, many landowners began to introduce “improvements” to their holdings which effectively saw the end of the clachans and the old ways of farming based around the old Rundale system. The farm landscape of Fanad as we know it today, with small individual holdings and regularised boundaries was imposed from the 1830s onwards, often against the wishes of the tenant farmers. The introduction of these “improvements” saw the demise of some major centres of population in Fanad including the well established villages of Doaghbeg and Glinsk. Emigration continued and grew as a response to the significant growth in population, and in response to the famine and food shortages including the Great Famine of the late 1840s. Fanad’s population which was estimated possibly about 4,000 in 1766, was 10,344 and rising in 1841. However, it had fallen to 8,244 by 1851 and continued to decline to a figure of 5,778 in 1891.

The second half of the 19th century was marked by the killing of Lord Leitrim, one of the major local landowners in Fanad and a man much reviled for his strictness in his dealing with his tenants. The time of Leitrim’s death coincided with the Land War that ended the era of landlord domination of Fanad. In the decades that followed and with the passing of various Irish Land Acts, ownership of much of the land in Fanad passed from landlords to their tenant farmers.

Modern era

During the first half of the 20th century, Fanad, in common with other coastal areas of Donegal, settled into a pattern of subsistence farming. Employment outside of agriculture was very limited, leading to continuing high levels of migration both permanent ands seasonal, some overseas to the UK and to the US, and some to cities in Ireland including Derry and to a lesser extent, Belfast and Dublin. The drop in population continued, with the population recorded as 2,846 in 1961 approximately a quarter of that recorded in the 1840s.

The 2006 census recorded a combined population of 2,131 for the electoral districts of Carrowkeel, Rosnakill, Fanad North and Fanad South. By this time, farming had declined significantly with limited livestock rearing as the main component of local agriculture. Local rural industry had grown to some extent with fish farming in Mulroy Bay and in Lough Swilly as the main local source of employment, albeit for a time in the late 20th century and early 21st century, construction was arguably a major source of local income reflecting the boom in the provision of holiday homes and a general upgrading of the local housing stock and infrastructure both in Fanad and in other areas of Donegal. Tourism also provided some limited seasonal employment.

Some consolidation of local facilities has occurred over the last half century, reflecting the decline in population. There has been a consolidation of the National School network into a small number of larger facilities. Many local shops have closed, partly due to the population decline but also arguably due to the greater mobility of the population who now have the option to shop at the larger centres of population e.g. Letterkenny.


Fanad Gaels, the local Gaelic Athletic Association club, has won many underage titles in the last 10 years.The club was founded in 1982. In 1994 a new park was opened, Pairc Uí Shiadhail. The club started life in the County Division 4.

In 2006 the club had a most successful year, winning the All County League Div 2 final, as well as reaching the County Intermediate Championship final and an All-Ireland final in Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta. In 2007 the club made further progress through winning the Donegal Intermediate Championship in Pairc Séan Mhic Cumhaill for the first time.

The local soccer team Fanad United was founded in 1971 and has consistently been among the best intermediate soccer teams in the country. They were founder members of the Donegal League and claimed their first Premier Division title in 1973 in what was the first of an Historic three in a row. Fanad moved from Junior to Intermediate football in 1986 with the formation of the Ulster Senior League and have dominated the competition since its inception winning the league championship on no fewer than 12 occasions.

At National Level Fanad United has also enjoyed considerable in both the FAI Senior Cup and the League cup. Their most notable performances in the League Cup came in 1987 when they reached the semi-final before losing to Shamrock Rovers in the last four. In the FAI Cup in 1992 a 2-0 win away to Home Farm was followed by a marathon 3 game saga against St. James Gate. In 1996 Fanad claimed arguably the most famous scalp in their history when they beat Bray Wanderers 4-0 in the Carlisle Grounds. To this day that remains one of the biggest victories by a non-league side against senior opposition in the Cup.

In 1979 Fanad claimed their first national title when they won the FAI youth cup by beating Shelbourne 3-1 in the final at Swilly Park. Nine years later they became the first team from Donegal to win the Intermediate Cup when they beat Tramore Athletic (Cork) 1-0 in the final at Dalymount Park. A second Intermediate Cup followed in 1995 with a 1-0 win over College Corinthians (Cork) in the decider at Terryland Park.


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