9 Interesting Facts to Know About Killybegs, Ireland

by Janis on May 1, 2017

We wanted to learn a little bit about Killybegs, Ireland before our June via the ms Prinsendam on the 14-day Celtic Explorer cruise.

Killybegs, Ireland Interesting Facts1. Killybegs is a port town of 1,297 people, located on the south coast of County Donegal.

Killybegs is Ireland's most important fishing port; its harbor is often full with trawlers. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

As Ireland’s most important fishing port, Killybegs harbor is often full with trawlers. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

2. Situated on a natural deepwater harbor, Killybegs is Ireland’s largest fishing port.

Example of a monk's

Example of a monk’s “cell” – this one is near Moville high cross, County Donegel, Ireland. Photo by Patrick Mackie.

3. The name Killybegs comes from the Gaelic or Irish “Na Cealla Beaga” that translates to “the little cells” — referring to the early settlement of monks in the area who lived in little stone “cell” dwellings. These monks, believed to be some the first settlers in the area, were responsible for dedicating a well in honor of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

St. Catherine's Well and Cat Castle on the hilltop in Killybegs, County Donegal, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

St. Catherine’s Well and Cat Castle on the hilltop in Killybegs, County Donegal, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

4. Saint Catherine is the patron saint of Killybegs — and the patron of all seafarers, confirming the long history of fishing and seagoing tradition for which the town and the surrounding region are famous. Visitors to Killybegs can see St Catherine’s Well on the west side of the town. Nearby are are the ruins of St Catherine’s Church, thought to go back to the 12th Century, that have been restored in recent years. 

5. In 1588, Killybegs was the last stop for La Girona, a ship in the Spanish Armada during Spain’s war with England. When two other Spanish ships were lost, the Girona anchored in Killybegs harbor, and local Chieftain MacSweeney Bannagh assisted in repairing the Girona’s rudder and feeding its sailors. While in Killybegs, the Girona took on-board 800 survivors from the other Spanish ships before setting sail for Scotland.

1588 Spanish Galleass Girona that last anchored in Killybegs Harbor. Art by Notafly.

1588 Spanish Galleass Girona that last anchored in Killybegs Harbor. Art by Notafly.

Caught in a gale storm off the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, however, the Girona sank. Nearly 1,300 people died, with only nine survivors.

In 1967 – 1968, a team of Belgian divers recovered immense gold treasures from the Girona, off the Antrim Coast near Giants Causeway. Some of the recovered gold is on display at The Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Fishing trawler SO 716 Sheanne in Killybegs Harbor. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

Fishing trawler SO 716 Sheanne in Killybegs Harbor. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

6. Although it has suffered from a downturn in the Irish fishing industry, Killybegs is still a leading fishing and fish processing hub.  Freezer ships full of processed fish such as mackerel, herring, scad, and blue whiting are exported from Killybegs to markets in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Tread softly

7. Killybegs is famous for its tapestries and carpets, some of which were produced on the world’s biggest carpet loom at the Donegal Carpet Factory. At its peak, the factory employed 80 workers making Turkish-style, hand-knotted carpets known as “Donegals ” for prestigious buildings around the world including Buckingham Palace, the White House, and the Vatican.

While the factory in Killybegs closed in 2003, the building now houses the Killybegs International Carpet Making & Fishing Center, which offers tours and information on the carpet making and the fishing industry. The center also offers a modern ship simulator that allows both children and adults to test their navigation skills.

8. Visitors to Killybegs can get information and recommendations from locals by stopping into the Killybegs Information Center, which located on the Shore Road. The tourism organization for Killybegs offers detailed descriptions of local attractions, plus a map showing Suggested Looped Walks around Killybegs that you can download here.

Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) cliffs in County Donegal, Ireland

Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) cliffs in County Donegal, Ireland

9. Killybegs is the ideal gateway to reach the Sliabh Liag cliffs. Rising to 1,972 feet, Sliabh Liag offers panoramic views across the horizon overlooking Donegal Bay, just 12 miles from Killybegs. These are some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland.

Cliffs of Slieve League, County Donegal, IrelandVisitors not afraid of heights can try walking along ‘One Man’s Pass’ which takes hikers to the highest point of Sliabh Liag. There is also a visitor’s viewing platform for non-hikers to experience the views. It is also possible to view the cliffs from the sea via a Sliabh Liag boat ride.

This guidebook is helping us research and plan for our port calls in Ireland:

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Ireland

Have you visited Killybegs? What fun fact can you add?

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