the Cathedral Town
Ubique Urbem Reminiscar
"Remember the town wherever I am"
|Baronies||Kilmacrenan and Raphoe North|
|• Total||15.5 km2 (6.0 sq mi)|
|Elevation||52 m (171 ft)|
|• Density||1,240/km2 (3,200/sq mi)|
|Irish Grid Reference|
|Dialing code||074 91// 0035374|
Letterkenny (Irish: Leitir Ceanainn [ˈl̠ʲɛtʲəɾʲ ˈcanˠən̪ˠ], meaning 'hillside of the O'Cannons'), nicknamed 'the Cathedral Town', is the largest and most populous town in County Donegal, Ireland. It lies on the River Swilly in East Donegal and has a population of 19,274. It is the 36th largest settlement in all of Ireland by population (placing it ahead of Sligo, Larne, Banbridge, Armagh and Killarney), and is the 15th largest settlement by population in the historic province of Ulster (most of which comprises the separate jurisdiction of modern-day Northern Ireland). Along with the nearby city of Derry, Letterkenny is considered a regional economic gateway for the north-west of Ireland. Letterkenny acts as an urban gateway to the Ulster Gaeltacht, similar to Galway's relationship to the Connemara Gaeltacht.
Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. A castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columba, County Donegal's only Catholic cathedral, stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mt Southwell on Castle Street. County Donegal's largest third-level institution, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), is located in the town, as are St Eunan's College, Highland Radio, and a Hindu temple. Letterkenny was also the original home of Oatfield Sweet Factory, a confectionery manufacturer; the factory closed and was demolished in 2014. In 1798, Theobald Wolfe Tone was arrested at Laird's Hotel in the town. In 2015, Letterkenny was judged as the tidiest town in Ireland.
Letterkenny takes its name from the Irish Leitirceanainn, meaning "Hillside of the O'Cannons" – the O'Cannons being the last of the ancient chieftains of Tír Conaill. While no evidence of forts or castles belonging to the O'Cannon clan exists in Letterkenny district, eight miles west of Letterkenny Doon mass rock is believed to be the ancient inauguration site of the O'Cannon Kings.
The O'Cannon dynasty are descended from Conn of the Hundred Battles and Niall of the Nine Hostages, two of Ireland's ancient High Kings. The O'Cannons have been described as 'Ancient Princes of Tír Connaill' and 'Valiant Chiefs'. Their 350-year dynasty in Tír Connaill ended in 1250. Their ancient territory is recorded as being in Tír Aeda (now the barony of Tirhugh) in what is now South Donegal. After the deaths of Ruairí Ó Canannain (Rory O'Cannon) and his son Niall Ó Canannain in 1250, the sept declined greatly in power. Brian Ó Néill (Brian O'Neill) died ten years later in 1260; he had supported an Ó Canannain claimant to Tír Conaill, i.e. to the Kingdom of Tír Conaill (Tirconnell). However, the O'Cannon Clan remained subserviant to the O'Donnell Clan, the Kings of Tír Chonaill from the early thirteenth century onwards after Gofraid O'Donnell helped the English defeat the O'Cannons in 1250. The personal name Canannain is a diminutive of Cano meaning 'wolf cub'. Canannain was fifth in descent from Flaithbertach mac Loingsig (died 765), high-king of Ireland; they were the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages (Irish: Niall Noigiallach), who died c. 405 A.D., by his son Conall Gulban, who gave his name to Tír Conaill, the 'Land of Conall', now County Donegal.
By the early 17th century, the name Uí Canannain had been anglicised to O'Cannon. Further anglicisation took place during the Penal Laws in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the name in Co. Dun na nGall became Cannon. In the early 1880s, there were just 200 families bearing the Cannon surname living in Co. Donegal, who were mainly tenant farmers. The Cannons/O'Canannains were of the ancient sept of Cenell Conaill, a branch of the northern Uí Néill and descend from Ruaidrí ua Canannain (died 30 November 950), King of Cenel Conaill, and grandson of Canannain, who flourished in the second half of the 9th century. The site of the ancient seat of the Ó Canannain was near Letterkenny (the largest town of County Donegal only since the 1950s), which is said on good to represent the countryside of the O'Cannons (English translation).
The modern town of Letterkenny began as a market town at the start of the 17th century, during the Plantation of Ulster. It may have been established on the site of an earlier Gaelic settlement. It was the first crossing point of the River Swilly. In the recent past, Letterkenny was a largely agricultural town, surrounded by extensive cattle and sheep grazing on what was then untilled hillside – at a time when Conwal (3 km west of Letterkenny) was the ecclesiastical and seaport centre. The waters of the Atlantic had not yet retreated from the basin of the Swilly, whose estuary at that time extended up almost as far as New Mills – proof of this may be found in those alluvial flat-lands between Oldtown and Port Road.
Rory O'Cannon, the last chieftain of the O'Cannon Clan, was killed in 1248. Godfrey O'Donnell succeeded Rory O'Cannon as King of Tír Conaill. He engaged the Norman lord Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Lord of Offaly, in battle at Credan in the north of what is now County Sligo in 1257 in which both were badly wounded – Fitzgerald immediately fatally so. Godfrey (also dying from his wounds) retired to a crannóg in Lough Beag (Gartan Lake). O'Neill of Tír Eoghain — taking advantage of Godfrey's fatal illness — demanded submission, hostages and pledges from the Cenél Conaill since they had no strong chieftain since the wounding of Godfrey. Godfrey summoned his forces and led them himself, although he had to be carried on a litter (stretcher). O'Neill and his men were completely defeated by the Swilly in 1258. Godfrey died however after the battle near where the town of Letterkenny is today. He was buried in Conwal Cemetery. A cross-shaped coffin slab marks his grave to this day.
The receding of the waters of the Atlantic eastwards enabled progress, and with the building of bridges etc., the town of Letterkenny started to take the shape it has today. In the wake of the Plantation of Ulster (which began around 1609), when a 4 square kilometres (990 acres) area was granted to a Scotsman Patrick Crawford, the compact community formed.
The honour of formally launching the town fell to Sir George Marbury who married Patrick Crawford's widow — Crawford having died suddenly while on a return visit to his native Scotland. Initially, there were possibly fifty simple habitations sited where the Oldtown is situated today.
The main streets, though now suffering traffic congestion, were simple pony tracks used by the hill farmers to come to the markets. The markets — started by Patrick Crawford with only a few animals — grew into much busier markets which are not present today.
An ancient castle once stood near where the Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columba stands today. Letterkenny Castle, built in 1625, was located south of Mt Southwell on Castle Street. No remains of the castle exist today.
During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, on 12 October, a large French force consisting of 3,000 men, and including Wolfe Tone, attempted to land in County Donegal near Lough Swilly. They were intercepted by a large British Royal Navy force, and finally surrendered after a three-hour battle without ever landing in Ireland. After Wolfe Tone was captured he was held for a short time at Laird's Hotel (opposite the Market Square) in the Main Street of Letterkenny before being transferred to the nearby Derry Gaol. He was later tried by court-martial in Dublin and found guilty. His death through suicide occurred in prison.
In 1824, when the first description of Letterkenny as a modern town was written, it was stated that: "Within half a mile is the Port of Ballyraine, whither vessels of 100 tons bring iron, salt and colonial produce and whence they export hides and butter". Nothing remains now except the warehouses with the example of 19th-century warehouse architecture.
Letterkenny achieved town status in the early 1920s following the partition of Ireland. When the Irish punt replaced the British pound sterling in County Donegal in 1928, many Irish banks that had been previously located in Derry (in the new Northern Ireland) opened branches in Letterkenny.
Letterkenny made history in August 2012 when two winning Lotto tickets using the same numbers for the same draw were bought at two different locations in the town – Mac's Mace on the High Road and The Paper Post on Main Street. The occurrence made national news. A spokesperson for Lotto HQ in Dublin said it was the first time this had happened.
Climate data for Letterkenny is recorded at Malin Head in the far northern tip of the county. Malin Head's climate is classified as Temperate Oceanic (Köppen Cfb) and is significantly milder than some other locations in the world at a similar latitude; this is due to the station's position near the Atlantic Coast and exposure to the warmth of the Gulf Stream. Due to its northerly latitude, Malin Head experiences long summer days and short winter days. Summers are cool with temperatures rarely exceeding 25 °C (77 °F), while winters are relatively mild with daytime temperatures rarely dropping below 0 °C (32 °F). Extreme heat is very rare; however the town can on occasion receive extreme cold from the Arctic where temperatures drop several degrees below 0 °C (32 °F). Snow is relatively uncommon and the station receives on average 20 days of recorded snowfall per year, the vast majority of this occurring between December and March. Humidity is high year-round and rainfall is spread quite evenly throughout the year, with winter months receiving the most rainy days; however, Letterkenny can have 4 seasons in one day: rain, snow, sunshine, hail.
|Climate data for Letterkenny, Donegal (1981–2010)|
|Average high °C (°F)||8
|Average low °C (°F)||4
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||117.4
|Average precipitation days||18||13||15||12||11||11||14||14||14||17||17||16||172|
|Average snowy days||5.1||5.2||3.4||1.6||0.1||0||0||0||0||0||1.1||3.8||20.3|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||38.2||65.0||94.1||152.9||201.5||166.0||142.7||140.1||112.2||80.6||44.3||34.1||1,271.7|
|Source 1: ECA&D|
|Source 2: Met Éireann|
Many of Letterkenny's more notable buildings were built in the early 1850s—or earlier. These include educational and ecclesiastical buildings. The town's tallest building is the Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columba, which was completed in 1901. The Cathedral was designed by William Hague from County Cavan. It is built in a light Victorian neo-Gothic version of the French 13th-century Gothic style. Located opposite the Cathedral, at the junction of Church Street with Cathedral Square, is Conwal Parish Church, parts of which date from the 17th century.
Another dominant building in the town is the historic St Eunan's College. St Eunan's is a three-storey castellated structure, built in the Edwardian variant of the neo-Hiberno-Romanesque style. It has four turreted round towers and flying buttresses which are modelled on the nearby Cathedral.
Other architecturally notable buildings can be found at Mount Southwell Terrace, which is located at the top of the Market Square, just off Castle Street. This Georgian-style terrace of red brick was built in 1837 by Lord Southwell. The terrace contains five of the most distinctive examples of Georgian houses in Letterkenny and also served as the holiday home of Maud Gonne who stayed here while on holiday in Donegal. St Conal's Hospital is a large Victorian neo-Georgian structure located on the Kilmacrennan Road in the town. While the oldest parts of the building date from the 1860s, the hospital's chapel was built in the neo-Norman style in the 1930s.
In later years, Letterkenny has seen more modern architectural developments. The new Letterkenny Town Council offices, known locally as "The Grasshouse", were designed by Donegal-based MacGabhann Architects. It features a distinctive sloping grass roof situated above a broad band of aluka matt cladding, and a runway-like ramp to the first-floor concourse. A 2002 article in The Sunday Times described it as a "building of international interest".
Letterkenny is the largest town in County Donegal. Despite having a long tradition of emigration that continued until the early 1990s, Letterkenny has recently had net immigration. The recent immigrants are mostly of foreign origin, with many immigrants from Central Europe, Africa, and Asia. This is reflected in the recent growth of immigrant restaurants and shops, including Chinese and Indian restaurants, as well as specialised shops run by and providing goods for Africans, Asians, South Americans, and Central Europeans. Letterkenny is home to one of Ireland's few Hindu temples.
The figures for ethnic and cultural background for people in the State in 2006 reveals that 16% of Letterkenny's population are non-nationals. The figures also show that most of Donegal's non-national population are living in the town. Of the town's total population 2,709 are non-nationals. According to the 2006 census 4,957 people have a disability illness, 640 people have a registered disability, 537 have a chronic illness while 345 suffer from a psychological or an emotional condition. The 2006 census also revealed that there were 199 travellers living within the town's environs.
Primary and secondary education in the town is organised similarly to the rest of Ireland. There are 5 primary schools in Letterkenny, including Scoil Colmcille and Woodland School, while there are 4 secondary schools.
Of the four secondary schools, the most noteworthy is St Eunan's College — a day school and former boarding school located on Sentry Hill close to the Glencar district of Letterkenny, just northwest of its centre. The College, as it is known locally to distinguish it from the cathedral and GAA club, is named after Adomnán or Eunan (the Abbot of Iona who was native to Tír Chonaill, mainly modern County Donegal, and is patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raphoe).
Coláiste Ailigh is a Gaelcholáiste (a secondary school with a stated purpose of providing education through the Irish language). It opened in 2000. The Loreto Convent Secondary School, adjacent to St Eunan's Cathedral, is more than 150 years old.
The Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT; known locally as The Regional and The IT), which is situated east of the town centre on the Port Road, is a training centre for technicians, offering courses in engineering, information technology, materials science, design, business and nursing. The institute is one of the smaller places of third level education in the historic province of Ulster, with a lower student intake than other colleges such as Belfast Metropolitan College and the regional colleges of the North West, South, South East and South West, all of which themselves are smaller than the universities in Belfast and Belfast/Coleraine/Derry/Jordanstown.
Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce and Industry was founded in 1965. It is the only Donegal Chamber of Commerce affiliated to Chambers Ireland, meaning it "provides input into national and regional lobbying policies", according to its website.
In February 2020, the Donegal News reported that the "number of vacant commercial properties in Letterkenny had risen by 8.7 per cent by the end of [the previous year], meaning that out of 720 recorded commercial premises in the town, 134 are vacant".
The retail trade in Letterkenny includes modern shopping centres and family-owned local shops – often providing handmade crafts.
Many High Street stores operate in Letterkenny. The town is the north-west regions major shopping centre and helps to serve outlying areas including rural County Donegal and Derry. The three main shopping malls are the Courtyard Shopping Centre, the Forte Shopping Centre and the Letterkenny Shopping Centre, the latter being the oldest. Built in 1984, it is the largest shopping centre in County Donegal, and was the first of several such complexes in Letterkenny. It is also the third largest in the Harcourt Developments retail portfolio. While originally built on the outskirts of the town, urban expansion means it now lies in the town proper. Letterkenny has been identified as one of Europe's fastest-growing towns by business owners. The centre remained largely unchanged until 2004, when the centre was expanded, and new lighting, flooring and decor were added. More retail units were constructed along with the expansion of the Tesco outlet and thus becoming "one of the Major developments in Ireland". The carpark was extended to allow for a capacity of 750. The entire project was overseen by the Burke Morrison Engineering firm. These centres feature numerous international and Irish chains such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Eason and others. There are also many other small centres such as the Glencar Shopping Centre and the Market Centre.
Previously, Letterkenny's Main Street served as the main shopping area in the town but trade has now shifted further afield expanding the town in the process. The Main Street is home to many older establishments including R. McCullagh Jewellers (dating from 1869), Magees Pharmacy (dating from 1928) and Speers Department Store. Newer shopping areas in the town include the Letterkenny Retail Parks on Pearse Street and Canal Lane. Smaller streets such as Church Street and Castle Street have grown in recent years[when?] with businesses such as bakeries, pharmacies and fashion outlets having being opened. The Market Square has also attracted fresh business.
In April 1970, the Donegal News reported that local politicians acknowledged "a very real problem" in attracting industrialists to come to the town, even in spite of grants being available to do so.
The town's major employers include the Letterkenny University Hospital, Pramerica, Optum Health Care and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the latter having decentralised to the town in 1990, following a government decision to relocate 200 civil service jobs from Dublin.
Letterkenny is at the centre of industry in the northwest of Ireland. Eircom, Boston Scientific and UnitedHealth Group (Optum) are significant employers in the region. As the main commercial centre of north Donegal, Letterkenny also has a host of financial service institutions, legal firms and small businesses.
Pramerica was established in Letterkenny in 2000. It was a business and technology operations subsidiary of U.S.-based Prudential Financial Inc. (NYSE: Pru)and grew to over 2,000 employees before being taken over Tata Consultancy Services in 2020. Prudential still retains some staff on site as PGIM.
There has been a significant decline in the manufacturing base, while employment has grown in the service sector. Since 2002 there has been a significant expansion in the retail sector. Allied to this growth has been the development of the cultural infrastructure. This includes the opening of An Grianán Theatre and the development of a new arts centre.
Letterkenny was also home of the confectionery manufacturers Oatfield. It was based at the entrance to Ballyraine, near the town's central area. The factory was demolished in the summer of 2014. Rockhill Barracks was once a major contributor to the local economy but closed in January 2009 due to military cuts. The Rambling Man distillery was located at the Eastend until 1976, and was not named after its owner Stephen Rambling.
Letterkenny receives all of the national television stations on the Saorview DTT platform from the local Letterkenny transmitter. Due to its close proximity to Derry City and Strabane in Northern Ireland, the town and its surrounding areas have been able to receive overspill analogue television signals from the Derry City transmitter since December 1957 and the Strabane transmitter since February 1963. The town can also receive satellite services and broadband television services too. The national broadcaster RTÉ has a studio located in the Ballyraine district.
Letterkenny is home to several media companies. The main regional newspaper in the town and county is the Donegal Democrat (owned by the Derry Journal), whose offices also prints two other titles every week – the Donegal People's Press on Tuesday and also Donegal on Sunday. Another local paper is the Derry People/Donegal News (popularly known locally as the Derry People). It is distributed on a Friday, as well as having a Monday edition. The Milford-based Tirconaill Tribune, printed in Letterkenny, is distributed throughout the county. The town also produces two freesheet newspapers, the Letterkenny People (previously the Letterkenny Listener), which is distributed on a Thursday, and the Letterkenny Post, which prints on a Thursday night for Friday circulation. The Derry Journal, based in Derry itself, is also a major newspaper in the town and its environs.
The population is predominantly conservative in outlook. In 1995, a large proportion of the townspeople voted against the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which removed the constitutional prohibition on divorce. Donegal was the only county to vote against Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which legalised abortion. The county also voted against the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2001 and the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008. However, the county did vote in favour of the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland which legalised same-sex marriage.
Letterkenny Town Council oversaw the town's affairs until town councils were abolished nationwide in 2014. It is now the Letterkenny Municipal District, which returns ten local residents to Donegal County Council. Currently there are four independents, three members of Fianna Fáil, two members of Sinn Féin and one from Fine Gael.
In 2008, Letterkenny represented Ireland in the Entente Florale, having scooped Gold in the Large Urban Centre category of the 2007 National Tidy Town Awards. Locally there was a minor furore as all flags of competing nations were displayed in prominent areas of the town, with some difficulty encountered when locals discovered the controversial Union Jack flag hanging from a pole adjacent to the library and Paddy Delap's newsagent. The flag is still upsetting to many people angered by continuing British rule in Northern Ireland and as such led to an intensely heated debate on local radio station Highland Radio on the day the judges were in town. The flag was first mounted the previous day (7 August) and had to be taken down when some concerns were raised about its safety on a busy Thursday night. It was remounted the following day. Nevertheless, the town won gold in the competition.
Until the 2016 general election, Letterkenny was part of the Donegal North-East constituency. From 2016, it became part of the county-wide five-seat Donegal constituency. At the 2020 general election, the constituency returned Thomas Pringle (Independent), Pearse Doherty (Sinn Féin), Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (also, Sinn Féin), Joe McHugh (Fine Gael) and Charlie McConalogue (Fianna Fáil) to Dáil Éireann.
Policing and crime
Crime rates vary widely across different areas of Letterkenny. Recorded crime has been rising in Letterkenny, notably violent crime and fraud, while links with Romanian criminals are also evident.
A niece of Jane Austen, daughter of her brother Edward, is buried in the town alongside her husband Lord George Hill. Two other nieces, also daughters of Edward, are buried just outside the town, close to Ballyarr.
Leisure and amusement
Letterkenny Regional Cultural Centre, located behind An Grianán Theatre, opened on 9 July 2007.
Letterkenny hosted the annual Irish traditional music festival, the Fleadh Cheoil, for consecutive years (2005 and 2006). Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann organised both festivals. Letterkenny has also hosted the international Pan Celtic Festival for consecutive years (2006 and 2007). Celts from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Brittany and Cornwall visited Letterkenny for the "craic agus ceoil". Along with the daily street performances on Market Square, An Grianán Theatre and The Courtyard Shopping Centre, song, fiddle, harp and dance contests also featured.
Century Cinemas, located on Canal Lane, is an eight-screen cinema complex.
The La Scala Cinema was formerly located in Letterkenny. Brendan Behan, while holidaying in County Donegal on Tuesday 22 August 1961, walked there to watch Eamonn Andrews interviewing him in the newsreel Meet the Quare Fella. According to the Derry People, Behan chose a balcony seat and sang along with his onscreen self, "the first duet sung by one person in Letterkenny". Behan had previously visited the town in early June 1960 and attended he Rainbow Bar, where (reported a newspaper) "he regaled those fortunate enough to be present with some typical outspoken comments on affairs of the present".
Letterkenny is a favoured nightlife location for the local catchment area, and also for the rest of Ulster — particularly at weekends and especially for visitors from the nearby city of Derry. The Main Street — originally the retail centre of Letterkenny — has become a centre for night clubs and pubs, boosted by the remnants of its old shopping district. There are several nightclubs in the area including Voodoo on the lower Main street and The Pulse on the Port Road. The Grill Music Venue was formerly a popular nightclub on Sundays. Many pubs such as The Central Bar (established 1808), The Cavern, Sister Sara's, Josie's Bar, McGinley's, The Cottage Bar and Warehouse are found nearby.
Mr Chippie is a prominent restaurant which can be seen from the bus station.
Letterkenny has a modern community purpose-built leisure and sports complex, comprising a swimming pool, football pitches (both natural grass and astroturf), and sports halls. Gaelic football, rugby and soccer are the most popular sports in the town, but many other minority sports are practised also, such as hurling, boxing, kickboxing, golf, swimming and gymnastics.
Letterkenny Rovers are one of the most well-known soccer clubs in the town. The team play their home games at Leckview Park, at Canal Road, in the town. Bonagee United are another local team and play their home games at Dry Arch Park and Glencar Celtic F.C are another team from the town who play in the Donegal League and recent winners of the Saturday League Cup. There are a number of schoolboy soccer clubs within the town's environs and an annual league is played at Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 age groups.
Letterkenny has two Gaelic games clubs: St Eunan's and Letterkenny Gaels, who play their home games at O'Donnell Park and at Páirc na nGael in The Glebe, respectively. St Eunan's is one of Donegal's most successful clubs, and has won various County and Ulster championships at underage level, as well as successes at senior level since the turn of the 21st century. The Letterkenny Gaels club was formed in 1996 but has yet to achieve much success and currently plays in the Donegal Junior Championship. Almost uniquely in Ireland, the Gaelic games club Letterkenny Gaels shares facilities with Letterkenny Rugby Club. The Letterkenny Gaels club was promoted to Division 3 in 2019, winning 15 games and losing one.
Rugby football is also popular in the town, being played at various levels, from school to senior league level. Letterkenny RFC, which was founded in 1973, is the major rugby club in the town. It has recently forged links with New Zealand rugby fraternities due to the fact that Dave Gallaher, the first captain of the All Blacks, was born in Ramelton, a village eight miles (13 km) from Letterkenny. The club's rugby ground in Letterkenny was named The Dave Gallaher Memorial Park in his honour in November 2005 by a visiting contingent of All Black players, led by captain Tana Umaga.
Letterkenny has two men's basketball teams, Letterkenny Heat and Letterkenny IT, as well as a junior basketball club, Letterkenny Blaze. Letterkenny Golf Club is located just outside the town centre. There are also pitch and putt and tennis facilities in the town. Letterkenny Sports Complex, a state of the art leisure centre complete with a skate park, is located on the edge of the town. Letterkenny Athletic Club is also located in the town. The town also hosts the Donegal International Rally on the third weekend of June every year and the Donegal Harvest Rally every October. There is a campaign being run by a local councillor for the construction of a horse racing track and facilities on land at the Big Isle, on the outskirts of the town.
The nearest airport is City of Derry Airport, which is located about 48 kilometres (30 mi) to the east at Eglinton. Donegal Airport (locally known as Carrickfinn Airport) is less than an hour away, located to the west in The Rosses. The closest main international airport to Letterkenny is Belfast International Airport (also known as Aldergrove Airport), located at Aldergrove in County Antrim.
Letterkenny has a small privately operated airfield situated on the outskirts of the town which is operational; it has both hard and grass of 620 meters, hangars available for overnight guests, ICAO EILT. There is also a small private airfield at Finn Valley approx 8 miles away. It is run and operated by the Finn valley Flying Club. The airstrip is 700 metres of grass; it is mainly for use by ultralights and light aircraft. The airfield is home to quite a few ultralights, and the Flying Club run a big open weekend each August where many planes fly in to attend it. The airfield is only suitable for small private aircraft and ultralights, and there is no commercial traffic whatsoever there; it is occasionally used by businessmen to land their small aircraft, at and it is approximately 8 miles from the town.
The town was, in times past, connected with the once extensive narrow-gauge rail network of County Donegal. This provided connections to Derry (and through there to Dublin and Belfast), to Lifford and Strabane, to Gweedore and Burtonport, and to Carndonagh, north of Derry. The rail system was built in the late 19th century, with the last extensions opening in the 20th century. Some of these lines were never profitable, built using then UK government subsidies. Only a couple of decades later, the independence of the Irish Free State from the rest of the UK resulted in rail companies operating across two jurisdictions where there had previously been one. This had devastating effects on an already fragile economic situation, resulting eventually in the final closure of all parts of the rail system in the area by December 1959.
Today, the closest railway station to County Donegal is Londonderry railway station in the nearby City of Derry. This station is owned and run by Northern Ireland Railways (N.I.R.) and runs via Coleraine to Belfast Lanyon Place railway station and Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station. The strategically important Belfast-Derry railway line is to be upgraded to facilitate more frequent trains and improvements to the permanent way such as track and signalling to enable faster services. N I Railways (Translink)
Letterkenny is well served by road transport. Bus Éireann operates multiple daily services from its bus depot to Ireland's larger urban areas like Dublin (number 32), Derry and Galway (both number 64). Private coach companies operate daily services to and from town. The Lough Swilly Bus Company (popularly known locally as Lough Swilly or the Swilly Bus) operated a local transport service until they ceased trading in April 2014. Bus Éireann is now the main bus service provider in the town. Currently, access from Dublin is improving with motorway status roads being constructed along the route, allowing cars to complete the Dublin-Letterkenny journey in about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Galway, to the south, is 4 hours away by car, while Belfast, to the south-east, is 2 hours away by car.
Taxi services are available from a rank on Main Street at the Market Square.
Two national primary roads serve the town: the N13 from the South (Stranorlar) and the N14 from the East (Lifford). The N13 also links into the A2 road (Northern Ireland) to Derry. The N56 secondary road, beginning at the N14 in the town, travels in a loop around the county, ending in Donegal town. Regional roads include the R245, connecting Letterkenny northward to the Fanad and Rosguill peninsulas, and the R250 southwest to Glenties.
In 2002, a National Anti-Litter League survey carried out by An Taisce compared Letterkenny's excess litter to that normally associated with The Liberties, a litter blackspot located in Dublin's impoverished inner city. It was voted "Best Kept Urban Centre" in the 2007 'Best Kept Town Awards' and took top prize in the "Large Urban Centre" category at the 2007 Tidy Towns competition. It appeared to maintain its litter-free status for the remainder of that decade, judging by the results of a study by business group Irish Business Against Litter, published on 23 August 2010.
In 2011, it was named as its county's tidiest town, receiving 306 points, four less than overall winner Killarney. This included 47/50 points for its landscaping, the highest number of points scored by any town in this category. Out of the 821 entrants in the 2011 competition, Letterkenny finished in eighth place and received a gold medal for a ninth consecutive year. In the 2012 competition, it was selected as the tidiest town in the north-west of the country. In 2013, it was selected as one of Ireland's top ten towns.
In 2015, Letterkenny achieved its best result in the Tidy Towns competition, being awarded top prize in the "Large Urban Centre" category and receiving the overall award as Ireland's tidiest, Ireland's best. Letterkenny received the same points total in 2016 but this was not sufficient to retain the title.
In December 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited Letterkenny as having higher levels of air pollution than the Indian capital New Delhi. Professor John Wenger said: "I've been looking at figured [sic] from the EPA for the last few years and it's the highest I've seen. It is quite extraordinary". Just over two months later, the Donegal News reported that the latest EPA graphs showed levels were "still off the charts"; more than 200 micrograms per cubic metre of fine particulate matter at times during February 2020, "when the recommended annual mean limit set by the World Health Organisation [sic] for PM2.5 is just 10 micrograms per cubic metre", while levels of sulphur dioxide in Letterkenny surpassed 200 μg/m3 "even though levels are not supposed to exceed 125 μg/m3 in 24 hours in the interest of the 'protection of human health'".
Water quality in Letterkenny is a persistent problem. Lonely Planet lists Donegal, in which Letterkenny is located, as one of its Irish counties in which visitors should not drink the tap water due to its featuring "toxic chemicals". In March 2020, the Donegal News reported on the concerns of residents in Letterkenny that their water supply was blue in colour and/or reeked of chlorine. The report also stated that these features of the water were less noticeable while running a tap but much more noticeable when filling a bath.
The European Commission has stated that Ireland has, since 2003, been in breach of a directive against high levels of Trihalomethane (THM) in its water. The Commission stated that large amounts of THM cause diseases of the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, cancers of the bladder and colon, and damages to foetuses during pregnancy. The highest levels of THM were recorded in County Donegal (in which Letterkenny is located), as well as in Counties Cork, Kerry and Wicklow.
The following places are twinned with Letterkenny:
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A son of Letterkenny native, John Delap, Rory keeps in regular contact with his uncles Paddy, Brendan and Anthony and visits the Cathedral Town at least once every year.
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Shane, whose father Michael hails from Letterkenny...
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