‘Walking through Time’
The concept of time is often difficult to grasp when dealing with earth processes. The oldest rocks in the South Donegal region are 600 million years old and form many of the hills of the Bluestack Mountains. If the time period of 600 million years is condensed into a single day, then the Ice Age ended about 2 seconds to midnight and humans first appeared in Donegal about 1 second to midnight.
During those 24 hours, the granites of the Bluestack Mountains were formed at 8.00am and the sandstones and limestones that frame Donegal Bay were deposited just before noon. The basalt dykes that are associated with the volcanism that formed the Giants Causeway were intruded at 9.45pm. This is one way of understanding how little time we have actually inhabited this part of Donegal. However, in that short time span humans have adapted and utilised the landscape to support their lifestyles.
Among the earliest examples of human activity along the routes are the megalithic tomb at Disert and the earthen mound at the north end of Lough Mourne which are pre-Christian, providing evidence of the complex social and agricultural organisation of early settlers. Megalithic standing stones are common throughout the region.
Donegal Town dates back to ninth century Viking times. The Vikings established a fortress at the mouth of the River Eske and it is possible that this gave the town and the county its name – Dun-na-nGall, meaning Fort of the Foreigners. Planned settlement patterns were imposed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on the ancient town as evidenced by the formal market square, the ‘Diamond’. These settlement patterns derived from the plantation of Ulster and were important in encouraging settlers and subsequent economic development.
More recent developments such as roads and railways (now disused) utilise the natural attributes of the area by exploiting valleys and gaps sculpted by ice along geological faults. Additionally, natural energy is captured by the windfarms to the south of Barnesmore and at Meenaguse, and by the small-scale hydroelectric schemes on the Lowrymore River.