In the annals of history Lough Swilly was considered an important naval port. In October 1798, just before the Napoleonic wars, a French fleet along with Wolfe Tone of the United Irishmen planned to dock at the port and help with the Irish Rebellion. The fleet was defeated and the British built several forts to help with their defence strategy in the event of any subsequent attacks.
Ned’s Point Fort can be found on the eastern shore of Donegal. Completed in 1812 its walls remain about one mile north of Buncrana. The site went under a revamp in 2013 and is due to open soon to the public as a digital wildlife observation centre.
Dunree Fort, although erected as a reaction to the possible threat posed by the French, played a pivotal role in later history as it stood guard during World War I. Admiral Lord Jellicoe’s fleet anchored in the surrounding area before engaging with the German navy in the Battle of Jutland. Control of the fort was handed over to the Irish just before World War II and it now acts as a fully equipped military museum. The museum’s use of interactive technology has proved a hit with visitors since it opened in 1986.
Leenan Fort worked in collaboration with Dunree Fort to protect the Lough Swilly area. The fort closed in 1946, only eight years after it had been handed back to the Irish from the British. Although the fort is now in a dilapidated state the area itself provides breath-taking views of the surrounding area and out onto the sea.
Inch Island is a small island connected to Donegal; its military fort is considered the ideal destination for avid birdwatchers when they are in the Donegal area. Inch hosts a variety of migratory birds and wintering waterfowl. There is thought to be at least three types – Whooper Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Greylag Goose – that occur in numbers considered to be of international importance. Swans choose Inch for their Irish landfall in autumn upon their return from breeding in Iceland. The historic Inch castle can also be found on the island with its rich history dating back to the 15th Century and the flight of the Earls.
On the Western shore you can find Knockalla Fort which still retains its tower and fortress walls. The fort was put up for sale in 2005 and is now under the control of Boughton and Butler architects who are refurbishing the fort into a “light, airy modern home with fabulous views over the Lough.” The proposal has been backed by the Department of the Environment and local government.
Another Napoleonic fort can be found near Knockalla on the Western shore. The remains of Macamish Fort can still be explored and hold important historical value. The area has plenty of social value as well. Around the area you will find Otway Golf Club which is a a 9 hole course and one of Irelands oldest 5 links courses, having been there since 1893.
Rathmullan Battery was also situated on the western shore of Lough Swilly, along with the previously mentioned structures it was built in the 18th Century to protect against any possible French invasion. This structure was manned up until the end of World War I. The six towers here were known as the Swilly defences during the war and each post had a huge gun to protect the British fleet before it crossed the Atlantic. The fort lay unoccupied after the war until the 1980s when it was taken over by the Rathmullan Enterprise Group. They helped repair the building and established a heritage centre which opened to the public in 1990.