The Old Courthouse, Lifford

Image of the old courthouse in Lifford
The Old Courthouse in Lifford

Just 15 miles from Letterkenny and 15 miles from Derry/Londonderry, lies Lifford, the historic capital of Donegal.  The Old Courthouse was built in 1746 and was once home to some of the North West’s most wanted villains.  A huge number of Irish families have connections to those who spent time in Donegal’s County Gaol.  Many from the North-West and further afield spent long periods behind bars here, for crimes, which by today’s standards seem trivial. 

The Gaol also has a history of sending prisoners across the sea, a cruel aspect to the Donegal Diaspora, with transportation sentences ranging from seven years to life.  Many overseas visitors to the Courthouse - from Australia in particular, are shocked to discover links between their ancestors and the historic punishment of transportation, with locals left in awe at a possible skeleton in their family closet!

These days The Courthouse and its remaining cells are home to a museum, which has proved itself a firm favourite with all ages and a fascinating insight into life and conditions in the 19th century.

You will have a chance to experience the life of a prisoner as you are arrested by a foul-tempered prison guard and marched down into the original dungeons where you will mingle with a range of different prison characters in a Live One Man Show.  With United Irishman James Napper Tandy, the infamous ‘Half-Hanged’ MacNaghten, and Mad Mary Kelly among the stories told like never before.

You can hear the jailers' keys clanking, the shutting and banging of doors and the discussions between prisoners and the visitors.  You will also learn first-hand the severity of the sentences meted out to the unfortunate victims as you are charged and fingerprinted for a crime you didn’t commit. Try to dodge the stocks, avoid solitary confinement and stay well clear of any asylum inmates you may meet lurking in the shadows!

When you have served your time behind bars, sneak upstairs to The Courthouse Bistro, comfortably at home in what was once the grand courtroom, where you will be served something much more pleasant – a unique dining experience.

In the spirit of The Gathering, an all-new Clans Room has been added – a must-see for any descendent of the famous Donegal families. Entry price is included in the standard tour admission.