The picturesque town of Moville lies on the western banks of Lough Foyle, County Donegal, where the Bredagh River flows into the sea. The name Moville has two possible Gaelic origins, translated from Bun a Phobail, meaning ‘Foot of the Parish’ or Magh Bhile, meaning ‘Plain of the Ancient Tree’. Until the mid 18th century the area consisted of undeveloped agricultural land with the exception of a number of ancient earthworks. Cooley Cross and Skull House are remnants of an early Christian monastic settlement on the outskirts of Moville, attributed to St. Finian. The cross is a simple undecorated stone high cross located in Cooley graveyard. The Skull House, a small stone constructed building at the rear of the graveyard, is believed to have been used as an oratory and a mortuary.
The area surrounding Moville was occupied by branches of the Cenél Eógain family in the 15th century and later by Scots Gaelic speaking settlers in the 17th century. The whole of Inishowen was granted to the Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester in 1609, following the death of Cahir O’Doherty. It passed from the Lord Deputy to his nephew Arthur, who was created Earl of Donegall in 1647.
Samuel Montgomery, a wholesale and retail wine merchant from Killaghtee, County Donegal, established his business ‘Montgomery & Gamble’ in Derry in 1750. The Montgomery family had settled in the parish of Killaghtee in west Donegal in c. 1628 and Samuel inherited the family estate. He married a woman from Inishowen by the name of Ann Porter and in 1768 leased 800 acres of land from Lord Donegall in Inishowen, in Ballynelly townland. He proceeded to build New Park house, which had a demesne of 60 acres and included Bath Green. Making the area his home he then began developing the town of Moville and the first houses were built in the 1770s.
By 1820 there were 50 people living in the town and the area began to develop rapidly over the next few decades. Moville’s importance as a trading centre grew in the 19th century and contributed greatly to the further development and increasing wealth of the town. By the early 1830s a grain store and grain market had been established, which traded with the city of Derry. Moville also became notorious for its whiskey trade. Goods coming into town were traded for illegally distilled Inishowen whiskey. Quay Street was used to keep watch for smugglers and became known as Whiskey Lane.
The monthly cattle markets, trade, and the blossoming of the town as a seaside resort for the visitors travelling out from Derry, brought wealth to the thriving town. Moville, however, received its most lucrative boost from its rich maritime industry. Large trading ships and transatlantic liners dropped anchor in the deep waters off Moville throughout the 19th century.
Two Derry businessmen, John Cooke and William McCorkell invested heavily in shipping in the area, importing goods from America. They soon realised that these ships could also carry passengers on their outbound journeys. Moville became a major port for embarkation that at its height, in the later years of the 1800s, rivalled Cobh. Passengers, eager to start a new life in America and Canada, were carried on the McCorkell Line ships to New York, Philadelphia, Quebec and New Brunswick.
By the 1870s sailing ships were replaced by large transatlantic passenger steamers, which anchored in the Foyle and were boarded by way of small local tenders leaving from Moville pier. The Anchor Line, operating out of Glasgow, started taking on passengers in Moville from 1860. The Allan Line, operating out of Liverpool, also called at Moville to pick up passengers bound for America.
Generations of the Montgomery family continued to live at New Park house. Samuel Montgomery’s son and grandson invested in the further development of the town, building houses, roads, schools and St. Columb’s Church. Sir Robert Montgomery, grandson of Samuel, became a Lieutenant Governor in India in the early 19th century. His son, Bishop Henry Montgomery (1847-1932), donated the area of shorefront known as Bath Green to Donegal County Council in trust for the people of Moville as a recreation area. The beautiful park is still a wonderful local amenity and includes the shore walk extending as far as Greencastle. Bishop Montgomery was also responsible for the first written history of the town, which he published in a series of articles in the Londonderry Sentinel. These articles outline the history of the Montgomery family’s development of Moville but also include stories of life in Inishowen at that time.
Today Moville retains a small fishing harbour. It holds an annual regatta in August and remains a popular town for visitors. The town was designated a Heritage Town in 2000.