Raphoe is one of the five heritage towns in Donegal. It is also known by its Irish name Ráth Bhoth which means ‘Ringfort of the Huts’. The name is believed to have come from the huts that were built on the monastic settlement by St. Colmcille. (550AD). Raphoe is situated in the rich and fertile land of Laggan Valley near the Deele River.
The town of Raphoe is a typical 17th Century plantation town, the old market place centre which is called ‘The Diamond’. There are many architectural gems located in and around the town including the Masonic Hall (1900), The Second Raphoe Presbyterian Church (1860), and indeed the Diamond itself is bordered by many fine Georgian Houses particularly on the west side.
The town has had huge religious significance for Donegal over the centuries, giving its name to the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland dioceses for most of Donegal. One such gem is the Church of Ireland Cathedral, named for St. Eunan and dating from the 12th Century. The adjoining graveyard is the final resting place for bishops, politicians and the ordinary man.
The shell of Raphoe Castle, dating from 1630, was once used as the Bishop’s Palace, and stands just outside the town itself. This castle is one of the most significant castles in the county and has suffered numerous attacks throughout the ages, from Cromwell in 1650 to the United Irishmen in 1798. Despite its many battles and sieges, Raphoe still remains prosperous today as a market town. The Royal and Prior School (1737), is still a busy educational establishment, upholding the Protestant ethos of the area.
Another of Raphoe’s treasures, just a half mile outside the town, is Beltony Stone Circle, one of the finest stone circles in Ireland. This National Monument site, consisting of 64 large standing stones, dates back to pre Christian times.
Many notable figures have hailed from the city of Raphoe. The County Mayor for 2012/2013, Frank McBrearty, is from the town; Isaac Butt (1813-1879), the founder of the Home Rule Movement, was educated at the Royal and Prior School.