County Donegal Historical Society Museum in Rossnowlagh

The museum of County Donegal Historical Society was officially opened by Mr. Frank Aiken, Minister for External Affairs, on Easter Sunday 18th April 1954. Present were members of the Franciscan community who had generously offered free accommodation for a museum in the Friary at Rossnowlagh. Count O’ Donnell of Austria and members of the Historical Society were also in attendance. Mr. Aiken addressed the gathering:

It is a great pleasure for me to open this museum in which there is an important collection of historic relics connected with the history of Donegal. It is fitting that it should be in the Franciscan monastery because the Franciscan Order has a long and honoured connection with the history of Donegal.

The vigilance of local people in appreciating the value of preserving artefacts from the past can be witnessed in the County Donegal Historical Society Museum in Rossnowlagh. The museum is a testament to the rich heritage uncovered by local people, and their generosity in placing these items in the museum in Rossnowlagh. Many rare artefacts are displayed and preserved for future generations. Fr. Terence O Donnell, O.F.M., a well known historian and a former Secretary of County Donegal Historical Society, played a pivotal role in the establishment of the museum in Rossnowlagh. The museum stands as a fitting testament to the lifelong dedication and enthusiasm of Louis Emerson, curator of the museum for over fifty years. Current curator is Liam Thomas, Ballintra.

The museum has a range of artefacts extending from Stone Age to more recent times, including: a Spanish Armada anchor, two Famine pots, the Allingham family Bible, and many rare articles which were found in various parts of the county. Ornamental stone work from Lough Derg, Abbey Assaroe and the Monk’s Head from Catsby near Ballyshannon are also on display. Although a small museum there are 14 cabinet cases which display and reveal the history of the county from earliest times.

Cabinet 1 Artefacts from the Stone Age. 
Cabinet 2 The Bronze Age 
Cabinet 3 Penal Times 
Cabinet 4 Weapons from the 18th and 19th Centuries 
Cabinet 5 
Cabinet 6 The 1798 Period 
Cabinet 7 + 8 The Independence Struggle 
Cabinet 9 The militaria of Corporal Charles Sweeney of the U.S. Army 
Cabinet 10 Irish Cultural Influences in Europe 
Cabinet 11 Coins from earliest times 
Cabinet 12 A copy of the Book of Ballymote 
Cabinet 13 A copy of The Annals of the Four Masters 
Cabinet 14 Beatha Aodh Ruadh O’ Donnell by Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh

Finds will continue to be uncovered and often the finder will share his/her discoveries with others so that we can have a better understanding of the past. Recent discoveries at the archaeological dig at Ballyhanna in the town of Ballyshannon have been amazing and further evidence will be revealed in the future by those who are vigilant and who wish to preserve our past. The museum at Rossnowlagh must rank as one of the most popular small museums in the country. Up to 10,000 people visit it annually and visitors in recent years have been identified from over 25 countries. There are many interesting comments in the visitors’ books as to how this small museum, in the tranquil setting of the Franciscan Friary, inspired people’s interest in local history.