Donegal and Pennsylvania

Families from Ulster began to settle in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s and in the course of the eighteenth century the numbers migrating there increased substantially. The legacy of these arrivals can be seen in the many place-names across the state that have origins in the north of Ireland.

1792 map of the state of Pennsylvania small





Donegal Township

The townships of Donegal (now divided into East and West), Rapho and Mount Joy (which was possibly named for the Donegal landlord Lord Mountjoy) are found in Lancaster County. The families of Allison, Buchanan, Galbraith, McClure, Mitchell, Smith and Stewart, most of whom probably originated in the Laggan, were among the earliest to settle in this area.

Donegal Township

Donegal Presbyterian Church

Donegal Presbyterian Church in Lancaster County was founded in the 1720s. Among those taking part in the installation of the congregation’s first minister in 1727 was Rev. Thomas Craighead who had previously been a Presbyterian minister in Donegal, Ireland.

Donegal Presbyterian Church

Pioneer: John Lewis

By the 1730s Ulster-Scots immigrants were pushing into Appalachia. An intriguing memorial from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia commemorates a native of Donegal, John Lewis (d. 1762), who ‘slew the Irish lord, settled Augusta Co., located the town of Staunton, and furnished five sons to fight the battles of the American Revolution’.

John Lewis grave memorial

Merchant: Redmond Conyngham

The career of Redmond Conyngham reflects the mercantile connections between Donegal and the New World in the 1700s. Descended from a sixteenth-century bishop of Argyle, Conyngham emigrated from Letterkenny to Philadelphia in 1741 and became a hugely successful shipping merchant before retiring to Donegal.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, built in the 1750s

Industrialist: Robert Coleman

Born in Castlefinn, Robert Coleman emigrated to America in 1764 and worked initially as a book-keeper. He went on to make a fortune from his ownership of a series of ironworks in Pennsylvania and is said to have been the state’s first millionaire. During the War of Independence he supplied munitions to the Continental Army. 

Robert Coleman portrait

The people are mainly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians … not only patient, but cheerful; pleased at the prospect of finding a happy home in one of the valleys which stretched from the mountains westward on to Pittsburgh.

From the diary of Rev. David McClure of Pennsylvania (1748–1820)