Visiting the Fort Dunree Military Museum
Fort Dunree is a military museum and wildlife centre situated at the mouth of Lough Swilly in County Donegal. Dunree is a 10-minute journey from Buncrana on the Inishowen peninsula and 30 minutes from the city of Derry. It is one of Donegal's premier tourist attractions, and apart from the military museum, there are also stunning scenic walkways—some stretching right into the foothills of the Urris mountains.
Fort Dunree has been a military base of strategic importance for many years due to its proximity to the North Atlantic and its position at the mouth of Lough Swilly. Prior to the partition of Ireland, Fort Dunree was an important base for the British military during World War One, as Lough Swilly was the location for the massing of Royal Navy Admiral Lord Jellicoe's North Atlantic Fleet prior to the famous Battle of Jutland. After the partition of Ireland, Britain retained use of Dunree as one of the 'Treaty Ports' and it was only handed back to the Irish authorities before the beginning of World War Two. The Fort was used by the Irish army right up until the 1980s.
Sadly, in July 2019 fire engulfed the old barracks area of Fort Dunree, destroying most of the old Irish Defense Forces living quarters and messes. Thankfully, the museum proper remained unscathed.
The Guns of Dunree
The Guns of Dunree are the most striking attraction at the museum, with numerous artillery pieces being situated throughout the museum's perimeter. The main museum is situated on a high craggy outcrop of rocks that can only be reached by walking across a small drawbridge, which forms the entrance to the main museum. Visitors can explore the various observation posts and examine the huge searchlights which were used to illuminate the mouth of Lough Swilly during World War Two when it was a 'Closed Port' in accordance with Irish Neutrality.
The main exhibition suite contains interactive features and assorted militaria connected with Irish regiments and indeed British regiments that had been stationed at Fort Dunree. In several bunkers that had been cut into the rock, there are further exhibits connected to Irish artillery regiments and examples of the ordinance they used. Fort Dunree was one of the main bases where Irish troops were stationed during the 'Northern Ireland border Emergency', as it was called in 1969. Visitors can listen to taped accounts of Irish soldiers stationed in Dunree on stand-by during the emergency, and they make for very interesting listening.
The Saldanha Suite and The Rockhill Collection
Across from the main museum is the Saldanha Suite, which contains the Rockhill Collection, there is an extensive private collection of militaria on loan to Fort Dunree from collectors Jackie Keenan and Jim Gallagher. There are numerous displays of memorabilia from the Irish army's missions with UNIFIL, EU, and ECMM, including items from other armies they served alongside. There are examples of small arms, including rifles, handguns, bayonets, grenades and other assorted weapons. The Saldanha Suite also has a wealth of military uniforms and even has examples of fairly modern-looking missile launchers.
It's not all militaria in the Saldanha Suite; there is also a Wildlife Discovery Centre where visitors can learn about wildlife found locally and examine examples of the local flora and fauna. The Wildlife Discovery Centre is an excellent starting point for the numerous scenic walks that surround Dunree, and there are a variety of trails to suit both the physically fit and the less adventurous.
Dunree also includes a veritable ghost town of abandoned military quarters and amenities which can be an eery experience to walk around. It's difficult to believe that Dunree was home to an Irish military community right up until the 1980s. There is a war memorial dedicated to those men from the area who lost their lives in World War 1, erected by the Inishowen Friends of Messines. The memorial lists all 249 names of the fallen from Inishowen and neighboring Newtowncunningham, Carrigans and Killea and was financially assisted by Peace 3 funding.
Fort Dunree is a wild, wonderful place and has a real frontier atmosphere about it, with the harsh North Atlantic surrounding the Fort with steep cliffs and the Urris mountains adding to the sense that you are exploring an isolated outpost. It is well worth visiting when in the Inishowen area of Donegal, and the scenery includes some of the most spectacular in Ireland.
The museum charges under 5 Euros for a single entry and 12 Euros for family admission, which includes secure car parking. There is also a cafe and gift shop which is worth visiting for souvenirs unique to Fort Dunree. An auditorium and conference facilities are also available to book by arrangement.
A Look Around Fort Dunree
© 2019 Liam A Ryan