|Location Map ( geo)|
|To:||Bunnamayne (border) (C405212)|
|Distance:||43.8 km (27.2 miles)|
|Meets:||N15, R236, N14, R237, R238, A2|
|Route outline (key)|
The N13 is one of only three National Primary Roads in County Donegal, connecting Letterkenny - the largest and most populous town in the county - with Derry to the north, and with Ballybofey and Sligo to the south. It starts at the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland at Bunnamayne, a short distance from Derry, to which it is connected by the A2. It runs along the south-east shore of Drongawn Lough to Letterkenny where it meets the N14, before heading cross-country to terminate on the N15 at Stranorlar, near Ballybofey.
Bunnamayne (border) - Letterkenny
Acting in tandem with the A2, the N13 serves as the main road between Derry and Letterkenny, the border being invisible but for the change in road markings, and from speed limits in miles into kilometres per hour. From the beginning, the route is a typically wide Irish S2 with hard shoulders, being fast and straight as it heads north-west to Bridge End, and westwards towards Drongawn Lough. Within a short distance of the border, the Irish state has erected "Drive on Left" reminder signs, presumably on account of the large numbers of North American tourists who visit County Donegal each year, although these do seem rather redundant considering that Northern Ireland also drives on the left and any tourist could be forgiven for not even noticing the border at all.
This section of the road is used on a daily basis by commuter traffic heading from residences in County Donegal to jobs in Derry, and also frequently by day-trippers from Northern Ireland travelling in the opposite direction. There are number of restaurants dotted along the route which are popular with the residents of Derry, as is the small town of Buncrana on the eastern shore of Lough Swilly. A kilometre or so from the border, the N13 comes to a brief halt at the Bridge End roundabout, from which the R238 departs for Buncrana and the Inis Eoghan peninsula (Inishowen in English), at the tip of which is the northernmost point of Ireland at the Malin Head.
After Bridge End, which is one of the few noticeable developments between Derry and Letterkenny, the route makes its way across the flat terrain towards Drongawn Lough as a straight road with only the gentlest of curves. At Burt, which consists of only a few houses and a modern but eye-catching Presbyterian church, the R239 departs from a T-junction to the right, heading back towards the R238 and Buncrana. From Burt, the road runs in a south-westerly direction, roughly in parallel with the eastern shore of the lough. We are treated to some spectacular views across the water as we head through Speenoge and Moness Cottages. On the approach to Newtown Cunningham, the R237 departs from the left, heading for Killea on the border, and ultimately back to Derry. The village of Newtown Cunningham itself lies entirely off the mainline of the road, meaning that it does little to impede our progress.
We see nothing of Drongawn Lough for the next few kilometres, as the N13 remains some distance from the water itself, and becomes noticeably more twisty and undulating. It is also often lined by trees in this area, although not to the extent that they overhang the carriageway, which remains wide. It is not until we pass Moneyhaughley, to the south without entering the village itself, that the lough comes into view again. The road is considerably higher than the water, and affords impressive views in the direction of the Glenveagh National Park on the other side. There is a long, straight, and gradual descent from here towards Letterkenny, where we meet the N14 at the (unsigned) Pluck Roundabout. The N13 acquires a lengthy filter lane to separate traffic on the approach to the roundabout, from which a left turn would take us onto the N14 bound for the border towns of Lifford and Strabane, while a right turn carries the N13 to Letterkenny.
Letterkenny - Stranorlar
The two kilometres of the N13 between the Pluck Roundabout and the Dry Arch Roundabout is the only dual-carriageway in County Donegal, arching around an inconveniently located hill to reach the town's edge near Letterkenny Airfield. The market town of Letterkenny lies on the River Swilly, and is known locally as 'the cathedral town' on account of its Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columba, the only Catholic cathedral in County Donegal; it is allegedly one of the most deprived towns in the Irish Republic, but is quite characterful and claims to have the longest high street in Ireland. The N13 never quite enters the town itself, however, turning southwards at the Dry Arch Roundabout, which is adorned with a modern sculpture commemorating the men who built the original bridge and railway that cross a nearby tributary of the Swilly. From here, the N56 Donegal coast road proceeds straight on towards the town centre. Some maps show the dualled section of the N13 as a multiplex between that road and the N14, although there is no evidence of this on the ground.
The N13 leaves the Dry Arch Roundabout by making a very long climb away from Letterkenny and Drongawn Lough, towards Stranorlar and Ballybofey (although only the former is signposted). It does so as a very wide single-carriageway road, with a climbing line in our direction and several long areas of additional hatching with turning filters to separate our two lanes from both turning traffic and the oncoming traffic on the other side. The climbing lane ends as the road levels out shortly before reaching Listillion, although it acquires hard shoulders so is only mildly reduced in width. We are now into very sparsely populated countryside, and there is little to line the route beyond a solitary filling station and a couple of remote dealerships, one selling private cars and the other specialising in commercial vehicles. It is only at Drumkeen the signs of life return; this village is small, but there are a few houses bordering the route. The road descends gently before reaching this settlement, where it crosses the Deele River before ascending again. There is another subtle descent before we pass over the Deele again, after which the N13 levels out.
At Kilross, the road comes to an abrupt halt at a T-junction. Here it meets the R236, which joins us from Derry on the main carriageway towards Ballybofey. Originally, these two roads met at a fork, but a realignment has enabled the N13 to bypass the small group of houses that constitute the settlement. It does seem a little surprising that this realignment appears to prioritise the regional road, but this section of the N13 did not originally have National Primary status (see History), and the work probably predates the southward extension of the N13 beyond Letterkenny. The original course of the road is visible to our right both before and after the T-junction, although the southern end of it is separated from a barrier to prevent traffic entering or exiting the side road in such close proximity to the main line of the T-junction.
There is now little left of the N13, it being only a short run from the TOTSO into Stranorlar. The last two kilometres of the route are much narrower than before, lacking hard shoulders and with the hedges hugging the roadside much closer than before. It is almost entirely a downhill run, passing to the west of the tiny Lough Alaan and the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Golf Club. For the first time in its entire length, the N13 enters a 50km/h speed limit shortly before passing the church and arriving in the centre of Stranorlar. The final hundred metres of the route climb quite steeply to a T-junction controlled by traffic lights, where we meet the N15. From here we can turn left for Lifford and Strabane, or right to continue along that road through Ballybofey, Donegal town, and Sligo.
The N13 originally ran only from the border near Derry to Letterkenny, with the section to Stranorlar forming part of the N56; the stretch between Letterkenny and Stranorlar was upgraded to Primary Road status in 1993. The only other notable change to original route is the dualled section to the east of Letterkenny, and the adjoining section of the route just north of the roundabout with the N14, which are both new-build roads carrying the route away from its original alignment.