|Via:||Ard an Rátha, An Clochán Liath, Dún Fionnachaidh, Kilmacrenan|
|Distance:||157.1 km (97.6 miles)|
|Meets:||N15, R267, R925, R262, R263, R230, R261, R253, R250, R252, R259, R257, R258, R251, R256, R245, R255, R249, R229, R940, N13|
|Route outline (key)|
The N56 is not itself one of County Donegal's best roads, but it does give access to them. I rather suspect that most people travelling long distance along this road do so with even longer detours in mind, along the many R-roads that link to the county's spectacular coastline. We certainly did.
Donegal – An Clochán Liath
The route starts by heading west along the Donegal northern bypass from a roundabout junction with the N15 by the modern buildings of the Public Service Centre at Drumlonagher north-east of the town. After some 2 km, and bridging a number of minor roads, the bypass ends at another roundabout where we meet the R925 which has run northwestward from the centre of the town.
The next few kilometres are wide, with the characteristic Irish 'slow lanes' in places, and hatching down the middle to provide for the numerous turning lanes. However, I seem to remember that the road starts to lose this width somewhere near the R262 junction at Milltown, although I could be wrong.
If you are simply trying to get from A to B, then the R262 heads north to the N56 near Glenties, cutting the journey length in half. I couldn't comment on the time saving! We then have 15 km on the N56 to the R263 junction leading to Killybegs. Unless you are in a hurry to get somewhere else, turn off here, and rejoin the N56 13 km north at Common Bridge after a 70- to 80-km trip to Malin Bay and back.
From Common Bridge, it is just a short run north to the small town of Ard an Rátha (Ardara), at the head of one of the many narrow sea inlets that litter the Donegal coast. From here the scenic R261 follows the coast, while the N56 turns inland to Kilrean and Glenties, where the R262, R253 and R250 all meet it. It then doubles back to the coast at Maas.
Just beyond Maas, we cross the river of the same name and enter the Gaeltacht. This is one of the Irish-speaking areas on the Atlantic Coast, so the text of the road signs is given in Irish only. A few kilometres before we reach the market town of An Clochán Liath (Dungloe), the R252 joins from the east. The town itself has an urban link-road bypass, avoiding the main street, which has become the R259, taking us out along one of the most scenic parts of the Donegal coast – the area known as Na Rosa (The Rosses).
An Clochán Liath – Letterkenny
From An Clochán Liath, we head north-east, cutting off the ragged coastline of Na Rosa, until we reach the other end of the R259. This also provides access to Donegal Airport – serving the county rather than the town. After a kilometre, we meet the R257 and then a little further on, at Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore), the R258, both heading west to Bunbeg and on around the coast of the Gaoth Dobhair region.
Heading west now, we reach the R251 junction heading eventually for Letterkenny, and then 9 km to the north is the other end of the R257, coming back from Cnoc Fola (Knockfola). We now skirt Ballyness Bay to reach An Fál Carrach (Falcarragh), where the R256 heads south east to the R251. This is where we ran out of time and headed back to the cottage, but the N56, having all the time in the world, continues!
At Dún Fionnachaidh (Dunfanaghy) the road turns east, and then after 3 km at Portnablaghy it turns south, now heading for that great road hub, Letterkenny. The R245 and R246 turn left, to Carraig Airt (Carrickart) and Millford respectively, on Donegal's ragged north coast, while the R255 provides a short westward link to the ubiquitous R251.
On the downhill approach to Letterkenny, and some 2 km from the town centre, we turn left at the Knocknamona Roundabout – leaving the R229 to continue the straight run ahead – and skirt the northeastern side of the town. The route is largely through fields, but development is fast filling the gaps, especially in the form of business parks and light industrial units.
At the Polestar Roundabout, about 1.5 km east of the town centre, we meet the R229 again as well as the R250, and our route takes another left turn to head eastward for 1.4 km before terminating at the Dry Arch Roundabout on the N13 in the townland of Bunnagee.
The N56 originally continued as far as the N15 at Stranolar, but the N13 was later extended to take over this section. The road has been re-routed through Letterkenny over time to avoid the town centre.
The route originally ran through Donegal Town until July 1999 and Mountcharles until 2001 when bypasses opened here.
The "N56 Mountaintop to Illistrin" scheme realigned approx 4km of road to the North of Letterkenny, opening in 2009.
Current & Future Upgrades
Significant upgrades to the 26km section from South of Glenties to South of Dungloe have been delivered gradually since 2012, with approximately 11km completed and open and 15km awaiting tender award as of January 2019. Much of the road is now on an entirely new alignment with the old road preserved as cycle tracks, where no new alignment was required, a cycle track has been built beside the widened road. Glenties itself will not be bypassed at this time and there are no plans to do so.
Approximately 4km of road from the end of the existing Mountcharles Bypass to Drumbeigh/Drumbeagh, the location of the junction with the R262, is currently undergoing realignment with an expected 2019 end date. The next approximately 4km from here to Inver is awaiting tendering.
The 3km of road from the end of the 2009 Mountaintop to Illistrin scheme to the village of Kilmacrennan is currently undergoing realignment.
A relief road from the Dry Arch Roundabout (junction of the N13 and N14) to the N56, avoiding the Port Road in Letterkenny and providing a second bridge over the River Swilly has been proposed but the scheme is currently suspended.