To understand donegal, one first has to understand both of its meanings. There is donegal the fabric, and there is Donegal the place - unsurprisingly, there’s a strong connection between the two.
The term is commonly used to describe fabric (usually a wool tweed) with flecks of color throughout. This style of fabric originates from County Donegal, a remote area in Northern Ireland. Most of Ireland is known for its linen fabrics, but the harsh weather of Donegal made growing flax plants difficult. Their focus turned to wool, using natural dyes from lichen and other local plants to give their fabric its characteristic colors.
While this style of weaving was originally limited to just this small region, it is now replicated all over the world. And while some types of fabric are trademark-protected (like Harris Tweed, which is only woven in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland), donegal has become an international word for describing this style. The textile industry in Donegal is much smaller than it was at its peak, but a small handful of mills making authentic donegal fabric still exist. So while dongeal-style fabric can come from anywhere these days, it’s still possible to find the textile in its purest form.