This seaside town of Bundoran has both suffered and prospered because of partition. During the 1939-45 Emergency, the town experienced a mini-boom when many people crossed the Border to escape the realities of war and enjoy some leisure time in the ‘Brighton of Ireland’. When the railway closed in the 1950s, the numbers of tourist visiting Bundoran decreased dramatically. When the Troubles began, Catholics from Northern Ireland flocked to Bundoran in droves, particularly during the summer marching season of July and August to escape the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Despite the convivial appearance of the seaside resort, however, Bundoran became synonymous with militant republicanism during the Troubles, not unlike other border towns such as Buncrana and Dundalk.
The modern town of Bundoran developed from two separate villages, the Protestant Ascendancy resort of Bundoran in the West End and the Catholic village of Single Street in the East End. The Viscount of Enniskillen built the first residence, Bundoran Lodge in 1777, and during the early 19th century, Bundoran became increasingly fashionable as a holiday destination for the Ascendancy. At the other end of the coastal plain, in the townland of Finner, the small village of Single Street was also developing. Throughout the 19th century, its population grew steadily. Both villages began to expand into the Drumacrin townland. When the railway arrived in 1866, the two villages amalgamated to become the modern town of Bundoran. The town grew up with the railway and its arrival brought unprecedented prosperity.
During the early years of the 20th century, Bundoran experienced the most spectacular population growth in Ulster. By the end of the First World War, however, the railway company was in trouble. Partition exacerbated its problems as both governments had opposing transport policies concerning the railway network. In Northern Ireland, the transport authorities preferred the development of the road network to rail. Yet because of the rationing of petrol during the Second World War, the railway once again became popular. The trains made it possible for most people to smuggle goods across the Border to and from Northern Ireland. Rationing meant that flour and butter were not readily available. People from Northern Ireland regularly smuggled sugar back across the Border where it was in short supply. The pressure of a post-war economy took its toll. By the early 1950s, the railway company was in difficulty and by the end of the decade, it had ceased to exist. The Northern Irish Government closed its lines in 1957 leaving small sections of railway scattered throughout the south. A 1956 Seanad Éireann report stated that the railway closure would be a devastating blow for Bundoran, which was largely dependent on its tourism industry. An inquiry at the time revealed that up to 40,000 Sunday day-trippers went to Bundoran during July and August.
Bundoran became an increasingly popular holiday destination for the Catholic community of Northern Ireland during the Troubles due to its immediacy to the Border. However, foreign visitors, particularly those from Britain, stopped coming to Bundoran for just that reason. As the Battle of the Bogside erupted in Derry, the Taoiseach Jack Lynch ordered the Irish Army to set up field hospitals and refugee camps in Donegal in 1969. Finner Camp, just outside Bundoran, was used to house some of the large numbers of 25 refugees who began streaming over the Border. In 1972, the British Army cracked down on ‘no-go’ areas such as the Bogside in Derry with ‘Operation Motorman’. This forced the IRA to move some of its resources to border areas. A British government document, Prominent Members of Provisional IRA Active Service Units Operating in a Cross-Border Role, stated there were five active service units (ASUs) on the Border, including one based in Bundoran. One of the names mentioned in the document was Dáithí Ó Conaill. A senior figure and strategist in the IRA, Ó Conaill was in hiding in the Bundoran area at the time. He left Sinn Féin in 1986 with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, local republican Joe O’Neill and others to form Republican Sinn Féin. Nine prisoner candidates were nominated by the National H-Block committee to run for the Dáil after Charles Haughey called a general election in June 1981. Two of the candidates, Kieran Doherty and Martin Hurson, had strong connections with Bundoran. Tensions were high in the town when the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey arrived to canvass support for the upcoming general election. H- Block supporters jeered the Taoiseach as he appeared in Bundoran to speak on a mobile platform. Haughey was struck by an egg when he spoke at Ballyshannon and the Gardaí and H-Block supporters came to blows.
Throughout the 1980s, the presence of members of the New York Police Department pipe band at the IRA Hunger Strike commemoration in Bundoran continued to cause controversy. Then in the mid-1980s, Bundoran was dubbed the ‘dirtiest town in Ireland’. By the mid-1990s, however, the property boom had begun to take hold in Bundoran. The extensive investment in holiday homes was fired by the Irish Government’s tax-incentive schemes and many people from Northern Ireland bought properties in the town. In 1995, an article in the Irish Times suggested that in order for Bundoran to develop, it was simply a ‘question of good planning control and a concerted effort to deal with the image problem’. Surfing provided the solution to the town’s image crisis. In 1997, Bundoran hosted the European Surfing Championships. It was Europe’s largest-ever surfing championship at the time with more than 360 competitors from seventeen different countries. The championships marked Bundoran’s first official recognition as a world-class area for surfing.
Between 2002 and 2006, Bundoran’s population grew by seven per cent to almost 2,000. The construction boom that began in the 1990s continued unrestricted, leading to increased expansion in the town. In 2008, the banking crisis led to the downfall of the construction industry and, like many other towns all over Ireland, some developments in the town remained unfinished.