Explore – Donegal
Donegal is known as the county of contrasts. Most northerly county on the island of Ireland…. but still only three hours from Dublin. Stronghold of the Gaeltacht and Irish speaking communities. Stunningly beautiful and, as its publicity claims, quite, quite different.
Things to do
Wild rugged Atlantic shores and peaceful tranquil lakeland, dense woodland and wide open spaces, stunning cliffs and 13 blue flag beaches, County Donegal’s beautiful environment is the perfect setting for all sorts of activities. Fishing deep sea or fly fishing, sightseeing, dolphin spotting, scuba diving and all kinds of water sports. In land, walking, bird watching, golf or equestrian are just some of the reasons why visitors come to Donegal.
Located in the Inishowen Peninsula is Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland. Beautiful scenery, fresh air, diverse flora and fauna, complemented by the sound of the waves bashing against the rocks will have you feeling energized and ready for various outdoor activities. Malin head is also home to several endangered bird species and it is one of the few places in Ireland where you can still hear the call of the endangered corncrake in Summer.
On a hilltop in Inishowen, at the edge of the Peninsula, sits the Grianan of Aileach. This stone ringfort dates back to 1700 BC and it is believed to have been built by the Tuatha de Danann who invaded Ireland before the Celts.. An Grianán Ailigh, classified as a National Monument, is a stone ringfort mapped by Ptolomey in his second-century AD map of the world. The ancient site – said to date back nearly 4,000 years – was the base of northern Irish chieftains and known as the Palace of the Northern Princes. It has been identified as the seat of the Kingdom of Aileach and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. Standing at 245 metres (800 ft) above sea level, the fort overlooks Inishowen to the north, giving good views of Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. On a clear day one can see five of the nine counties of Ulster from Grianán’s parapets.
There are many tales associated with Grianán of Aileach in Irish folklore. One such tale relates that Niall Frasach (High King of Ireland 743-770AD) who was born at nearby Fahan decided to become a monk at Grianán and that it was from there that he journeyed to Colmcille’s monastery at Iona. It is also believed that Eogháin, after whom Inishowen is named, was baptised at Grianán by St. Patrick in 450AD. The view of the entire Peninsula and of the sparkling crystal clear waters of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly is breathtaking. On a good day one can see five of the Ulster Counties from this top of the hill. The road that leads to Grianan Ailigh can be accessed at Burt on the main Letterkenny to Derry road.
Off the north-west coast of Donegal, a short ferry trip will bring you to Tory Island where you will meet the last remaining king of Ireland – Patsai Dan Rodgers. Tory’s spectacular cliff scenery is complemented by a rich and varied history and culture, which is intertwined with the islanders distinctive use of Gaelic.
Back in the mainland, in the north-west, lies Glenveagh National Park and Castle. It is a remote and hauntingly beautiful wilderness of rugged mountains and pristine lakes. Glenveagh National Park, the second largest national park in Ireland, is one of six national parks in the country. Situated in the northwest of Co. Donegal, Glenveagh encompasses some 16,000 hectares, or 170 square kilometres, in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains. Such a great wilderness is the haunt of many interesting plants and animals.
The estate was established by John Adair, who became infamous for evicting 244 of his tenants and clearing the land so they would not spoil his view of the landscape. Glenveagh Castle is built on the shore of Lough Veagh and is surrounded by a network of mainly informal gardens which display a multitude of exotic and delicate plants from as far afield as Chile, Madeira and Tasmania, all sheltered by windbreaks of pine trees and ornamental rhododendrons. The gardens and castle were presented to the Irish nation in 1981 by Henry P. McIlhenny of Philadelphia who had purchased the estate in 1937. Access to the castle by guided tour only.
These lands were managed as a private deer forest before becoming a national park. It is now home to the largest herd of red deer in Ireland and the formerly extinct golden eagle were reintroduced into the park in 2000. With the completion of public facilities Glenveagh National Park was officially opened to the public in 1986.
Ards Forest Park is probably one of the most charming and diverse parks in Ireland, with numerous choice of walks. Walkers will encounter a large variety of flora and fauna, sandy beaches, rivers and picnic and play areas. This park also has many features of archaeological and historical interest, such as the remains of 4 ring forts and a number of megalithic tombs.
The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way stretches for 2,500km along Ireland’s western seaboard. This long distance touring route stretches from the very north of Donegal to West Cork – a total length of 2,500km – the route is the longest defined coastal drive in the world and showcases Ireland’s magnificent Atlantic coastline.
Beginning in the Inishowen Peninsula in county Donegal near border with Northern Ireland and Derry City the Wild Atlantic Way travels the entire west coast throught counties Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and ends in the picturesque town of Kinsale in Cork.
The Wild Atlantic Way provides visitors with stunning scenery at every turn and letting them expereice the wild nature of Irelands Atlantic shore be it glorious sunshine or the even more impressive huge Atlantic swells battering the coast during bad weather. Read More
Wild Atlantic Way, Southwest Donegal Coast
The most appealing route out of Donegal town heads west along the shore of Donegal Bay all the way to Glencolmcille, some 50km away. Highlights along this coast include the tapering peninsula leading to St John’s Point and extraordinarily dramatic coastal scenery, which reaches an apogee in the mammoth sea-cliffs of Slieve League. The Glencolmcille Peninsula is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) and its attractive villages are rich in traditional folklore and music. Read more
Glencolmcille is a coastal district in the southwest Gaeltacht of County Donegal. The name translates into English as “valley of Colm Cille”. Saint Colm Cille, or Columba, is one of Ireland’s three patron saints (along with Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid). Colm Cille and his followers lived in the valley for a time and the ruins of several of their churches can still be seen there. The area was first settled by Neolithic farming people between 4000BC and 3000BC. Evidence of this ancient civilisation can be seen in tombs of the Megalithic period and by the cross inscribed stones of early Christianity.
Many natural beauty sites lie nearby, such as the Slieve League cliffs, The Silver Strand at Malin Beg and Glen Head itself. For more details of looped walks in the Glencolmcille area see the Failte Ireland website http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/glencolmcille-loop/62316
Separated from Ardara by the spectacular Glengesh Pass, one of the most photographed views in Ireland, the area around Kilcar offers panoramic seascapes, unspoilt beaches, hills and mountains affording magnificent views and superb walks, impressive megalithic tombs and historic sites largely unknown outside the area
The village has the principal tweed hand weaving facility in Donegal, Áislann Chill Chartha is also the venue for the highly successful series of Traditional Music Concerts “Ceol na gConallach – The Donegal Sessions” these concerts run every Saturday night during the Summer months and various dates throughout the year.
Three kilometres east of Kilcar is the scenic Muckross Head which has two beaches, one of which is popular with surfers. That beach (trá na nglór in Irish, or “beach of the noise”) has a rip tide, coming in at both sides and sucking out in the middle. The other beach (trá bán, meaning “white beach” in Irish), some hundreds of metres away is a popular family beach which is safe for swimming.
At 601 metres (1,972 ft), Slieve League is said to be the one of the highest and finest marine cliffs in Europe. Although less famous than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Slieve League’s cliffs reach almost three times higher.
There are terrific views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Sligo Mountains and Donegal Bay as you walk towards the terrifyingly high top of Slieve League, where the cliff face of Bunglas rises over 600m above the raging ocean. Experienced walkers only should venture beyond the viewing point onto One Man’s Pass which loops around onto the Pilgrim’s Path.
The cliffs can be reached by means of a narrow road that departs from Teelin. The final few kilometers of this route is built along a precipice and includes several places where it turns at the crest of a rise. To fully enjoy the spectacle of Slieve League it is best to leave your car at the car park and walk the few miles to the cliffs so as not to miss the exciting scenery of the area, alternatively you can the 1h 30m boat tour, exploring the amazing coastline, seal inhabited coves, and an island manor and a ruined castle along the way. Read More
Fintra is one of 13 Blue Flag beaches in Donegal. This beautiful sandy beach is just a couple of kilometers outside the fishing port of Killybegs. It is approached by a steep road down to it which offers stunning views of both the beach and Donegal Bay as far as Benbulben mountain in County Sligo.
This sheltered beach with shallow water and soft sand makes it a favourite for taking a stroll, having a splash or making a sandcastle
Ardara is a designated Heritage town, well known for the manufacture of Donegal homespun tweeds. Some of the main scenic points near the town are the Glengesh Pass, the Maghera Falls, Maghara Beachand and the views out over the Atlantic from Loughros Point. Don’t miss the Kilclooney Dolmen on the road to Portnoo.
Maghera itself is an enchantingly remote place, dwarfed by the backdrop of hills and glens and fronted by an expansive and deserted strand that extends westwards to a rocky promontory riddled with caves. One of the largest is said to have concealed a hundred people fleeing Cromwell’s troops; their light was spotted from across the strand and all were massacred except a lucky individual who hid on a high shelf. Most of the caves are accessible only at low tide and a torch is essential. Beware of the tides, however, as even experienced divers have been swept away by the powerful currents. Behind the village, a tiny road, unsuitable for large vehicles, runs up to the Granny Pass, an alternative and very scenic route to Glencolmcille.
Killybegs is a natural deep-water harbour and the most important fishing port in Ireland.
In 1588, Killybegs was the last port of call for the Spanish vessel La Girona, which had dropped anchor in the harbour when the Spanish Armada fetched up on the Irish coast during Spain’s war with England. With the assistance of a Killybegs chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, the Girona’s personnel were fed, her rudder repaired, and she set sail for Scotland, but was wrecked off the Antrim coast with the loss of nearly 1,300 lives.
Killybegs is also famous for its carpets, some of which were produced on the biggest carpet loom in the world at the “Donegal Carpet Factory”. The carpets, known as Donegals, are hand-knotted in the Turkish style. The carpets have adorned many important buildings in Ireland such as Dublin Castle, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Áras an Uachtaráin, Buckingham Palace and internationally the Vatican, The White House, 10 Downing Street and most state buildings around the world. The factory in Killybegs closed in 2003 and has been open since 2006 as the Maritime & Heritage Centre.
The Maritime & Heritage Centre provides information on the carpet making and the fishing industry. Tours are conducted daily and visitors can watch smaller carpets being made and try making a knot. There is also a ship simulator which is the most modern in Ireland. The simulator offers three levels of technique providing great fun for children and the not so young testing their navigation skills.
St John’s Point
One of the longest peninsulas in Ireland, St. John’s Point is designated as a Special Area of Conservation. It is a 10km-long, narrow peninsula running south-west from Dunkineely into Donegal Bay, boasting beautiful scenery, excellent shore fishing and a world renowned diving site. The richly fossiliferous, exposed bedrock shore and sea cliffs are the outstanding features of the site. The subtidal reefs comprise one of the best examples of reef habitats in the country.
Near the end of the peninsula is a small curve of a beach called Traban. A short walk from the beach is a lighthouse situated on the tip of the peninsula. From here you can get stunning views across Donegal Bay, McSwynes Bay, over to the fishing port of Killybegs, as far as County Sligo and back inland.
Stop half way down the point to see a handweaver at work: http://www.discoverireland.ie/Arts-Culture-Heritage/cyndi-graham-handweaving/15376
For more information on St John’s Point: http://diving.ie/news/divesites/two-feet-from-the-shore-st-johns-point-donegal-a-diving-community/
Blue Stack Way
The Bluestack Way is a 47km walking route through a true wilderness area of County Donegal with great views as it traverses the Bluestack Mountains, a range of hills with the highest peak of 674m. It connects Donegal town with the town of Ardara on the west coast. Along the track the route passes by scenic Lough Eske, and then makes its way across the foothills of the Bluestacks to reach an area called Disert, where there is an ancient mountain graveyard. West of Disert the route goes over rough and remote high moorland terrain between Binbane and Cloghmeen Hill before descending along the Owenroe river to reach a bog road. The track follows across isolated bogland at Meenawannia to reach Glenties. From Glenties an enjoyable stretch which includes a very pleasant riverside walk along the Owenea river takes the route to the town of Ardara. Read More
For more information on Summer Guided walks go to:
Donegal has something for everyone. What are you waiting for?
Places to Stay
Hidden Ireland Historic Country Guest Houses
Bed and Breakfast
Bruckless House, the home of the Evans family, is an attractive 18th century Classical house. Listed nationally as a protected building, it has a traditional cobbled farmyard and is set in 18 acres of parkland. Bruckless House borders Bruckless Bay, and has a spacious informal award-winning garden of the Robinsonian kind, which features in the Donegal Garden Trail and in guides to Irish gardens. There is mature woodland around the House and which is carefully developed and protected. Connemara ponies are bred here and can be seen in the parkland and grazing down to the shore-line.
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Formerly a rectory, Frewin is a ﬁne Victorian house in mature, wooded grounds on the outskirts of Ramelton, skillfully restored and modernised by its current owners, Thomas and Regina Coyle. Both are natural hosts and their warm, genuine welcome makes their guests instantly at home. At the top of Lough Swilly, Ramelton is a charming heritage town on the River Lennon and a historic early port, with many important buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland with wonderful empty beaches, rivers, lakes, a spectacularly rugged coastline and the mountains of the Glenveagh National Park.
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