A September 2006 trip
to Donegal by hagnel2
Quote: This journal covers journeys through Sligo, the Inishowen Peninsula (in the Republic) and a memorable trip to Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal.
Ireland is one of my favourite places, each county has its own charm; even when it pours down there is always something to cast a spell be it a misty scene or friendly encounter with the locals. This county and park has some of the most stunning and varied countryside that rivals anything I have seen anywhere else in my travels: oak and pine forests, plunging cliffs and peaceful beaches. Golden eagles extinct 100 years ago have returned to Glenveigh, red deer roam freely, and a highland castle sits in the midst of this huge conservation area.In the Republic, the Inishowen peninsula (Inis Eogan) juts into the wild Atlantic. The best way to explore this unique area is to follow the well-signed 100-mile circular tour. We began our journey the from the east route, following the road from Derry up to Muff the international border. Lough Foyle is to your right until you reach Inishowen Head, the driver will need to keep his eyes on the road while his passenger enjoys coastal scenery.
The peninsula is only twenty-six miles long by approximately twenty-five wide but small things do come in small packages and this holds much for the visitor. Malin Head the northernmost point in Ireland was a real highlight, a timeless place, the Ireland of everyone’s imaginings. Bordered by the North Atlantic, Lough’s Foyle and Swilly this ancient territory predates the county by many centuries.County Sligo is Yeats country. William Butler Yeats lived in Sligo during his youth; his Grandfather owned a shipping company and a mill on the Garavogue River. Sligo is an area rich in Pre-historic sites and its town is a bustling friendly place filled with traditional music pubs and fine places to eat and shop. The poet is buried at Drumcliff beneath his loved mountain Ben Bulben the grave is well signed and easy to find. The surrounding landscapes infuse the best of Yeats poetry and sometimes locals recite the most popular ones over a friendly drink. The subject of his best-known poem "The Lake Isle of Insifree" just outside the town is indeed a magical place.
Attraction | "Haunts Of Yeats. Rosses Point. County Sligo."
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 8, 2007
Village of Rosses Point
Attraction | "Yeats Grave At Drumcliff. County Sligo"
Drumcliff Church, W. B. Yeats Grave
We began this scenic drive from the delightful but busy county town Letterkenny, set near the river Swilly it is a popular destination for visitors intending to explore Glenveigh National Park; bring your walking shoes as it boasts the longest main streets in Ireland. The hilly street seems to stretch beyond the town, although most of its main shops and restaurants are along or just off the main center. A network of narrow streets lead from its main thoroughfare and Saint Eunans Cathedral towers above the town.
Letterkenny is also the ecclesiastical capital of county Donegal and the Cathedral’s beautiful stained glass is worth seeing. The building itself is imposing with flying buttresses and its enormous Celtic cross in the parking lot is impressive. Many of the town shops display local handicrafts and high quality Irish crafts, plus a wide array of pubs and eating establishments give the visitor a wide choice of venues. Having visited Letterkenny on a previous trip our destination this time was Glenveigh National Park. The park is just 24 miles from Letterkenny a nature reserve that is home to the two tallest peaks in Donegal, Errigal and Slieve Snacht it is a nature lovers Eden, despite being within easy reach by road (N56) it has a remote and appealing wildness. The light is amazing and the colours of browns, purples, and greens make for unsurpassed scenery. It is indeed a stunning corner of Ireland and a main area of Gaelacht, Gaelic is the first language in this area, road signs may be bilingual or just Gaelic and so it is a good idea to have the Gaelic names of the places you intend to visit.Within the park is Glenveigh Castle a turreted well maintained showpiece built in 1870 this one time private estate once owned by an infamous Famine landlord was donated to Ireland in 1983 by Henry Mcllhenny. Henry was an American from Philadelphia, he continued the garden plans developed by previous owners and filled it with plants from his trips around the world and the resulting gardens are outstanding.
Exotic plant gardens all have themes, as do all of the garden areas however, the informal setting is maintained. Tours of the castle need to be pre-booked and there is an admission charge, the remainder of the park is free, unfortunately we couldn’t enter the castle because a special pre-booked tour was already in progress, (usually couples can tag along with groups) instead we had breakfast in the visitors center, watched park information videos, and enjoyed super displays depicting the whole area.
The whole time we were there steady drizzle never let up, swirling mists and plumes of smoke from the castle chimneys gave the place a brooding appearance and cast an air of unreality as though it was a movie set and actors were waiting to appear through the fog.My favourite part of this nature reserve was the Valley of the Poisoned Glen in the southwest area of the park, ice carved cliffs meet that results in scenery that is breathtaking. Poisoned glen so named because of a poisonous plant named spurge that grows in abundance, but there are legends and stories refuting that the plant is responsible, one tale relates that a Cyclops named Balor once inhabited the land and was slain in a battle by Lugh, during the fight Balor’s eye rolled to the ground and tainted the land and lakes.
The Valley is quite remote but attracts hill walkers and hikers there are marked trails, but only experienced hikers should attempt them, (or hire a guide) the weather is changeable and vast areas are boggy. The Derryveigh mountains are the backbone this unspoiled area seeing them wreathed in mists with shafts of sunlight peeking through is like a small window into heaven, truly no trip to the north would be complete without a visit to this wondrous area. All in all we spent five hours in the park really just enjoying scenery I just wish we had had better weather. We followed the R251 (leaving the park) into Gweedore oohing and ahhing at the wild highland scenery, past piles of freshly cut peat and the odd farmer trundling along on his tractor. From Crolly on the R259 we followed a kind of loop through miles of rock-strewn land known as the Rosses, into Burton port and onward to Dungloe.Burtonport (signposted Ailtan Chorrain) Is a small once thriving fishing port at one time this port caught the most salmon at the harbour than any where else in Ireland however, that distinction is not the case presently. There is a regular ferry service to Arranmore island (20 minutes away). The tiny village boasts only two pubs and I noticed a fine dining establishment, some locals told us that the bus service into nearby Dungloe was in danger of being cancelled due to lack of riders. The coastal scenery is lovely and a place where modern houses and inhabitants with two cars (Mercs of course) choose to live. Modern shopping and a large supermarket in Dungloe have taken custom away from the few surviving businesses.Dungloe, signposted An Clochan Liath is in the heart of the Rosses, there are upwards of 125 lakes in this area and the small town hosts an annual Mary from Dungloe Festival that is usually held in August. It is a bustling town with many shops and more than a few pubs. We ended our day here staying overnight with friends we had met on a cruise. The population is just over three thousand people and it is a friendly place and a good base for exploring the lakes and hiking in the National Park. I know we only scratched the surface North Donegal and so that leaves us longing to return and explore further.
We spent two days exploring this peninsula, although on the first day we didn’t realize that we had crossed into the republic until we stopped at a small bar in Muff and received our change in euros. We didn’t notice a marked demarcation point but on subsequent road trips, we noted that the republic of Ireland's roads all display a yellow margin marker and speed limits are in kilometers. The peninsula is very scenic occupying the entire northwest of the republic and a world away from the hustle of Dublin.The coast road here has a special appeal in that its view over the waters of Lough Foyle are stunning; during our drive we observed oyster boats bobbing in the rough deep blue waters and some hardy sailors navigating tiny sailboats up to Inishowen head. On the way, we passed by Whitecastle, Redcastle, Moville, and Greencastle. At one time all the so named villages boasted castles, they were built by the native Irish to protect their fertile lands from raiding neighbours nowadays the only castle remaining is at Greencastle so named because of its ivy coated walls.The beach at Inishowen head was almost deserted, but we enjoyed a picnic lunch shielded from blustery winds in a tiny cove. It is a wild and rugged coast with clear views of the mountains of Scotland and the Antrim coast. We hiked up and around the craggy cliff to view the Lighthouse, at one time, there were two lighthouses the remaining one dates from around 1837 and has been powered by electricity since 1961. There were only a few hardy souls out and about, we noticed a bar restaurant (open), but we mainly walked around and enjoyed the views from the cliff head.Our second day exploring this coast started from Muff (R238) and our destination Malin Head the head is the Northernmost point in the entire country. I was truly impressed with this part of Ireland's wild coastline, rugged hills, heather bogged moors, shale cliffs, thatched cottages and a cornucopia of archaeological treasures. Archaeological finds here date the earliest settlements to 5000 years covered hilltop forts, ancient stone crosses and standing stones give the visitor a true meaning to the term timeless.From Muff, we followed the sign to Greencastle still on the R238 and then at Culdarf we followed R243 to the little town of Malin and then carried on the R242 to Malin Head. That road is very narrow and at the end you will come to a small car park, it is a great overlook on the sea cliff and well worth your time.Scenery is the thing at Malin Head where there is a tower (circa1865). At one time the Lloyds signals station provided an important news link between the United States and Europe. Close by are concrete buildings that formed look out posts during two world wars. We left our car at the car park and took a very bracing hike along the cliffs, the view is stupendous, creamy wild waves crash against ancient cliffs the roar of the wild Atlantic producing music not of human creation. I cannot help being aware how small and irrelevant we are how brief a time we have on this lovely earth while this landscape cliffs, mountains, and rivers go on forever.Following our walk we drove to Slievebane (five minute drive) and had lunch at Farren’s bar, this bar is the Northern most bar in Ireland and has been in the Farren family for six generations. The interior of the dimly lit bar is definitely a local place. There were only a couple of locals seated on stools, and the young bartender seemed pleased to see new faces. We were a bit late for lunch but the fellow behind the bar provided us with toasted cheese sandwiches and while we waited for our Guinness to settle we wondered round looking at the "rogues gallery" seemingly this is the place for top class Irish music and if the photos are anything to judge by good times prevail. There were also many photographs and community news clippings chronicling event that affected this area.
Many young men and families left the peninsula to work in Scotland and some stayed there permanently, others were homesick. I saw a news cutting that related the stories of those young men who couldn’t settle one quoted "A pound made fishing in Malin Head is better than five pounds earned away from home" even after famine times, especially during the thirties and up to mid 1960s this tiny area could not sustain full employment for all residents.We didn’t linger over lunch because we wanted to go to Doagh to see a Famine Village attraction. This is a wonderful place to learn about Irish culture. The village covers life in Ireland from 1840 to 1900 to present day. Depictions and explanations of customs include a Wake, Traveling people, Evictions, and a Scalpeen dwelling. (Built from scraps of materials from the tenants former home) the models, artifacts and posters are superbly explained but it is the isolation of the area that permeates the mind, the poverty cold and hunger is easy to imagine.Leaving Doagh I can’t help compare the incredibly beautiful scenery to the squalid dwellings of famine times. During our exhilarating ride over the pass of Mamore the unspoiled landscape is incredibly beautiful. Storybook thatch cottages narrow roads and turf-cutting fields allow a glimpse into old time Ireland. That all ends in the busy seaside town of Buncrana (we didn’t stop there) but clearly this is (Inishowen Pen) an area that must not be missed. The 100 mile Inishowen route takes time, is well marked and worth seeing, a northern ring of Kerry and every bit as lovely.