Donegal Stories and Tips

A Drive Around The Inishowen Peninsula

Brooding view from Malin Head Photo,

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.

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