Daily Archives: January 2, 2011

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 17

Donegal

County Donegal is in the north-west of Ireland. It is one of three counties in Ulster not to be part of Northern Ireland.  4,841 square kilometres in Area it consists of mostly low mountains, with deeply indented coastline, forming natural loughs. The climate is temperate, and dominated by the gulf stream, with cool damp summers, and mild wet winters. Donegal forces you to sit back, slow down and admire the view.

Ballyshannon is a town in southern County Donegal and birthplace of world renowned blues’ guitarist, Rory Gallagher. It is situated on Ireland’s second longest river, Erne. It attracts many tourists because of its location close to Bundoran (mentioned last week).  The annual Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional music festival is the place to be any August Bank Holiday Weekend as the sounds of traditional & folk music echo from the streets, pubs and theatre. With a top class line-up it provides a memorable festival weekend for lovers of traditional music.

Rossnowlagh roughly means ‘Heavenly Headland’, and this 5km Blue Flag sand stretch is one of Ireland’s finest beaches, topped by blue skies. The awesomely blue Atlantic hauls in hoards of bathers and surfers, locals and day trippers, and the fine golden sand facilitates endless sandcastle building.

Donegal Town is a lively place with lots of pubs and a lively local music scene. It’s topped by Donegal Castle built in the 15th century, beside the River Eske, the Castle has extensive 17th century additions by Sir Basil Brooke.  The Castle is furnished throughout and includes Persian rugs and French tapestries. Information panels chronicle the history of the Castle owners from the O’Donnell chieftains to the Brooke family. Limited access for people with disabilities to the ground floor.

In Killybegs tradition with fishing is all around and you can while away hours watching the fishing boats and the net menders or catch a glimpse of the seals in the harbour.  Other activities include Angling, Birdwatching, Oideas Gael Irish Language & Culture Centre, Diving, Golf, Horseriding, Rock climbing and Sailing.

The village of Kilcar consists of a main street with a church at one end and two textile factories at the other end. In between there are a few shops and five pubs. The village has the principal tweed hand weaving facility in Donegal – I was in it many times, but that was way back when 2 yards of single width fabric was enough for a dress to fit me!! – nowadays it has a shop selling high quality tweed products.

Slieve League Cliffs south of Glencolumbkille. and west of Teelin in Co.Donegal are very spectacular.  Mind you the reward only follows a hair rising 8 km drive, beyond Teelin, along roads with hairpin bends and sheer drops to the sea to arrive at Bunglass Point. They are the highest cliff face in Europe. The cliffs drop 765ft to the sea, and Slieve League rises to 1972ft at its highest. Only experienced hikers should attempt to walk the ledges of One man’s Pass.  This trail climbs out of Teelin and climbs to the highest point of Slieve League.  The path continues to Malinbeg. The area was used during WW 11 as a rest/fuel stop for allied planes – even though Ireland was ‘neutral’.

Ardara is a designated Heritage Town and also a well known centre for the manufacture of Donegal homespun tweeds. The area boasts a thriving tourist trade and social scene, and has been dubbed “The Festival Capital of Donegal”.

Dungloe is known locally as the Capital of the Rosses, its Irish name ‘An Clochán Liath’ (Grey Stone), has its origins in the period before the construction of the Dungloe Bridge in 1762. Prior to this date, entry to the town was by means of a stepping-stone across the river.  With 130 lakes, the area is renowned for lake and river fishing. The wild bog and reed beds area haven for wildlife and the views of the bay, particularly the cliff views from the Golf Club South to Arranmore, are memorable.  It is the home of the Mary Form Dungloe Festival, which takes place each Summer attracting people from all over Ireland and indeed from all over the world.

Burtonport is the mainland port for the car ferry to Arranmore the largest inhabited island around the coast of County Donegal.

Nestling below Cashel hill overlooking Ballyness Bay, Gortahork is a small busy Gaeltacht/Irish Speaking Region, the town’s name means The Field of Oats.  Given its location on the coast hugging the foothills of the Derryveagh Mountains, Gortahork is the perfect base to explore the hills and inlets of the surrounding landscape. The nearby beach of Magheroarty has been described as one of the top surfing spots in Europe and a favourite of wind and kite surfers. It is also the departure point for trips to Tory and Inis Bo Finne two Gaelic speaking islands.

Ards Forest Park based in one of the most beautiful spots in Ireland. The Forest Park also has a number of historic features including a mass rock, ring forts and borders a number of beaches. A franciscan friary is also based within the bounds of the forest park.

Creeslough is less dependent on Farming these days and more geared to tourism and family owned businesses with many local entrepreneurs.  Cutting the corn around Creeslough Today by Percy French still brings back fond memories to many of our emigrants and has made Creeslough famous through out the World.

Carrigart is tucked in the inlet of Mulroy Bay at the base of the Rosguill peninsula, one of the more remote but most scenic parts of the country.  It leads to a spectacular circuit called the Atlantic Drive, the road passes little shingly bays, and hillsides dotted with white cottages, then opens out to the incomparable sight of Tranarossan Strand where it’s possible to have several miles of golden sands, wild Atlantic waves and steep rugged cliffs all to yourself!  The route skirts Sheep Haven and Mulroy bays, Horn head and Melrose head are in focus and from Rosapenna beach you can see the Muslac Caves, cut by the sea into quartzite folds.  Downings is an attractive village on a creek of the much indented Mulroy Bay.  Muckish and Errigal mountains can be seen in the distance to the south.

Milford offers a contrast to the grand headlands and magnificent bays.  It stands at the end of the narrow islanded inlet of Mulroy Bay, and among its wooded hills are two lovely glens with the waterfalls Golan Loop and Grey Mare’s Tail.  From Milford travel north  to the lighthouse on the rocky tip of Fanad Head, then back down the rollercoaster road that hugs the cliffs back to Rathmullan, you’ll pass the early 19th-century Knockalla Fort, built to warn off any approaching French ships.

The refined little port of Rathmullan (Ráth Maoláin) has a tranquillity about it that belies the momentous events that took place there a few centuries ago. In 1587, Hugh O’Donnell, the 15-year-old heir to the powerful O’Donnell clan, was tricked into boarding a ship here and taken to Dublin as a prisoner. He escaped four years later on Christmas Eve and, after unsuccessful attempts at revenge, died in Spain, aged only 30. In 1607, despairing of fighting the English, Hugh O’Neill, the earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, the earl of Tyrconnel, boarded a ship in Rathmullan harbour and left Ireland for good. This decisive act, known as the Flight of the Earls, marked the effective end of Gaelic Ireland and the rule of Irish chieftains. Large-scale confiscation of their estates took place, preparing for the Plantation of Ulster with settlers from Britain. Also in Rathmullan, Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 Rising, was captured.

Letterkenny is the largest town in County Donegal. It is situated on a hillside overlooking the River Swilly The Earagail Arts Festival, featuring international music, drama, art and children’s events takes place in July. The Donegal International Car Rally takes place in June and the Donegal Harvest Rally takes place in October of each year.
Glenveagh National Park is home to Golden Eagles and many deer, this national park is a jewel in Donegal, covering 480 hectacres with walks and trails to cover every level.
Buncrana has a vibrant music scene with a host of local pubs or bars having live music most nights of the week. The Buncrana Music and Arts festival returned to the town in 2010, after a five year absence. It will return in 2011, and will take place during the month of July. The town is also very famous for producing traditional music artists. Dinny McLaughlin, Paul Mc Clure, Ciaran Tourish and Tom Byrne are all natives of the town, and have performed to critical acclaim all over the country.
Carndonagh is located near Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland and lies close to the shores of Trawbeaga Bay. Carndonagh is the main market town on the Inishowen peninsula and is the site of the Donagh Cross, which belonged to an early Christian monastery founded by St. Patrick for Bishop MacCairthan, brother of the bishop of Clogher.

Malin Head is Ireland’s most northerly point.

Lifford is the county town and administrative capital of County Donegal and the seat of Donegal County Council, although the town of Letterkenny is often mistaken for fulfilling this role. Lifford is located in the Finn Valley area of East Donegal where the River Finn meets the River Mourne to create the River Foyle. It is situated across the River Foyle from Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

Grianan Aileach Stone Fort is situated as a commanding presence on top of Greenan Hill (245m) between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle near Speenogue village. This stone fort dates back 2000 years and is a fine example of stone forts in Ireland, as well as being the seat of power of the great O’Neill clan.