Few visitors to Ireland make it as far north as County Donegal. Wild, rugged, and remote, Donegal attracts only the hardiest travelers. It’s Ireland wild child, an independent county that shies away from the traditional Irish tourism schemes. The county consists mostly of fishing villages, such as Killybegs, a once-thriving village that now sees half the traffic and tourism of previous years.
Other, much more desolate places line the intricate coastal route. Port is a tiny, abandoned fishing village off a little road on the way to Ardara. Cruise ships, tourism companies, and travel guides do not mention Port, or any of the other ghost towns in County Donegal. Few travelers, except the most enterprising, have been down this path.
But there are a lot of options for curious visitors. Some of Ireland’s best castles are in Donegal, there are several excellent hikes in the area near Donegal city, and there is a cliff range to rival the much more famous Cliffs of Moher.
castles, Mountains, and Cliffs
From the charming estate of Glenveagh Castle to the imperious Donegal Castle, castles abound in this region of Ireland. Some are in ruins, like Doe Castle, while others, like Glenveagh and Loch Eske, host tours daily and boast superb English-style gardens.
Glenveagh Castle lies in the shadow of Mount Errigal, a stone’s throw from the tiny village of Gweedore. Errigal is one of Ireland’s few volcanoes, an impressive mountain that looms up into the clouds. Coarse heather and peat moss cover the hillside and there is no set path to the top. Peat moss is springy, and walkers should take care, as a misstep can send one sprawling into a nearby stream.
Further north, along the main road to the coast, is the Slieve League, the jewel in Donegal’s crown. Most travelers to Ireland take time to visit the much more accessible Cliffs of Moher, in County Galway. The Slieve League puts them to shame. They are higher, more rugged, and much more impressive. Waves crash into the volcanic rock base at the bottom, creating a surging turquoise eddy as they ebb.
Shopping in county donegal
The wool industry is thriving in Donegal. The best wool in Ireland comes from Ardara. Woolen mills do business in every town and prices are generally good. Donegal tweed is prized worldwide for its craftsmanship. Wool blankets are this traveler’s favourite souvenir, and Donegal is the place to buy them.
Photo by MNaumi