Don’t miss the previous postcards from Ireland!
During our previous two weeks in Ireland we were often asked where we would be visiting. I would list the general locations our travels would take us and get responses such as, “Oh it’s lovely there,” and “You’ll have a wonderful time.” But when I mentioned that we would visit Donegal, voices changed. They became a bit more breathless, a bit more effusive, “Donegal is like nowhere else,” I heard over and over again.
And they were right.
County Donegal is part of the Republic of Ireland. But with only a few miles bordering on Sligo, the rest of the county is circled by the Atlantic Ocean and Northern Ireland. Akin to Alaska in the US, Donegal seems to have a myth all its own, just waiting for those who will venture to discover it.
I had a feeling I would fall for Donegal in a big way… I just wasn’t prepared for just how hard I would fall for the people, the rugged beauty and the seemingly untouched areas. It was truly breathtaking.
Knowing we had a busy day ahead of us, we filled up at the breakfast buffet at the Mount Errigal Hotel.
OK, some of us filled up more than others…
Our first stop was the tourism office in Letterkenny. While I had a list of things to do, I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss something we shouldn’t. I was thrilled to see that many of my “to dos” were along a route called the ‘Inishowen 100’ – a 100 mile route along the scenic Inishowen Peninsula. Armed with more information, we set out for our first stop, Grianan Ailligh.
The views from here were absolutely astounding. Climbing the three levels of stairs, and battling the strong winds, you could see Counties Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, and far out into the Atlantic Ocean.
As the winds began to climb and clouds rolled through, we departed to continue our tour along the 100. Following the well sign posted route, our next stop was the stunning Fort Dunree.
A British fort, even after Ireland gained its freedom, Fort Dunree was an important installation during both World Wars. With it’s almost endless views from high above Lough Swilly, it was a prime location for the British Navy.
The walks along the cliffs at Fort Dunree offer dramatic views, incredible bird watching and even glimpses of sea life like otters, dolphins and whales.
Because Doug loves military history, we were keen to tour the military museum. I was worried the girls would become bored quickly, but the museum is so well done, I needn’t have worried.
Fort Dunree offers so much- wildlife discovery, military history and incredible scenic walks. We could have stayed for hours. But we must press on, and back to ‘the 100’ we went.
Much of the Inishowen 100 is narrow roads, often refered to as ‘cow paths’ by the locals, and it’s likely you’ll slow a time or two to make way for four legged traffic, as well as maneuvering carefully around other vehicles. (It’s wonderful!)
Passing through the Mamore Gap in the Urris Hills – with it’s absolutely stunning views- you come across Saint Columcille’s Well. It’s completely worth your time to stop here- you’ll find a surprise.
While the views from Mamore gap are stunning, the Gap has a little secret. A ‘magic road’ lies just below the holy well. About where the white car is in the center of the photo; if you stop, put your car into neutral and let off the brake, you will continue up the rise.
I was keen to try this but Doug forgot the ‘stop’ part of the equation and while we continued over the rise in neutral, I’m sure it was more due to the fact that we had just come down a steep hill than the magnetic pull of the ‘magic road’. Though I wanted to make him stop and turn back, on we went. Time was running short and we hadn’t made it even half way ’round the 100.
Despite our rush, I did make Doug stop at Glendowen Craft Studio just outside Clonmany. Filled with handcrafted tweeds by Ann McGonigle, I was able to find one-of-a-kind gifts to bring home.
Doug had to hurry Caelan and I along as we did need to get to the Doagh Famine Village before the final tour.
Recommended by practically everyone we met along our drive, the Doagh Famine Village covers not only the famine, but the history of the Inishowen Peninsula. The site is actually run by the children of families who lived in this tiny village, in these small one and two room cottages, until the mid-1980s.
With no electricity and no running water, these furthest reaches of County Donegal were living ‘in another time’.
Guided tours of the village run about every hour. While you wait- and included in your ticket price- you can sit and enjoy a cuppa. Definitely a welcome treat as we had yet to eat lunch (and it was nearly 4:30 pm!)
The tour is astounding- to say the very least. The guides know their Irish history- having lived much of it in these very cottages. From the space saving techniques used by large families in small spaces, to the harvesting of seaweed, we were truly ‘taken back’ to a time that was not so long ago, and yet was centuries old.
After the guided tour, you are encouraged to explore on your own. With many life-size diorama, historical factoids and hidden rooms, it would be easy to spend hours here.
Though I had my reservations, the girls insisted they were not “small children” and insisted they could enter the Haunted Room. We barely made it into the third chamber when they were begging to exit. Doug and I each took a child and we made our way back to the entrance, the girls clinging to us with eyes closed.
We left the famine village near closing time and made our way to our final destination of the day- Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point.
With the sea crashing against the cliffs and the wind blowing, it was exhilarating to stand here.
We covered only half of the Inishowen 100 in a very full day. Regretfully, we made our way back to our hotel- along the wider, more “main” roads inland.
Hungry, we set immediately into the Cafe Renaissance Bistro and ordered from the special ‘All In’ menu.
We were in for an additional treat tonight – live music! The musician played a wide variety of Irish traditional and American Country music. We- as well as a large tour group of active retirees from Wicklow- were inspired to dance.
It was truly a terrific end to an amazing day!