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Did You Know … ?
- The 16th century pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, patrolled Ireland’s west coast for 50-plus years.
- Donegal means Fort of the Foreigners, referencing the city’s history as a Viking outpost.
- Donegal’s central city square is a triangle but called the Diamond.
- By tradition, St. Patrick spent time on Station Island in Lough Derg east of Donegal.
- The cliffs of Slieve League are Europe’s highest sea cliffs at nearly 1,000 feet above the water.
Made for walking
Donegal is a small town but famous and popular just the same. That is partly to do with its history, first as a Viking stronghold and later as the headquarters of the O’Donnell clan. The O’Donnells built Donegal Castle and a Dominican abbey in the town in the 15th century, but these chieftains were later forced out by the English.
This town of less than 3,000 is a draw because of its remote location, in the far northwest of Ireland, in the eponymously named County Donegal, site of some of the rugged and very curvy shoreline for which Ireland is noted. It has easy appeal for nature lovers.
The Atlantic waters are tame enough in places to allow for development of beach resorts. North Americans don’t necessarily travel to Ireland for beach holidays, but, for the venturesome, the coast offers more: waters suitable for surfing and deep-sea diving.
On land, the county was made for walkers, with its hills, mountains and valleys — and a local emphasis on walking as a pleasurable pastime. The county’s annual walking festival is one of at least a dozen in the country.
Donegal is not just small; it is not overly well supplied with traditional tourist attractions or activities. But, it does have an attractive location; it sits where the River Eske meets Donegal Bay and is surrounded by the Bluestack Mountains. It has its castle and its abbey ruins, and it is a good place to shop for area handicrafts, notably knitted and woven goods.
Visitors give Donegal its due but also use it as a base for sightseeing at points farther afield. They can relish scenes of rural Irish life, hunt down remains of Ireland’s ancient past such as the Grianan Ailigh ring fort or wonder at the dramatic scenery.
In addition, travelers who want lots of space to stretch their legs like the fact the entire county is uncrowded; likewise, travelers who lean toward the less venturesome side of the personality scale like the slow pace of uncrowded villages and countryside
Things to do for Venturers
- Spend about half a day walking to the top of the pyramid-shaped Errigal Mountain, the highest point (2,464 feet) in the county. Part of the mountain lies within Glenveagh National Park, another — and large — prime area for walking.
- Go to Bundoran for the surfing.
- Indulge in a little puffin spotting. Take the ferry from Portnablagh to Tory Island, which has puffin colonies. Tory is part of the Gaeltacht, meaning it is a location where the language is Irish. It also boasts its own school of artists.
- Stay in a farmhouse, or go more upscale and stay in a historic home.
- Strap on the gear for deep-sea diving at the Mevagh Dive Centre. Diving is available all year.
- At the end of busy days, get comfortable in the area’s pubs.
Things to do for Centrics
- Participate in the Donegal International Walking Festival, which is held each October.
- Get your permit and fish for salmon and trout in Finn Valley.
- Arrange a trip to the remote coastal village of Glencolumbkille, which besides offering beauty, offers Father McDyer’s Folk Village Museum with its collection of traditional buildings of rural Donegal.
- Drive the beautiful 12-mile road around Tranarossan Bay, facing the Atlantic Ocean. The route begins in Carrigart and driving is on the left side.
- If you come in winter, time your arrival for the February Inishowen International Guitar Festival.
- Make your way to some of County Donegal’s more visually exotic sights. For the natural, seek out Malin Head with its craggy coastline and pristine beaches or the steep cliffs of Slieve League. For manmade wonders, find the 4,000-year-old ring fort called Grianan Ailigh.
Things to do for Authentics
- Shop for local arts and crafts at the Donegal Craft Village in Donegal Town. Or head to Kilcar for tweed, knitting and embroidery, to Killybegs for hand-tied carpets or Ardara for tweed and hand-loomed sweaters.
- Venture beyond Donegal Town to the Mountcharles storytelling festival in July.
- In Ireland, golf courses are always somewhere nearby.
- Stay at Sandhouse Hotel and Marine Spa and schedule balneo bath treatments there.
- Give yourself a sightseeing tour of Donegal Town, starting with the 15th century Donegal Castle.
- Take a narrated 75-minute cruise in and around the Donegal harbor to get better acquainted with the area’s history and the natural environment.
For more information, consult Tourism Ireland at www.ireland.com