Visit Donegal, Ireland for a lot of craic
Go Visit Donegal, Ireland for a lot of craic. Donegal, pronounced Donegawl, is a remote county in Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The most northern county of the Republic of Ireland is as diverse as the rest of the country. Let’s face it, Donegal was named by National Geographic Traveller UK as the ‘The Coolest Place’ to visit in 2017. Loving Ireland, asked their readers which of the 32 counties in Ireland was the Prettiest County and yes, 25% voted for Donegal. The warmth and hospitality of the people of Donegal will captivate you.
From the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, to the dramatic cliffs at Sliabh Liag. From the rolling green pastures, to the thatched-roof cottages. From the Derryveagh range to the southern Bluestack Mountains, from rugged fortresses and castles, and yes, you are experiencing Donegal. But there’s more – from world-class surfing beaches at Rossnowlagh and Bundoran, to the food and the people, and that is why we are recommending that you to go visit Donegal in Ireland. Donegal is one of the most exciting destinations on the planet, and one of the most remote on the Wild Atlantic Way.
What is craic?
Craic (pronounced crack, yeah, I know) is basically about having fun, and the Irish and the people of Donegal really know how to have craic. A delightful lady from Inishowen in Donegal told us that when she was working in Bondi, Australia and having a night at the pub, she asked “where she could ‘get some craic’, but the translation went a little wrong.
There is craic in the dramatic scenery when you go visit Donegal, craic in the food, craic in the pastoral landscapes, and craic in the pubs, people, and music, which are all intrinsic to the Irish way of life.
Where is Donegal?
A map is always a good idea. Donegal is the brighter green in the north-west corner. The pink is Northern Ireland, and the rest is the Republic of Ireland.
As you can see Donegal, shares a border of fewer than 15 kilometres with other counties in the Republic of Ireland. It shares the majority of its border with North Ireland, which begs the question of why this county was not included in Northern Ireland. That is tricky and bound up with the various conflicts, and negotiations. At the end of the day, the county of Donegal, who are predominantly Catholic, wanted to stay with the Republic of Ireland and they did.
As the most northern of the counties, Donegal beats to its own bodhrán or Irish drum. It needs to — but it does have pole position with its location on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Getting to Donegal
It is only 90 minutes by car from Belfast, and under 3 hours from Dublin by car. Further information here. Derry Airport is situated a short drive from the World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway and the border of Donegal, an area of renowned, outstanding natural beauty and the starting point to the famous Wild Atlantic Way touring route. Donegal Airport is located is located at Carrickfinn, Kincasslagh, Co. Donegal.
What is the Wild Atlantic Way?
The Wild Atlantic Way is a tourism trail that runs the western length of Ireland. It is 1600 miles (2600 km) in length and is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world, through 9 counties of Ireland. We covered all areas of the Wild Atlantic Way as we had been touring Ireland for three weeks before embarking on our Donegal trip. We recommend that you do The Wild Atlantic Way, and will post the links to the other places we visited.
Our four-day itinerary on our Go Visit Donegal trip.
We were the guests of Fáilte Ireland (pronounced fultcha) the National Tourism Board, Go Visit Donegal and TBEXIreland for an immersive experience of this enchanting county. With six other travel influencers, we were there to experience much of what Donegal has to offer and to share our experiences with you. With us on our trip was the walking encyclopaedia, our tour guide Conor Ellard, our intrepid and delightful bus driver and carer, DanJo (Daniel Joseph), and our Failte Ireland Rep. the lovely Antoinette Reilly.
In fairness, we packed so much into the four-day exploration of the county of Donegal, I would double this time to get right into the culture of this county, or even triple it, truth be told — the county of Donegal has so much to offer, and so much craic
From Killarney in County Kerry to County Clare
Burren in County Clare.
We travelled to the region known as the ‘Burren’ in County Clare, known as the Irish county of music, and where my ancestor’s hails from. Suffice to say that their musicality was lost on me. This is where we experienced the Burren Food Trail at the Roadside Tavern and Burren Brewery in the cute and quaint village of Lisdoonvarna.
Incidentally, over 60,000 people from all over the world come to Lisdoonvarna for the annual Matchmaking Festival. This region was well known in the olden days as having the best matchmakers, and now this uniquely Irish festival is the largest of its kind in the world. Ireland’s only traditional matchmaker Willie Daly takes appointments. Touch his ‘lucky book’ with both hands, and you will be married in six months. I am so leaving that alone. A few weeks after this festival is The Outing, a LGBT Music and Matchmaking Festival, which is very popular also.
The Food of Lisdoonvarna
Only 15 minutes from the Cliffs of Moher, you can and should visit the Roadside Tavern and Burren Brewery. The Food at the Burren Smokehouse is sensational and shows you just how advantageous it is to live in such a pristine area. The smoked hot and cold salmon is unparalleled in simplicity and taste. It is smoked on site by owners Birgitta & Peter Curtin who buy the best foods Ireland has to offer, and as locally sourced as possible. Birgitta is Swedish, and the meal we were served was very reminiscent of the Smørrebrød we had recently become enraptured in Scandinavia. Enjoy our posts on Aarhus and Copenhagen.
From County Clare to Ballina in North Mayo County
Our next port of call was where we were staying on our first night at Hotel Ballina. Here we experienced a whiskey tasting by local Connacht Whiskey Company. Tasting 50%+ whiskey was daunting, to say the least, but the company is well on its way to perfecting their craft. We also learned some Irish traditions, like the straw boys. Straw boys were wedding crashers. If they enjoyed the wedding and felt welcome, they would burn their hats, and this would be good luck for the bride and groom. If not, they would throw their hats into the ditch = bad luck for the couple.
We then headed to Dinner in Dillons Bar & Restaurant, in Ballina for some great food and more craic.
Homage to W.B. Yeats, Drumcliff Cemetery, County Sligo
Drumcliffe, County Sligo is set against the striking backdrop of the Benbulben Mountains. It is best known as the final resting place of W.B. Yeats
From Ballina to Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal.
Many people do not realize that Donegal is home to some great surfing sites and some huge waves. I guess surfers know, but this is a massive drawcard to visitors to the Donegal region and is noted as one of Europe’s best Blue Flag beaches. While I chickened out of donning the wetsuit and taking on the Wild Atlantic (because I was sure I would end up at the next landfall, which is Boston), there were other braver souls who took to the waters, under the guidance of Fin McCool Surf School.
Creevy Pier Hotel
We had spent three weeks in Ireland before our trip to Donegal County, and this had started my obsession with seafood chowder. This continued at Creevy Pier Hotel which is located on the seafront of the Wild Atlantic Way in a secluded bay only 3 miles from the historic town of Ballyshannon in County Donegal, and the oldest town in Ireland. The chowder was damn good.
Rossmore Manor B&B
Our journey continued to Rossmore Manor B&B, Rossmore, Donegal. This family-run B&B is set on the edge of Donegal Bay with panoramic views of mountains to the north and west, seashore to the south and mature forests to the east. It just a 6-minute drive from the historic town of Donegal. We had a delightful afternoon tea here because we eat a lot, and would happily stay here on our next visit to Ireland.
Visiting Donegal Castle
Donegal Castle was built by the O’Donnell chieftains in the 15th Century and located next to the river Eske in Donegal Town. Donegal Castle was rebuilt in the 16th Century by Sir Basil Brooke after Hugh O’Donnell burnt it to the ground rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
A Walking Tour of Donegal Town
We explored the town of Donegal with a local guide learning more about the Old Abbey, the Railway Heritage Centre and the Pier.
The Reel Inn, Donegal Town
The Reel Inn was recently voted the ‘Best Pub in Ireland’ at the Irish Hospitality Awards, and this is where we had a lot more craic. With the trad musicians, the Irish coffee, and the publican’s wife singing the iconic Irish song, Danny Boy, it was a moving experience.
Harvey’s Point Hotel
In 2017, Harvey’s Point Hotel was named the #1 hotel in Ireland for the fifth consecutive year on TripAdvisor. All I can say is that they are correct. Harvey’s Point Hotel is ultra-luxurious, and I will be writing about this in an upcoming post. From the moment we arrived at our suite of rooms, our pre-dinner prosecco, and our seven-course dinner, we were treated like VIP’s at this stunning hotel. Again, we saw Irish hospitality from the staff to the delightful owners Deirdre McGlone and Marc Gysling
(Blooper at end — it is Harvey POINT, not Harvey Bay. Sorry guys)
Ambassador Zack Gallagher from the Irish Food Guide helped explain all of our dishes as well as improved our understanding that Irish food is on the up and up, and is delightfully innovative. Having been to the Dingle Food Fest in Ireland a week or so before, we can vouch that he is correct. Did we want to leave Harvey’s Point Hotel the next morning, after a huge breakfast and feeding the swans on the lake? No, not really, but Donegal had, even more, to share with us.
Exploring more of Donegal
Visiting Cyndi Graham Handweaving
Cyndi Graham Handweaving is located at scenic St. John’s Point. Her cute as cute 17th century thatched cottage overlooks Donegal Bay. Cyndi Graham is a vibrant local artisan, who has taken the traditional craft of Donegal Tweed weaving and made it her own, with her unique designs and colour combinations.
The Dramatic cliffs of Sliabh Liag
With a dramatic 600m drop into the Atlantic Ocean, Sliabh Liag is one of Ireland’s ultimate sea cliff experiences. The Cliffs are located near Teelin, in Donegal, and are twice as high as the Cliffs of Moher. On a clear day, you can see the counties of Leitrim, Sligo, and Mayo. I will let the photos show you how spectacular this area is.
Glencolumbkille Folk Village Museum
Donegal has the second largest Gaeltacht in the country, which we visited. A Gaeltacht is a primarily Irish-speaking region that embraces the Irish Celtic language, which all children in all schools in the Republic of Ireland, must study from when they commence school to when they finish.
The Folk Village Museum is a cluster of several small cottages, called a ‘clachan,’ perched on a hillside overlooking the sandy curve of Glen Bay Beach in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) of South West Donegal. We saw demonstrations of knitting, making fishnets and even making St Brigid’s Crosses.
You will notice that all over Ireland, road signs and more are written in both English and Irish, while in British controlled Northern Ireland, the signs are only in English. As an aside, there has been a bit of a movement to more people speaking Celtic Irish, though English is mostly spoken …if you can understand it. Ireland has many dialects, and the dialect of Donegal is lilting and charming to listen to. It has a lot of musicality to it.
Viewing the Clocha na hÉireann The Stones of Ireland monument.
The project was a collaborative 1916 commemoration work between stone masons from every county in Ireland. Each stone mason was asked to carve their native county using the natural stone of that region.
Connecting Glencolmcille to Ardara, the Glengesh is 900 feet above sea level and is known as the Glen of the Swans. This is where you experience the isolated moors and peat bogs of Ireland. Here we saw thatched cottages and sheep; fabulous black faced sheep.
The Village of Ardara in Donegal
Because we like to eat and drink, we headed to the traditional Irish pub, Nancy’s Bar in Ardara for more craic, and a local playing the piano accordion, just because he was there, and this is what you do in Ireland.
Burtonport towards Arranmore Island
Arranmore Island or Árainn Mhór is situated off the coast of County Donegal on the magnificent Wild Atlantic Way. With local skipper Jim Muldowney from Arranmore Island, we set out to discover more about the Donegal Islands. We passed Tory Island, where the last Irish king lived, and where there is the Wishing Rock.
This is where we got to really discover more about the Wild Atlantic Way, as we threaded the needle, so to speak, with a turbulent ride between two islands. This area is also home to some of the world’s premier dive sites. There is a wide variety of marine and bird life, which we try to see as we sail along the dramatic cliffs.
Waterfront Hotel, Dungloe, Donegal
Exhausted as we were, we went belly up to bar at the Waterfront Hotel and to get a take on what the locals liked so much about Donegal, and we got it. There is so much pride in Donegal and their part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Joined by some of our group, we did get into the craic of Donegal, Ireland.
Through Errigal Mountain to Glenveagh
Glenveagh — Donegal’s National Park, and Castle
Errigal Mountain is the highest peak of the Derryveagh Mountains and the tallest mountain in County Donegal. Glenveagh Castle on Lough (Lake) Veagh. The castle was built between 1867 and 1873. It is in a remote mountain setting, which was inspired by the Victorian idyll of a romantic highland retreat. The Derryveagh Evictions, were a significant event in local history when the owner of the castle decided to evict all of the tenants, which was a very unpopulate move. The gardens and the castle are well worth exploring, followed by morning tea in the cafe on the grounds.
While Guinness remains the most popular drink in Ireland, followed by gin (more of that in a later post) there is a definite rise in craft breweries, and people supporting this. Kinnegar Brewery is one of these, and the brewery is named after the nearby Kinnegar Beach just north of Rathmullan in Donegal. With a rabbit logo, they have the very best tagline ever … “Follow the hops” … and people are.
Visiting Letterkenny, Donegal
After a beer tasting, you need lunch which we had at Berry Lane in Letterkenny. We followed this very fresh lunch with a walking tour of the Cathedral Quarter on Church Lane, where we heard about the history and heritage of the area. We also saw some excellent street art.
From Letterkenny to the Stone Fort of Grianán of Aileach
The Stone Fort of Grianán of Aileach sits on a hilltop in Inishowen County Donegal. It is 250m above sea level, and the views are incredible. The origins of the Grianán of Aileach Fort date back to 1700 BC. It is linked to the Tuatha de Danann who invaded Ireland before the Celts and built stone forts on top of strategic hills. They worshipped Dagda (the Good God), and he too is associated with the origins of Aileach. It was he who ordered the building of a stone fort to act as a burial monument to his dead son.
It was here that we performed our now famous dance.
Tullagh Bay Equestrian Centre.
This was one of the most enjoyable things we did. We explored the beauty of the Tullagh Beach on horseback on the Wild Atlantic Way, courtesy of the amazing family who run the Tullagh Bay Equestrian Centre. Jack (my big Irish stud) — you are a beautiful, and very big, horse.
Outdoor Adventures in the coolest place on the planet, Donegal
Our photographer for our horse riding expedition, was none other than the highly qualified Bren Whelan of Donegal Climbing who runs many adventure experiences like climbing on Malin Island, hillwalking and photography tours. There is a tour where you go abseiling into hidden coves, pass beautiful sea stacks and enter into secret caves which are surrounded by seals, sea birds, and sometimes dolphins all on the Wild Atlantic Way.
The World Champion of Seafood Chowder.
As you know, I loved seafood chowder in Ireland, and the chef Kieran Doherty, at Nancy’s Barn Ballyliffin took the title of The World Champion of Seafood Chowder in a cook-off in Rhode Island, USA. Yes, it was excellent as were the other dishes, which this talented chef shared with us.
Inishowen Gateway Hotel
Media Fam trips as you can see can be exhausting yet exhilarating. We arrived at Inishowen Gateway Hotel in time for an Irish Coffee Making demonstration and tasting, of course. We also had the trad music, the Irish Dancers and the nervous pleasure of watching Ireland vs. Wales in the World Cup Qualifiers, First round. Ireland won, yet barely touched the ball, which seemed so Irish to us, but it was a fine moment to be in Donegal in Ireland.
Random — Famous People from Donegal
Musicians Enya and Rory Gallagher hail from Donegal, as did the literary figures, playwright Frank McGuinness, and philosopher John Toland. Actor Danny O’Carroll, who plays Buster Brady in Mrs. Brown’s Boys hails from Donegal (PS, we met him in Wollongong, Australia, where we live …go figure). Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex and the City holidays in Donegal, with her husband Matthew Broderick, the star of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, who spent much of his childhood in Donegal county.
So, Go Visit Donegal in Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way for lots of craic. It is the new hot spot destination for travellers looking for that x-factor.