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The Midges of Donegal

I’ve been to Donegal once before, a week long trip to the Inishowen peninsula. Unlike this few days, we weren’t blessed with great weather on that trip, something that is always a gamble when venturing to this part of the country. Thankfully, the predicted rains held off on days one and two and we were treated to stunning blue skies on the third day for our brief stay in south Donegal....

The journey up was pretty uneventful, we stuck to the direct route, up the N3 which briefly crosses into the ‘North’ through Co.Fermanagh and clings to the shores of Lough Erne. We made a short pit stop along the route which shall remain nameless for fear of recrimination. A local resident frantically waved us down as we set off and we stopped urgently to see what was wrong….turned out one of our party had inadvertently left an errant cigarette butt on the ground which clearly threatened to bring the entire local beauty spot crashing down around us. We hightailed it out of there before the old bill could catch us (Disclaimer: We returned in the dead of night to pick up said cigarette butt)

A short while later we arrived at our destination, a lovely thatched cottage situated on a quiet country road between Donegal town and Killybegs… a perfect location to explore this part of South Donegal. We settled in for the evening, good company, great conversation and planned our itinerary for the next few days. A lot depended on the weather, of course, at that stage it promised rain for two days so it was decided to head for Glenveagh National Park on Day 1.

Anyone who either lives in Donegal or who has visited will tell you that the roads aren’t what you might call smooth up here. It still doesn’t prepare you for the rollercoaster ride that awaits on any road that isn’t preceded by an ’N’ number. Nervous, car sick or back seat passengers need not apply.

We took our time travelling the scenic back roads to Glenties, a lovely town located within An Gaeltacht, an Irish speaking area. It was with some amusement we explained to our co-passenger he would need to learn how to say “An féidir liom paicéad 20 John Player Blue a fháil, le do thoil” We continued on and it struck me, just how many derelict and abandoned houses there are in this part of the country. Some are remnants from the mid 19th century and are evidence of the terrible hardship endured by the population during the famine. There are also a number of more modern structures, equally deserted that reflect Ireland’s more recent history as tens of thousands emigrated to seek out employment overseas. It’s a sad indictment on the treatment of its citizens by both the British and Irish Governments.

A brown sign is always provocative when travelling within this country as it’s normally an indicator of something worthwhile to see. Just before we arrived at Glenveagh we drove past a signpost for St Colmcille’s Abbey. We detoured down a narrow country lane and were initially a little underwhelmed by the structure that greeted us. You could imagine an estate agent describing it as "a delightful, one bedroomed cottage with excellent opportunities for development and fantastic views over Lough Beagh". Despite its modest size, however, the chapel is an interesting place and there are a number of intriguing things to see within this monastic site.

We journeyed on and reached Glenveagh in good time. The weather was overcast but dry and bright so no need for rainjackets. It was humid though and for those of you wondering about the title of this piece you need to make note of this if you want to follow in our footsteps….there are midges….and in my best Michael Caine accent…..thousands of ‘em. I decided to not include the image of my arms with the 43 bites from the hungry little buggers.

Anyway, back to Glenveagh, there are a number of walks within the park, as our dog is of aging years we took pity on him (and us thankfully) by going for the relatively easy hour and a half walk direct to the castle and back. We stopped for a fine lunch in the castle tea rooms although who was the fullest after this stop, us or the midges, remains open to question. These stunning gardens make a stroll around the estate a very pleasurable experience. On the way back, I grabbed a quick shot of a Roe deer as he grazed nonchalantly.

Day 2

I had two things in my mind I wanted to see but we couldn’t do both in a single day so it was a toss up which we did first. It came down heads so we set off on Saturday morning down the coastal road towards the renowned Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) cliffs. We stopped to allow four paws to stretch his legs on lovely Fintragh Beach. It’s not without reason that the roads encourage cautious driving in these parts as you will often encounter a sudden road block. In the image below, the young man stood to attention, as if in some respectful tribute to the national anthem, and watched over his dutiful sheepdogs that sheperded his flock safely into the neighbouring field. We continued on to Slieve League and pulled up at the busy car park at the bottom of the hill. Anyone who has been to its more illustrious cousin down the coast in Co.Clare will know that those cliffs are a 5min stroll from the car park. We were blissfully unaware that Slieve League is, in fact, a good 40 minute walk from the car park. We also didn’t know that you can drive further up the road by simply opening the gate and following everyone else! As it was, the closed gate suggested this was as far as we could go and so we set off on a lovely, if steep climb, up to the top. Now I’d be interested to know what you think of the image of the cliffs in the gallery below? Photoshop recently introduced a 'Sky Replacement' feature within their software which I tried out on this pic (the seagull is real!) I’m a purist and would never try and sell an image like this commercially as it’s ‘fake’ but the second picture was the actual sky cover that greeted us. Its a spectacular spot, no doubt, and they are arguably more impressive than the Cliffs of Moher but I’d prefer to come back and plan a proper sunset shot rather than just editing it like this. Nevertheless it does bring the image to life and show off just how beautiful they are.

We completed the long walk back and set off in the car again vowing to make that our last walk of the day…we had to think of the dog

As the evening progressed, it started to get a little brighter so we continued along the coast road and reached Malin Beg. I don’t know what it is about the west of Ireland. It gets me every time. I liken it to the skyscrapers in New York, you see one amazing building and then walk around the corner and there is one that’s even more spectacular. The west is like this, you see one amazing beach or glorious view and then drive along and see another as good if not better around the bend. The symmetry of Malin Beg is perfect and is probably deserving of a better image than the one in the gallery but we had to make do with what we had. Definitely a place to make a note of and shoot again on a clear evening.

The road of choice on the way home was the L1025, a delightful and relaxing spin home through the peatlands of Banagh. It is littered with turf storage units, in fairness the views aren’t bad mind….and in the blink of an eye another day was done.

Day 3

The third day was a poignant one for me, a good friend passed away some years ago and is buried in the village of Maghery on the west coast of the Rosses area. It was only an hour and half drive from where we staying so I decided to pay my respects and visit the grave. I recalled that the scenery was pretty special in these parts so rather than driving straight back to Dungloe we went in the opposite direction and followed the coast road. I have since discovered that this area is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty and when you see the views its easy to see why. After a light lunch on Maghery Beach (credit to the picnic know who you are) we headed on and stopped almost immediately at the Red House, a former Kelp factory that has since fallen into disuse unless you count the cows using it as a shelter.

After a short stroll we got back in the car and moved barely half a mile before the Crohy Sea Stack came into view. I didn’t have the heart to stop yet again and put my fellow travellers through yet another walk just to get the shot so I’ve added it to my ‘to-do’ list next time I return.

The beaches continued to come and go in a blur as we travelled an emotional rollercoaster along this magnificent road.

As we reached the main road, I was stunned to spot out of the corner of my eye an old lorry from Oriel Jones. Showing my age, this belonged to a big abattoir in my home village in Llanybydder in West Wales which was taken over some years ago. How it ended up in this isolated part of Co.Donegal is anyone’s guess but it brought a sentimental smile to my face.

We ended the journey in Killybegs. Our fellow travellers treated us to Fish n Chips in the fantastic Seafood Shack on the harbour? While waiting I took a stroll around, it's the largest fishing port in Ireland, and gazed at the mass of impressive trawlers berthed.

Day 4

Day four was the journey home and provided a few nice surprises. Once again the weather Gods had been kind and it was a ‘sun splitting the stones’ kind of day. Rather than going back the same route on the way home (for fear of meeting the same irate resident in Fermanagh) we decided to take a more leisurely route back via Sligo instead. I have visited this part before but it was new to the rest of the group. The first port of call was Bundoran to see what the fuss was about….let’s just say, it wasn’t worth spending the €2 on car parking, in fact we could have probably left the engine running, such was the haste with which we got out of there. It’s a cheesy seaside resort, with funfairs and amusement arcades to keep the kids happy and drive the adults mad or is it the other way around? The beach is nice mind (NOTE: I have removed all but two of the peeps from the image)

We drove on to Mullaghmore. I recalled there was a nice beach here and a lovely view of Classiebawn Castle from nearby. The dog got his morning constitutional in on the beach and we got ours gazing over Mullaghmore Head. 

..and so our brief but wonderful stay in the north-west was done...but I'm already looking forward to the return trip.


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