Places to Love: Donegal, Ireland
For many travelers, Ireland tops their must-visit destinations. When we think of the Emerald Isle, places like Dublin and the Ring of Kerry come to mind. On this episode of Places to Love, I travel to the Northwest coast of Ireland for an epic adventure.
The Wild Atlantic Way stretches 1,500 miles down Ireland’s west coast. The Northern Headlands, located at the very tip-top of the country, remains one of the most virtually unexplored, ruggedly beautiful and remote places I’ve visited. For my visit I explore County Donegal, hiking up the sea cliffs at Slieve League, learning the dying art of wool weaving and soaking up vistas that inspired Yeats. Add incredible pub food, live music and friendly locals, and you’ll see why this remote corner of Ireland is a place to love
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
The landscape that launched a thousand poems.
Your first view of Sligo will stop you dead in your tracks—it looks like something out of a Yeats poem. And that’s precisely because it is. Though William Butler Yeats penned his masterpieces between the 1880s and his death in 1939, a great deal of the landscape has been untouched in the years since.
On my trip, I met up with Damien Brennan, a Yeats historian and the Chairperson of the Yeats International Summer School Committee. His love of Yeats is infectious, and his tours are a must for literary and history lovers. If you’re not sure about all this poetry stuff, I suggest booking one of Damien’s Yeats Evenings. Held in his modern farmhouse, guests will enjoy a lovely dinner, paired with the poetry. Don’t be surprised when dinner is followed by “The Noble Call,” an Irish house custom where the host calls on others to lend a song, a poem, a dance to the evening.
IF YOU GO
Damien’s tours range from half or a full day and never follow any preset route—it all depends on the weather. More on booking here.
Broc House Tobernalt
Holy Well Lane, Aughamore Near
Carraroe, Sligo Ireland
+353 87 2320820 / +353 087 2320820
Is kelp the next kale?
Growing up on New Hampshire’s sea coast, I never dreamed of eating seaweed. Donegal County resident Prannie Rhatigan changed my mind! A doctor with a passion for studying the benefits of live foods, Prannie grew up foraging and cooking sea vegetables. I had the great pleasure of harvesting sea spaghetti, kelp and sea lettuce from the region’s subtidal pools. I couldn’t believe how flavorful these plants were straight out of the ocean! Interestingly (though not surprisingly), seaweed is seasonal, with different types at peak flavor at different times. Packed with nutrients, it’s one of the world’s most perfect foods.
Experience a working farm at Drumcorroy House
Ireland has no shortage of B&Bs, but there’s something special about Drumcorroy House. This Failte Ireland Farmhouse, near Donegal Town, offers spectacular views of the Blue Stack Mountains and Barnesmore Gap, County Donegal. Not only that, but owners Martina and Patsy O’Sullivan invite guests to join them on their farm, watching the suckler cows, sheep, and their hard working border collies. Add in a traditional Irish breakfast and you may never want to leave this lovely place.
IF YOU GO
Pay a visit to nearby Lough Eske Castle, a beautiful hotel, spa and restaurant housed in a 15th Century castle. It’s the area’s only 5-star hotel, making it the perfect spot for a spurge-y night or too.
Tel: 00353 (0) 749722335 / 00353 (0) 861549712
The last of Donegal’s hand weavers
At 16, Eddie Doherty learned how to weave Donegal’s signature tweed textiles by hand. This was back in 1956, when he believes there were about 150 artisans weaving by hand. Today, he’s the only one left, using Donegal wool to hand weave pure wool blankets and tweed. It was an honor to watch this intricate and disappearing craft in person.
IF YOU GO
You will not regret purchasing one of Eddies handmade wool blankets, caps, capes or waistcoats. It’s the kind of souvenir you’re cherish forever.
Phone: +353 (0)74 9541304
All Irish roads lead to a good pub
You’ll find one of the most remote gastropubs in the country in Donegal. Owned and operated by Maresa and Enda McDonagh, The Rusty Nail specializes in locally sourced fare. They’re known for their seafood chowder, made with fish that’s so fresh you can still taste the ocean. You’ll also find local favorites like ham hock and apple potato cake, parsnip puree, wholegrain mustard and tarragon vinaigrette; and grilled 30-day aged sirloin steak. On Sundays, they host live traditional music sessions every Sunday. It’s a destination to be sure, and worth the effort.
IF YOU GO
The pub is near the beaches of Leenan, Binion, and Tullagh. Why not take a pre-meal stroll on the beach before tucking into a pint and hearty meal?
Co. Donegal, Ireland
Visit Ireland’s tallest cliffs you’ve never heard of
Deep sea fisherman turned archaeologist Paddy Clarke has made his passion for the landscape a viable business. Along with his wife Siobhan, he runs Slieve League Cliffs Centre, dedicated to celebrating the region’s natural beauty, as well as local culture, food and crafts.
Rising almost 2000 feet from the Atlantic, the majestic Slieve League cliffs are over twice as high as the famed Cliffs of Mohar, and so remote that they’ve remained largely untouched. Paddy leads heritage, archaeological, and boat trip tours under the cliffs. You can arrange for kayaking around the coast as well. Back at the center, you might catch Paddy making coffee drinks at cafe Ti Linn, or his wife baking scones, cakes, cookies, as well as delicious soups and salads.
IF YOU GO
Stop at the Ti Linn craft shop for a wide selection of crafts, knitwear and gifts.
The home of Celtic music’s revival
In the picturesque village of Meenaleck, you’ll find Tabhairne Leo (aka Leo’s Tavern). Sure, the pints and food are great, but it’s the music that put this place on the map. Originally opened by Leo and Maire Brennan in 1968 as an entertainment venue, music always played an important role in their family. The family was a major part of the famous group Clannad and from there Moya and Enya went on to become world famous solo musicians:. You just may find these women performing in Gaelic at Leo’s! Today, the Brennan’s youngest son Bartley continues to run the business. Now completely renovated, Leo’s is the premier destination entertainment bar in the North West of Ireland.
IF YOU GO
Check out the Gold and Platinum disks, memorabilia and numerous photos that adorn the walls. This humble place really has resonated with world famous musicians!
T: +353 7495 48143
Donegal by horseback
Donegal is full of romantic things to do. My favorite? Exploring the seaside on horseback. We rode on the beach at Tullagh Bay, with breathtaking views of Malin Head– the most northern point of the entire Island of Ireland. Book your own magical journey with Tullagh Bay Equestrian.
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IF YOU GO
Not sure you’re ready to go trekking (aka horseback riding) on the beach? The equestrian center also offers lessons.
Tullagh Bay Equestrian Centre
+353 (0) 86 720 4150