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The Donegal Bucket List

Donegal has no shortage of amazing things to do and see. Being Ireland’s second largest County, you would need a month to get round them all. So to help you get the most out of your visit we have compiled a list of things you cannot miss while visiting County Donegal.

Europe's Highest Sea Cliffs

1. Sliabh Liag: Drink in the best views in Europe

A narrow road twists steeply up from Teelin to the dramatic Slieve Liag cliffs and mountains. From the viewing point, you look across one of the finest panoramas in Europe that will set your heart racing. An information panel, part of the Donegal Interpretative Project, sets out the details of what you see. This area of Donegal is also part of the famed Appalachian Trail that leads eastwards along the Bluestacks Way and joins up with the Ulster Way and the Causeway Coast. The nearby cultural centre, Tí Linn, is run by Paddy Clarke, a rich source of information on the area and its archaeological heritage. 

2. Fanad Head: Hire a pedalo at Portsalon

Fanad Lighthouse, Fanad Head
Golden sandy beaches and rolling farmland threaded by narrow roads set the scene in the secluded Fanad peninsula squeezed in between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay and leading to remote Fanad Head. Families can enjoy a day of watersports at picture-postcard resorts such as Rathmullan or Portsalon. Take your pick from spinning for mackerel off a pier, learning to fly-fish for rainbow trout, hire a pedalo or paddle a kayak. If you are feeling energetic, why not saddle up and gallop along the shores of Lough Swilly on the pristine Rathmullan Strand. As you drive around this thrilling peninsula be prepared for delays on single track roads; your path may be blocked by a herd of heifers and you will be reduced to cow-speed; don’t forget you are in north Donegal where the motto festina lente ‘hurry slowly’ applies and where life moves at an easy pace.   

3. Malin Head: Dip into history or look up at the night sky   

Catch a cloudless evening and you may be enchanted by a night sky display of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. The celestial light show, with its ghostly wispy rays of dancing colours has been seen hanging like a fluorescent curtain over Malin Head – what better reason to go than to witness this astonishing sight.  As you make your way around the 100-mile circuit of the scenic Inishowen peninsula, you will find many attractions and distractions on the journey to Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head. Those with an interest in military history will want to see Fort Dunree Military Museum near Buncrana. Further along, Doagh Famine Village, an outdoor museum, provides a thought-provoking look at the area from the tragedy of the Famine in the 1840s up to the present.

4. An Grianán Aileach: Awaken your mystical spirit

An Grianán Aileach, Inishowen
Perched 800 ft. above sea level, on a spectacular hilltop in Inishowen, the Grianán of Aileach fort is a former home of the Irish High Kings. The origins of this circular site are believed to date from around 1700 BC. Although it has important connections with the ancient monasteries of Donegal, its history stretches far beyond the era of Christianity and is steeped in legend. The terraced fort is an enigmatic place in which to immerse yourself in the past and survey the landscape. Sweeping views take in patchwork fields and lakes as well as the wider hilly countryside. In 2013, the fort was chosen as one of the landmarks included on the new Irish passport.

5. Surfing in Bundoran: Ride the waves  

Bundoran - A surfer's mecca
In the south of the county, Bundoran has become the unrivalled gung-ho centre of surf culture hosting world class competitions. Regarded as the top spot by the black-clad brigade, it is a place where wave-riding runs deep in the veins of some locals’ blood. Set against a backdrop of dramatic scenery and beaches, the reefs around Bundoran are world renowned, producing the optimal wave size. Donegal Adventure Centre in Bundoran ­– the largest of its kind in Ireland – provides expert tuition from qualified instructors in the tricky art of staying up on your board. If you are new to surfing, a good place for beginners is Rossnowlagh, a few miles north.

Carnival Fun during Earagail - July each year

6. Earagail Arts Festival: Catch a song and singalong

They enjoy their culture and craic in Donegal like nowhere else and music plays a huge part in people’s lives. Many small towns stage popular summer festivals. One of the biggest, the Earagail Arts Festival attracts international performers from the musical and theatrical world. Home-grown talent features strongly on the bill too and Irish musicians who have taken part include Moya Brennan, Mary Black, Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin and Liam O’Flynn to name but a few. Groups such as the Saw Doctors, Clannad and The Henry Girls have delighted audiences. Alongside the music, film shows, literature events and a host of children’s entertainment, all add up to an action-packed programme.

7. Angling: Bag a salmon, hook a trout or wrestle a shark

Sparkling rivers, well-stocked lakes and the fruits of the sea attract anglers from many countries. Donegal is noted for game and coarse fishing and its coastline is washed by some of the cleanest and clearest seas in Europe, offering shore and deep sea angling. Many species, including pollock, mackerel, wrasse, gurnard, tope, ray and shark have been caught in the sea. Shore angling enthusiasts enjoy the sheltered waters of Lough Swilly and many other locations along the coast right round to Donegal Bay. Trout and spring salmon are found in abundance at fisheries such as those at Gweebarra, Dunfanaghy and on the Eske, combining the River Eske, Lough Eske and its tributaries.    

8. Golfing: outdoor tonic

Ballyliffin Golf Club, Inishowen
As a golf tourism destination, Donegal with premium seaside courses takes some beating. Many championship 18-hole courses are set in areas of natural beauty and Bundoran Golf Club, founded in 1894, co-hosts the West Coast Challenge each year. During the 1950s it was the home of the ‘Master Golfer’ Christy O’Connor Senior. At Murvagh, on the shores of Donegal Bay, Donegal Golf Club was named by Golf World as one of Ireland’s top 10 clubs and is consistently rated high by local golfers. With one of the longest courses in Europe, it suits the big hitters. In the north of the county, Ballyliffin Golf Club has two fine championship links and comprises 365 acres of dune land. In 2006 Sir Nick Faldo re-designed the Old Links course.
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9. Hike Errigal: stand at the top of Donegal  

The distinctive white conical peak of Errigal, (from the Irish translation, Aireagál meaning ‘oratory’) the highest point in the county, is a potent symbol and has a grip on the imagination. Pull on your walking books for a pleasant hike across heather and grass before joining a stony path to the summit at 2,466 ft., where two cairns are connected by a narrow path. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness – and the right gear – will be able to complete the walk to the top in less than two hours. It’s well worth the effort. You will be rewarded with an uninterrupted panorama of Bloody Foreland, a countryside speckled with sheep and white cottages, and lying out to sea, the islands of Inishbofin, Inishdooey and Inishbeg.


10. Glenveagh National Park: look out for golden eagles

Scenic Beauty at Glenveagh

The largest tract of land in the wildest part of Donegal, Glenveagh National Park incorporates moorland, mountain, lakes and woods within its 40,000 acres of wilderness. The park – the second largest in Ireland – was once owned by the American millionaire Henry P. McIlhenny and is now in the hands of the Irish government. Tours of the castle, as well as guided tours of the Italianate formal gardens are available, or you can join a ranger-led walk along footpaths through the grounds. You may be lucky enough to catch sight of soaring golden eagles which have been reintroduced into the area or chance upon a shy red deer.

11. Daniel O’Donnell Visitor Centre: a glittering life of music

He has appeared 18 times in the US Billboard World Album Charts and now Donegal’s famed singing star, Daniel O’Donnell has his very own visitor centre charting a glittering musical career. The Daniel O’Donnell Visitor Centre in Dungloe opened in 2012 and since then thousands have come through the doors to celebrate the story of his life. A 12-minute film explains his humble beginnings in Kincasslagh and rise to international stardom. Memorabilia includes gold discs, stage outfits, his wedding suit and his wife’s wedding dress, as well as his first schoolbag. O’Donnell’s repertoire of songs covering Irish, country and pop has struck a chord with many emigrants. In a musical career of more than 30 years he has sold 10 million albums.

12. Glencolumbcille Folk Village Museum: Commune with the rural past  

There are few better places to delve into the past than at Glencolumbcille Folk Village. This clachan, or village, comprises eight thatched, whitewashed cottages showcasing three specific years of Irish culture: 1720, 1820 and 1920. New exhibitions house a fisherman’s cottage and a traditional pub-grocery and shoemaker’s shop. Potter around this reflective place and you will find a sweat house (an early Irish sauna) replica lime kilns and mass rocks. A few miles north of Glencolumbcille, at Port, you can follow in the footsteps of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who holidayed in the area in 1935. Organised walks lead through the serenely beautiful peat bogland of the valley of Glenlough, past glacial waterfalls, and over the Glengesh Pass to Ardara.

The Goddess Banba joins the St Patrick’s Day Celebrations

The outpost of north-western Europe was brought into the fold of St Patrick’s Day celebrations this year as Malin Head was given the epic ‘Greening’ treatment that has become a world-wide phenomenon on St Patrick’s Day over recent years. Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head welcomed over 1,000  visitors each night to see Banba’s Crown bathed in green light, as this spectacular natural landmark of Donegal was given the ‘special places of interest’ treatment.
The structure is named in honour of the Patron Goddess of Ireland and Banba herself must have been smiling down from wherever it is that such dignitaries reside these days but she is sure to have been pleased by the little bit of magic that was brought to Malin Head on the nights of the 16th and 17th of March. 

The image of Banba’s Crown has captivated a worldwide audience through Tourism Ireland, Go Visit Donegal Facebook and twitter Page, which helps to place Donegal squarely in a position of must-see locations of Ireland which ultimately raises the profile of Donegal on a world-wide scale.

The response of the public has been fantastic for the first of what is hoped to be many such projects across the county, in recognition of our Patron Saint’s national holiday.  Go Visit Donegal  have said that in view of the tremendous support that this initiative was shown by the people of Donegal and beyond, we anticipate that many more famous landmarks of the Donegal landscape will receive similar treatment in the coming years. It is very important that the people of Donegal continue to recognise just how special this county is, support tourism within the county, and promote their county to friends, family, and acquaintances from abroad.

For information on all things Donegal check out: www.govisitdonegal.com

Malin Head goes Green for St Patrick’s Day

The people of Donegal are very aware of Malin Head and its significance. In fact, almost every Irish person will have heard of Malin Head at some stage in their life. Mainly due to its regular mention on national weather forecasts and some will even know that it is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland, but what else do you know about it?

Well, this coming St Patrick’s weekend it is set to join the pantheon of spectacular locations throughout the world that will be illuminated in a swathe of green light, in celebration of one of the most recognised National Holidays on the world calendar. Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in almost every country across the world on the 17th March, and this year, in recognition of the recent trend of turning famous landmarks green for the occasion, Donegal Tourism in conjunction with Donegal County Council plan to light up our very own spectacular natural landmark. It has happened to the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the Great Wall of China. Now it is time to illuminate one of Ireland’s most significant locations and one that has a lot more to offer than one might first imagine.

When it comes to Malin Head, there is much to learn. It is an area of great scenic beauty, and also of historical, scientific and ecological importance. Come and experience spectacular rock formations of stunning beauty and imaginative names such as Banba’s Crown, Devil’s Bridge, Hell’s Hole, or Five Fingers Strand. One of the first points of interest on the newly established Wild Atlantic Way, Malin offers unique bird watching opportunities, with an array of rare and endangered species; unspoiled natural flora; and a stunning canvass for any budding or professional photographer. Historically, it has been one of the primary links between Europe and America during the dawning of the Age of Radio Signalling, from The Tower at Banba’s Crown; or at low tide, perhaps you can spot the wreck of the Twilight, which sank in 1889 on its voyage to Derry.

Tourism Development Officer for Donegal County Council, Kevin O’Connor remarked, “Malin is a vital tourism attraction for the county, attracting in excess of 100,000 visitors a year, so we thought if it is good enough for the famous landmarks all across the world, why not for Ireland’s most Northerly Point. Malin Head will be illuminated in green on the 16th and 17th March, so if you’d like to see one of the world’s spectacular landmarks lit up for Paddy’s Day you need travel no further than the top of the country”.

Make St. Patrick’s Day a day to explore a little bit of Ireland for you and your family. You won’t be disappointed.