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W a n d e r i n g s...N e a r & F a r

IRELAND—County Donegal

The beauty of Ireland has always been unforgettable, full of magnetism and hypnotic charm. For centuries, it has always appealed to artists, writers and poets, and no wonder! This spectacular country with friendly people and haunting music, lures visitors from all over the world.

But before we go on to the county of Donegal, let’s look at the physical location of Ireland which is an island of 84,288 sq km (32,544 square miles).The Republic of Ireland is 70,282 sq. km (27,136 sq. miles) and Northern Ireland 14,139 sq. km (5,459 sq. miles). Its coastline extends for over 5,631 km (3,500 miles). The isle of Ireland is situated in the extreme north-west of Europe. The Irish Sea is to the east and separates Ireland from Britain. The island is comprised of a large central lowland of limestone with low hills surrounded by a discontinuous border of coastal mountains varying greatly in geological structure.

The mountain ridges of the south are composed of ancient red sandstone separated by limestone river valleys. Granite is abundant in the mountains of Galway, Mayo and Donegal in the west and north-west and in Counties Down and Wicklow on the east coast, while a basalt plateau covers much of the north-east of the country. The central plain, broken in places by low hills, is predominantly covered with clay and sand and with considerable areas of bog and lakes.

The highlands of the north, west, and south, which rise to more than 3,000 ft (914 m), are generally barren, but the central plain is extremely fertile and the climate is moist and temperate , warmed by southwesterly winds. If you love the sea, you are in luck, for Ireland's natural advantages is 3,500 miles of coastline, so indented that you are never more than approximately 70 miles from the sea and that’s wonderful!

Nature reserves and national parks are numerous throughout the country, and for the bird lovers, this is it! There is considerable migration of birds to the island in spring and fall, while several species arrive from Greenland and Iceland in winter, such as the Greenland white fronted goose. Then, let’s not forget the inland waters with large colonies of geese, waders, swans, duck, gulls and chattering terns. Among the more unusual species of bird are peregrine falcons, merlin, corncrake and chough.

Freshwater fish include salmon, pollan, char, pike, eel and brown trout.

Amphibians are represented by a single native species each of frog, newt and toad (natterjack.

For those of you who may not care for snakes, well, again, you are in the right place; there is only one native reptile, the harmless, common lizard. As far as mammals are concerned, you’ll find fox, badger, red deer, red squirrel, otter and grey seals.

These are only a few examples. There are numerous more species.

Now that you have a pretty good idea about the Emerald Isle (Ireland), let’s get into our story and move along to the county of Donegal which is my chosen county selection for this article.


Situated in the northernmost part the country, bounded on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal is a constantly changing spectacle of landscapes and seascapes set against a backdrop of beautiful mountains and misty moors. The craggy coastline displays a succession of beautiful sandy beaches .When you venture further inland,the scenery is unspoilt with small, winding roads taking you to surprising sights. It has many small lakes and rivers.If you enjoy seaside resorts, your’e in luck; resorts like lovely Bundoran will entertain with delightful days and lively nights, full of Irish music, song and dance.

For the discriminating eye, Donegal produces muslins, linens, woolens including the famous and well-known Donegal homespun.

Let’s start with the town of Buncrana, a popular seaside resort on the eastern shore of Lough Swilly . If you are in the mood for relaxation, you are in the right place. A leisure center which is open all year, is equipped with swimming pool, jacuzzi and a workout gymnasium.

Some sights you should see such as Buncrana Castle dating from the early 17th century but, unfortunately, it has not survived the test of time very well. It now stands in ruin but it gives you an idea of its earlier magnificence.

Close to the castle is the O'Doherty Keep, originally, a small Norman manor. Built in the 17th century, it has been renovated since, but the date of its repairs is somewhat cloudy. It’s in remarkably good condition. It’s situated on the bank of the Crana River.

Here is an interesting place to visit—Tullyarvan Mill, an old mill which has been restored to provide visitors center with information about the area.

The mill is a wonder of ingenuity. It provides a textile museum, interpretative center of the local wildlife, craft shop and for a great cup of tea and pastries, a friendly coffee shop.

Now on to Newtowncunningham, a quiet and small village near the Inishowen Peninsula. It’s now bypassed by the main Derry road. What was most wonderful about the area was the discovery of interesting town people and architectural delights full of history. One of these structures is the “Sharon Rectory” now called the “Sharon House”, built in 1775. The house has been renovated and now owned by the Tully family. It’s situated on several sprawling acres covered with stately oaks. At the entrance is a stone lodge which is also being renovated. A long driveway, lined with flowering urns, leads to the stately house. Without a doubt,, a lot of past history, here.Oh...if stones could speak!

Another interesting place near Newtoncunningham is “Blanket Nook,” a sea water lough on the shores of Lough Swilly, where the fishing for sea trout and salmon is supposed to be at its best in the month of July.

The next town to visit is Raphoe. A small town located on the lower slopes of Mongorry Hill, east Donegal. Originally, it was a monastic settlement. Now, it’s a busy and lively place full of Irish culture, especially in and around the center diamond.

An interesting sight is the church of Ireland cathedral built on the site of a monastery which was elevated to a Diocesan seat in the 12th century. Carved fragments of a 12th century church lintel can be seen here as well as later fragments (15th - 17th century), which are built into the walls of the church. Raphoe was also one of the earliest Presbyterian settlements of Ireland.

Another wonder you wouldn’t want to miss, is on a hill, south of Raphoe—Beltany stoney Circle. The name of this solitary hill recalls the Celtic springtime festival of Beltane (the ancient equivalent of May Day), traditionally associated with the lighting of hill-top fires to regenerate the sun. The great stones on this well chosen site belongs to an earlier period than the Celtic iron age. It’s rather difficult to classify as it’s part stone and part mound. Over centuries, it has suffered at the hands of despoilers and must appear very different from its original condition. The enclosing ring is megalithic, several of its slab stones attaining heights of 8 feet or more. Many lean aimlessly (so it seems) outward under the pressure of the boulder-strewn interior, the surface of which is 3-4 feet higher than the surrounding land. Possible astronomical alignments have been suggested for some of the circle-stones; one of them, pointing to sunrise at or about Beltane( Pagan May Spring Day), usually celebrated from sundown April 30th to sundown on the first of May. In earlier times, before the calendar changes of 1752, all dates year-round would have come about eleven days later; precious extra days, in springtime, especially, during which the hawthorn (Mayflower) would have begun blooming),

While traveling , don’t miss Letterkenny, the main town and ecclesiastical capital of County Donegal. It overlooks Lough Swilly where the River Swilly drains into the lough. The town’s main street is supposed to be one of the longest in Ireland. During August, the Letterkenny Folk Festival brings together many European folk-dance teams. Recreational facilities at Letterkenny include golf, pitch and putt, tennis, squash, cinema and dancing. Salmon and trout fishing at its best. If you want to relax try the leisure center with a swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi and steam pool .

At your leisure, take a walking tour to Glenveagh Castle & Gardens, located about fifteen miles North-West of Letterkenny. Glenveagh Castle was built between 1870 and 1873. The castle consists of a four story rectangular keep.

The castle is situated in woodlands studded with lakes and glens . You can even see the herd of red deer grazing about. The castle garden was started in the 1870’s by a Mrs Adair, a wealthy American heiress, following the construction of Glenveagh Castle on a bare hillside. After her death in 1929 the property was acquired by Mr. Kingsley Porter, Professor of Art at Harvard, and later in 1937 by another American, Henry P. McIlhenny. As you travel, you’ll catch glimpses of the castle along the winding lough shore road. When you arrive, you are in for a beautiful surprise; the large rhododendrons and pine, planted over a century ago, provide the area with shelter and help to create a temperate climate that is suitable for growing a range of tender plants. One of the border shrubs in the Pleasure Ground, Senecio greyi, was planted by McIlhenny for its lovely grey foliage.For unknown reasons, he hated its yellow blooms which he had removed each year. Running above the Pleasure Ground to the walled garden is the Belgian Walk, laid down in 1915 by Belgian soldiers who were convalescing here during the war. Giant-leaved rhododendrons thrive in this area. The formal walled garden beside the castle provides a striking contrast to the informal planting elsewhere. It is divided into meticulous squares and contains, in addition to herbaceous borders, a mixture of fruit, vegetables and flowers in the style of a jardin potager.

Let’s move along to the quaint town of Lifford.

This lovely small town is located where the Finn River coming from the beautiful Lough Finn, meets the Mourne water from county Tyrone to form the Foyle river. An arched bridge joins the towns of Lifford, Donegal and the town of Strabane in county Tyrone. It’s considered the gateway to beautiful Donegal. Many things to see in this small town and if you enjoy the Irish friendliness, you’ll find it there. if you are looking for “treasures” don’t miss the Martin’s Super Store, located in Lifford, close to the bridge; Aran sweaters, fine crystal, jewelry , souvenirs and a multitude of other Irish delights are waiting for you. If you don’t find it there, it’s not in Ireland!

Make plans to visit the Cavanacor Historic House & Craft Center.

Cavanacor House was built in the early 1600's, the ancestral home of James Knox Polk, 11th President of the United States. King James dined here on the 20th April, 1689. The House is furnished in Jacobean and Georgian style. It also has a museum, an art gallery, a craft shop, a delightful tea room (home baking and preserves) and a walled garden.

Now on to Castlefinn, your next stop.

Lying south west of Lifford, this quiet village is set among the gentle hills and fertile land of east Donegal. You might enjoy staying at the Gortfad House, a 300 year old farmhouse. It has been the home of he same family for several generations. Quiet and secluded set in its own grounds. Wild flowers and landscaped gardens. Good location for touring Glenveagh Castle and Derek Hill's remarkable art collection at Church Hill.

After you’ve had a day or two to recuperate, go on to Ballyboffey

which is actually a twin town separated from Stranorlar by the river Finn. For you, avid golfers, you’ll enjoy the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Golf Club situated among pleasant valleys which are backed by mountains. This is only inland 18-hole golf course in the county!

For fishing or sight-seeing, you can access several loughs, either off the small mountain road to the north and in by the west side of Lough Boyle or by taking another small road from the west and coming in past Lough Keeran. No matter how you plan it, it ‘ll take you over an hour but the scenery is beautiful. The fishing is great; Golagh has trout averaging three quarter pound with some to nearly 3 pounds. The banks are difficult to fish in places but it's worth trying. Lough Barderg is short distance to the east. The fish here are somewhat bigger but harder to catch. Croaghadalough is a short walk to the south of Lough Golagh.You can find one pounder trout here.

Lough Mourne is an impressive looking stretch of water by the N15 road between Ballybofey and Donegal.

Trusk Lough

Trusk is 3 miles south of Ballybofey. This lough is used by speedboats in the summer. A bit noisy!

The following town is a favorite of many visitors: Donegal Town

Located at the mouth of Donegal Bay in the North-West of Ireland and surrounded by the vista of the Blue Stack mountains, the area offers an awesome and rugged beauty; highest sea cliffs and miles of golden sandy beaches

Donegal Town itself is a town of great historical interest. It was the family seat of the O'Donnells, chieftains of Tirconaill. In 1474, they were responsible for bringing the Franciscan monks to Donegal when the Franciscan Abbey was built. The town dates back to Viking times when a fortress was at the mouth of the river Eske. It is thought that this gave the town and ultimately the county its name, Dun na nGall, meaning "Fort of the Foreigners".

Donegal Town is the center of activity for South County Donegal. The town center, the Diamond, is where the Killybegs, Ballyshannon and Ballybofey roads converge. Surely, you’ll meet a friendly face and hear a tale or two—maybe more!

Finally, you should go on to Ballyshannon, a lovely town from the year 1613. Lots to do and see, especially if you plan to come in the month of August when the Ballyshannon International Folk and Traditional Music Festival is celebrated. You wouldn’t want to miss it! Two handcrafted pottery industries Celtic Weave and Donegal Parian China, are situated here, in Ballyshannon. The famous and delicate Belleek Pottery is crafted just across the border in Northern Ireland.

Try to visit the Abbey and lake Assaroe, near the town. It has a restored mill complete with water wheels. A lovely setting.

There is a lot more to see, a lot more to do that I can possibly write about Ireland. I could write for years and never come close to say it all. I had to make a decision as to which part of Ireland I would write about. I chose County Donegal, for special reasons, only known to me.

Maryvonne CM Martin

All rights reserved

Maryvonne Martin
Poetry Sharings Journal

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The following comments are for "Ireland—County Donegal"
by MM

Thank you kindly for your comment. It's very much appreciated.

Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. Family and friends reside in several counties.
Donegal is full of beauty, delightful and haunting music, lore, legends and most interesting, friendly people.

And...yes, you are entirely correct—the people is the charm of Ireland!

In fact, I am going back to Ireland in one month. I, too, can't wait!

Thanks again for your kind words.

( Posted by: MM [Member] On: July 28, 2003 )

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