There’s Irish beautiful, and then there’s Donegal beautiful. County Donegal is in the Republic, but it abuts the north, like Michigan sticks up into the Great Lakes. We spent a four-day weekend in Derry and Donegal, exploring the wonders of the coast.
But first, Derry and thereabouts
Marilynn attended a conference in Derry most of last week, while Declan and I entertained a guest from Tennessee. On Friday afternoon, we drove the couple of hours to join Marilynn in Derry, where we stayed with our friends the Pynes, who own two wonderful B&Bs in the central part of the city.
After visiting with them on Friday evening and early Saturday, we set out to briefly explore Derry, which we’ve all visited many times before. Declan especially wanted to sit on the Lord Mayor’s throne in the Guildhall, which he’d done on a previous trip. We also walked the walls of Derry, a unique feature of the city that dates back hundreds of years. Derry’s walls are among the finest in Europe and should be part of any visit to Northern Ireland.
We descended the walls to the Bogside, the nationalist part of the city that features many murals to fallen protesters (especially victims of Bloody Sunday and those who died on hunger strike during the Troubles).
On our way out of town, we visited the Grianán of Aileach, a restored stone fort from the 8th or 9th century. Marilynn and I had visited here years ago, but it was Declan’s first time. From its hilltop perch, the Grianán offers fine views of the surrounding countryside. But having driven there directly from Derry, we now want to know how Seamus Deane walked there as a child, as he describes in his book “Reading in the Dark.”
Onward to Donegal
But the main event of this trip was County Donegal, where many from Belfast go on summer holiday. Fortunately, high season wasn’t in full swing, so we had many sites to ourselves. With a car, we could explore at our leisure.
We stayed at the Inishowen Lodge near Moville, where our host Irwin was extremely helpful with directions, a book on the area, general advice and the use of a detailed map and pair of binoculars during our two-day stay. The lodge is high above Lough Foyle, and the view from our room was truly spectacular. It almost rivaled the fantastic and varied breakfasts we enjoyed during our visit.
The first day, we visited the Cooley Cross, a cool Celtic cross allegedly put up by Saint Patrick. The high cross sits right along the roadside just outside a small cemetery with a small stone structure that formerly contained human bones, the skull house. During Druid times, marriages were supposedly performed here, with celebrants lifting the bride on one side of the cross and the groom on the other, the bride and groom joining hands through the hole at the top of the cross.
We also viewed the remains of the Green Castle and saw what we believed was a pod of dolphins frolicking in the waters off Shroove beach.
After a sumptuous breakfast on Sunday, we made straight toward Malin Head, the northernmost point on the island. We wound our way along back roads and country paths, guided by signposts and our desire to see as much nature as possible. A highlight Sunday was a walk along Kinnagoe Bay, a remote beach and the site of a 16th century wreck of a Spanish Armada ship. The color of the hills changed by the minute, the result of the late afternoon sun peeking out from behind clouds and the ability of Irish grass to change color as if on whim. On the way back, we discovered several fields where peat had been cut into logs and left to dry—teepee style—in the field.
On Monday, after staggering away from another great breakfast, we did a little more local sightseeing before heading to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace, a new museum in Bellaghy that celebrates the life and work of the late Nobel Prize-winning poet.
Then we made our way toward home, full of new memories of the beauty of Donegal.