A place of pilgrimage since medieval times, Lough Derg, just west of Donegal Town, contains a small island called Station Island where it is said that St Patrick once stayed and fasted. Visitors arrive in their thousands every year, mostly during the summer months, for one-day or three-day pilgrimages. South of the lake in Pettigo, the Lough Derg Visitor Centre provides information on these retreats and the history of the island. The pilgrimages inspired a number of poems in the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney’s collection Station Island.
One of the highest cliff faces in Europe can be found at Slieve League, where the cliffs drop 300 metres to the Atlantic. The Bunglas viewing point is near Carrick.
Donegal’s highest peak, Mount Errigal stands at 751 metres, and with two paths to the summit, can be climbed in about two hours.
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park is 10,000 hectares of lakes and glens, surrounded by the Derryveagh mountains stretching between Letterkenny and Gweedore. The park is home to red deer, which were introduced by the wife of the local landowner John George Adair. She was also responsible for the numerous rhododendrons in the park.
Today, a number of nature trails lead through woods of Scots pine, oak, and bog around the numerous lakes. The land contained within the park was once tilled by Adair’s tenants, 24 of whom he evicted during the winter of 1861, forcing many of them into workhouses and others to emigration. Adair was also responsible for the construction of Glenveagh Castle in 1870, which eventually came into the hands of the State.
Just 14 kilometres by five kilometres, Arranmore Island has a population of about 800, most of whom reside on the eastern and southern parts of the island. The island has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as evidenced by a prehistoric fort on its southern end. It takes only three hours to walk around the whole island along the Arranmore Way, but it boasts some beautiful cliffs with stunning Atlantic views and pleasant sandy beaches. Fishing is also popular in the waters surrounding the island. The American yachtsman Wayne Dickinson crossed the Atlantic in the smallest boat ever and arrived on the west coast of Arranmore island in 1983. The bird sanctuary of Green Island lies off the south-western tip of the island.
About 11 kilometres from the mainland, Tory island has a history of inaccessibility which has helped to preserve a distinctive island culture despite the difficulties that this imposed. During the winter of 1974 eight weeks of storms prevented any contact from the mainland, and after it finished, a number of families left the island. The arrival of Father Diarmuid O’Peicin in 1980 turned the fortunes of the islanders, however, as he took on a fundraising campaign that enlisted help from the United States and several prominent Irish figures and attracted much media attention. The island is currently populated by about 120 permanent inhabitants and is predominantly Irish-speaking.
The legendary Balor of the Evil Eye is the island’s legendary cyclops, and his Fort remains on the east coast of the island. St Colmcille established a monastery on the island in the sixth century, and also appointed the first king of Tory. The Tau Cross is one of the island’s most unique monuments, and is now set in concrete in West Town. There is also a wishing stone in the centre of the island. The main trade is still fishing, although painting has grown to prominence since an encounter between islander James Dixon and English painter Derek Hill encouraged Dixon to begin painting the local landscape. The island also holds a traditional music festival during August.
The Inishowen peninsula may well be one of Ireland’s best-kept scenic secrets, although its designation as a European Special Area of Conservation has garnered it some attention in recent years. With a landscape that is diverse and often stunning, this peninsula provides views of the Atlantic, cliff tops and sandy beaches, with the peak of Slieve Snaght at its centre. The peninsula was named after Eoghan, the son of Niall, High King of Ireland, who was made Lord of the island by his father.
One of the peninsula’s principal attractions is the ancient fort known as Grianan of Aileach. A stone fort constructed during early Christian times, with its origins going as far back as 1700 BC, it was used as a base for the O’Neill clan and is claimed as the spot where Eoghan was baptised by St Patrick in the fifth century. During the 12th century, Murtagh O’Brian, King of Thomond, attacked the fort in revenge for a raid on Claire, and reputedly ordered his men to each take a stone away from its walls. Reconstructed in the 19th century, the fort is the only terraced fort left in the country. A visitor centre near the site provides information on its history and significance.
Towns around the peninsula, like Muff, Moville and Buncrana, all have their own individual charm, with Greencastle boasting a Napoleonic fort and Carndonagh home to a seventh century early Christian cross carved with human figures.
Malin Head is Ireland’s most northerly point, the tip, known as Banba’s Crown, is marked by a signal tower which dates from the early 19th century. Inishtrahull island lies 8 kilometres from the peninsula, and is now deserted. The area is populated by a number of birds, including choughs and corncrakes. The nearby Wee House of Malin, set in a cliff, was once a hermit’s cell and is said to have been the home of St Muirdealach.