When considering a vacation in Ireland some may think of The Ring of Kerry, Dublin, Belfast or Londonderry in Northern Ireland. While these locations have their history and charms, I would strongly recommend considering an itinerary centered in Donegal. Don’t be put off by any negative comments regarding Ireland’s weather. I was there in mid-August and there were only two rainy days, this in the worst summer in 30 years for cold and rain.
The town of Donegal is the original capitol of County Donegal, but the administrative functions have since been moved inland to Letterkenny. The town is centered on the “square” which is actually a triangle. The town’s business district is centered here making shopping easy and convenient. The town’s major hotel is located here as are many other tourists lodging. The prices in 2015 started at 25.00 EU and up to $271 USD at the Lough Eske Castle Hotel and Spa. Donegal has several churches and a “castle”. While it doesn’t meet most eyes as a castle it was the towns fortress and defense in ancient times. Shopping for authentic Donegal tweed or wool products made in County Donegal? Start your search at Irish House Triona Design on the city square where they an abundance of woolen clothing as well as an extensive collection of beautiful Irish Jewelry. Shipping is free on purchases of $200.00 or more. For a real treat visit the factory Triona Design Center in Adara where the weaving and construction of their products are done. Did you forget to buy something after returning home? No problem, they have a full web site waiting for you. Order what you want and it will be shipped to your door. Just up the street is MAGEE’s where you will find tailored men’s suits and jackets as well as a complete line of women’s clothing. In addition there are many shops selling various curios and trinkets to satisfy. There is the interesting Donegal Craft Village just east of Donegal Town proper where they offer demonstrations of their manufacture of Irish goods. A relaxing interlude can be found on The Waterbus, a boat tour of Donegal Bay. Tickets are available across the parking lot from the Tourist Center, in Donegal Town. Departure times are dictated by the tides, so they vary.
Are you hungry? Try Blueberry, a cozy café tearoom just off the square for a wonderful lunch or breakfast. They have delicious pastries too. There are several other restaurants on the square for your choosing.
However, if you really want a treat consider The Salmon Inn in Mulinasole on Donegal Bay where you have a beautiful view of the bay while you dine. Martin and Margaret are the owners. If you want a true taste of the wonderful Irish hospitality and fantastic food, don’t miss this Inn. It’s a short 10-15km drive or taxi south of Donegal Town and so worth it. The fresh Atlantic Salmon is divine and if you have children who long for American food you can even get a great cheeseburger and fries. Local seafood is also featured. Don’t forget to visit an Irish Pub or two and sample the vibrant Irish music so famous for this culture. Start at The Abbey on the town square, they also have a fine restaurant.
There are multiple diversions available. West of Donegal Town on N56 is Killybegs, a beautiful protected, scenic harbor where a major fishing fleet is centered. South of Donegal Town is the city of Sligo. Here there is a major music festival every August where you can hear the best of Irish musicians and poets as well as storytellers, in competition for prizes and prestige. Get tickets early as the venues sell out fast.
Make sure you include Glenveagh Castle in Glenveigh National Park. It’s a bout a 2-hour drive north of Donegal Town. The setting is out of a fairy tale, situated on Lough Beagh (lough is Irish for lake) this Castle was completed in 1873, by an Irishman who made his fortune in America. The castle was patterned after Queen Victoria’s Scottish highland residence, Balmoral. It changed hand three times since then with many theme gardens added as well as a tower. Movie Stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin visited there. In 1981, the last owners, the McIhenny family, gave the castle to the government with the stipulation the land surrounding the castle be designated as a National Park. In addition they stipulated the staff and following generations be assured employment at the castle. How wonderfully thoughtful they were. Guided tours of the interiors are available daily. There is a café and tearoom as well as a gift shop. Enjoy the day and relax in the many theme gardens.
Golf is available at the Donegal Golf Club, an 18 Hole Championship Golf Course located just south of Donegal Town. Green fees start at 70 EU, rental clubs and carts are available. It is a long course with some of the world’s professionals having playing there. There are additional courses in County Donegal.
Donegal is accessible by plane, luxury coach, or car rental, from Dublin or other major cities. Norwegian Air has wonderful service to Europe. When booked on their site Premium Service is about $2,500.00 round trip to Oslo with connections via Oslo, change of dates and refund included. Their connection flights are very inexpensive. I have flown Business class and their Premium Service is virtually indistinguishable. You are seated in the front of a Boeing 737 in plush leather recliners with leg/foot rests. The attendants are prompt and pleasant. Meals are much better quality from tourist. However, many any airlines offer service direct from USA to Dublin, Ireland.