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Donegal, National Geographic’s Coolest Place on Earth

Remote and haunting, with a rich cultural and mythological history, the County Donegal coastline, the longest coastline in Ireland at 1,234km, boasts windswept headlands, ancient sites and adventure in spades.

Did you know there are three glacial fjords in Ireland? Donegal has one of them: Lough Swilly.  Featuring Europe’s highest sea cliffs along with hidden beaches, coves and inlets, the Northern Headlands’ expansive terrain is also the place to find the country’s most northerly point at Malin Head found at the very tip of the Inishowen Peninsula.   Named the ‘Coolest Place on the Planet for 2017’ by National Geographic Traveller, the region has plenty of surprises in store for the intrepid traveller.

Pat Riddell, editor of National Geographic Traveller (UK), had this to say about how Donegal made the list:  “We considered many destinations for our Cool List 2017, but we felt Donegal was in a real sweet spot – off-radar and hard to access, but on the cusp of a breakthrough.  On the one hand, you have big pushes like the Wild Atlantic Way and the recent visit of Star Wars; on the other you only have to drive a few miles to have a beach or a road completely to yourself.   It’s a warm-hearted place, but wilderness always feels just a stone’s throw away. And it is wilderness . . . world-class wilderness. We think it’s due a big year.”

Star Wars

For the filming of The Last Jedi, on location in Malin Head, the crew visited the most northerly bar in Ireland “Farrens Bar”.  Hugh Farren, proprietor recalls the visit well “it was unbelievable that Star Wars was filming a mile and half away from us.  The buzz that we had for the month was surreal”.   Naturally, Hugh wanted to mark the occasion, so he painted a mural of Yoda on the side of his pub.  A road in the county has been renamed the R2D2 in tribute to one of Star Wars’ most famous characters.

“Go mbeidh an fórsa leat! — May the force be with you!”

Star Wars, Malin Head, Co. Donegal
Milky Way and Aurora Borealis in the night sky over Urris on the Wild Atlantic Way

The Northern Lights

The best areas on the Wild Atlantic Way to see the Northern Lights and the most consistent is also the most northerly.  Even a relatively small show can be seen from the likes of Malin Head to Dunree Head in the Inishowen Peninsula to Fanad Head, the Rosguil Peninsula and beyond all the way around to Glencolmcille and Sliabh Liag

Irish Traditional Music

It is South West Donegal that International stars Altan, Clannad and Enya call Home!

Irish trad varies from region to region. In the past, many musicians only heard the music of others in their locality, and so regional styles developed. Donegal is known for its simple melodic sean nós (unaccompanied singing) and dexterous fiddle playing with fast, short notes. You might recognise this from Ciaran Tourish, who has been playing and preserving the Donegal fiddle tradition for many years. The towns of Ardara, Buncrana and Killybegs are well-known trad hotspots.

Trad Session in Donegal

St Colmchille / St Columba

St. Colmchille is one of Ireland’s three patron saints. The other two are St Brigid and of course, St Patrick. St. Colmchille’s feast day is June 9, the day he died in the year 597 AD – at the impressive age of 75.  Colmchille was born at Gartan, near Letterkenny, Co. Donegal in 521.  He was also know as Columba, a Latin version of Colum, which was his baptismal name.  The “cille” that was added to the end of his name means “of the churches”.  His father was a great grandson of King Niall of the Nine Hostages.  His mother was a daughter of the King of Leinster.  In 545, Colmchille founded his first monastery in Derry.  He went on to found over sixty monasteries and churches in Ireland.   He is credited with spreading Christianity to Scotland, going on to found 30 more, including the famous Abbey of Iona in Scotland

Our Neighbours

One of four ancient and historical provinces, Ulster is generally associated with Northern Ireland as it contains all six Northern Ireland counties. However, it also encompasses three counties that are part of the Republic of Ireland, including its largest county, Donegal.

The Derry Walls

A walk around the walls in Derry reveals a splendid city crammed full of history, heritage, interest and a vibrant cultural scene. This is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in Europe. The Walls were built during the period 1613-1618 by the honourable, the Irish Society as defences for early seventeenth century settlers from England and Scotland.

Historic walls of Derry
Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle is a medieval castle in Northern Ireland. It is located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim, and is accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland.   It was also used as the location of Castle Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.

The Giants Causeway - in the footsteps of giants

The jewel in the crown of the fabulous coast of Antrim. A UNESCO World Heritage site and therefore ranked alongside Mount Everest and the Giant Redwoods of California for its importance to humankind. Volcanic activity helped Finn Mc Cool forge this “Wonder of the World” some 60 Million years ago. It is today the habitat of rare plants and animals.

Giants Causeway, Co. Antrim