10 Reasons Why You Should Visit County Donegal, Ireland's 'Hidden Gem'
National Geographic named it the 'Coolest Place on the Planet'.
If you ever have the chance to go to Ireland, you’ll have to include County Donegal on your itinerary. It’s wild, rugged, remote, and far removed from Ireland’s top tourist attractions. Visitors to Donegal enjoy its beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, and warm Irish welcome.
Donegal has a special place in my heart, as three of my grandparents came from this place. I fell in love with the country at the age of eight, when I traveled from my home in the United States to attend my uncle’s wedding. Over the next three weeks, I toured the country with my family. I kissed the Blarney Stone, attended a banquet at Bunratty Castle, and feasted on the ice cream cones that are so popular throughout Ireland in the summer months. While I enjoyed all of my experiences in the Emerald Isle that summer, the time I spent in Donegal was absolutely magical.
In the years since that introductory vacation Donegal has continued to enthrall me. I was there during the World Cup in 1994, when I had the thrill of watching matches in pubs while surrounded by passionate Irish soccer fans. With a good friend from college I braved the blustery March weather during one of my spring breaks. My wife and I went there for our honeymoon, and we returned for our 15th anniversary. We had the pleasure of introducing our five children to Donegal the following summer.
During our most recent visits, I couldn’t help but notice the changes brought on by the economic downturn of 2008. Ireland’s booming economy, the “Celtic Tiger,” was the envy of Europe when my wife and I journeyed to Donegal for our honeymoon in 2001. Fifteen years later, however, I was shocked to see previously vibrant hotels, shops, and other establishments boarded up and in ruins. I had heard about the new wave of emigration from Ireland, but now I got to see its evidence in person. People told us stories of fathers who moved to London and elsewhere for work, returning every other weekend to their families. It was heartbreaking. In my capacity as a teacher, author, and speaker, I wanted to do something to help. That was when I got the idea that led to the Christian Mindfulness Retreat In Ireland.
A time of meditation, relaxation, prayer, and reflection, this retreat invites tourists from the USA and elsewhere to visit Donegal’s gorgeous coastline while achieving better physical and emotional health. It is a “mental makeover,” with benefits lasting long after the suitcases are unpacked. People learn how to achieve lower levels of stress and anxiety, in addition to exercising regions of their brains that might not have been used in a long time. At a moment when many of us feel overwhelmed by the pace of life, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
I’m excited to play a role, even a modest one, in delivering more life to the local economy in Donegal. My grandparents left Ireland due to the bleak employment prospects before them. Now their grandson is returning to Donegal, bringing newcomers who are certain to become devoted fans of this beautiful location. I’m grateful to be a member of the “Donegal Diaspora,” and I’m looking forward to serving as one of the county’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Here are my Top 10 Reasons You Should Visit County Donegal. I think you’ll agree that Donegal needs to be on your “Irish Bucket List!"
Located on the Wild Atlantic Way, Malin Head is Ireland’s most northerly point. In recent years, Malin Head has achieved fame as a filming location for The Last Jedi. Visitors enjoy hiking, rock-climbing, fishing, and bird watching here.
Standing at 2,464 feet above sea level, Errigal is the tallest peak in County Donegal. Mount Errigal dominates the skyline of the area, and beckons those who seek breathtaking views of the coastline, valleys, lakes, and mountains of Donegal. If you want to hike Errigal, be prepared to trudge through the muck on the way up and down. The photo opportunity at the top is well worth the journey!
Along the southwestern Donegal coast stands Slieve League, home of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. While County Clare’s Cliffs of Moher get more publicity, Slieve League’s crest is nearly three times higher. You can hike right to the edge of Slieve League’s imposing heights, but make sure you exercise caution. Fans of high adventure will love it here!
Visitors may choose to fly to Donegal Airport, which boasts the world’s most scenic runway according to a recent survey. Located next to one of the county’s famous “Blue Flag” beaches, it is a short 40 minute flight away from Dublin. I like the fact that the airport is so close to Teac Jack, where my retreat takes place (20 minute drive).
In the shadow of the Blue Stack Mountains, Donegal Town lies at the mouth of Lough Eske and Donegal Bay. Built in the 15th century, Donegal Castle is one of the area’s most popular attractions.
My wife and I visited Tory Island during our honeymoon in 2001. While the boat ride from Bunbeg Harbor made us a bit queasy, the charms of Tory were well worth the journey over rough seas. Tory’s rugged beauty inspires its small, but renowned community of painters and artists, whose work you can admire (and purchase) in the local gallery.
On a pleasant evening, this is a wonderful place to watch the setting sun. It also offers a terrific view of the area’s coastline and surrounding islands. In this video I’m playing my fiddle rendition of “Homes of Donegal,” a famous song in these parts.
You’ll see the charming town of Ramelton, many of Donegal’s sandy beaches, and the iconic Fanad Lighthouse if you journey along the Fanad Peninsula. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to stop for pictures and moments of peaceful reflection.
While Glenveagh is a most pleasant place to visit these days, it has a tragic past. During the 19th century, the estate’s landowner forced his poor tenants off the land to make way for thousands of sheep, whose fleece would be more profitable than the human inhabitants’ meager rents.
Located above the seaside town of Dunfanaghy, Horn Head is an incredible viewing point for many of Donegal’s attractions. Facing south you can see Errigal, Tory Island, and the Gweedore parish. To the north lie Fanad Head and Malin Head. After a hike to the centuries-old lookout station, you might feel as if you’re on the edge of the world.