A hundred and twenty kilometres north of where I live is a different world. A verdant world where Irish is spoken by young and old, where the signage is in Gaelic, so a Sassenach like myself has to learn a few words to find her way, and where babbling brooks flow along the roadside.
The north west coast of County Donegal is stunning and the people are most welcoming. I stayed with friends in an area called Gweedore, less than a kilometre from the Atlantic Ocean, therefore on the Wild Atlantic Way and the landscape is certainly wild. With mountains inland and islands off shore, there is something to see around every corner.
Stacks of turf are a reminder that during the Second World War peat fuelled the Gweedore power station and men arduously cut roads through their bogs to deliver the peat to keep the home fires burning.
Stone walls constructed to differentiate the farmland are scattered across the countryside and fishing boats in Bun Beg Harbour convey the labours of the fisherman to whom I am forever grateful as I am a fish lover, maintaining it is fish which has given me my brains!
Tory Island is one of the largest off the coast and is home to a lighthouse which, due to the day being overcast, can barely be seen in the photographs. However, Tory Island is where, according to folklore Balor of the Evil Eye locked up his daughter because the poor woman was prophesised to give birth to a son who would kill his grandfather. The intrepid daughter escaped, eloping with a young chieftan named Kinneally. They had three sons, two Balor hunted down and killed along with his unfortunate son-in-law. The third son, Lugh, survived and he slew Balor, thrusting a sword into his grandfather’s eye at Croc Fola which means, hill of blood. More mundanely the real reason the rocky headland has such a name is because it turns red at sunset and in autumn the ferns take own their russet colours. (I prefer the legend!)
Looking out from Croc Fola, 150 metres above sea level, I could see the islands of Innisirrer, Inishmeane and Gola.
The seascape is magnificent and I enjoyed a smashing cup of coffee at the Tae Pod rustled up by a cheerful lady named Evelyn Sweeney. Thank you Evelyn and I will take your advice to ferry out to the islands and chat to the few people who live and work there.
Bun Beg is also the home of a beautiful beach, but has a dark past with Skull Island being said to be where unbaptized babies were buried and the wreck of Eddie’s boat is a stark reminder of the power and uncompromising nature of the sea.
Gweedore Hotel, closed for several years, is reminiscent of the building in which Jack Nicholson, aka Johnny Torrance, lost his mind in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It would be lovely to see this hotel restored to its former glory, but if a Hollywood location scout is reading this please take a look at Bun Beg as it is an ideal spot to film another psychological horror or sea/island adventure.
Heading inland, my destination was Mount Errigal, an extinct volcano and the tallest mountain in Donegal. The quartz summit appears capped with snow all year around and at its foot is Poison Glen.
Here in the 1800s an English landlord cruelly evicted his tenants out into the beautiful, but unforgiving, countryside. As she walked away an old woman put a hex on his church, Dunlewey, and it has been in ruins ever since. (I discovered the roof was removed in the 1950s to avoid paying land tax, but how boring is that!)
Sitting in the glorious gardens of the Gweedore Court Hotel I enjoyed a pint of Italian lager in the glorious gardens. Overlooking the Clady River where kayakers rowed through the blue waters, I was told that on the lakebed of a nearby lake are the remains of stone houses as the valley was flooded in the mid twentieth century to create a reservoir. Once again the stunning scenery holds a dark past.
I have many reasons to return to the Donegal Gaeltacht, not just to see my friends, but to improve my Irish, visit the islands, enjoy the scenery and find more folklore. Until I do, slan anois!