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What makes the Slieve League cliffs so special? For starters, their height! They are 601 m (or 1,972ft) at their highest point, making them just about three times the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher (which clocks in at 155 m or 509 ft). In fact, they fall just shy from the highest cliffs in Ireland, beat by the Croaghaun Cliffs on Achill Island, whose highest elevation reaches 688 m. Both Croaghaun and Slieve League rank right at the top of Europe’s highest sea cliffs.
These massive cliffs are located in County Donegal in the northwest corner of Ireland. Nicknamed Ireland’s ‘Forgotten County,’ a foray into Donegal tells it all. Donegal is a wild, rural place – full of vast bogs, rugged mountains, forlorn coasts and quiet farms. Donegal is possibly the coolest county in Ireland – in fact, Donegal was voted the Coolest Place on Earth by National Geographic Traveller.
The most famous way to photograph the cliffs is from the Bunglas Viewpoint. Past Teelin village, follow the road until you get to the car park. You can park there, and walk up the road, about a mile (1.7 km) through a set of gates (as a general rule, always close such gates behind you as they’re meant to keep livestock from straying) up the small, winding road through sheep pastures. Or, you can drive up the road, and park at the upper car park if there’s space.
Rounding the final bend, you’ll get your first view of the massive Slieve League cliffs! Leaving the car behind, you can walk out around the Bunglas viewpoint for the classic view of the cliffs. Get your cameras ready! This is the most photogenic viewpoint of Slieve League. On a clear day, turn around and look behind you – you’ll get an amazing view of Ben Bulben, Ireland’s iconic table mountain, located in County Sligo.
Those adventurers out there itching to get out to the wilds of Donegal and Slieve League should hike the Pilgrim’s Path. To get there, follow a narrow road up from Teelin village for about a kilometre to where the road ends in a car park and trail head.
A rough, careworn path is chiselled into the green mountainside. The Pilgrim’s Path is about 3km in length and will take you roughly 2-3 hours out and back. Or, you can continue upon One Man’s Pass, along the cliffs and down to Bunglas (see below) and either walk back along the country roads or try to arrange a taxi. This full length walk will take 4-5 hours for the whole duration, or 3-4 hours if you get a lift along the roads.
The Pilgrim’s Path is narrow and steep – in some places, it’s rocky underfoot, and in other places, boggy. Therefore, make sure you’ve dressed appropriately in a waterproof jacket and trousers, as well as sturdy hiking boots with ankle support!
The trail’s name comes from the era of Ireland’s Penal laws in the 18th and 19th centuries, a series of laws imposed on the local Irish population to force Irish Roman Catholic dissenters to convert to the “true faith” of the English Anglican Church.
This meant that official Catholic worship was outlawed, but many Irish refused to convert, so they met in secret in remote, rural places, such as Slieve League, where they said mass from allotted “mass rocks.” Along the Pilgrim’s Path, you’ll find the remains of a Mass Rock, a makeshift “church.” Today it’s in ruin, but the name stuck!
Further up, you’ll find a yellow pole marking the summit – as you round the bend, you’ll feel a wall of wind blasting over the Slieve League cliffs. Inch closer through the wind to the edge (though keep in mind there isn’t much in the way of barriers) and admire the amazing panorama of the massive cliffs and churning Atlantic below.
If you prefer, you can also start hiking directly from the Bunglas Viewpoint, where you’ll get the classic views of the cliffs. Though higher than the Cliffs of Moher, the Slieve League cliffs are sloping rather than sheer precipices, so it’s easier and safer to walk along the edge of the cliffs.
Most people only follow the first section of this cliff path, built out of stone steps. But within just 15-20 mins of climbing, you’re in the wild. Follow the cliffs as long as you’d like, until you’re standing at the highest point of the Slieve League cliffs, walking amongst mountain sheep and diving sea birds.
For the adventurous, you can keep going all the way to the Pilgrim’s Path. However, this should only be attempted by experienced hikers… you’ll see why in just a minute! First, follow the well-worn trail along the cliffs to the summit of Cnoc Ramhar, where the path becomes eroded and boggy. The next section is the infamous One Man’s Pass. A narrow, 400m knife-like craggy edge, the land drops dramatically on each side. Less experienced hikers or those with vertigo can take the path on the right, a longer way that avoids the pass.
One Man’s Pass connects with the Pilgrim’s Path – see above. You could then continue down to Teelin and walk along the road back to the car park, or you could try to organise a taxi.
If these hikes sounds amazing, learn more about how you can join on our hiking trip along the Causeway Coast & Donegal.
Aside from the Mass Rock, there are also remains of an early Christian monastic site (including the remnants of early beehive huts) – even traces of an older civilisation.
More recently, there is an old signal tower dating back to the Napoleonic wars when the British (who occupied Ireland at the time) were worried about a potential French invasion (which never occurred).
Most recent is the vestiges of the WWII era ‘EIRE’ sign, signifying Irish neutral ground. There are dozens of other signs like that dotted throughout the coastal headlands, though not all continue to be maintained.
Nicknamed the Forgotten County for its remoteness, Donegal was the last county to come under British rule and had therefore retained Irish heritage throughout the 1500s (long after other parts of Ireland fell under British rule) – only losing its independence with the Flight of the Earls in 1607 after a failed revolt against the Crown.
Donegal is remote. It is wild. It is full of history and heritage and vast landscapes. In a way, it’s the closest you’ll get to “old, traditional” Ireland. Though it’s not as huge an enterprise as it once was, you’ll still find prestigious Donegal tweed clothing articles all over the county. Hidden waterfalls, forgotten neolithic sites, rugged coastlines and picturesque mountains await. In the north of the county, there’s Glenveagh National Park, Malin Head (home to Star Wars), and Lough Swilly Fjord. In the south, you get the surfing beaches, tweed weavers – and Slieve League. It’s a county with a lot to offer – and with far fewer tourists than further south.