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Destination Spotlight: 10 Things To Know About Donegal

5 min read

By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
More by Dawn

Check out these fascinating facts about Donegal!

Donegal has been rated National Geographic Traveller’s #1 pick for the Cool List – which means it’s a pretty cool place to visit! Our destination spotlight shines a light on 10 things you might not know about this rugged Irish county!

Whether you’re a travel-lover, itching for somewhere off the beaten path, or simply curious, read on for a few facts that you might not have known about the little-visited hidden gem that is Country Donegal in the northwest of Ireland.

1. It's nicknamed Ireland's Forgotten County

First off on this list of facts about Donegal is it’s nickname, Ireland’s Forgotten County. So, where is County Donegal? Isolated physically, culturally and even politically, Donegal is the large county at Ireland’s northwestern corner. It is one of the only Republic of Ireland counties part of the ancient province of Ulster (which also comprises of all Northern Ireland counties), and is remote and difficult to access, meaning that Donegal has often been ‘forgotten’ by the densely-populated eastern and southern regions of Ireland, as well as ‘forgotten’ off the list of Irish travel itineraries. 

Donegal is home to many pristine, secret beaches

No bother – this means that County Donegal has largely been left to its own devices, making it an apt place to experience Irish traditions, hear the Irish language, or explore the untouched bogs and mountains of the region!

2. Slieve League are some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs – about 3 times height of Cliffs of Moher

Slieve League Cliffs Donegal

Admiring the cloud-capped Slieve League cliffs, among Europe’s highest sea cliffs.

Admiring the towering Slieve League Cliffs in southern Donegal. When you think of “cliffs” and “Ireland,” you typically think of the Cliffs of Moher. But this is a list of facts about Donegal, not Clare! Here in Donegal, you’ll find the Slieve League cliffs, nearly three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher, and some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs (they are 609m (1,998 feet in height)! While most people tend to view the cliffs from the Bunglas Viewpoint, a better way to see them is by following the boggy but well-worth-it Pilgrim’s Path, an ancient path that leads up to the back side of the cliffs, passing a Mass Rock (an outdoor church dating to Ireland’s Penal Laws). Brave souls may decide to head up the precarious One Man’s Pass before heading back down the side of the cliffs.

3. Donegal is home to Star Wars at Malin Head – also Ireland’s northernmost point

Donegal Malin Head Star Wars filming location

Hiking at Malin Head, a galaxy not so, so far away in northern Donegal.

With the release of the new film, Star Wars is all the rage right now! Much of the movie has been filmed in Ireland, chosen to represent Skywalker’s remote hideaway. Though the Skellig Islands off the coast of the Ring of Kerry are the most visible filming location, much of the close-up scenes between Rey and Luke on the unnamed island at the end of the galaxy were actually filmed at Malin Head, up in northern Donegal. In fact, it’s the most northern point you’ll find in Ireland – and feels like the edge of the world! Wild and alien, the exposed stoney headlands of Malin Head are home to basking sharks, dolphins and colonies of seabirds – all the while feeling like a galaxy far, far away.

4. Meet royalty in Donegal! Greet King Patsy on Tory Island

Donegal coolest place on earth

Ireland’s most remote inhabited island, Tory Island is also home to Irish ‘royalty’

Yes indeed, you can meet a king on your next trip to Ireland! Chosen by his hundred-odd fellow islanders, King Paddy ‘rules’ Tory Island, off Donegal’s northern coast. Long held as a recluse for artists and recluses, King Patsy will welcome you to his island as you step off the boat. A great place for coastal island hiking, relaxation and perhaps setting up an easel of your own, Tory Island is fit for royalty!

5. It’s the ancestral home of Patron St Colmcille, the Pride of Donegal

Hiking in Donegal near Glencolmcille - Ireland's pilgrimage paths

Enjoying the view in west Donegal near Glencolmcille

The pride of Donegal, St Colmcille (or St Columba, meaning ‘dove’) is one of Ireland’s three patron saints (alongside famous St Patrick, as well as St Brigit), and is credited with spreading Christianity to Scotland. Born and bred in the heart of Donegal, he descended from the famed Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th century Irish high king. St Colmcille started his first monastery in Donegal (he went on to found 30 of them, including the famous Abbey of Iona in Scotland), and it is said he was much inspired by Donegal’s rough and wild landscapes. St Colmcille is still widely revered in Donegal to this day.

 

6. The county is fringed by one of Ireland’s three glacial fjords, Lough Swilly

Lough Swilly in Donegal

Shimmering water of Donegal’s Lough Swilly

Did you know there are three glacial fjords in Ireland? Donegal has one of them: Lough Swilly. This beautiful, glittering basin sweeps through northern Donegal and is one of the most scenic places on the Emerald Isle. The best way to experience Lough Swilly is by boat, although hiking and biking its jaw-droppingly beautiful coastlines are equally amazing! For a spectacular accommodation overlooking its shores, choose the lovely Rathmullan House, set in a idyllic wooded setting overlooking Lough Swilly Fjord.

7. Southern Donegal is part of Wild Atlantic Way’s Surf Coast

Surfing in Donegal - Wild Atlantic Way

Surfing in Donegal along the Wild Atlantic Way’s Surf Coast

Donegal marks the very tip of the Wild Atlantic Way, which starts on the Ireland side of the city of Londonderry/Derry. Further down, the southern region of County Donegal is part of Ireland’s famous Surf Coast, where surfers from around the world gather to test their surf skills against angry Atlantic waves. Don’t worry if you’re not a pro; there are plenty of surf schools that will teach you the basics! Or if you prefer to stay a bit drier, simply walk along the quiet Donegal beaches dipping your toes in the waves as you watch the pros wrestling with the legendary waves!

8. As part of Ulster, it’s got a close connection with Northern Ireland

Seals in Donegal

A seal enjoying the beach in Donegal!

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. So in a way, Donegal has one foot on either side of the border! Which makes it all the better of a place to explore wild, windswept landscapes and rich local tradition.

9. Go sea stack climbing along Donegal’s coasts!

Kayaking in Mayo

Kayaking in Mayo as Clough Patrick looms ahead.

Sea stacks are a fascinating geological phenomenon, formed by constant and consistent coastal erosion that carves away sections of land, collapsing the ‘bridge’ between land and the sea stack. The freestanding pillar of rock island amongst crashing waves makes a perfect challenge to those climbing to new heights! Adrenaline-junkies, thrill seekers, or adventurers out to test themselves will love climbing these sea stacks to their unspoilt summits – many of which are generally accessible only by kayak.

10. Learn about the age-old tradition of Hand Weaving in Donegal

Donegal tweed - handweaving Ardara

Handwoven waistcoats from Ardara village

Final facts about Donegal – have you ever heard of Donegal Tweed? Once upon a time, it was all the rage in the UK – exotic, exquisite, dependable. Though such tweed came from all over Donegal, the western village of Ardara has a particularly long history with tweed and hand weaving. Today, you can still find traditional weavers (many who still weave on ancestral looms) in Ardara – and scattered throughout Donegal – though today their numbers are dwindling in favour of easier and more industrial methods.

 

Armed with these facts about Donegal, experience the magic of Ireland’s Forgotten County on our Donegal tours below!

Trip Date Price Availability Book
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 14th Mar - 20th Mar 2020 €1,7108 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 9th May - 15th May 2020 €1,7953 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 13th Jun - 19th Jun 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 18th Jul - 24th Jul 2020 €1,7953 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 18th Jul - 24th Jul 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 8th Aug - 14th Aug 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 12th Sep - 18th Sep 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 12th Sep - 18th Sep 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

“American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

View profileMore by Dawn

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