SEA CLIFFS, SHEEP AND FIDDLES: WHAT TO SEE AROUND GLEN
The area around Glencolmcille on the Slieve League Peninsula at the south-west point of Co Donegal is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The area is bounded on the south by the mountains of Sliabh Liag and Leahan and on the north by Slieve Tooey. To the west lies the wild Atlantic Ocean.
To get there, visitors drive through Killybegs, which is a perfect base to explore what lies further west. Sight-seeing tours of the stunning sea cliffs at Slieve League can be arranged from here as well as fishing trips and boat trips.
Taking the road west out of Killybegs you’ll find some of the most dramatic coastline in this country as the Wild Atlantic Way sweeps through the picturesque village of Kilcar and beyond to Glencolmcille.
Just a few miles from Killybegs lies Fintra beach, a beautiful sandy beach offering stunning views of Donegal Bay as far as Benbulben Mountain in Co Sligo. Lifeguards man this blue flag beach from June to September.
The village of Kilcar, where Sex and the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick have a holiday home, plays host to its own fleadh kicking off next month (August 6 to 11).
Further west, from Teelin Pier, you can organise boat trips and sight-seeing excursions to the famous sea cliffs and view them from below as they tower 600 metres above. Sometimes visitors are joined by dolphins, whales and seals. Basking sharks have also been spotted as they feed on plankton.
Land lubbers can drive up to the main viewing area of the cliffs or, if you’re among the faint-hearted, use the car park on the way and walk the rest. The Slieve League Cliffs are nearly three times the height of their Co Clare sisters, the Cliffs of Moher, so you’re advised to take care when treading these coastal paths.
On the high slopes of Slieve League there are remains of an early Christian monastic site, with chapel and beehive huts. There are also ancient stone remains that suggest that the mountain was a site of pilgrimage before the arrival of Christianity. At Carrigan Head, on the way to the main viewing area, you can see a Signal Tower built in the early years of the 19th century to watch for a possible French invasion. Close to the viewing area you can see stones which marked out the word ‘Éire’ as a navigation aid for aircraft during WWII.
In and around Glencolmcille, known locally as Glen, lies one of the most beautiful and often-pictured beaches in all of Donegal. The Silver Strand beach is a horseshoe shaped cove accessed by steps down to the beach.
The Folk Village in Glen, otherwise known as Fr McDyer’s Folk Village Museum, offers a glimpse of what life was like in earlier times. It’s made up of a cluster of several small cottages, called a ‘clachan’, perched on a hillside overlooking the sandy curve of Glen Bay.
Each cottage is an exact replica of a dwelling used by the local people in each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and is equipped with the furniture, artefacts and utensils of its particular period. A reconstructed school house, fisherman’s dwelling and tiny pub-grocer offer additional insights into rural Irish life in one of the most remote corners of the country.
Traditional music, particularly the fiddle, has a long and vibrant history in south west Donegal.
The old-style is fast and attacking with little ornamentation. It may be heard throughout the year at seisiún in private houses and in local pubs.
The history of the textile industry is also rich in this part of Donegal. Since the mid-1700s, sheeprearing and the associated domestic industries of weaving and knitting have been an important part of the fabric of local communities.
One local knitting company making waves internationally is Fisherman out of Ireland, based in Kilcar. Their motto is that while they’re situated on edge of Europe in the middle of nowhere, they export 70pc of what they make to the four corners of the globe.
See www.fishermanoutofireland.com, www.glenfolkvillage.com and www.govisitdonegal.com for more information