Donegal truly is a beautiful county in Ireland that borders the Atlantic ocean. At the tip of the infamous 2,500km tourism trail known as the Wild Atlantic Way, Donegal has a lot to offer.
Why not relax in one of the many spa hotels? Or explore nature in it’s most rugged form in Glenveagh National Park. There are also quaint towns scattered throughout the county which shares some of Ireland’s most beautiful scenery.
Recently, I set myself a list of goals that I would like to accomplish in the coming year. One of those goals was to travel more. I want to explore more of this beautiful world and that includes stunning locations that are literally on my doorstep!
Therefore I couldn’t turn down an opportunity for a cheeky weekend road trip to Donegal with Bo.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with County Donegal: Donegal is the most northerly point on the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km coastal route stretching from Donegal to Cork.
The county is a Gaeltacht area, meaning that Irish is the prominent language of the region. With castles and rugged coastlines in abundance, Donegal is also the most mountainous county in the province of Ulster.
Where to stay in Co. Donegal?
Bo and I stayed in Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey for the two nights we visited Donegal. For us, the hotel’s location was ideal; around two hours from our home in Belfast and also within a short driving distance to Donegal Town and Letterkenny.
The room was very spacious; a triple room with a double and single bed (a seriously comfortable double bed at that!). The ensuite bathroom was clean and well proportioned. Downstairs just off the lobby was a cosy bar and a romantic restaurant. The drinks were reasonably priced and the food was incredibly tasty too!
What to do in Donegal?
We had a pretty laid back approach to our Donegal road trip. Obviously this is a rookie mistake but sometimes it’s nice to have no plans and just go with the flow.
We had a quick search of things to do in the area and decided to head in the direction of Letterkenny, stopping at The Newmills Corn and Flax Mill on the way. We wanted to find out more about the mill and also to witness the demonstrations.
Unfortunately, the mill was closed. Likely due to being the offseason. Therefore we moved on to Letterkenny for a spot of shopping. Feeling a bit unfulfilled culturally, another search was underway which took us to Glenveagh National Park.
Glenveagh National Park
The route from Letterkenny to Glenveagh National Park is stunning. I highly recommend putting on some proper driving music and just enjoying the scenery passing by.
One of the reasons we visited Glenveagh National Park and Glenveagh Castle was to view the castle too. It really is the perfect excursion for anyone who enjoys nature walks, beautiful scenery and learning about the local history.
Many people have a fairytale idea about Ireland and Irish life, and it’s easy to see where that comes from.
Glenveagh National Park was very peaceful but also strikingly beautiful.
There is a shuttle bus that operates between the visitors’ centre and the castle. However, we decided to walk the 4km up to the castle and take the bus back. This gave us time to absorb ourselves in the beautiful scenery around us. And also to work off the tasty breakfast we scoffed in the hotel – bonus.
I was completely taken aback at how beautiful and romantic the area is. The air was fresh and along the route, we found Lough Veagh and the surrounding glens coated in fog. Which made for the perfect photographic opportunity.
When we reached the castle we couldn’t believe how beautifully landscaped the grounds were. Highly regarded as a piece of art, the grounds have different themes for each area.
- The Pleasure Garden
- The Walled Garden
- The Gothic Orangery
- The Italian Terrace
- The Tuscan Garden
We walked around the gardens and then stopped for a quick coffee before taking a tour of the castle.
We decided to sit outside as it was a dry day and the fresh air was good for our lungs. After a couple of minutes, we were joined by a little Robin dancing from rooftop to the ground.
When we finished our coffee we began the tour of the castle’s interior. The tour was very informative and covered the history of the castle from its build until the present day.
History of Glenveagh Castle
Built in the 1870s by John George Adair, Glenveagh castle was designed in the Scottish Baronial style. The intention was to rival Balmoral Castle (the Queen’s residence in Scotland).
By all accounts, John George Adair wasn’t particularly liked within Donegal. During the Irish Famine, he evicted 44 families from their homes within the grounds of the estate. There was no reason for this other than to make the land more aesthetically pleasing from the castle.
Later the Adairs passed and left no Children. The castle fell into disrepair before being bought by a millionaire, Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter. The professor’s stay at the castle was short as he disappeared from Inishbofin Island in 1933 under mysterious circumstances.
At that time the rumour mill was rife. There were suggestions of suicide, accidental death or assuming a new identity and creating a new life in mainland Europe.
While these are all possibilities, the most accepted outcomes are:
- That he went for a walk along the beach and had an accident.
- Or that he set sail from Inishbofin in his boat, encountered a storm and drowned.
An inquest was conducted but the outcome was inconclusive.
Later, the castle was owned by Henry McIlhenny. McIlhenny was another millionaire and threw parties with Hollywood stars such as Gretta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.
After a number of years, McIlhenny left the castle to the Irish State. However, he still used Glenveagh Castle as his holiday home until his death. In 1984 Glenveagh National park was opened to the public. Two years later in 1986, the castle began hosting public tours.
All owners were keen travellers and horticulturists who have helped shape the gardens into the beautiful spaces they are today.
Donegal on reflection
If you are travelling to Ireland at any point I highly recommend adding Donegal to your list. Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route and take in some spectacular views. Relax in one of the many spas and visit one of the many nature spots!
Until next time…