Donegal Mystique By Sinéad Tyrone, guest blogger
I’d like to share with you a bit of my passion for and experiences in Donegal County, Ireland.
Donegal County, not to be confused with Donegal Town, is in the upper left region of Ireland. It’s a remote, mountainous place with relatively few inhabitants compared to the rest of the country. To me, Donegal has always been a mystical word, whispered across the winds of my mind, not spoken out loud as if verbalizing the word would break some magical spell.
Perhaps there is something magical about this wild, lonely county. Legends abound in this region. Glenveagh Castle, nestled in the Derryveagh mountains, seems like a fairytale mirage rising up from nowhere. The ring fort Grianan of Aileach, sitting on top of its hill outside of Derry, draws visitors back to another, ancient time. Donegal Castle in Donegal Town, home of the legendary O’Donnell clan, surely hides secrets within its stone walls, while abandoned cottages scattered among deserted fields carry their own tales. Perhaps you, like I, will hear their former inhabitants whisper and cry through the air as you cross their land.
This passage from my novel Walking Through The Mist will give you a sense of Donegal’s mystique.
Aside from the lough’s waves gently lapping against the shore and the odd gull or two wheeling overhead, spying Aidan’s sandwich and protesting in retreat when they realized his food would not be shared, the only other sound Aidan heard was silence. Not the same oppressive silence that haunted his house, this silence calmed, and stirred the imagination. Aidan studied the sweep of the large hills lowering down to the lough, and occasional farmhouses scattered on the hillsides.
“Now that’s a hard life,” he remarked to his car as he imagined farming on the steep hillsides that surrounded the lough. “It would be tough enough on a fair weather day, but in the wind, or a hard rain? Not for us at all!”
As Aidan sat and listened, he was sure he could hear farmers of old calling their dogs and herding their flocks, and farther back to the days of monks and earls, and even clear back to St. Patrick himself spreading the word of God. He imagined he could hear the Celts, and Vikings, and Normans in ancient battles. He remembered the legend of the lough and swore he could even hear back to Feargamhain’s calls for help, and the great splashes of water as Finnegeal ran to her brother’s rescue, drowning in the process.
Among my travels to Donegal, three of my favorite places were Slieve League, Malin Head and Magheraclogher Beach.
Slieve League, along the lower corner of Donegal, is a dramatic cliff formation rising up from the Atlantic Ocean. If you take the route I took, you will pass a trio of beehive huts outside the fishing port of Killybegs. Beehive huts were famous secure shelters for monks in days of old. Slieve League’s cliffs are among the highest straight line cliffs in Europe. Stand at the top, and you cannot hear the winds below whipping Atlantic waves into frenzies.
Malin Head is Ireland’s northernmost point. You can almost see Scotland from its vantage point. Look for “80 Eire” spelled out in stone on the plain below the lookout tower - this was an important navigational marker to pilots in World War II. Stand at the hilltop and witness the ocean’s beauty and power below.
Magheraclogher Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand near Bunbeg on the West Coast. Mt. Errigal stands guard over homes to the left, if you are facing the water. The Atlantic Ocean here rolls in peacefully, its ebb and flow easy unless storms overtake the day. When I visited in 2016, the fishing boat wreck Cara Na Mara (or Bad Eddie) still lie disintegrating on Magheraclogher’s shore; by now it may have completed its vanishing process.
Below is a poem and photo honoring this beloved boat and shore.
Cara Na Mara, Magheraclogher
Strong wind and rain drive everyone inside
I grab window of opportunity
to stroll sandy shores,
my only company the odd seagull,
a scattering of shells,
waves encroaching from Atlantic
as tide returns home,
Mount Errigal watching me
from its high perch behind cottages,
Cara Na Mara
Friend of the Sea,
weather worn, wind battered,
wood slowly returning to air and soil.
Surprised to find you share my beach,
place a light hand on your evaporating shoulders,
a fingered kiss.
Your disintegration may be complete
when next I walk these shores.
Wind blows harder now,
rain sets in again.
I leave you to Errigal’s watchful eye
and seagull’s occasional return.
As Donegal, and much of Ireland, progresses to adapt modern technology and more current lifestyles, I pray they don’t modernize everything. Donegal is a special corner of the world that I hope will long retain its unique, off the beaten track beauty.
Sinéad Tyrone can be reached at www.sineadtyrone.com or FB – Sinead Tyrone Author. Her books include: Walking Through The Mist and Crossing The Lough Between (novels set in Ireland) and Fragility and A Song Of Ireland (poetry).
All books available at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and at Dog Ears Bookstore (Buffalo, NY)