For a jaded traveller who has made several trips to the Republic of Ireland, the charms of the idyllic County Donegal, perched on the country’s rugged western coast criss-crossed with peninsulas poking into the wild Atlantic, are plainly irresistible. A land of modern poets, ancient druids, legendary kings and everlasting beauty, County Donegal is one of the three Ulster counties that aren’t in Northern Ireland territory.
There’s no better way to explore the county’s stunning landscape — its rolling hills and mountains, its soaring cliffs — than to drive along its peninsulas. Craggy and windswept, with its roads stretching into eternity, County Donegal puts the “wild” in the Wild Atlantic Way. Exploring this part of Ireland in an electric car, going where the roads take you, has its own share of joy.
If you decide to zip around the county in an electric car that needs to be charged every 200 km, but have concerns about the charging points, you should lay your worries to rest. It’s Ireland after all. As I set out on a road trip here, at every hotel, bed & breakfast or inn where I would stop, the staff would find parking for me near a plug point so that I could charge my car. Sometimes, they would even source extension cables. You’ve just got to love the Irish — boisterous and brash, and yet warm-hearted and welcoming.
Inishowen, the largest peninsula in Ireland, is often referred to as Donegal in miniature. At the tip of this peninsula, there is Malin Head, the most northerly point on the the island of Ireland, and the start/end point of the Wild Atlantic Way touring route. The peninsula, 26 miles long and 25 miles wide, contains a vast array of natural and cultural gems — gargantuan valleys, glittering lakes and a slice of history. The area was part of the kingdom of Aileach founded by Conall and Eoghan, the two sons of the semi-legendary Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages. It is thought that St Patrick visited the area in the 5th century and baptised Eoghan.
It is from Malin Head that Marconi Company succeeded in sending the first commercial message by wireless to the ship SS Lake Ontario in 1902, thus establishing it as an important staging post for future trans-Atlantic communication. It is also here that a part of the new Star Wars movie was filmed. In fact, the Millennium Falcon, Hans Solo’s famous spaceship, was built on location here. It also boasts the northernmost pub in Ireland. Among the artefact and memorabilia behind the bar, there is a tooth of an orca whale and a stormtrooper boot signed Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies. He was here during the movie shoot.
Since I had to meet a friend, Bren Whelan, at Carndonagh, I drove over Mamore Gap, the narrow road over a hilltop route which was scenic, sinuous and steep. At the top, I stopped at St Eigne’s Well, a pilgrimage site.
The Stone Fort of Grianán of Aileach sits on a hilltop at 250m above sea level in Inishowen. The view from here is breathtaking. One can see the glistening waters of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly clearly. The fort’s history dates back to 1700 BC. It is one of only five Irish sites marked on Ptolemy of Alexandria’s second century map of the world.
Among other things, you can go for beach riding at Dunfanaghy and visit Assaranca Waterfall. My final stop was at Glencolmcille, a folk village which is a walk back in time. A cluster of cottages called clachan, each of them mirrors what cottages would have been like in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. This village, a fantastic insight into the Ireland of yore which has been designed by the local people, is one of Ireland’s best museums.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘Travelling Suitcase: County Donegal, a land of modern poets, ancient druids, legendary kings and everlasting beauty’