The High Life – Donegal

Christopher Moriarty takes road less traveled in Ireland’s most north-westerly county of Donegal.

THE HILLS OF DONEGAL

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When I was young and in my prime
My mind being free from care
Whilst leaving all in Donegal to wander far away
Whilst leaving all in Donegal to wander far away
That I might plough raging main, going to Amerikay.

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In Creeslough town my friends stood round
And I bad adieu to all
In Creeslough town my friends stood round
And I bad adieu to all
And down Lough Foyle, and away I went
From hills of Donegal.

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The night being dark and stormy
And loud waves did roar
Our captain cries, “Hold off, me boys
Our vessel’s going ashore!”
Our captain cries, “Hold off, me boys
To deck you one and all!”
And I rued day I sailed away
From hills of Donegal.

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Traditional Irish Ballad

 

There are at least two songs with title The Hills of Donegal. That is not surprising because Donegal is mostly hills and they are very beautiful. It is also true that roads of Donegal are mostly byways, because county occupies extreme northwest corner of Ireland. People go there but nobody goes through it to get anywhere else. It’s a large county, with innumerable places to stay and visit. This time we settled for its west coast and enjoyed a day and a half of wandering based at particularly hilly town of Ardara. We stayed just beyond southern edge of town at Woodhill, a guest-house of unusual charm and interest, presided over by John Yates who has been living there and renovating it for close on 30 years. The house and some of its many outbuildings date to 17th century and Plantation of Ulster when Nesbit family acquired land. They liked region so much that they stayed for 300 years. Nineteenth century descendants enlarged and embellished house and created a beautiful garden which is worth going a long way to visit. The garden and south-facing bedrooms enjoy a view of rugged crests of Slievetooey and its neighbours.

The journey begins by going northwards from Ardara along R241 for three miles (five kilometers) where a signpost indicates Santa Anna Drive and takes you to seaside at Rossbeg. The hills are not high – and charm here and further north on Rosses peninsula is of incessantly changing scenery, from bleak moorland to green pastures to clusters of white-washed houses, always close to Atlantic Ocean and in view of mountains and islands great and small. Three miles further brings you to a signboard announcing ‘Sheskinmore Nature Reserve’, where grazing of sheep and cattle is carefully controlled to preserve wild flowers. You meet a little harbour at Rossbeg and then go through traditional seaside resorts of Portnoo and Naran with their magnificent sandy beaches.

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