There is nothing better than having friends and family come visit form over seas, but like most things in life, when it rains it pours. So we had roughly six weeks of visitors coming out to Ireland to visit, so we worked hard to make sure we had a varied and interesting itinerary for everyone.
My parents were the first of our visitors, and we wanted to take them to a castle. I had never been to Donegal, which is the most North Western location in Ireland. It’s a bit of a trip. GPS says its 3.5 hours away, but it generally works out to about 5. You can never know when a tractor might slow you down, herd of sheep, or even funeral procession on Irelands tiny roads. Luckily we were on highways most the time, but all the highways branch out from Dublin, which means some back tracking, even if it ends up being quicker.
We made a pit stop along the way at one of my favorite pubs in Athlone, called Sean’s Pub. Sean’s is considered the oldest pub in the world by Guinness Book of World records. Dating back to 900 AD. It’s not the best name for an old pub, but when you take in account in Irish Sean means Old, it could have a double meaning. More than likely it’s just named after the owner. This is a fabulous little pub, with sawdust on the floor, two fireplaces, uneven floors and ceilings, and lots of woodwork. When they renovated the pub, ohh, 50 years ago or so, they found some of the original wood and wattle walls. This is a series of sticks woven together with mud packed in it. All things that make a great pub. We had a few pints and Skylar danced around a pole.
There is also a nice castle across the street, called Athlone Castle. This is a seriously stocky, massive walled castle. It was made for defense, and breaking through these walls would be near impossible. The inside is a multimedia presentation of life back in the day, but nothing really historic or interesting.
To get to Donegal you drive through Sligo along the Wild Atlantic Way. Sligo is gorgeous; there are huge mountains with sheer cliffs, overlooking cute villages and wild coastlines. We made a quick pit stop at Drumcliff to look at a gorgeous church with the Ben Bulben Mountain as a backdrop. This spot is famous for having WB Yeats grave in it. The inscription on the grave stats cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, and pass by.” Ben Bulben Mountain looks like a giant arrow, with a flat top. The sides are sheer cliffs.
We arrived Donegal town around dinnertime; we stopped at a lovely pub called Castle View. This was a step up from normal pub food, more in trend with all the gastro pubs in the states. It was under Donegal Castle, in the center of the town. The town has a nice little square in the center of town. The square is surrounded by small pubs with a plethora of trad music options. Trad music is tradition music in Ireland, and usually is a bit like an open mike night, where musicians role in and out. So you never know who’s going to be playing, and what instruments. I love it.
The next day we went to the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, Slieve League Cliffs . The entire drive out in this section is gorgeous, with lots of mountains, hills, and twisty roads. Small towns all over the place. The cliffs were fabulous. We opened a sheep gate and drove along a road going on top of the cliffs. There were a few scary moments up there, but all in all it was nice. Sheep were roaming all around us. There is a trail up to the top of the cliffs, but the wind was intense, and Skylar was not in the mood for a windy walk.
Lunch was a bit difficult, seeing how most the little towns don’t have any food. It’s off-season now so very little is open. We drove 20 kilometers to a little town, and of course, nothing was open. We stopped long enough to get some amazing videos of the waves crashing into a small bay. There was also a historic village that had a bunch of thatched roof houses, and crafts shops. Interesting enough we watched a program called Nationwide, which explained how a very dedicated priest in the 60s and 70s worked tirelessly creating this village. He felt it would really save a part of Irish history, and I think he did. Out side the village is a wonderful sculpture of the Ireland and all its counties in different types of stone. Then we turned around and drove 20 kilometers back to the last village, which had the only food on the peninsula.
The next day we headed to Donegal town to tour the castle. They did a partial renovation of the castle so you could see what it was like back in the day. I loved this castle. They had the most ornate surviving fireplace surround ever found. They also had the privy still working. This is a small castle, but well worth the half hour to tour around it.
We had one more day, but decided to cut down on some of the driving time, and heading south again. I had never stayed in Sligo, so figures it would be something new and enjoyable. We drove along the coastal highway, same way we came, and turned when we saw beach signs. Well, the first one was a bit too steep for Yvonne to drive down with out jumping out of the car. So we did an uturn and continued on. Its funny how sometimes a random turn can turn out so cool.
We were still under the majestic Ben Bulben Mountain, and you could see between the mountain and the coast Classiebawn Castle. We were not able to get to close to the castle, but it looked amazing, overlooking the sea. It’s now a private residence or someone with serious money.
With out knowing it, we went down some really tiny country roads, one car only, pass some wetland to a very isolated beach. But this beach, in February, was packed. We had discovered Mallaghmore Head, and it was a surfer’s paradise. The sun broke just in time and we watched a plethora of surfers hitting the waves. This was really exciting and unexpected. The waves were so great in fact, that I got nailed, soaking my shorts and shoes. But it was well worth it.
We stayed the night in a quirky hotel at Rosses Point. There are only two food options here, and both were booked. So we headed to Sligo town to eat, which was also thin on options. So book ahead if you are in the off season in Sligo or Donegal, or go hungry! There is a really quirky bar there also, named Harry’s Bar. Not sure what is up with the lame names for bars on this trip, but it was really cool. There were big fiish tanks and it was loaded with Brick-o-brack, and a nice beer selection. If you are in town, this is the place to be.