The Wild Atlantic Way, for the most part, follows the formally established route named the “Inishowen 100” coastal scenic drive. “The Inishowen 100” may sound like a Formula One race, but it gets its name from the approximate distance in miles of the sign-posted circuit, which starts in Newtoncunningham on the Inishowen Peninsula.
It was established as an independent traveller’s route aimed at walking, cycling or driving with special interest areas highlighted, that might otherwise have been missed. The “Wild Atlantic Way” route must accommodate for large coaches (56 seats) to pass and park, which necessitates bypassing some of the minor roads. Therefore, the smaller groups and indepedendent travellers following the “Inishowen 100” drive can experience that little bit more than those keeping to the designated WAW route. You will certainly not wish to break any speed records as you linger and savour the many scenic and historical gems that Inishowen, Ireland’s largest peninsula, has to offer.
Primarily an agricultural area, Newtowncunningham is surrounded by a rich and fertile landscape. Key features include Blanket Nook and the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints, uniquely designed in the shape of a boat (representing St Peters Barque). It is well worth a visit to view the varied artwork it contains. Included is a large oil painting by Thomas Ryan, (former president of the Royal Hibernian Academy), commemorating the granting of land, for the first church in this area, by local landlord; Mr William Forward.
This town-land is steeped in history and home to some of Inishowen’s most iconic sites: Burt Castle, one of the Clan O’Dochartaigh’s strongholds in Inishowen, which was built in the 16th Century during the reign of Henry VIII; An Grianan of Aileach, a ring fort standing at an elevation of just over 800 ft above sea level on the summit of Grianan Hill which has been the sentinel of Inishowen for over 3000 years. Burt is also home to St. Aengus’ Catholic Church. Opened in 1967, it was designed by Liam McCormack, who took inspiration from the circular shape of An Grianan of Aileach and won him a gold medal for architecture.
Burnfoot is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name Bun Na hAbhann meaning, “Foot of the River” and shows the influence of the ‘Scottish plantation of Ulster’ with the use of “Burn” – a Scottish term for a small stream or rivulet.
On the South West corner of Inishowen is Inch Island and Blanket Nook. Attached to the mainland by a wide causeway, it is an excellent location for bird watching. Between Inch Island and the mainland lies a region of drained polder land, which has an area of 1,200 hectares. Here Whooper Swans are of international importance with, on average, 6,000 birds over-wintering. In the 15th century Sir Cahir O’Doherty built a castle near the southern end of the island, parts of which are still visible today. There is also a fully functioning pier on the northern side of the island with easy access to Lough Swilly.
Here is the site of the ancient 7th Century Abbey of St Mura. The cross of St. Mura marks his grave 654A.D. Other artefacts found here are the Wishing Stone and Greek cross both of which are set in the outer wall surrounding the site. Legible marked graves date from 1652 and include the names of the early plantation settlers of the area. Another grave worthy of note is that of Agnes Jones a nursing colleague of Florence Nightingale who died in 1868. Across the road in the grounds of the Protestant Church is the mass grave of 68 victims of H.M.S Laurentic which was lost on January 26th 1917 at the mouth of Lough Swilly following an attack by a German U-Boat. A major claim to fame for this village is that Cecil Frances Alexander, wife of the then Anglican Bishop of Derry, wrote “There is a Green Hill Far Away”, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “Once in Royal David’s City”, while living in the local rectory. The focal point of Fahan is the Lough Swilly Marina, which provides a sheltered anchorage for 400 boats and yachts of varying sizes.
The principal and largest town in the peninsula, Buncrana sits prominently on the banks of Lough Swilly, which translates from the Gaelic into the very appropriate “Lake of Shadows”. The importance of Lough Swilly to Buncrana during WWI became evident when Admiral Jellicoe moved his grand fleet from Scapa Flow to Lough Swilly. The Clan O’Dochartaigh has had a long affiliation with this town. The historic ‘O’Dochartaigh’s Keep’ situated near Buncrana Castle, beside the entrance to Swan’s Park, is accessible via the Crana Bridge. This is also a starting point of the coastal walk to Fr. Hegarty’s Rock. Nearby is a plaque commemorating the famous Irish revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone and where he was taken ashore following his capture on board a French warship during the 1798 rebellion. The town today has several shops, bars and restaurants, a children’s play area and a beautiful coastal walk.
Dunree & Destertegney
Fort Dunree, perched majestically on a rocky outcrop overlooking Lough Swilly, demonstrates its vital role in coastal defence and neutrality protection with a complete exposé of coastal artillery. The military museum has an array of artefacts, while the local cafe boasts to be ‘The most scenic coffee shop in Ireland’. Newly developed hillside walks enable visitors to get breath taking views of the Atlantic and Fanad Head.
The monastic site of Desertegney is dedicated to St. Columba and the area is one of spectacular scenery overlooking Lough Swilly. In the distance lie the Urris Mountains with the famous Gap of Mamore.
Mamore Gap & Urris
One of the most breathtaking locations in Donegal is located five miles North of Buncrana; Mamore Gap passes between Mamore Hill and Urris at 800ft above sea level. This is a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike with its spectacular views of the Inishowen Peninsula and beyond to the broad sweep of the Atlantic Ocean. For the energetic it’s the starting point of the Urris Lakes Loop and Butlers Glen Loop Walking Trails.
The trip down from the Urris Mountains, through the Gap of Mamore, towards Urris takes you on a steep winding road which is one of the most breathtaking in the country. The magnificent vista below, stretches all the way to Dunaff Head. On a clear day it is possible to see Tory Island. At the base of the mountain lie five beautiful Irish cottages, painstakingly restored to their original condition.
Clonmany is located next to a river and overlooked by four imposing and awe-inspiring mountains; Bulbin, rising to 1,500 feet (457.1 m), Raghtin Mor rising to 1,656 feet (504.7M), Binion at 830 feet (252.9m) and towering over them all is Inishowen’s tallest mountain, Sliabh Sneacht at a mighty 2,019 ft (615.3 m). Just south of the village, is a short but exceptionally rewarding walk through a wooded stream valley. It follows a gradual incline over gravel paths coming to an end at the idyllic Glenevin Waterfall. There are picnic areas along the route to stop at and enjoy the area. Clonmany is a traditional Irish village and is home to the famous Clonmany Festival, Ireland’s longest running and best known family festival. Nearby you can enjoy a stroll on the beautiful Binion and Tullagh Strands.
One of the highlights of this delightful little seaside resort is its stretch of golden sands, over 2 miles in length, known as Pollan Strand which is superb for surfing. There is also a children’s playground close to the beach. Carrickabraghy Castle, built around 1,500 A.D was a stronghold of the Clan O’Dochartaigh, one of its original occupiers being Phelemy Brasleigh O’Dochartaigh. It is accessible by walking along the beach. Ballyliffin is also home to one of Ireland’s finest golf clubs with two outstanding, but contrasting links courses. The Old Links and Glashedy Links are set in natural terrain, ‘a must’ for golf lovers and a favourite of Nick Faldo and Rory McIlroy.
Isle of Doagh
Situated on the route from Ballyliffin to Carndonagh, this was an island until after the Ice Age, when melting ice left the sea at more than 50 meters below the present level. 6,000 years ago it was again an island to the main-land and wave action pushed ashore sand which was blown into dunes. There are records showing the Isle of Doagh itself was inhabited as far back as the early 9th Century. The Isle of Doagh (BarMouth or Lagg) is a wonderful location for sea trout fishing, spinning or free lining sand eel from both sides of the channel.
The chief glory of this market town is the famous St. Patrick’s Cross. Dated to the 7th century, it is one of the very early Christian crosses outside mainland Europe. The cross is 11ft. 6 inches in height and is regarded as one of the finest examples in Ireland of low relief carving. Alongside the cross are two pillar stones each carved on all sides. The most impressive sight to greet the visitor en route into town is the magnificent granite-built Sacred Heart Church, which towers above the town centre where four roads from the main compass points meet. Every single stone for this magnificent building was hand-carved and laid by Master Stone Masons from all over Ireland.
An interesting and unspoilt 17th century plantation village picturesquely situated at the head of Trawbreaga Bay. A key feature on the approach to the town is the 10 arched stone bridge spanning the Ballyboe River. It is the second largest stone bridge in Ireland. The original triangular village green is still intact, planted with limes, sycamore and cherries, and recently with oaks to commemorate the O’Doherty clan. All round the village are signs of the care that has won it many awards in the National Tidy Towns competition, including the much coveted overall prize in 1970. The Church of Ireland parish church has a fine three state battlemented tower with square pinnacles. The Lagg Road to Malin Head takes the visitor along the shores of Trawbreaga Bay. The Bay is an area of regional ornithological importance and has been declared a wildlife sanctuary. The road rises sharply following the coastline around Knockamany Bens with magnificent views of Trawbreaga Bay from the car park. On a clear day Tory Island can be seen to the west and to the north lies the fine sandy beach known as the “Five Fingers Strand” backed by some of the highest sand dunes, of their type, in Europe.
Visitors should not miss Banba’s Crown, Malin Head. It is not just Ireland’s most northerly point, but an area of great scenic beauty and of historical, scientific and ecological importance. The circuit of the Head will take you past the Radio Station, built in 1910, and round the coast to Banba’s Crown, the northern tip of Ireland. Here a tall derelict building known locally as “The Tower” was built in 1805 by the British Admiralty to defend against a possible French invasion during the Napoleonic wars. It was later used as a Lloyds Signal Station. During the Second World War, the small huts were built and used by our defence forces to keep a lookout and protect our neutrality. It is a perfect starting point for a ramble along the cliffs to Hell’s Hole, a remarkable subterranean cavern 250 feet long and 8 feet wide. Nearby is a picturesque natural arch called the Devil’s Bridge.
For generations Glengad has been a traditional fishing area, a practice still continued today. At Glengad, the visitor can take in views of Inishtrahull, Rathlin Island and further out to sea to the Western Isles of Scotland.
This picturesque village has two fine stone bridges and a triangular green featuring a now disused pump house. In Culdaff River you can see St. Boden’s ‘Boat’, a stone in which he is said to have crossed from Scotland. Only the sceptic will doubt the marks of his fingers! Situated on a pretty estuary, the beautiful sandy beach has attained Blue Flag status. Culdaff is a fine walking area with cliff scenery stretching North-West to Malin Head and Southwards to Inishowen Head. The famous Shakespearean actor, Charles Macklin, was born here.
Bocan, Gleneely, Carrowmenagh, Redford
These areas must also be referred to en-bloc because they contain possibly the widest range and greatest number of historical sites and ancient monuments in Inishowen. Among the ancient sites to visit in these areas are, Cloncha Church, Cross of St. Boden, Larrahirril Court Tomb, Bocan Stone Circles, Kindroyhead Standing Stone and Carrowmore High Cross. These areas have also been the birthplace of many well-known authors who have contributed greatly to our knowledge of our past and still continue to supply us with some wonderful reading material. Brian Bonner, Sean Beattie, John A. McLaughlin, Hazel Clarke/McIntyre, Evelyn Ruddy, Neil McGrory and Bridget O’Toole have written some superb works on various aspects of life in the area as well as local and general history. Nearby is Tremone Bay where in 1848 a Young Irelander, Thomas D’Arcy McGee escaped from his pursuers and eventually ended up in Canada where he became one of the founders of the Confederation of Canada and a Government Minister.
The scenery as you approach this beautiful cove is breathtaking. When you descend to the beach you feel as if you are in another world, totally cut off by the sea in front and the sheer cliffs to every side. Glenagivney, called the “Queen of the Inishowen Glens”, runs inland from Kinnagoe Bay towards Lecamy. An example of an ancient sweat-house can be found at Lecamy. It is believed that the almost enclosed chamber was heated like an oven and people crept in and then, having been sweated, rushed out to immerse themselves in cold water. Tradition has it that they were used as a cure for rheumatism. It was also just off Kinnego Bay in 1970/71 that divers found the Spanish Armed Transporter, La Trinidad Valencera, a 1,100 ton wooden ship, which, badly damaged in a storm, had limped into anchor offshore on September 14th 1588 and sank two days later.
This is a popular resort with a fine beach. It is an important commercial fishing port. It was once a place of historical importance. Richard de Burg (often Latinised as Richard de Burgo), the Red Earl of Ulster, selected the place as a site for a castle to dominate the O’Donnells and the O’Dohertys of Inishowen. This village has been synonymous with the sea for centuries and many generations of its people have sailed the seven seas. It is therefore only fitting that there is a Maritime Museum and Planetarium, with hundreds of relics of the sea, situated here, along with the Irish National Fisheries School, which prepares young men and women for a life at sea both practically and academically. During the summer months, a ferry crosses the Foyle to the Causeway Coast – it links Greencastle with Magilligan Point: both popular seaside locations.
A favourite walk in Stroove (known locally as Shroove) leads to Port-a-doris – Port of the Door. The “Door” to the lovely cave is a natural arch. Here is a wishing well, where those who drink the water are said to have their wishes granted. Near Stroove, there is an ancient cross-inscribed pillar stone and a small modern cross. A spring dedicated to St. Colmcille spouts near the stone. The saint is said to have stopped here for water on his way to Iona. The area located close to Inishowen Head has many lovely small coves including a beautiful sandy beach known as “The Big White Bay” overlooked by Shroove Lighthouse which also has a European Blue Flag award and with the standards that apply to this type of accreditation, it ensures that this beach is also an excellent place for bathing.
A busy scenic market town, located along the banks of Lough Foyle. Moville also boasts having the ancestral home, called New Park House, of Field-Marshal Montgomery of North Africa and El Alamein fame. To further emphasise this link, overlooking the shorefront is a row of wonderful Victorian houses built in 1884 and named Montgomery Terrace. These houses have all been tastefully restored to their former glory. This location is also the starting point to the Moville-Greencastle coastal walk.
Ancient maps show two prominent castles along the banks of Lough Foyle, one of Redcastle, which was then called Caire MacEwlyn, and the second at Whitecastle, once called Garnagall. Both castles belonged to the Clan Mc Laughlin. Sadly, nothing remains of these castles today.
Located on the Eastern shore of the Inishowen peninsula, overlooking Lough Foyle at its widest point. Quigley’s Point lies on the main road between Moville and Derry City. The village of Quigley’s point is also known as ‘Carrowkeel’ as it is marked as such on Irish Ordnance Survey maps. However all local signage and local post office give the name Quigley’s Point to the village.
This small village on the borderof Donegal and Derry has a Church of Ireland built by the Harts of Kilderry House which dates from 1737. The house itself, part Palladian in design, dates from the 18th century. Muff is in the parish of Iskaheen or in Gaelic, Uisce Chaoin, “pure waters” -because of a holy well near an ancient church. This parish has numerous famous historical connections. One is the ruin of an old church, which lies outside the village opposite the existing Catholic Church of St. Patrick. This old ruin with its graveyard is reputed to date from the 8th century. The second famous item in this parish is the plaque inserted in the wall of this same old church, which reads: “Eoghan, Prince of Inishowen, Son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, died 465 of grief for his brother Conall. Baptised by Patrick and buried in Uisce Chaoin.” The third is the “Giant Stone, locally known as the “Morton God Dolmen”. It is a collapsed dolmen or an ancient burial place, thought to be the largest in Inishowen. Such monuments were used as graves for chieftains and also as “altars” for pagan worship.