Take a trip on the Wild Atlantic Way
Donegal has been described in Fáilte Ireland literature as “untouched”, “off the radar” and “crying out for exploration”, but for many years locals also felt it to be “the forgotten county” in terms of improvements in infrastructure and as a gateway to the North for tourism. However, the creation of The Wild Atlantic Way driving route has finally highlighted the beauty of this county and its rugged and remote iconic sights. It is a region that is rich in archaeological content, steeped in cultural tradition, expressed through music, art and language that reach out to the mind, body and soul.
As one of Ireland’s largest counties, Donegal boasts 1,100 km of coastline, a vast array of visitor attractions and boundless scenic vistas, all now linked by the WAW. There are 159 Discovery Points along the entire WAW route, of which 39 are in Donegal. Amongst the 39 Discovery Points are 3 Signature Points and 11 Blue Flag beaches. Additionally, Donegal has 2 Blue Flag marinas.
39 Discovery Points
3 Signature Points
Sliabh Liag, Fanad Head and Malin Head.
11 Blue Flag Beaches
Carrickfinn, Culdaff, Downings, Fintra, Killahoey, Magherawarden/Portsalon, Marble Hill, Murvagh, Portnoo/Narin, Rossnowlagh and Stroove
2 Blue Flag Marinas
Greencastle and Rathmullan
If Donegal was to be described as Ireland’s crown then Inishowen is surely the jewel in the crown. This beautiful peninsula is the largest in Ireland and has the most northerly point at its tip.
Use the following itinerary as a guide to lead you around the Discovery Points of the Inishowen Peninsula along the Wild Atlantic Way. The tour is directed by entering Inishowen from the south and following the WAW signs in a northerly direction.
Discovery Point: Inch Island
Inch Island, is a small island in Lough Swilly of approximately 5 square miles, is the winter home of an internationally significant population of Whooper Swans, Greenland White Fronted Geese and Greylag Geese. There are two causeways onto the island allowing free access to motorised traffic and pedestrians.
The ruins of a 15th century castle, built on a cliff edge, are still on the island. It is one of 5 strongholds in Inishowen which belonged to the O’Doherty Clan, former rulers of north Donegal.
Note: The castle is on private property; please seek permission locally if you wish to get close to it.
Direction: Continue along the R238/WAW (N) for approximately 3.5 km
Discovery Point: Lisfannon Beach
Note: From the Inch Island intersection, approximately 2 km along the R238 heading toward Buncrana, attention is drawn to an example of the area’s history in the old church graveyard at Fahan. Here the St Mura’s Cross stands in the old graveyard on the right hand side of the road. Mura was Fahan’s (Fathain) first abbot, of whom little is known. The 7th century cross stone is remarkable for its artistry, particularly the fine interlace of the “Tree of Life” motif. Fahan is likely to have been a major monastic foundation; its precise whereabouts can only be presumed to have been in the vicinity of the 19th century church. The grave of Agnes Jones, 1832 – 1868, a nursing pioneer who worked with Florence Nightingale, is also situated here in the graveyard.
Direction: Continue northward along the R238 for 1.5 km till you find the entrance to Lisfannon beach on the left side.
Lisfannon is a sandy beach with uninterrupted views over Lough Swilly to the distant headlands. This location is a Natural Heritage Area (NHA), and important wetlands site for birds. Fahan Wood within 1km of the beach is classified as being of regional importance noted for Oak, Hazel and Rowan trees.
It is a favourite recreational beach for locals and day-trippers from Derry City in Northern Ireland and during bathing season, the beach is patrolled by lifeguards. Access is on foot through the low dunes from the car park. From the sands there are excellent views to the nearby Inch Island and to Rathmullan across the Lough.
Direction: Continue along the R238 through Buncrana then follow the WAW (N) for approximately 16.5 km
Discovery Point: Dunree Head.
Overlooking Lough Swilly on the Inishowen Peninsula, Fort Dunree commands spectacular views of the Lough and its shorelines.
The museum exhibits audio – visual presentations providing an insight into the long and interesting history of the fort. It displays how life, at Fort Dunree military base, was for the soldiers stationed there and the vital role they played in securing neutrality protection and the coastal defence of the area. The museum also contains a complete display of coastal artillery and other military artefacts. There are 3 hill-sidewalks close to the fort enabling visitors to get fantastic views of Lough Swilly, Fanad Head and the Atlantic Ocean.
Direction: Return to the main road and turn left. Continue to follow the WAW (N) for 4 km. At the small road sign for Mamore Gap turn left. Continue for 3km to the top of the hill.
Discovery Point: Mamore Gap
Mamore Gap mountain pass sits at an elevation of 801ft (244m) above sea level and allows visitors to view the breathtaking scenery of Leenan and Urris below. This is a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike to gaze across the broad sweep of the Atlantic Ocean. A number of holy relics are to be found here and a holy well devoted to Saint Eigne. The descending road is relatively steep, winding and narrow in parts. However, it has recently undergone extensive work to widen the road, particularly on the bends and create several passing bays along its route.
Direction: At the base of the hill turn right. There are two roads to choose from, an upper and a lower;
Follow the upper road for 13.5 km
Follow the lower road for 15 km
Discovery Point: Pollan Bay
Situated at the foot of the hill leading from the village of Ballyliffin is Pollan Strand, a two mile long sandy beach in Pollan Bay. There are views to Glashedy Island, a large rock jutting out of the sea where many boats have gone aground over the centuries. By walking the full length of Pollan Strand it is possible to reach Carrickabraghy Castle on the Isle of Doagh. This O Doherty castle, one of five in Inishowen and was built in the 16th century on a rocky promontory with spectacular views of the Donegal hills and headlands. It stands on the site of a pre-Viking settlement recorded in the Annals of Ireland.
Note: Award winning – Nancy’s Barn, Ballyliffin, Co Donegal
Taking a break in the heart of the beautiful village of Ballyliffin visitors can enjoy the surroundings at an authentic converted barn. The cosy vintage setting offers an array of hand crafted cakes and bakes or a homemade lunch menu featuring their famous award winning Seafood Chowder. Open daily from 10am-5pm
Tel: +353 74 937 6556. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Doagh Famine Village.
Doagh Famine Village Visitor Centre is one of Inishowen’s top attractions which traces the changing times in Ireland from the 1800’s to the present day. It tells the story of a family and community living on the edge and surviving the Famine of the 1840’s. Remoteness, isolation and reliance on small plots of land made the area a harsh place to live, yet the same families have lived here for generations. This facility allows the visitor to learn how these people adapted and survived. A designated Guide gives in depth information with visual aids as the interactive session takes you on a tour of the village.
Direction: Continue to follow the WAW (N) through Carndonagh and Malin Town to Malin Head for approximately 24.5 km
Signature point – Malin Head
The most northern point of the Irish mainland sits at the tip of Malin Head and is known as Banba’s Crown; named after a goddess of the mythological tribe, Tuatha Dé Danannan. It is an area of great scenic beauty and of historical, scientific and ecological importance. Follow the WAW circuit of the Head and it will lead you around the coast to Banba’s Crown. There you will find a tall derelict building known locally as “The Tower” which was built in 1805 by the British Admiralty as a Napoleonic lookout tower, and later used by Lloyds of London as a Signal Station. During the Second World War, the small huts to the side of The Tower were built and used by the defence forces as lookout posts for the protection of Irish neutrality. By directing your gaze north eastward, on the headland you will see “EIRE 80” marked out in white stone. Also originating from World War II, these markers were placed all around the coasts of Ireland, each one with a different number, to let Allied pilots know they were entering neutral airspace. This point is also a perfect starting point for a ramble along the cliffs to Hell’s Hole, a remarkable subterranean cavern 250 ft long and 8 ft wide, into which the tide rushes with force often creating a booming echo sound. Nearby is a natural arch called Devil’s Bridge.
One can reflect a while looking out over the Atlantic Ocean where so many of our forefathers took long and arduous sailings to distant shores, in search of a better life. In times gone by, periods of hardship here in Ireland propelled those people to leave the Emerald Isle.
Note: Catch a coffee break @ Banba’s Café and visit Wild Atlantic Gifts.
Dominic McBride Tel: +353 87 639 3069 Email: email@example.com
Direction: From ‘The Tower return to the WAW and turn left. Follow the
WAW (S) signs now in a southerly direction for approximately 22 km.
Discovery Point: Culdaff Beach
This beautiful Blue Flag beach is accessed through the picturesque village of Culdaff which features two fine stone bridges and a triangular green with a now disused pump house. Situated on a pretty estuary, Culdaff Beach is a long stretch of sand accessed on foot through a dune landscape. Dominated to the west by a rocky headland, the long stretch of golden sand is broken up by several rocky outcrops, where families can sit and enjoy the scenery while the children play in the adventure park provided adjacent to the car park.
Direction: Continue to follow the WAW (S) for approximately 18 km
Discovery Point: Kinnagoe Bay
One of the real hidden gems of Inishowen is the discovery point at Kinnagoe Bay. It terms of the “wow factor” this location has it all. Just off the shore is where the La Trinidad Valencera Spanish Armed Transporter lies. It was in 1970-71 that divers found this wreck, a 1,100 ton wooden ship that sank during a storm on September 14th, 1588. Many artefacts have been recovered from this vessel and can be seen in the Tower Museum in Derry.
This small stretch of beach enclosed and backed by a steeply sloping hillside is evocative of a tropical micro environment. Sheltered by a hill covered with low growing mature coastal vegetation, this is a beautiful scenic area, with aqua blue waters, golden sand and an abundance of caves. Kinnagoe Bay brings to mind a landing bay fit for a scene shot from the famous Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.
Direction: Continue to follow the WAW (S) for 5 km.
Discovery Point: Magilligan Point View
This location is a wonderful stopping point that provides panoramic views across Lough Foyle to Magilligan Point, the adjacent coastline and the glacial hills of County Derry in Northern Ireland.
Direction: Continue to follow the WAW (S) towards Greencastle for 4 km. Turn left toward Greencastle and continue on through to Stroove and Inishowen Head for approximately 6.5 km
Discovery Point: Inishowen Head
This is Inishowen’s most Easterly point and offers coastal views across the mouth of Lough Foyle to Benone Beach and Castlerock in Northern Ireland. Close by is the second of Inishowen’s Blue Flag beaches at Stroove; a lovely sandy beach perfectly placed in relation to Shroove Lighthouse and just a short distance from the Inishowen Head Loop Walk. The Loop Walk is a popular route often frequented by keen walking enthusiasts.
Note: Although Inishowen Head is the final Discovery Point on our tour there is more to see as you continue your journey around the peninsula.
Direction: Return via the R241/WAW (S) toward Greencastle for approximately
Greencastle Marina; situated at the mouth of Lough Foyle and home to the Lough Foyle Ferry Service. This short ferry journey to Magilligan Point (seasonal and subject to conditions), provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the Causeway Coast after hopefully having caught a glimpse of wild dolphins during the crossing. Greencastle Marina was awarded the coveted Blue Flag in 2019.
The Maritime Museum and Planetarium is just a short walk from the ferry terminal area and offers welcome light refreshments in their tea room. The gift shop offers an opportunity to purchase quality nautical giftware and they have a tackle shop for fishing tackle, catering for the fishing enthusiasts. The Maritime Museum introduces the visitor to the riches of local traditions and proud maritime heritage. Beside the museum is the Inishowen Maritime Memorial, recording the names and dates of those lost at sea from Inishowen.
The planetarium projection experience is a more recent addition to the museum. It allows a full sensory immersion into a wide range of shows featuring “SEA MONSTERS – A PREHISTORIC ADVENTURE” – non astronomy, “NINE PLANETS AND COUNTING” – astronomy, “KALOUKA’HINA-THE ENCHANTED REEF” – non astronomy, “DYNAMIC EARTH” – astronomy and “EARTH, MOON & SUN” – astronomy.
Direction: Continue on the R241/WAW (S) to Moville for approximately 4.5 km. Turn right at the fire station and continue for 650 m.
The Moville Pottery which has been manufacturing hand thrown stoneware pottery for over 38 years. Founded in 1976 by renowned designer and hand thrower Lowry Wasson, the pottery studio is located overlooking the picturesque and historic town of Moville. As well as selling their own pottery items, displayed in the gift shop is a range of Donegal and Irish made goods, including clothing, artworks, lamps, candles and soaps. Specialised personalised items can be created on request. Famous actors such as Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, and Sir Derek Jacobi are among those who have ordered their wares from this pottery.
By prior arrangement visitors can enjoy viewing the process of making pots in the workshop and even paint their own unglazed chosen item:
Direction: To reach the final point of your tour and the Wild Atlantic Way, continue on the R238 alongside the Foyle to the village of Muff. On a fine day, when the sun glimmers across the still waters of the Lough, it can present picturesque views, reflecting a calm and peaceful retreat from city life and the normal daily routine.