In this corner of the world, if the sea isn’t on your horizon, or in the breeze playing with your hair, or in the salt of the fresh fish on your plate, then it’s at least on your mind.
The Western Region comes soaked in the sea and its stories. Let’s be honest – it’s literally shaped by them.
There’s magic there; fairytales and ‘once upon a times’ flecked with sea-cliff castles and seaweed princesses. This is the land of Jack and the Boardwalk; Surfing Beauty; The Princess and the Sea; Snow White and the Seven Wharfs.
Jutting from the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal’s Malin Head marks the most northerly point of Ireland and sets the tone for our stories – wild and wind-blown, whipped and lapped by the mighty, magic Atlantic.
Expect chapters on pirate queens and the waters and islands she commanded; a culture and language safe-guarded for centuries on remote islands; seas teeming with fantastical creatures, and wrecks harbouring stories that can’t be sunk.
Boy, have we got some stories for you...
Mayo’s Treasure Islands
All great stories deserve an island. The name of Inishturk is a story in itself, translating as 'Island of the Wild Boar'. It's only a slightly overweight boar in size, too, a petite 5km by 2.5km of cliffs, archaeological sites (including a Napoleonic Signal Tower) walking paths and secluded beaches. It sets the tone for these over-achieving Mayo islands; rich in stories, cliffs, beaches and character.
Clare Island has witnessed a catwalk of characters parade its coasts over the millennia. From a megalithic tomb, to Bronze Age sites, the hideaway of 16th century pirate queen Grace O'Malley, and its modern-day yoga-queen playground at the Clare Island Retreat Centre.
Achill manages to be Ireland's largest offshore island and the most accessible; just drive across the bridge and Achill's glorious high cliffs and five Blue Flag beaches will be waiting with open arms. Keem is the beach that postcards go on holiday to see. Megalithic tombs, 5,000 year-old forts and the poignant deserted villages at Slievemore and Ailt feels like history is in the very air you breath.
If you're the possessive type, you can have an island all to yourself in Inis Turk Beg; yours for the wolf-whistle rate of €9,000 a night.
Island life in Donegal
You’ve heard good things about Donegal’s islands, you just may not have understood every word. Arranmore jives to the sound of the lyrical Irish tongue as one of the many Gaeltacht islands. Just 15 minutes by car ferry from Donegal mainland is all you need for that elusive ‘get away from it all’ feeling. The island offers rolling hills for striking views of neighbouring islands, the Donegal Mountains, and long sandy beaches like Aphort.
Eagle Island is another rocky outpost famous for its lighthouse. Now uninhabited, Gowla is a testament to the hardy souls who braved the tough Atlantic life there, a life etched into the stone houses that remain. Inisbofin is another unspoiled delight with caves, sea arches and epic cliffs as well as some rather rare birds (Corncrake, Barnacle Geese anyone?).
The culture bastion of Tory Island is a priceless pocket of distinctive Irish culture and tradition, preserved by remoteness. It has cultivated its own music, songs, stories and dances in the face of a stormy Atlantic and modernizing of island life, while sites to stop for include a round tower, ruined church, and the Tau Cross.
Good things are not the only thing you’ll hear around here either; the sound of céilis and trad sessions also keep these hills alive.
Coasting through life
Sandy beaches, jutting headland, craggy cliffs and tranquil coves: cracking coastline is a bit of a speciality around these parts. And sure what thought isn't best pondered gulping in a sea breeze and scanning an ice-blue horizon?
County Donegal's towering Slieve League cliffs are some of the highest marine cliffs in Europe. Their coastal path is typical of the region's many varied walks; snaking between untouched countryside and sheer cliff face, and right into fresh-faced wild-blown views. A circuit of Ireland's northern outpost Malin Head takes in a derelict tower, cliffs and Hell's Hole; a subterranean cavern the Atlantic makes a big splash about rushing into.
The blue flags fluttering from the coast's clean and sandy beaches mean they have the EU Blue Flag status; so they're fantastic for swimming. A picnic wouldn't go astray either in surfer's Rossnowlagh, or Murvagh's long sandy dune-flanked strand.
Peninsulas are the blockbuster attractions of the coastline. Mayo's Mullet Peninsula is an outpost of aching beauty and fascinating landscapes. The west coast is exposed to the Atlantic so completely denuded of vegetation, while the east overlooks the inlet of Blacksod Bay.