On Tuesday Oct. 2 we bopped around Donegal for part of the day, using an internet cafe, seeing Donegal castle (which we drove around three times because we couldn’t find it behind the trees and the wall, and then couldn’t find the parking), and doing a wee bit of shopping.
I tried to call a woman near Carrick on Shannon. I’d been given her name by a friend but the one thing we never mastered were the phones. It was a phone booth on the street. I tried punching the number. I tried putting money in. I tried various buttons on the phone and only got the long distance operator who I couldn’t hear anyways for all of the traffic. So we never did see Bee, but then we didn’t pass through her area. Of course in retrospect, it was probably only a half hour from where we did drive.
Slieve League was past Killybegs, a small fishing town west of Donegal. We drove out and it was a meandering drive along or near part of the coast. This is tweed country; lots of sheeps and a few tweed shops that we stopped in, partially for directions. So we drove and drove and weren’t sure if we there so we asked a man, dressed in that classic Irish farmer attire of cap, tweed jacket, baggy pants and wellies In Ireland the standard greetings is “How are you doing?” This man was walking along the small village road. I believe there might have been a total of 20 cottages at most and it was at the end of nowhere. I don’t know if that was Killybegs or not. I think not but I don’t know what that village was called.
He said we were on the right road for Slieve League and as it turned out it was only about five minutes past that village, and dead ended there. We were high on cliffs and below was a long reddish sand beach. It was a long hike down the stairs and would have been a long sweat up. We didn’t go down as it was getting late in the day. We could see a couple of people sunbathing down there.
As we drove back we found the sign to the Bunglass Cliffs. Since the guy at the tweed shop had mentioned them we decided to go check them out. I’m sure if my sister realized what we were getting into she would have run screaming.
We drove through a village as tiny as the one at Slieve League, passing dogs, goats and chickens all running about the road. We rounded a corner where the family working in their yard kind of stared at us like we were mad. Then began the ascent. I’ve lived in BC and Alberta all my life. We have mountains, the Rockies, and some mountain roads are treacherous switchbacks. This was something else.
At first it wasn’t too bad but then it wound higher and higher. And then we were on a hairpin where you looked across to the other side of the hairpin (about 75 feet away) with nothing but cliffs down the curve. My sister, who is terrified of heights, said not a word, breathing heavily and grasping the car door handle so tight I thought she’d take it off. I could hear it squeaking but didn’t dare look. And she was on the outside edge.
It was in fact fairly treacherous. I was only going about 5km and if we’d met someone coming the other direction, I’m not sure what we would have done as the road wasn’t big enough for two. Then there were the spot where suddenly we were looking straight at the sky. The car was at more than a 45 degree angle facing up. I had to take it on faith that there was road on the other side and crept over the edge. We didn’t stay up there very long. My sister was a bit too nervous and once you saw the view in a few moments (and the sheep) there wasn’t much else to do. However, the Bunglass Cliffs are the highest cliffs in all of Europe so my sister had a right to be nervous with the height. And I have to say my heart was beating a little fast on the way up. It was easier going down and a pretty good view.
Names like slieve, killy, kil, bally, carrow, bun all mean something specifically in Gaelic, such as hill or bay or mound or… I have no idea what Killybegs meant or Slieve League but there are a few place names that have the similar beginning.
We then started beetling south to outside of Sligo. We wanted to do the Carrowmore passage tombs and thought we would go that far for the night and have a head start in the morning. Regretfully I saw nothing of Galway. We made an error this night by being far too late in travelling. It was dark by the time we ended up in the vicinity and I think we were near Lough Arrow (lough means lake) because there was coast on one side. But it was so dark we couldn’t see a B&B anywhere and finally found a small pub/tavern with rooms upstairs. It was dirty and cold (no heat), the shower didn’t work in my sister’s room and the rooms were so small we had to lift our suitcases over the bed. We did find a little restaurant farther in (if we’d known we could have checked that area for rooms) that had fairly good food. Many places did a combo course of appetizer and/or dessert plus a main course, so for 25 euros it was okay. The food was decent too but never that cheap in Ireland.
In the morning, Wednesday, we trotted off to Carrowmore and with the customary few wrong turns (though not many) found Carrowmore just as it was opening. It rained quite heavily while we were walking through the fields. These are small mounds or rings of rocks, and a few dolmen tombs. Not as impressive of Newgrange, still I found it interesting and the number of graves brought such a sense of time and history. We finished in under two hours, soaked to our knees, so we changed in the bathroom and then drove on. This was the wettest day we had in Ireland and we dropped Queen Maeve’s tomb from the walks as it would have been 45 minutes slogging through the rain.
Still, overcast sky and the wet gave very rich color to all of the photos.