Slieve Liabh, some 50 miles due west of Donegal Town has its just claim to fame. At 600 meters, it is the highest coastal cliff in Europe. If you're persistent and hardy, you'll reach its edge and look out over the Atlantic from 2000 feet above it...and feel like you're looking straight down on the world.
But the North West Coast of this large county, made up of a series of headlands called by unfamiliar names--The Rosses, Gweedore, Cloghaneely, Dunfanagy, Rosquill, and Fanad-can make a strong case for the longest and most memorable stretch of intimate contact with the sea of any region in Ireland.
Start with the Rosses. (Ross means peninsula). If you stay at the Ostan na Rosann (hotel of the Rosses) at Dungloe, you'll see a tower across the bay that marks the beginning of a breath-taking, and sometimes heart-stopping, coastal drive. Locals might ask, "Have you been out to Maghery?" and raise their eyebrows. If you have, you'll understand why. It's eye-popping.
From Dungloe, take R259 past Burtonport. Turn left just before Kincasslough to Cruit Island. Cross the bridge, go through the Giant's Rock Garden, and you'll soon see a sign that says, "Sound your horn." The reason? You don't want to be hit by a golf ball. Proceed cautiously to the clubhouse that looks out-as does every hole-on gorse rough, deep greens, and endless sea. Enjoy lunch as you listen to conversation coming from nearby tables about one of the outstanding nine-hole golf courses in the world. You may not have brought your clubs for a round (€25) but early morning and late evening, you're welcome to walk the course and wonder how you would have scored on the famous Sixth at Cruit (kritch)
Leaving Cruit Island, continue north on R259 until it joins N56. 2km later, go left on R257, which will take you around the shores of Gweedore. The adventurous will inquire at Derrybeg about a trip out to Gola Island. The people have gone but time stands still around cottages not so much derelict, as one accomplished photographer described them, but timeless, still partially-furnished stone cottages of a people who once supported themselves almost solely from the sea.
Continue on R257 to the lighthouse that bears an ominous name: Bloody Foreland. (It's on the map. Ask for directions to get there). At Meenlaragh, turn off for afternoon tea and tickets out to Tory Island...if you have made reservations for an overnight stay. The big ferry takes 45 minutes. The faster small one, just half that. After tea and a look at the little gallery where local art and crafts are displayed, follow R257 until it meets N56 again.
This drive-with trips to Gola and Tory-can be done in three days. One day with no side trips.
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007