County Donegal - Ireland's Real North

Attractions, Experiences, Sights and Ideas for the Ulster County

Visiting County Donegal? This most northern part of the Irish Province of Ulster, which strangely enough is north even of Northern Ireland, has a number of attractions you will not want to miss. Plus some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path. So why not take your time and spend a day or two in Donegal when visiting Ireland? Here are some ideas to make it worth your while ...

  • 01 of 12

    What You Need to Know About County Donegal

    County Donegal on the map.
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    County Donegal in the Irish province of Ulster is the northernmost county of all 32 - but it is part of what some still call "Southern Ireland", the Republic. Here are some facts you might find interesting as well:

    • The Irish name for County Donegal is Contae Dhúnna nGall, which translates literally as "Castle of the Strangers" (it is confusing, gall meaning "stranger", yet so close to Gael). This name is commonly thought to be referring to the Vikings.
    • The Irish car registration letters used on numberplates are DL.
    • The county town is, and that may surprise you, Lifford. Other important towns are Ballybofey, Ballyshannon, Bunchrana, Bundoran, Carndonagh, Donegal Town, Dunglow, Killybegs, Letterkenny, and Stranolar.
    • The size of County Donegal is quite huge - at 4,830 square kilometers. Population numbers are much more moderate, according to the 2011 census there are 161,137 people living here.
    • County Donegal can lay claims to a number of nicknames, in the GAA it is...MORE known as "the Hills" (yes, there are many up here), or "Tyrconnell", or "O'Donnell County" (both referencing an ancient kingdom and former ruling family). Less glamorous is the appellation of "Herring-Gutters", referencing the still busy fishing industry.
  • 02 of 12

    Slieve League - Cliffs of More Height than Moher

    They will take your breath away, that is a promise - the cliffs of Slieve League are the highest sea cliffs in Europe. A nearly sheer drop of roughly 2,000 feet separates the Atlantic Ocean from the highest point of the cliffs. A guaranteed lethal drop, so extra care is advised, especially with children. Signposted only locally and in the middle of one of the remotest areas in Ireland, Slieve League is not easy to get to. And this will not get better once you pick up the signposted route. But the way is worth every twist and turn and sheer drop.

  • 03 of 12

    Tweed Shopping at Magee's

    When you are visiting Donegal Town, you will notice Magee's shop in the center - which also is a sort of center to the tweed trade here. And much more. the small but sprawling emporium has everything you need to remind you of your​ visit to Ireland. From small souvenirs to whole outfits. From conservative to modern. from tweed, mainly. If you need a "lad's cap" in multiple colors, a grandfather shirt for a good night's sleep or simply a sturdy pair of breeches, you'll find it here.

    With all this tweed, do not forget to visit Donegal Castle - it is just around the corner!

  • 04 of 12

    Rossnowlagh's Orange Parade

    It is a moment of high weirdness, once every year - orange men and women descend upon the sleepy seaside town of Rossnowlagh to parade from the church to the beach. What has the trappings of an outing to the seaside (complete with ice cream vendors, food stands, and tacky souvenir stalls) is, in fact, the ​only parade of the Orange Order in the republic of Ireland. Peaceful and a family affair. And colorful, though blue, white and red are the predominant shades.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Rathmullan's Tribute to the Earls

    The Flight of the Earls Heritage Centre in the small town of Rathmullan will provide visitors with a glimpse of a momentous event in Irish history - when the rebels Hugh O'Neill and Rory O'Donnell emigrated in 1607, effectively leaving Ireland in the hand of the English.

  • 06 of 12

    Glenveagh National Park

    Come for the landscape, maybe spot eagles and more mundane wildlife ... Glenveagh National Park is the northernmost of the National Parks of Ireland, located on 16,000 acres of mountainside in County Donegal. A remote, beautiful wilderness area with rugged mountains and crystal-clear, often mirror-like lakes. The park consists in part of the old Glenveagh Estate and its mountains, but also the peatlands of Lough Barra bog.

  • 07 of 12

    The Mysterious Grianan Ailigh

    A stone erection of note - the Grianan Ailigh (or Grianan of Aileach) can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The main structure visible today is a ringfort (long destroyed but restored in the late 19th century and, again, a few years ago), but a holy well and other, older structures nearby suggest other uses of the site as well. Open to interpretation.

  • 08 of 12

    Glencolumbkille - An Early Tourism Initiative

    The small village of Glencolumbkille (or Glencolmcille or Gleann Cholm Cille) is in a very remote part of the Donegal Gaeltacht, here Irish is frequently spoken ... but nothing else really was going on. Until Father James McDyer hit the rural scene in 1951. The priest developed the first community facilities (in an area that did not even have electricity at the time) and tried to stop the general decline of the village. One of his ideas was the re-development of small, local industries and a visitor-friendly folk village and museum. Though this may not live up to the hype ​anymore, it is still worth visiting.

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Spiritual Healing at Saint Patrick's Purgatory

    This is not a tourist attraction as such - this is a pilgrimage site strictly open to those seeking meaning and direction (or simply quiet contemplation) only. Visits of the "quick look, photo and away again" kind are definitely discouraged. But for any traveler wanting to experience the spirituality of Ireland Lough Derg (also known as Saint Patrick's Purgatory) is worth serious consideration. Serious in every sense, as the full pilgrimage should not be taken lightly.

  • 10 of 12

    Traditional Music in County Donegal

    Visiting County Donegal and stuck for something to do in the evening? Well, you could do worse than head out into a local pub (which, bey default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session ... so why not give it a try? Most sessions start at around 9:30 pm or whenever a few musicians have gathered.

  • 11 of 12

    More Information on County Donegal and the Province of Ulster

  • 12 of 12

    Moving On ... Beyond Donegal's Borders

    Enough time spent in County Donegal? Then carry on in the neighboring counties: