Wild Atlantic Way County Donegal

We arrived in Ireland’s County Donegal from County Sligo. The remote county’s bays and sandy beaches etched into the shoreline, and the uncertain weather had turned downright exhilarating. Clouds scudded in from the Atlantic, bringing mist and squalls, interspersed with transforming shafts of sunlight. Offshore, Tory Island is said to have been the home to Balor, Celtic god of darkness. A bit inland, glens and waterfalls draw hikers and visitors seeking a rural idyll. From the splendid Sliabh Liag peninsula to windswept Inishowen, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is a nature lover’s dream.

The Wild Atlantic Way begins & ends here

Along the north shore of Donegal Bay, past the fishing port to Killybegs, sheep-strewn moorland undulates down to the sea.

County Donegal has the biggest Irish-speaking community in Ireland, and road signs along some roads appear only in Irish. We stopped in the picturesque Gaelic-speaking estuary village of Teelin for a simple, warming meal before visiting the imposing cliffs at Slieve League.

Donegal is all about nature: raptors wheeling overhead; dolphins playing in Donegal Bay; streams rustling through shallow canyons. On higher ground, the wind is a constant companion. Hospitality is warmer than the peat fires used for heating, and in genial contrast to the harsh blows dealt by history here.

Sliab Liag (Slieve League)

The cliffs at Slieve League are the highest in Europe and seabirds find habitat on promontories along these shores.
Lucky tourists have a chance to swim with dolphins. This pod of dolphins split into two groups, distracting keen observers on our two boats.
The walk above Slieve League has a commanding view of Donegal Bay and the trail ahead. This walk is challenging, as the path is literally one-way for part of the distance along the ridge between steep drop-offs.

Nature & folk ways

We weren’t the only ones walking the well-groomed parkland paths inland, less than an hour from the sea.
Rushing streams provide the only sound effects along a canyon path blanketed with green.
Our Fáilte Ireland guide Josephine was a fount of information and wit, entertaining and informing all along the way. In the National Park, she used a handful of sphagnum moss to demonstrate some of the qualities available via natural resources–no plastic involved!

Grianan Ailligh

This large stone-walled fort, located on a hilltop with views over Loughs Foyle and Swilly and counties Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, was the royal citadel of the northern Uí Néill from the 5th to the 12th centuries. According to our local guide, mystery surrounds the Grianan’s origins: it was probably built around the birth of Christ; and the earthen banks encircling the structure could be part of an earlier Bronze Age or Iron Age hill fort.

A winding boardwalk leads to Grianan of Aileach, a circular fortress near Buncrana.
Perched on a hilltop, Grianan of Aileach, the ‘stone palace of the sun’ was the home to the O’Neill kings. Below, one of Ireland’s largest organic farms stretches to Lough Swilly.

Malin Head

Blustery Malin Head caps the pastoral Inishowen Peninsula.
The tip of Inishowen Peninsula is mainland Ireland’s farthest northerly point. Here, the Atlantic has carved deep crevices into rugged headland.
Around 1805, the British built watch towers like this to guard against invasion by France during the Napoleonic Wars.
Access to Malin’s Head is a meander through a broad valley dotted with sheep and low-slung cottages .
We reached Malin’s Head!

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Thank you! to Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, who hosted us for an advance look at the Northwest section of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. It was a splendid journey!


  1. Wow the landscape of Donegal looks so wild and weathered! Some of the photos remind me of North Yorkshire, but without so much sea. Reading this post confirms that I really should dedicate more time to Ireland, especially since I’m half Irish so it would be extra nice to establish more connections to my roots!

    • Donegal is wonderful, well worth a meander. I wish we had had more time there to get really, really off the beaten path. I don’t know Yorkshire at all, but perhaps I should put it on the list!

  2. Donegal is one of the best regions in Ireland, it’s just simply stunning. I do prefer Slieve League over Cliffs of Moher, the views just seems more dramatic and of course less crowds.

    Did you know Wild Atlantic Way has now been listed as one of the world’s ultimate road trips by Lonely Planet! Featured in their “Epic Drives of the World” book.

    Thank you for sharing your trip experience.


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