Wait for a good spell of high pressure weather and there is no lovelier place to visit than County Donegal, writes Elaine Lavery
Many Irish people have fond childhood memories of summers spent in West Cork and The Kingdom of Kerry. Less celebrated, though not forgotten, is the north west of the country – Connemara, Sligo and Mayo all get their share of attention. More often overlooked is County Donegal. Bundoran is popular for surfing, but what of the other joys this lesser known county has to offer? Base yourself centrally in the conveniently-placed town of Letterkenny and you are well set on your voyage of discovery.
Many are unaware that Donegal is renowned for scuba diving. Most of its popular dive sites, including many shipwrecks, are located at the most northerly tip, about an hour’s drive from Letterkenny. If you have your qualifications, a local guide is strongly recommended. If you have not dived before, PADI courses are on offer all around the country. Diving is an expensive pastime, but join up with a club, such as UCD’s own Sub-Aqua Club, and lessons and equipment rental are significantly reduced. You will be ready to dive in Donegal by the summer.
Diving is hungry work and there is plenty of good grub to be found in Letterkenny and further afield. The town itself can look a little drab, with many empty shop fronts. However, there are many very reasonably priced, friendly restaurants to be recommended. La Fantasia, an authentic Italian restaurant, bizarrely located in a business park just outside of the town, is worth checking out, as are The Lemon Tree and The Yellow Pepper. However, the most stellar meal to be had in Donegal (including
the freshest, most delicious fish this writer has ever tasted) is at the Rathmullan House Hotel, again about an hour’s drive from Letterkenny.
Visit Donegal on a beautiful day and simply take a drive along the coast to enjoy the spectacular views. However, much like Connemara, visit on a misty day and you will be lucky if you can see your own hand held out in front of you. On such an occasion your options are limited. Otwo’s best suggestion is to treat yourself to a bucket of popcorn, bag of pick ‘n mix and a film in Century Cinemas.
The people of Donegal are incredibly welcoming, which is a sure sign of an area reliant on tourism, but they are extremely hospitable nonetheless. During the summer months there are plenty of options for accommodation in and around the town, with all B&Bs opening their doors. In order to get a good deal, you are advised book early, especially for the busiest weekends in July and August. In the quieter winter months, many of Letterkenny’s B&Bs will have closed shop, but there are ample hotels offering competitive rates.