DEIRDRE’S DIARY – 14 MIN READ
Home to Donegal
“This is my homeland, the place I was born in, No matter where I go, it’s in my soul. My feet may wander a thousand places, But my heart will lead me back home to my Donegal”.
Thank you to everyone who supported the Donegal Camino
in aid of Cancer Care West
This was our theme song for the Donegal Camino – our 8-day hike from Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland to Slieve League in south west Donegal. This was no ordinary walk. The Donegal Camino was an extraordinary experience, showcasing the beauty of Donegal – the place and the people. Together we walked, we talked, we laughed and there was even the odd tear. We enjoyed Donegal hospitality, food, music, history and culture. Peggy Stringer founded the Donegal Camino in 2020 and this year, she was joined by Noel Cunningham, myself and about fifty walkers from all over the country. This was a great opportunity to promote our beloved county of Donegal as well as raise awareness and garner much needed funds for Cancer Care West. Between the two events, we were proud to present a cheque for €26,000 to this very worthy cause. Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who walked, donated or helped out in any way to make the Donegal Camino such an amazing success.
DAY 1 – MALIN HEAD
A warm welcome at Ireland’s most northerly point
It’s often boasted by the people of Donegal that the Wild Atlantic Way starts (and ends) at Malin Head, the top of Ireland, the edge of Europe. Our Donegal Camino began with a warm welcome in Farren’s Bar of Star Wars fame. Having been serenaded by the lovely Raymond Doherty – our musical mascot for the Camino, I felt very emotional as we set off on what was to be a most magical experience – a week of walking we would never forget.
We walked almost 18km along epic coastal scenery. The highlight was the viewing point at Knockamany Bends, where you could see the Five Finger Strand and in the distance, Slieve Snaght and the Urris Hills towering upwards into the sky. Back to base at Mc Groary’s Hotel, Culdaff and then off to the world famous Nancy’s Barn for dinner. Kieran Duey is a shining star, promoting Donegal at every opportunity. The food, service and ambiance at Nancy’s Barn were top class.
DAY 2 – FANAD HEAD
Walking barefoot on the sand
We awoke to a blustery day. The cobwebs were certainly blown away as we sailed or rather rocked on the ferry from Buncrana to Rathmullan. The Donegal Camino group were identified by the Donegal flags on the cars, the blue T-shirts and the wide smiles all round. Arriving at Ballymastocker Beach, the group gathered, new walkers were welcomed ‘into the Camino family’ and we set off along the beach. Walking barefoot on the sand felt so natural. Echoes of childhood rang in my ear. Onwards through cute country roads where even the sheep, horses and cows seemed to welcome us on our journey. 15km and several spontaneous songs later, we finished up at Fanad Lighthouse. Dinner that evening was in the charming Olde Glen Bar in Carrigart. Donegal chef, Ciaran Sweeney treated us to a memorable feast of some of the finest food of Donegal. I can still remember the flavour of the carrots – it just shows how simple, local produce can be so amazing. This was shaping up to be a Camino with a culinary twist.
DAY 3 – LOUGH SALT
A touch of Eurovision in the hills of Donegal
It’s both a lake and a hill. Carefully chosen as one of the ‘easier’ walks of the week, I confess that I found it tough. And all because I didn’t take it ‘easy’ the night before. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one! There was a giddiness to the group – lots of laughs along the way. We even had a touch of Eurovision with a surprise appearance by Mickey Joe Harte, who sang a lovely rendition of “I will walk 500 miles” by the Proclaimers. It was so special to see the way in which people started to bond as the week progressed. We shared a connection that is hard to find in everyday life.
Following a lovely drive to Dungloe, we arrived at the Waterfront Hotel, where Martina and her team gave us a Céad Míle Fáilte. Leo’s Tavern was our venue for dinner and entertainment. What a memorable night! We were honoured to be there for the first live music session in almost two years. Traditional Irish music at its best, coupled with the hauntingly beautiful ballads by the “First Lady of Celtic Music”, Moya Brennan, who is also a patron of Cancer Care West. By the end of the night, people were dancing on the tables and strangers were holding hands, swaying to the music. I took a quiet moment to stand back and take it all in. That moment will stay in my heart forever.
DAY 4 – GLENVEAGH NATIONAL PARK
Singing in the sunshine
The day in Glenveagh National Park was like being on holiday. The sun shone brightly and it was unseasonably warm. Everyone was in such great form as we got on our bikes, beeped our bells and set off along the glorious lakeshore path with views to fall off your bike for. There was a strong sense of camaraderie and happiness as fellow cyclists and walkers greeted each other with the secret code of the Camino. Back to Glenveagh Castle Tea Rooms for a delicious lunch served by a young team who exemplify excellence in customer service. The icing on the cake was to listen to the Henry Girls singing in the sunshine. Not only do they sing and play so beautifully, you can’t help but be captivated by their sisterly banter and sense of fun. That glowing holiday feeling continued as we sailed to Arranmore Island and had some drinks and fun sitting outside Phil Ban’s pub while the waves lapped at our feet. Once again, I felt that ‘moment’ – in between bouts of belly aching laughter to simply listening to the steady and seductive rhythm of the sea. We checked into the lovely Muldowney’s B&B. The kind host gave us a lift to Early’s Bar where we had a most enjoyable evening of entertainment, led by the owner of the bar, Jerry Early. We even had our own entertainment provided by John, Danny, Noreen, Peggy, Sean, Bradas and other Camino colleagues. Needless to say, we didn’t go ‘early’ to bed!
DAY 5 – ARRANMORE LOOP
Walking with a Donegal legend
The Donegal Camino was full of lovely surprises. Some were planned, some just happened. We had asked Donegal legend, Daniel O’Donnell to sing us off on our walk and not only did he do that, he walked with us as well. Arriving at Arranmore Light House, there was a piper playing. Such a memorable sight to see him in his kilt, facing the Wild Atlantic Ocean with the seagulls soaring overhead. Later on in the walk, Daniel sang a beautiful ballad called ‘Dark Island’. This song was a big favourite of my late parents, so I had another of my ‘back in a minute moments’. Our happy group crossed the finish line and another day on the Donegal Camino was complete. Big thanks to Daniel, Jerry, Anne, Sebo and Denis for making our visit to Arranmore so special.
DAY 6 – PORT
On top of the world
The Nesbitt Arms in the pretty town of Ardara was to be our base for the next few days. There’s always a welcome and indeed great music to be enjoyed in Ardara. It was a treat to be entertained by Matt Mc Granaghan, Jim, Fiona and friends in the Corner Bar. The toughest walk of the week was always going to be the one from Glenlough to Port. It was made even more challenging because there was torrential rain overnight and during the day. But we knew we were safe with our trusted guides, John from www.walkingireland.ie, Joe and Denis. With a slight change of plan, we started out from Port, the deserted village. As we ascended, the mist descended. It was eerie at times, if not surreal. Sometimes a glimpse of the sea would appear down below with a cloud floating above it. Noel sang the Carpenters song “On top of the world” – what a wonderful feeling!
We shared our sodden lunch with the midges, or maybe it was the other way around! Happy to return to the hotel for a hot shower and a change of clothes. Dinner that evening was in yet another Donegal gem – Dawros Bay House in Rosbeg. Warmly welcomed by Joe Molloy and his family, our meal was a melody of the finest seafood and shellfish from the coast of Donegal, and all served with a smile. I really enjoyed the prawns, scallops and lobster. Once again I was reminded of the quality of food produce we have on our doorstep. In Donegal, we are also blessed to have some of the best chefs in the land.
DAY 7 – GLENCOLMCILLE
Turf fires and traditional Irish music
This was a moderate walk along the Glencolmcille Tower Loop. Great banter along the way with guide John filling us in on the historical aspects of Turas Cholmcille. The weather was mixed but rain could never dampen our spirits. We arrived back to the Glencolmcille Folk Village to the scent of a turf fire and to the sound of traditional Irish music. The lovely Margaret Rose Cunningham had organised a delightful drinks reception for us and it was great to see so many locals who were there to welcome us and to support the Donegal Camino and our chosen charity, Cancer Care West. Later that evening, we had a tasty meal in An Chistin and there was a grand session in Roarty’s B&B.
DAY 8 – SLIEVE LEAGUE
The Grand Finale
Abig crowd gathered at the new Visitor Centre, Slieve League, for our final day of the Donegal Camino. The sun shone for most of the day. And anyway, there were bright smiles all around. You could really sense the strong connections and friendships that people had made during the week. Step after step, song after song, everyone was on the same journey. When anyone got tired or sore, the crowd carried them onwards. This is what the Camino is all about – helping each other, sharing our stories and finding the courage and support to overcome our challenges in life.
And so, it was with happy hearts and weary legs, we concluded the Camino with a lovely soirée at Harvey’s Point. It was fun revisiting the highlights of the week. The spirit of the Donegal Camino was captured beautifully by Noel in this poem:
Peggy Stringer – Deirdre McGlone – Noel Cunningham
© Photos courtesy of Matt Britton, Tony Monaghan, Ali Farren, Paul Mc Ginty – Videos courtesy of Brendan O’Donnell
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