Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ireland Day Three -- Around Donegal

We rose early Monday morning to get an early breakfast and be on our way. Breakfast was the full Irish breakfast, which included eggs, bacon, sausages, toast, potato bread, beans, and fresh yogurt--Simply delicious!

It was a lovely stay at the Ramada Portrush. I would recommend it highly for anyone finding themselves in Portrush on holiday.

Leaving the hotel, we were on the road by nine o'clock, headed for Derry and Letterkenny. With a whole day ahead of us, we decided to explore Inishowen and Malin Head--the most northerly point in Ireland. As we drove, we listened to Irish radio. I truly love European radio. It's so refreshing after years of formulaic Clear Channel productions in the US. On our drive, we heard everything from Nelly Furtado and hip hop to Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley--all from the same radio channel! It was a nice variety.

As we drove north of Letterkenny on the A-2, BBC radio faded out and we switched over to an RTE program playing traditional Irish music--fiddles and flutes--and all the talking was in Irish. We couldn't understand a word of the Gaelic, but it put us in a good mood as we drove between the seaside and the gorgeous green mountains of Inishowen.

As we neared the top of Malin Head, we diverted down a tiny one-lane road to see the Five Finger Strand, an enormous expanse of beach and sand looking out to the North Atlantic. The boys ran and played and searched for rocks and shells. There were several tidal pools, and we even found ourselves a wee crab, which I tried to catch for supper... but no luck.

After the strand, we drove the last bit north to Banba, the tip of Malin Head, and the most northern point in Ireland. At the top of the rocky outcrop is a large stone signal tower. The man selling coffee from his three-wheeled coffee-cart told me that the tower was originally used as a fortification by the British. But the Britons could never really hold Donegal, it's just too wild, too remote and not peopled enough to be noticed for long. So the British abandoned the tower, and Lloyds of London began using it. Lloyds would station a watchman in the tower to keep an eye on their highly insured ships, signaling them from Britain when the sea was safe enough to be passable.

Amusingly, with all the gorgeous scenery around us, Eddie spent all his time taking photos of cars in the car park. As a convertible Audi drove up, Eddie was beside himself. The Irish couple driving it was so smitten with him that the wife insisted Eddie get into the car for photos. Of course, Eddie was in heaven!

"This is definitely going into my magazine," Eddie declared. This whole trip, Eddie has been collecting photos of cars for a magazine he's going to write. With over 400 photos, he's got a good start!

After a nice hike along the cliffs, we left Inishowen and headed down to Donegal to explore the old town. Donegal was pretty full of tourists, but not so much as Giant's Causeway. We had tea at the Blueberry Tearoom, enjoying apple pie, peach and coconut cheesecake, tea and hot chocolates.

For most of the afternoon, it drizzled steadily. Undeterred, we visited Donegal Castle, which is small but very nicely restored, and definitely worth the £8 or so for a family ticket.

By four o'clock, we were pretty much done with Donegal, so we called our hostess at the Bayside B&B, and she suggested we find supper in Donegal before coming out to the house. We still had quite a lot of time on our hands, so we decided to drive to the northwest corner of Donegal, to a down called Ardara. Ardara is famous for its woolen clothing, and Kennedey's is a must-see knit shoppe. We spent our money on several shirts for me, a hill-walker sweater for me, and with the $50 that Nana gave to Luke for spending money, he bought a fedora. Yes, a fedora. Not a kids toy fedora, a small grown-up felt fedora, with pheasant feathers in the brim. Yes, Luke wanted to be Indiana Jones! I tried to talk him out of it, but once he played the "Nana gave me $50" card, I had to relent. I know that Nana would heartily approve, and Luke does look rather dashing in his new chapeau.

Finally, near suppertime, we hooked up with Sharon and Desi, who had just driven in from Northern Ireland. The kids were very excited to see each other, and the noise level increased tenfold. We headed over to a Donegal restaurant called Dom's, and supped on burgers, beers, and fish and chips. Not healthy, but, Ohh so good!

Tomorrow, we're in Donegal another day, so if the weather holds out, we'll head up to Glenveagh National Park in the center of the county.

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