My road trip with my eight-year-old twins exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
My plans to go to Donegal for St Patrick’s weekend this year were tainted by Covid and everything had to be canceled. I was devastated as it was my birthday also that weekend and at this stage, I feel Covid has robbed me of three birthdays – one of which was a milestone.
After I licked my wounds, I planned another trip for a week with my children at Easter. I have eight-year-old twins and I love to do trips with the children around Dublin and further afield. A friend in Bundoran sourced a cabin for me in Rossnowlagh, near Ballyshannon and my friend was joining me for two days later in the week also, so we needed a good size cabin.
I filled up the car with food, clothes, sleeping bags, hot water bottles and two Nintendo switches. It was detrimental that the cabin had Wifi (the only request from my twins) although I had planned on not being in the cabin too much and out exploring Donegal.
The furthest I had driven to date was to Wexford (I am only driving for six years) and I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Donegal came up at about three hours on Google Maps from my home in Cabinteely, South County Dublin. I drove on the M3 and the N3 through Virginia and stopped in Cavan for a cuppa and a stretch and continued on to Bundoran. The next part of our drive into Bundoran brought us off the beaten track and we took in a few lake stops to take photos, followed by a rollercoaster road experience that had the children screaming with excitement as we felt like we were on the big dipper.
When we reached Bundoran, I was surprised at how big it was and I stopped for a cuppa in one of many eclectic coffee shops. As I drove through Bundoran, the sea caught my eye down a side street and I found myself down at Bundoran beach where The Great Northern Hotel is perched on the best spot in Bundoran, overlooking Donegal Bay and the main beach. I understand now the term and description of this rugged coast as the wild Atlantic way.
Passing through the town of Ballyshannon – Rory O’ Gallagher’s hometown, he is there statuesque, commemorated in the town center. Our cabin was at the back of a house in upper Creevy and in the perfect spot away from any kind of bustle. All I heard were cows, sheep and the sound of the sea. I wanted to try every swimming spot I came across beginning with the local ones in Bundoran which included Bundoran Pier, the nun’s pool and Creevy Pier. Eager to see what was around me, I drove down to see my local beach – breathtaking Rossnowlagh beach. I loved it so much, I went back numerous times in a week as it was five minutes drive from my cabin.
It really takes your breath away when you drive down the slipway and onto the beach. Surfer’s paradise for sure as the waves pounded onto the beach. The popular viewpoint from Smuggler’s Creek Inn is a stone’s throw away from the beach if you are driving.
The next day we ventured into Sligo and the drive from Bundoran into Sligo took my breath away. When Benbulben came into my view, it was hard to drive without taking glimpses of this mountain. And I noticed there was a Benbulbin forest walk sign along the way also. I’m not sure if it is suitable for children.
We passed through lovely towns including Grange and a sign for Streedagh beach veered me off track again. The vast space at this beach is super for flying kites and to run the legs off very active children. We visited the Strandhill market in a hangar in Sligo airport, a lovely spot for arts, crafts and the best cakes and food.
The next stop was Strandhill beach/walk, and we watched the surfers try to balance on their boards on the huge waves. Moving on to Rosses Point next and this area is beautiful to visit. On the way back, we veered off to see WB Yeats’s grave in a quaint church in Drumcliff. His grave has the most wonderful view of Benbulbin and I also understand now when people say this is ‘Yeat’s Country.’ I can see why he loved this part of Ireland. The next stop was Mullaghmore beach and pier. This is another place you need to visit and the scenic route just past the Pier Head hotel will take your breath away. The infamous castle in the distance stands alone in the middle of this rugged coast. This was the summer home of Lord Mountbatten who was murdered here out on his fishing boat in 1979.
My friend arrived on day three and we ventured out to see the fishing village of Killybegs. I had heard from an Instagram post about a beach near here, five minutes away, and we found it –Fintragh beach. It could have easily been in a James Bond movie for its beauty. The children had a ball climbing the big rocks and running along an unoccupied beach. Of course, I had to have a swim, one of many in Donegal.
On the way back, we stopped in Donegal town. A lively, friendly town full of authentic Irish atmosphere, artisan coffee shops, original pubs, cheap parking and Donegal Castle is located right in the center. What more could you want!
My friend departed, venturing on to Portlaoise. I drove back into Donegal town to meet local artist Aileen Kelly who had created two beautiful designs for myself and my friend. A wonderful lady with lots of creative ideas. On the way out of the town, I stopped in the Donegal Craft village and made a purchase or two.
A sign for Murvagh beach caught my eye on the drive back to Ballyshannon. Yes, another beautiful beach. We raced up and down the sand dunes, loving the freedom and the feel of the soft white sand. We decided to drive back into Bundoran and check out the Rougey cliff walk. It leads around to Tullan strand, another hidden surfing beach in Bundoran. Beautiful.
Before I left Donegal, I had to visit a place I went to when I was younger on holidays – Bunbeg in Gweedore. With the help of Google maps, I drove through isolated mountain roads, and I kept praying that I wasn’t going off the beaten track and that I had enough Diesel if I did. A driving adventure for sure. I saw a beach sign for Narin/Portnoo and veered off as I had been recommended to visit there. Another super spot to stay at as there is a caravan park right at the beach. I would come back and stay here and venture further up the Donegal coast the next time.
When the road signs began to change to as Gaelige, I knew I was near my destination. Such a quaint town with your pick of swim spots and amidst it all is the infamous shipwreck – Bád Eddie on Magheraclogher beach in Bunbeg. I instantly remembered it from my youth although it is definitely becoming very fragile, and I hope it can be preserved.
It lashed rain and we waited till it stopped and ran across the beach and we all swam in the cold atlantic sea and laughed with the excitement of it all. Great memories all captured on my phone.
The drive there and back is most definitely different from when I went years ago as a child. I’m sure there was no N56 back in the seventies. The scenic drive is amazing. We stopped in the bustling village of Ardara for some food in the Nesbitt Arms hotel and a catch-up with a friend. This is a lovely pitstop on the way back to Rosssnowlagh but this time I didn’t venture over the mountains, I went back a different route bypassing Killybegs and past Donegal town. Just to be sure I would make it back which of course I did.
An inspiring, exhilarating trip to Donegal. One we won’t forget.