Sligo and Donegal

After a few days in Westport, I headed up to Sligo for my next stop. Sligo is considered part of Yeats Country, and there were a few places I wanted to visit related to the famous author. Now, there are only two places in the Republic of Ireland I can think of that didn't live up to what I expected, and one of them was Sligo (the other being Wexford, which I blogged about when I was still in Ireland). I hate to write anything bad about any place in Ireland, I really do, but if I'm being honest about my personal preferences, I really didn't like Sligo town or Wexford very much. Both were very industrial, somewhat dirty, and really didn't give me any sense of Ireland, or "old world Europe" at all, as I had expected. If I had my trip to do again, I would skip over Sligo town and find a smaller village around it to stay in, or head straight to Donegal.  

I had 3 nights in Sligo, so I made the best out of it. One beautiful part of Sligo that I would recommend if you are passing through would be Sligo Abbey, located downtown. I enjoyed walking around the abbey ruins and I was glad that I had blocked out the morning to relax and take photos of the abbey.  It was a cloudy, rainy morning for it, but I took a bunch of pictures, which you will see below.

 

I also loved the Model Arts Center and National Gallery, and would highly recommend this if you are looking for a more modern, contemporary museum. I spent an afternoon relaxing in the museum and its cafe, and seeing some really incredible works of art. I would say this museum, while much smaller, rivaled some of the national galleries I saw in Dublin.

 

A museum that I would avoid like the plague would be the Yeats Memorial Building. I feel sort of bad saying that, but at the same time, I really don't. Seriously, I look back on my time there and still have no idea what happened.

 

Upon walking in, I felt like I was in an old classroom. The "museum" was basically one room, with photos and different letters and artifacts under glass. There was no one around, except for random students who would come in and out and grab things from behind the front desk and then go out the way they came in, through a back door. I think the building was actually connected to some sort of school. Finally, a random guy came out, seemed legitimately startled to see me, and asked what I was doing there. I asked if this was the Yeats Memorial Building and if it was still open to the public, as his surprise seemed so genuine I suddenly felt like I shouldn't be there and he was going to have me arrested for trespassing. He told me that it was, but he still seemed puzzled as to why anyone would WANT to be there. After a few minutes of eyeing me suspiciously and realizing that I wasn't actually there to steal anything, he offered to show me "the video".... I had no idea what this meant but I said sure, of course, if it was part of the tour. He proceeded to wheel out a TV and VCR that seemed to be from the early 60's, and proceeded to play a videocassette from the same era. I honestly wanted to cry from the boredom, and as soon as it was over I paid my donation and I left. Again, I hate to rag on anything in Ireland, but this place was just painful and should be avoided at all costs.

 

Moving on... :)...

 

My two favorite activities in Sligo actually weren't right in Sligo town at all. The first was one of the most relaxing things I did my whole trip: the Voya seaweed baths in Strandhill. My friend Karen had recommended them to me, and I took a bus to Strandhill one of my days in Sligo to head to Voya for an hour of pure bliss. Strandhill is a really cute oceanside town, and the Voya spa is right on the beach. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but my god. If you're passing through this part of Ireland, BOOK A SEAWEED BATH. I have never been so relaxed in my life. You start by stepping into a steam shower for ten minutes and then you sink into a porcelain claw foot tub full of seaweed. I was somewhat apprehensive about it at first, but that quickly slipped away, as did all my thoughts, worries, concerns, everything. The seaweed bath was pure bliss.

 

After it was over, I took a long walk along the beach on what was a very sunny but windy day. The Strandhill beach seems to go on forever and with good tunes playing on my iPod, I could have walked it for miles. I finally got hungry and turned around, heading for the Shells Cafe which is located conveniently right on the beach, next to Voya. Shells Cafe is another place I would completely recommend if you're visiting this area. Great food, great atmosphere, and an adorable (albeit overpriced) gift shop.

 

I was seated towards the back of the cafe, at one of those small two person tables that is right next to another small, two person table. My side was a long bench that was shared by the neighboring tables, and the other side were regular chairs. As I sat there and ate the biggest burger I have ever seen in my life (see photo), another woman by herself was seated at the table next to me. Before long, we had struck up a conversation, and honestly it hurts my heart that I didn't get a photo with this woman. She was just a couple years older than me, single, and one of the sweetest people I met on my trip. She was so nice, in fact, that I was almost scared... When she asked if I wanted to take a walk with her after leaving the cafe, I started worrying that her sincerity was a cover for being a serial killer. But of course, her sincerity was genuine, and we walked along the beach the opposite way of where I had walked earlier. She told me all about the area we were exploring and about her life there, working full time, caring for her elderly father, and pen pal-ing/ casually dating a man in America that she had met when he visited Ireland earlier that year. We walked and talked so long that I missed the bus, and she offered to bring me back to Sligo. When she dropped me off at my B&B, she gave me her name so that we could stay in touch on Facebook. I really wish I had looked at the slip of paper as she gave it to me, because unfortunately, I couldn't read her writing and I was never able to connect with her again. But I'll never forget spending the afternoon with her; a perfect stranger who became an instant friend and walking companion.

 

The other activity that I had a blast with outside of Sligo was horse back riding through Island View Stables in Grange. Growing up, I loved riding horses, so much so that my mom sent me to horse camp one summer.  Unfortunately, I came down with hay fever and had to leave early (true and pathetic story) and I've never really had an occasion to ride a horse since then.  I knew going to Ireland that I wanted to be sure to get back on the horse (hehe) and so I had found Island View through TripAdvisor and booked a 2 hour bog and beach ride with them on my way out of Sligo.  If I had it to do again, I would probably just cut down to a one hour trip, because let me tell you, my butt was KILLING me the next day, but the two hours was still nice :)  My poor tour guide was probably dying from boredom since every time he tried to step it up to a run I would clutch my horse for dear life and start screaming psychotically, but if he hated me he never let it show and we had a beautiful day for the ride.  After we returned the horses to the stables and the ride was over, I actually walked back down the beach path we took so that I could grab a few pictures.

 

On the way out of Grange, I hit some other Yeats related stops, including the churchyard where he is buried.  Despite the fact that there were tour buses pulling up to let people see the grave, this was a really tranquil place and I stayed about an hour, just walking around and looking at the different grave stones and writing prayers inside a book in the church.  The graveyard looks out over Ben Bulben and of course there were sheep grazing as far as the eye could see.  All in all, not a bad eternal resting spot.

 

When I left Yeats' gravesite I had some extra time before I needed to head to Donegal, and so when I saw a sign for a scenic drive off the main road, I thought, why not?  Now this is one of those moments that I deeply regret, as of course I didn't write down the name of this scenic drive, but when you're driving on Route 15 going north out of Drumcliff, like I was towards Donegal, you will see signs for it to your right.  It takes you right around Ben Bulben... in my mind, it was something like Glencarrig Drive... but I could be making that up :)  It could have Drumcliff in the name, who knows!  This is why you should always write down what you end up doing while you're traveling.  But I'll get to that in my final post about Ireland :)  Anyways, the drive was really spectacular and peaceful, and under-traveled... it seemed like sort of a hidden jewel because I didn't see one other car while I was on it, and when I stopped to take photos at different spots it was just me... it was pretty amazing and it definitely ended up being one of a my favorite spontaneous scenic drives.

 

Back on the main road, I also stumbled upon signs for another side drive, to the Glencar Waterfall.  Glencar was a favorite spot of William Butler Yeats (or so I learned at the Yeats Memorial Building, HAHA) and much like lighthouses, I have a weird obsession with waterfalls, so I was happy to make another detour.  Glencar was beautiful and like Torc Waterfall in Killarney, it had a footpath for easy access.  I spent about an hour there walking around and taking pictures and relaxing before heading on to Donegal.

 

Here are some scenes from Sligo town...

 

 

 

The place to AVOID AT ALL COSTS...

And the place to go instead :)

Sligo Abbey...

 

 

 

 

 

I haven't done many black and whites from Ireland but I just liked this better with no color...

 

 

 

My day trip down to Strandhill...

 

 

 

Shells Café... where I ate the biggest burger ever and made a new friend :)

These were taken on our walk after we left the cafe...

 

 

 

 

The stables in Grange and the path where we took the horses...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another horseback riding group came down as I was leaving and I shot these real quick...

 

 

The church where William Butler Yeats is buried...

 

 

Yeats' gravestone...

 

 

As I said, it was a very peaceful and pretty churchyard...

 

 

Looking out over Ben Bulben...

 

 

Inside the church...

 

 

This was that pretty drive I mentioned, that I happened onto right after leaving the church...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another road, to the Glencar Waterfall...

 

 

Glencar...

 

 

One of my favorite shots around Sligo...

 

 

The next stop on my journey was another area of Ireland that completely captured my heart, Donegal.  Honestly, Donegal was just beautiful.  Disarmingly beautiful.  And it was definitely one of the places that I felt I was in "the real Ireland".  Of course, by this time in my trip, the weather was perfect, and that definitely plays a part in the way a person can see a place.  It also contributes to that feeling of "the real Ireland"... something else I'll talk about in my final post...

 

I stayed right in Donegal town for a few days and sort of wish I had stayed around in a few different spots, but Donegal town had a lot to offer and I stayed in a great B&B there.  Once again, the B&B was just a bit farther out from the center of town than I would have liked (I found that this was the one thing that B&B proprietors seemed to mislead most about on their sites) but I had a car that week so it didn't matter too much.

 

It was lucky that I had the car because once I settled in in Donegal and looked at my map and what I wanted to do, I realized that when we were in Westport I had missed a national park!  I really couldn't believe it, because we had driven right by a sign for it one day and it hadn't registered at all.  I blame Kevin for distracting me with his ridiculous driving antics.  But I didn't want to miss any Ireland's national parks, so my first order of business in Donegal was actually driving BACK to Ballycroy National Park in Westport :)  I got a chilly and windy day for that, but I still took a free foraging tour that the park offered and learned about the plantlife and landscape of Ballycroy.  Ballycroy also had a beautiful, state of the art visitors center that I really enjoyed.  Kevin thought I was nuts for going back and actually felt a bit bad that we had missed it, but once I had seen a few of them I was determined to see all 6 national parks, and I didn't want to leave knowing I had missed one.

 

The day after Ballycroy, I visited my 6th and final national park, Glenveagh National Park, in Letterkenny, co. Donegal.  I'll talk about the different national parks in my final Ireland post, but Glenveagh was beautiful and well worth the trip.  I spent the better part of a day there and could have spent a lot more.  It had a beautiful landscape; lakes and mountains and a gorgeous castle you could tour, as well as well-kept castle grounds.  You will see some Glenveagh photos below... it was definitely one of my favorite national park visits.

 

I also visited Donegal Castle, right in Donegal town, close to where I was staying.  This was another beautiful castle, although it was almost like it was cramped into the space it is in... you might see what I mean from the photos below, but the back of the castle backs right up to the river, and it is very narrow and tall from the front, with tall stone walls surrounding it.  I enjoyed it nonetheless, and right next to Donegal Castle was one of my favorite little pubs, The Olde Castle Bar.  Adorable space with beautiful stonework and old gas lamps out front... pictures below!

 

Another great bar in Donegal was the Reel Inn.  I'm sure if I had walked into this place when it was empty it would have seemed sort of lackluster and dive-y.  But this place is never empty.  They have live music and Irish step dancers every night, and it seems that it is always jam packed.  I was almost intimidated by the amount of people in there, mostly in groups or couples, no one really alone like I was.  But this was nothing new by this point in the trip, and I wanted to see the Irish dancers, so I stayed around and made friends with a few couples who were there on anniversary trips.  When the dancers asked for volunteers, one couple I had been talking to frantically pointed at me and shoved me towards the dance floor, and I was very grateful that I had had a few drinks while taking in the music.  I'm sure my step dancing partner wasn't as grateful, because I was TERRIBLE at remembering the steps... seriously, there were 80 year olds who did better than me on that dance floor.  But the craic was mighty, as they say, and I was laughing a few months ago when a woman I met that night tracked me down on Facebook and sent me some pictures she had taken of me dancing.  Hi Sharon!  :)  It was a lot of fun and I'm so glad I can say that I Irish step-danced in Ireland!

 

Donegal is home to another hidden gem that I'm going to give away now, because I love everyone who takes the time to actually read my blogs and so you guys deserve the inside scoop ;-)  I had an absolute perfect, serene, peaceful, serendipitous, relaxing, amazing evening at the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal.  I honestly can't believe these cliffs were not listed in any of my tour books, because I honestly enjoyed visiting them more than the Cliffs of Moher.  My friend Nicole told me about them, and I decided to go up one night and photograph sunset there.  Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, these cliffs aren't overrun with tourists, and so I felt completely relaxed and happy making my way up and down the mountain to get different vantage points of the spectacular sunset that night had to offer.  Seriously, I apologize for the 400 sunset pictures below... the sky changed so much that night and I honestly couldn't pick just 2 or 3 favorites.  I went way overboard!  Sorry :)

 

Here are some photos from Donegal...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back of Donegal Castle...

 

 

And from the front...

 

 

 

Loved this place!

 

 

 

 

 

I remember posting about this on Facebook when it happened... I was driving through Glencoumbkille, looking for the Doagh Famine Villages, when I saw this man on the side of the road cutting turf.  I had just been down at the Ballycroy National Park, where I learned a lot about turf cutting in their visitors center, and I couldn't help but find it completely fascinating.  I mean really... I am not joking... I am FASCINATED by the whole process.  So I pulled over and watched this guy for a few minutes, until he noticed me there and came over.  I asked him about how to get to Doagh, and he helpfully gave me directions.  Afterwards, I asked him if he would mind if I took a couple photos of him working on the turf.  He thought I was joking and I insisted that I was serious and that it would mean a lot to me.  He was honestly one of the friendliest people I met in all of Ireland, and so he said sure, he would let me take some photos.  He walked back towards where he had been working and he started cutting again.  He stopped and said "You know, my wife is never in 100 years going to believe me when I tell her that some American stopped and took photos of me cutting turf."  I replied "Just tell her it's for the Sexy Turf Cutters of Ireland 2014 calendar."  The photo on the right was taken right after I said that, when Francis just busted out laughing hysterically :)

 

 

 

 

Doagh Famine Village...

 

 

 

 

 

 

So about Donegal being gorgeous... um yeah... seriously... OBSESSED with it all...

 

 

 

 

 

 

This, my friends, is the most perfect beach in all of Ireland.  It is called Silver Strand Beach, and on my way to the Slieve League Cliffs, I knew I would be early for sunset and I had some time to kill.  I saw the signs for Silver Strand and decided to make a quick detour.  Thank God I did, because I am telling you... this was the most beautiful beach I saw in all of Ireland.

 

I'm going to go ahead and throw my friend's husband under the bus here, but I hope he'll understand that I'm just doing it for story purposes :)  When Mel and Marc came to visit me in Ireland, we were driving one day and ended up on a beach in Lahinch (a beach Kevin and I returned to a few days later and I blogged some sunset pictures from)... it was a windy day and we got out of the car to take a few pictures, and Marc (one of the smartest people I know, FYI) made a comment about seeing the beach in Ireland and how it was great to see a beach while they were there, since there wasn't a lot of them around.  I honestly remember stopping and being like "Wait, what?"  HAHA his comment caught me so off guard that I didn't know what to say... I think I responded, "Marc, you're on an island... there are beaches EVERYWHERE here!"  And he backtracked a bit and clarified what he said, and then the topic was dropped.  But it got me thinking about my friends Lauren and Chris, who had thought about going to Ireland for their honeymoon but were told by friends and family that they needed to go somewhere beachy... why don't people associate Ireland, a small ISLAND country, with beaches?  They are literally everywhere and I walked on so many of them, saw so many more through the window of the bus en route to a new destination, etc... why don't people consider Ireland a "beachy place"?  And then it hit me: the weather.  Yes, there are gorgeous beaches everywhere you turn in Ireland.  But you know what there's NOT?  Gorgeous weather lol.  It's not all that often there that the weather gets higher than 75 degrees, and it's not like weather in America... my other friend Melissa, from Galway, said it herself... it's very rare to be able to spend the day at the beach like you can in America, because most likely at some point in the day it's going to rain and ruin your beach fun.  And honestly, I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I remember being on a different beach in Clifden and seeing a grandfather sitting in a beach chair watching his grandkids... WEARING A SWEATER, JACKET, AND WOOL CAP lol... so my point is that yes, Ireland has beautiful beaches EVERYWHERE... but to utilize them you really have to make sure to plan your trip in the summer months, don't count on the weather completely, and probably best to always bring a cover-up... and an umbrella :)

 

Now, of course I didn't get to see all the beaches in Ireland, but out of all the pretty beaches I did get to see, Silver Strand definitely took the award for most beautiful and my favorite.  Let's start off by saying that there were sheep lining the walkway to go down to the beach.  SHEEP LINING THE BEACH WALKWAY!!!  I just can't... when you got to the end of the walkway, you are on top of a long set of stairs taking you down to the sand, and the view is just heaven.  This is really just perfect color water and perfect sand, placed in a perfect cove with waterfalls peppering the cliffs of the cove around you.  It literally took my breath away.  I walked down to the water, kicked my shoes off and waded in... and the water was actually really warm. Not surprising, cause like I said, this place was heaven :)  Someone else must have thought so too, since there was an Irish singer filming a music video while I was there!  The videographer actually saw me with my big camera and came over to chat during a break on his shoot.  Blue Moon Productions out of Belfast... such a nice guy and it was very surreal to be on a beach in Ireland with my feet in the water, listening to the strumming of a guitar and watching sheep eat around the stairs to the beach lol....

 

Here are some shots of my favorite beach in the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was after I left the beach and headed over to the cliffs...

 

 

The next 100 pictures are the sunset that night at the Slieve League Cliffs :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheep silhouette :)

 

 

These are from when I drove back to Ballycroy National Park... so technically, they should be on the Westport blog post... but since I drove back from Donegal to go there, I'm putting them on here :)

 

This is Glenveagh National Park, my final national park visit, and definitely a favorite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More from around Donegal...

 

 

 

 

 

 

The obligatory feet in the water photo...

 

 

Another unexpected side trip I ended up making was to Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland.  I had been to Mizen Head, the most southerly point, and so I figured it was only fitting that I visit the most northern point as well.  This was another spot that seemed to be a hidden secret... I mean, clearly it's not, but once again it was just me up there enjoying the gorgeous day on my own, not another tourist in sight... I loved places like that!

 

 

 

 

On the way out of Malin Head...

 

 

I sat for a few minutes on this rocky beach near Malin Head... I know it sounds like I was always sitting places by myself having a moment haha... and in some ways, I was!  Among the millions of things it offers you, I'd say the most special, the most abundant gift Ireland can give you is peace of mind, body and soul... and as cheesy as it sounds, I was happy to receive that gift.

 

 

 

 

 

Next up on the blog: my week in Northern Ireland:  Portstewart, Derry and Belfast!  :)