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Donegal in springtime: A traveler’s paradise

By Ed Forry, July 5, 2012

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
A trip to Donegal this spring reminds me about how lovely and lively that county really is. Sadly, not many Americans travel so far north and that’s a great pity. Donegal is visually stunning and offers so much to satisfy the interests of any traveler, young or old.

Whatever your interest, Donegal surely has it. There are adventure sports, water sports, many golf courses, horseback trekking tours, magnificent gardens, hiking and biking opportunities, archaeological walks, national parks, wonderful crafts and dining venues – in short, just about anything you could ever want. Donegal also boasts Europe’s highest sea cliffs, Slieve League, which you can see from offshore aboard a charter boat.
BRUCKLESS HOUSE
I am a great fan of B&Bs and have stayed at many all over Ireland. This spring, a friend and I enjoyed several nights of bed and breakfast at beautiful Bruckless House, a classic 18th century Georgian house surrounded by gardens that are included in the 26 stops on the 2012 Donegal Garden Tour (donegalgardentrail.com.)
Bruckless owner Joan Evans is welcoming and so knowledgeable about local sights and great places to eat – and her Corgis are funny little guys who welcomed us, too.
We were heading out to visit lively Killybegs Harbor, so Joan recommended Kitty Kelly’s, a traditional farmhouse restaurant on the Kilcar Road, and she also recommended making a dinner reservation. If you are in that area and want to experience the splendid fare at Kitty Kelly’s, be sure you also make a reservation as the restaurant was packed when we arrived.
I had a delicious poached filet of the freshest salmon and my friend enjoyed black sole, served on the bone. The restaurant is open daily from noon to 5 p.m. for bistro lunch and 5 to 9 p.m. for a la carte dinner. There is a free shuttle service, too, because Ireland has a no-nonsense attitude toward driving after drinking. Visit kittykellys.com for more information.
Another night, we enjoyed dinner, and the view, at Castle Murray House (castlemurray.com) in Dunkineely, which is near Bruckless. An American diner told us she spent one night at Castle Murray and cancelled future reservations elsewhere to extend her stay she loved it so much. That was quite a recommendation!
For information on Bruckless, visit bruckless.com or send an e-mail to Joan at bruc@bruckless.com.
SEAFOOD AND CRAFTS
As an island, Ireland excels in having the freshest of seafood offerings. We particularly watch for recommendations from the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, which has created the BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara) Seafood Circle (seafoodcircle.ie.) The BIM Circle recommends restaurants, supermarkets, bars, specialists (like the Burren Smokehouse in Clare and Clarke’s Seafood stores in Ballina and Westport, both in Mayo.)
While in Donegal, we always checked to make sure a restaurant was a BIM member and found Nancy’s on Front Street in Ardara where we enjoyed an excellent seafood lunch.
After eating, you probably need to do some shopping. If so, be sure to visit the Donegal Craft Village in Lurganboy (on the Ballyshannon Road) just outside Donegal Town for unique and well-made crafts. I was delighted to find the McGonigle Glass studio there because I have long been a great fan of the McGonigle sisters’ wonderful glass jewelry, which I have bought over the years at O’Reilly & Turpin gift shop in Westport. For more information about the glass makers, send an e-mail to Lyndsey at lyndseymcgonigle@yahoo.co.uk.
Niall Bruton also has a shop there where he sells beautiful jewelry designs. See niallbruton.com for details. And, if you’re hungry, the Aroma coffee shop and mini-bakery in the Village offers great made-to-order fare. Visit donegalcraftvillage.com for more information.
PERCY FRENCH
Looking for a unique Irish experience? How about signing up for the 4th International Percy French Summer School from July 10-13 at Castlecoote House in Co. Roscommon. French was one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters and entertainers in his day (1854-1920) and, in more recent times, has been recognized for his watercolors.
The school features a program of lectures, recitals, poems, monologues, music, drama and paintings celebrating the life and times of French. Speakers will discuss the historical, cultural, social, and political context of his life and works.
Visit percyfrench.ie for more information on this year’s summer school or send an e-mail to info@percyfrench.ie.
ADVERSITY
Don’t ever think that adversity is completely bad. When Dave Pritchett’s furniture design business dropped off in the faltering Irish economy, he and his wife Sue created a dining experience in their home, Durhamstown Castle in Bohermeen, Co. Meath. Dave had workshops in the yard and a showroom in the house, so windows, doors, chairs, and tables were all made to fit into the spaces. When Irish property values collapsed, the Pritchetts were in London and talked about starting a so-called “Pop Up Restaurant.” They returned to Meath and created the Posh Nosh Supper Club, a “closed door restaurant” that serves dinners for 10-12 diners or caters private parties and functions in their vaulted castle kitchen or elegant dining room.
Delicious and different dinners are served every Friday night for 29-euro each. Overnight accommodation in funky, fun bedrooms is also available for 55-euro per person.
Has the concept caught on? Indeed it has. The Club has recently been averaging 16 to 25 diners on Friday nights and has rarely ever had to cancel because there weren’t enough attending.
A vast assortment of wines is available and every menu is different and interesting. We had dinner and spent the night at Durhamstown Castle and I can positively recommend the experience.
Sue and Dave are outstanding cooks who incorporate Mediterranean, French Provincial, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences into their meals. Buffets are also available on some nights as are demonstration/dinner combinations.
For more information, visit their website at theposhnoshclub.com or send an e-mail to theposhnoshclub@gmail.com
VOLVO OCEAN RACE
Lucky you if you‘ll be in Galway at the beginning of July for the finale of the Volvo Ocean Race and if you like music and, of course, massive crowds!
Irish rockers Thin Lizzy and the American legend The Family Stone are among the acts confirmed to headline eight nights of free live music at the docklands. The outdoor shows, from June 30 to July 7, also feature The Saw Doctors, The Stunning, and Sharon Shannon. A large stage was erected at the site formerly occupied by oil tanks near the docks, which were removed for the ocean race stopover three years ago.
The Family Stone (without Sly) headline the main stage on Sun., July 1, with a string of hits going back over four decades. Thin Lizzy, still touring extensively 26 years after the death of star frontman Phil Lynott, will bring hard rock to the main stage on July 2. The Saw Doctors rock the main stage on Tues., July 3.
On July 4, a fireworks show will light up the docks to celebrate American Independence Day, and there will be performances including the West Coast Big Band, Vaudeville Vamps, Galway Swing Dance. Performing traditional music on Thurs., July 5, will be Altan and De Danann. The Stunning performs on Fri., July 6.
Doesn’t it sound as though Galway is the place to be in early July?
EVENTS
Ireland is bursting with events and activities in the summer months, including:
• The 24th annual Earagail Arts Festival, a bilingual (Irish and English) multidisciplinary arts festival takes place every July throughout Co. Donegal and this year runs from July 7-22. For details, check the internet, visit a Tourism Ireland office in Donegal or email: info@eaf.ie
• The 7th annual Achill Half Marathon will be July 7 on Achill Island in Co. Mayo. The race is the centerpiece of a full weekend of events and entertainment on the island. See achillmarathon.com
• West Cork Festival Literary Festival, July 8-14, is an extensive program of five-day workshops, led by writers, playwrights and journalists. Workshops include novel writing, writing for the stage, freelance journalism, crime writing, song writing and more. There will be seminars, panel discussions, talks and readings. Visit westcorkliteraryfestival.ie for more.
• Do you like opera, jazz, folk music, theatre, dance, drums? If so, the Carrick-on-Shannon Water Music Festival, July 3-8, in Carrick town center, Co. Leitrim, has all those and more. All events are in the town center with venues including The Dock Arts Center, the Market Yard Center, the Festival Marquee and St. George’s Church. Visit carrickonshannonwatermusic.com for details.
• Clonmel Junction Festival, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, is from July 6-15. The festival includes international theatre, emerging theatre, children’s theatre, family entertainment, circus, dance, rock, comedy and lots of free entertainment. Visit www.junctionfestival.com for more.
• The Ballina Salmon Festival is scheduled for Ballina, Co. Mayo, July 8-15. Visit ballinasalmonfestival.ie for more.
• The Bray Air Spectacular will be in Bray, Co. Wicklow, on July 22. See brayairdisplay.com
• The National Livestock Show in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, is set for August 12. See tullamoreshow.com for details.
• Kinsale Arts Week is scheduled from July 7-15 in Kinsale, Co. Cork. See more at kinsaleartsweek.com
• The Galway Art Festival is July 16-29, with theatre, dance, visual arts. See galwayartsfestival.com
• Galway summer races are July 30 to Aug. 5. See galwayraces.com
Ireland is fun and interesting at every time of year. So enjoy your visit. For more information on Ireland, visit Tourism Ireland’s constantly updated website: discoverireland.com.

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