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Northwest Ireland

THE REGION IN DETAIL

The following description leads you around the region and its attractions in roughly the same sequence as that followed by the biking routes.

You may find it helpful to view and print off a copy of the regional map and cross reference with the description below. The letters in brackets correspond to the biking routes.

Boyle at the southern end of Lough Key is a fine Georgian town with a well preserved 12th century Cistercian Abbey. King House, an impressive Palladian mansion built by the KNorthwest Ireland Bike touringing family in the early 1700s, houses a contemporary art gallery and various exhibitions ranging from Georgian architecture to the Connaught chieftains. In the beautiful Lough Key Forest Park, there are remnants of several monasteries on the lake’s islands (A, F).

To the north of Boyle, a more peaceful and lovely setting than that of Lough Arrow would be hard to imagine. Lough Gill’s tiny island of Inishfree is immortalised in the W.B. Yeats poem “The Lake Isle of Inishfree”. Parkes Castle, a fine rectangular three storey building on the shores of the lough is a restored 17th century plantation stronghold. Across the river from the little hamlet of Dromahair are the ruins of Creevelea Friary, a Franciscan friary founded in 1508. The ruins include a church with choir and tower, and monastic buildings set around a cloister. The beautiful waterfall that tumbles down to Glencar Lough from the surrounding hills is another Sligo landscape feature immortalized by Yeats in verse (A).

Sligo Town, a busy bustling centre, is mostly of interest because of its associations with Yeats. The County Museum, occupying an old rectory, has many Yeats mementoes, including first editions of his works, letters and family photographs. Sligo Friary, a Dominican establishment was founded in 1253 and rebuilt after a fire in 1416 (A).

Just to the north of Sligo the attractive resort of Rosses Point has two wonderful beaches and several excellent restaurants (A, B, C).

Yeats is buried In Drumcliffe churchyard in the shadow of Ben Bulben, the table-topped mountain that dominates the skyline north of Sligo. The mountain features prominently in Irish mythology. On its slopes Queen Maeve fought with Cuchulainn (The Hound of Ulster for possession of a herd of giant cattle, and Diarmaid bled to death after his struggle with the great Ben Bulben mountain boar. Lissadell House, a fine Greek Revival mansion to the west of Drumcliffe was the childhood home of Countess Markievicz, a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising (B, G).

In the Dartry Mountains just north of Ben Bulben a ride around the Gleniff Horseshoe is a spectacular side trip.The pleasant coastal village of Mullaghmore has a lovely harbour and waterfront. This is where Lord Mountbatten, cousin of Queen Elizabeth, was assassinatedNorthwest Ireland Bike touring by the IRA in 1979. Classiebawn Castle was Mountbatten’s holiday home. There is a wonderfully scenic ride around Mullaghmore Head with great views across Donegal Bay to the cliffs at Slieve League. Close to Mullaghmore is Creevykeel Court Tomb. Built between 3500BC and 3000BC, it has has an open air courtyard and two burial chambers (B, G).

The character-filled town of Ballyshannon straddles the River Erne close to where it flows into Donegal Bay. The steep narrow streets of the 17th century town give it a historic atmosphere (C, G, H).

Between Ballyshannon and Donegal Town to the north is a fine stretch of coastline with several pristine strands. The beach at Rossnowlagh, a favourite with local surfers, is especially beautiful. The Franciscan friary at Rossnowlagh houses the Donegal Historical Society Museum, which has an excellent collection of Stone Age and Bronze Age artefacts. In Donegal Town, the restored 15th Century Donegal Castle incorporates the gabled tower of a fortified house. The town has an interesting craft village that showcases the work of several local artisans (C, G).

North of the town, the 25km ride around Lough Eske provides plenty of seductive scenery, a great lunch stop, and a series of testing hills (H, I, J)!

Ardara, the tweed weaving capital of Donegal, has numerous outlets selling the famous locally made tweeds and hand-knitted sweaters. A ride out along the narrow peninsula to Loughros Point provides dramatic coastal views (D, E, F).

The road over the Glengesh Pass climbs spectacularly from the valley floor to give access to the wild, deserted landscape of the Glen Peninsula. West of Carrick, the Northwest Ireland Bike touringmajestic cliffs at Slieve League are the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Glencolmcille, in a quiet valley, is a popular pilgrimage destination because of its associations with St Colmcille (or St Columba as he is popularly known). The Folk Village Museum that tells the story of the rugged peninsula through the ages. The project was developed in the 1950s by a local priest who sought to halt the high rates of emigration from the region by providing jobs and instilling a sense of regional pride in the local inhabitants. At Malin More, steps drop down to an idyllic sandy cove hemmed in by cliffs (I).

North from Ardara the coast in the vicinity of Crohy Head consists of caves, arches and unusual cliff formations. Dunglow is a bustling market town and important angling centre. To the west of the town is a lake-dotted region called The Rosses (The Headlands). This Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region) is one of the most picturesque corners of Donegal (J).

In Glenties, a pretty village situated at the confluence of two glens (from which it derives its name), the impressive Georgian courthouse now houses the heritage centre (J, K).

Inland from Glenties, the Blue Stack Mountains straddle the centre of Donegal County. This is a wilderness where sheep farming appears to be the only activity, where shy otters swim in the rivers and where birds of prey soar overhead. At the eastern end of the Blue Stacks the twin towns of Stranorlar and Ballybofey are separated by the River Finn (K, L).

South of the Finn, The Pullens is an isolated, atmospheric region of moorland, lakes and forests. Station Island on Lough Derg has been a pilgrimage destination for 1500 years. The pilgrimage (known as St Patrick’s Purgatory) takes place from the beginning of June until the middle of August and involves a harsh regime of prayer and fasting (L).

The border village of Belleek on the shores of Lough Erne isNorthwest Ireland Bike touring home to the Belleek Pottery, which produces the renowned Parian ware. A museum in the visitor centre traces the history of the pottery and exhibits its products past and present (B, C, D, L).

South of Belleek, the tree-lined road through Lough Navar Forest leads to a stunning cliff top vantage point above Lough Erne. On a good day the Sperrin Mountains to the east and the mountains of Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim to the north and west are clearly visible (D).

On the shores of Lough MacNean the border villages of Belcoo (Northern Ireland) and Blacklion (Irish Republic) face each other across the river. Blacklion, a village of a couple of hundred inhabitants, is the setting for one of Ireland’s best known restaurants. Just south of the village at Moneygashel is a 19th century sweathouse, an early version of the sauna (D, E, F).

Swanlibar, attractively sited on the River Claddagh at the foot of the eastern slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain was a renowned spa resort. The dramatic Marble Arch Caves are sited beneath the northern slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain. A 700m section of the limestone complex featuring underground lakes, waterfalls and dripstone formations is open. The guided tour begins with a short subterranean boat trip past impressive stalagmites and stalactites. Florence Court House in County Fermanagh is a grand Georgian mansion with fine Irish furniture and rococo plasterwork. There is a four acre walled garden and a restored water-powered sawmill. The surrounding forest park has some lovely short hikes (E).

Lough Allen to the south is hemmed in by the Arigna Mountains to the west and by Slieve Anierin to the east. Drumshanbo, at the southern tip of the lake, is a tranquil hamlet much frequented by fishermen and by musicians. South of Drumshanbo the quaint village of Leitrim is the point where the Ballinamore – Ballyconnell Canal joins the mighty River Shannon (F).

Gallery

  • Ardara
  • Belleek Pottery
  • Ben Bulben
  • Boyle Abbey
  • Donegal Coast
  • Donegal Coast
  • Donegal Cottage
  • Lough MacNean
  • Malin Beg
  • Marbel Arch
  • River Shannon
  • Sheep Resting
  • Slieve League
  • Sligo Coast
  • Sligo Sunset
 

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