Pass through the feathery marram grasses along the sand dunes that back Culdaff Beach and you’ll emerge onto one of the most arresting coastal views in County Donegal. Here, vast pale sands framed by rocky outcrops overlook the white-tipped, rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a wild place, inspiring and stirring in its beauty. And it’s a place that’s typical of the Inishowen Peninsula.
Pushing out into the Atlantic, Inishowen is the largest peninsula on the island of Ireland. Shaped by the Ice Age and carved by the endless crash of the ocean, the landscape here is one of stony green hills and jagged coastal rocks, of fire-warmed pubs in scenic villages and tumbledown thatched cottages on remote headlands. And it’s not just the landscape that impresses. By day, the skies above Inishowen can be everything from granite-toned to cloud-dotted blue. By night, if you’re lucky and the timing is right, they’ll be swirling with the Northern Lights.
The crown of the peninsula
At the tip of the peninsula sits Malin Head, which itself is tipped by Banba’s Crown. Grab a coffee from the Caffe Banba truck, (Ireland’s most northerly coffee shop!) and walk up to the clifftop tower which dates from 1805 where you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the Inishowen Hills, Horn Head and the distant mountains of Muckish and Errigal. Look east and you’ll spot distant Inishtrahull Island; a place that was the last sight of Ireland for emigrants leaving Derry~Londonderry for the US. With views like this, it’s no wonder that the crew from Star Wars chose it as a filming location for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Thatched cottages and ancient ring forts
The wild beauty of this corner of the island is what draws people here, but Inishowen also rewards with a rich history that’s reflected in everything from place names to historical monuments. Sitting on a summit above the glassy waters of Lough Swilly is the mysterious Grianán of Aileach. Step inside this ring fort and its 5m-high dry stone wall, and you’ll be surrounded by over 4,000 years of history. More recent history can be experienced at the Doagh Famine Village, which is built around and includes original thatched dwellings from the 1840s. The cottages were lived in until 1983 and you’ll be shown around by the owner’s family, local guide Pat Doherty.
The thing that really strikes you about Inishowen is the space, the isolation, the sense of escape. From secret coves to rugged cliff-side walks, you’ll often be the only one around. But that’s not to say the peninsula doesn’t have a cosy side, too. Head to the fishing village of Greencastle and you’ll find that hours can happily be spent in the warm and welcoming Kealy’s Seafood Bar, which makes excellent use of the fresh seafood on its doorstep.
Inishowen Peninsula highlights
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Inishowen Maritime Museum & Planetarium
Inishowen Maritime Museum & Planetarium is conveniently housed in the old coastguard station, only 100 yards from the Lough Foyle ferry landing at Greencastle, County Donegal. Enjoy the displays of all things relating to the sea, stars and more in the museum with its full dome planetarium theatre.