Donegal - Castles to the Sea

Dragon's Den

“Nature took 2 million years to sculpture Mullaghmore”

Sometimes it's ok to say 'to hell with the begrudgers' and spend a night in a castle. I know there are people living in desperate situations in the world and there are some who can’t even afford to finish a sentence. But my life hasn’t been a bed of roses either, and if you’re going to stay in a castle, it might as well be a 5 star luxury one.

As we crept up the driveway to Lough Eske Castle it didn’t disappoint. Large stone dragons guarded the fort, frozen in time. The building itself was a Disney dream of castellated turrets and big bay windows. It was first built in 1474 by the O’Donnell clan who went on to set up Donegal town. It’s been razed and rebuilt a bunch of times, it’s had more incarnations than Lady Gaga.

Outside the porch there lay a frisky fountain and a fine Ferrari! My one instruction to Dom was to park our family friendly hybrid car as far away from the Ferrari as possible. “I won’t scratch it” he assured me, I wasn’t worried about him scratching it, I was worried about being mortified. You can’t put a car that goes 200 mph next to one that gets excited if it approaches 80 - they’d have nothing to talk about.

We lugged our bags up to our room and were rewarded with a bottle of Lough Eske’s very own wine resting casually on the occasional table.

The waiting staff in the restaurant, shrouded in anti Covid visors, were exceptionally kind and treated us as if we were VIP foodies having a discreet dinner in the Savoy hotel. In reality we were harassed parents with an overly excited 6 year old bouncing incessantly, taking breaks from the bouncing to explore the world beneath the table. We all did it as 6 year olds, the pull of the murky underside was always far more alluring than the insufferable adult chatter.

Let's get loughed

We took an evening stroll on the man made boardwalk that walks you through a forest trail and brings you down by the lough. It was short and sweet but I made everyone stop and inhale that fresh Corona free air and look out over the water and be thankful. After 3 seconds of meditating, I could feel the forest nibbling at my ankles and the deep cold of evening copping a feel. “I’m done!” I announced and ran back to the castle cursing the undergrowth as I went, mumbling about the helipad I had spotted from our room and “For the love of God, why don’t we own a helicopter? Where’s your man with the Ferarri when you need him?!”.


Recharged and rested, we said goodbye to our four poster bed and headed to the funky surf town of Bundoran for a quick swim in the arctic the rain. I’m not gonna lie, I wore a wetsuit, sorry not sorry. I am a cold blooded creature at the best of times, I don’t have any mermaid blood in me (I’m one sixteenth witch on my warlock side). It was invigorating and fun and Roisin screamed her head off chasing the waves. As the rain started to harden we swept a reluctant child off the beach. In a far cry from our palatial surroundings the day before, I found myself squirming out of my wetsuit in a windy carpark cloaked in a misbehaving towel that only pretended to provide coverage. With sand still under our fingernails and seasalt curling our hair we dove into a surf hangout that sold warm cheese toasties - heaven.

Dom was determined that to truly see the Atlantic we needed to drive to Mullaghmore in neighbouring county Sligo (with Christy Moore’s song ‘Miracles of Nature’ blaring out the window). I was still trying to regain feeling in my ice cold body, if he had suggested driving into the centre of the earth playing ‘Burning Ring of Fire’, I would have given it a thumbs up. But what a surprise lay in store for us, it was like driving 50 years back in time to an untouched fishing village. 

The beach was perfectly quiet, a couple of handpicked tourists taking a few snaps. There were quite a few houses but it all felt local and rural, like Kinsale before it became the darling of West Cork. We drove along the coastal town and parked at one of the many rocky jetties. Nature had done such a good job in chiselling the stone I was sure they were man made slopes for hauling boats, but no man is that good. We crawled along in the car, gawping at the beauty that surrounded us with Christy Moore singing “Nature took 2 million years to sculpture Mullaghmore”. If I had to self isolate, I could not think of a better place. 

Mullaghmore...I’ll be back, don’t change.

Soul Mates

As we moved further along the Wild Atlantic Way, we passed a field with two of the most beautifully magnificent horses I’ve ever seen. One black, one white, alone, staying a inch apart, looking up only once to wonder at us, then back to their rich solitude. That moment of unbridled serenity did more for my mental health than any therapy could offer. I still look back to that photo when I need to breathe.

We’re all just horses in a field, watching the watcher, the trick is to learn to pay no heed.

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  1. I just adore that photo of you two! And you are so brave to swim in that weather!!!

  2. Blimey. I feel cold just reading it. Nothing would get me in a Donegal sea, not a warm, blue sky moment even in July - rain, grey, you gotta be mad!


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