"County Donegal is different to all its 31 brother and sister counties in an intriguing and enchanting... it is a kinda republic of its own."
Forget about the chilly realities of January for a while and come with me to a glittering diamond (truly!) on the Wild Atlantic Way of my west coast of Ireland.
I’ve been singing the praises of the many and varied attractions along the foaming surflands for the last few weeks as my attempt at a kind of therapy for those of you already planning perhaps your first visit to the Emerald Isle. We are on no kind of organized or logical schedule at all. That is in line with the Celtic spirit of the wildest and most beautiful region of the island.
I warn ye yet again that your carefully planned schedule will be blown to bits in a most joyous and stimulating way after about two or three days. On that basis it is highly likely that many of you will be so captured by the attractions of West Cork and Kerry and Clare and Galway and Mayo and Sligo that ye will run out of vacation time before you reach The Diamond of a place in Donegal Town which I am commending highly today.
County Donegal is different to all its 31 brother and sister counties in an intriguing and enchanting way you see. It is a kinda republic of its own.
The texture of life hereabouts, in a county where more Gaelic is spoken as a mother tongue than anywhere else in the land, is as richly diverse as that of the warm tweeds for which Donegal is famed internationally. (Might be good advice to swathe your person/s in a Donegal tweed garment whilst there because the weather often warrants an extra layer!)
Anyway, let me tell you all that The Diamond I’m talking about is the center area of the historic Donegal Town established centuries ago by the powerful local O’Donnell clan. The town, though cosmopolitan now, is still home to many bearing both that surname and the twangy accent that is distinctive in both Gaelic and English. It rings and sings along a unique soundline you will never forget.
Down the years both in Ireland and abroad I’ve met hundreds if not thousands of county natives who emigrated many years earlier. Even though their speech had modulated somewhat to cope with their living localities and needed to -- they speak twice as fast at home as any others! -- that underlying twanginess never leaves their tongues.
Because so many of them emigrated down the centuries too, often to the U.S. and Australia in more recent migrations, it is likely many of you live close to a Donegal person and can verify all I’m saying.
A few months ago, maybe a little more when I come to think of it, I last spent an evening around The Diamond of Donegal Town and it was in keeping with the hospitable spirit of the place. We dined well at a reasonable tariff in one of the many restaurants along the edges of The Diamond and, of course, finished up in a musical pub.
Aptly it was called O’Donnell’s and the craic was not just mighty but also subtly different, as I expected, to anywhere else along the Wild Atlantic Way. Two fiddlers -- one I recall with the popular Christian name of Manus -- were leading the session.
Again, like the speech speed, the jigs and reels were delivered lightning fast, the notes blurring into a tide of music faster than the nearby Atlantic tides for sure. Your feet under the table begin tapping of their own accord and you lose control of them entirely after a while.
Ballads were sung in that session too, many of them Donegal songs, both in Irish and English, and if I myself was persuaded to sing before the night was over -- and delivered a version of “She Moved Through the Fair” reasonably enough -- I am telling you this as an advance warning you are likely to be called upon to sing before your night is over. Oblige if at all possible and you will be enriched by fully taking part in one of the richest elements of time along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Before we leave Donegal for the moment let me add that Inishbofin Island is offshore nearby. I don’t think there is a daily ferry service to that most magical of islands all year out of Magheroarty on the mainland -- locals will inform you on that -- but there are frequent ferries, especially in the tourist season, and if you can avail of one of those you will relish the experience so much that even the atheists and agnostics amongst you will go into a chapel when you return from vacation and light a candle of thanks for Cormac MacConnell.
That’s enough for now.