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Friday, November 11, 2011

SNOW IN DONEGAL

Snow on Errigal, County Donegal
Driving through County Donegal on the 17th of October this year, we were surprised to see snow so early in the year but there it was in all it's beauty atop the highest mountain in Donegal, Errigal.

It looked so pretty we pulled over to let me get out with my camera to capture the moment.  The photographs turned out very nicely but the one above is my favourite one.  We were actually at least seven miles from Errigal but I enlarged and cropped the photograph which makes it seem as if we were much nearer all the better to see the snow and clouds around our highest peak.

I tweeted the photograph and it ended up having almost 3,000 views and was picked up by an internet weather news site slot who then put it on their facebook page where it was copied to lots of facebook users page and was 'liked' around 300 times.  It was put on the Shaun Doherty Show's wall on facebook too.

It was featured on Martin King's weather spot on TV3 and later in the evening I received an email from someone from the internet weather news site to give me a link to it on YouTube which shows it getting 'pic of the day' on the Meteor weather slot on FYI.

Not bad for a simple photograph of snow and clouds on our highest mountain eh?

It's not just we who love Donegal eh?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OH DEAR, OH DEER!

The last two days in Donegal have been fabulous ~ blue skies and sunshine so obviously I just had to get out and about with my camera. 

However, driving between Glenties and Doochary yesterday, I came across a very sad sight.  A magnificent deer lying dead at the side of the road.  Pulling over to take photographs might seem an odd thing to do but it is what I did. 

Dead Deer Donegal
It is only the second dead deer I have seen on my travels around the county which is pretty surprising as there are so many deer in certain parts of the county and although some areas are fenced, many more are not.  Even those areas that are fenced still can't contain agile deer totally and so accidents do happen when they wander onto our roads.

They are a massive danger to people using the road as impact with one could cause very serious personal damage not to mention a lot of damage to a vehicle.  Yes, there are signs warning drivers of the danger of deer running onto the road, but I travel around a lot and have only seen a handful of deer wandering around and so maybe we become complacent to the danger both to the deer and to ourselves as the driver of vehicles.

The dead deer yesterday however brought it all home just how dangerous it can be.  This deer was a pretty large animal and I can't imagine the damage the vehicle that hit him suffered not to mention the pain the poor animal must have felt.  I just hope he died quickly and at least someone moved him off the road where he could have cause further damage.

So sad ...
So remember, when driving around areas of Donegal where there are deer, take extra care ~ for your own sake and for the sake of these magnificent creatures.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

YES, DUBLIN IS NOT IN DONEGAL


O'Connell Bridge, Dublin, Ireland
Yes, Dublin is not in Donegal.  Obviously.

So why on a site dedicated to County Donegal are we adding a section devoted to Dublin?

Well, firstly, Dublin is after all Ireland's capital city and in fact a great city too.  Added to that, many people coming to Ireland, whether travelling to County Donegal or elsewhere in Ireland for their holiday, spend a while in Dublin so the new section for Dublin on our site will give visitors to Dublin somewhere to read a little history of various places in Dublin and view photographs of these places, perhaps helping them decide on places they want to see when they land in Dublin.

So, whilst we do love Donegal best of all, we love Dublin too and we hope visitors to our site will enjoy our new Dublin section.

LINED UP TO APPEAR in our DUBLIN section (so far) and to include a little history, information and photographs:

~ The Guinness Storehouse (one of Ireland's most visited attractions)
~ Kilmainham Gaol
~ St. Stephen's Green
~ Croppies Acre & The Croppies Memorial Garden
~ Glasnevin Cemetery (where the most famous men and women in Irish history are buried)
~ Phoenix Park (the largest city park in Europe)
~ Dublin Literary Pub Tour
~ Statues and sculptures of Dublin (with their amusing nick-names)

... and that is just the start!

Monday, September 5, 2011

DONEGAL ATTRACTIONS ~ TROPICAL WORLD

Yesterday we took the two eldest grandsons for their promised trip to Tropical World in Letterkenny.  Tropical World opened to great acclaim earlier this year and was the idea of Clive Alcorn, one of the sons of the late Tommy Alcorn of Alcorns' Garden Centre in Letterkenny.

Not only had our grandsons wanted to get there, I too had really wanted to get there attracted as I was by the thought of seeing lots of pretty butterflies flying around freely in their Butterfly Garden. 

It was pouring down when we arrived and I was a bit concerned that much of Tropical World would be outdoors.  What made me think the world "tropical" and "outdoors Donegal in the autumn" would be an idea anyone, much less a man operating an attraction here would have is a little beyond me.  I was glad to hear that only one small part of Tropical World is outside.  And later, as we went for a wander around there it was great to see they had provided lots of large umbrellas for those of us brave enough, or interested enough to wander into the rain.

So, Tropical World. 

Inside we paid our very reasonable fee of €20 for two adults and two children and began our trip around Tropical World.  I have to point out here that in such a hurry were we to get into Tropical World proper that we completely missed the rackoon compound just outside the front door!  Leaving much later, we noticed it but Carlos and Minguel, the Coatimundi Rackoons were hiding inside their house.

One of the meercats at Tropical World
In the reception area you can see the every popular meercats which the boys just loved seeing and I defy anyone familar with the television adverts not to say, albeit to themselves, compare the meercat dot come, compare the market dot com. 

Off the reception area is a visitors information centre with a seats and a film running giving the visitor information on the exhibits in Tropical World.  But more eyecatching are the huge toy polar bears which offer a great photo spot for parents to take photos of their children beside them. 

Passion flower thriving in the Butterfly Garden
The tour of Tropical World begins with the Butterfly Garden and it was amazing.  Warm and humid for the butterflies to survive and the plants to grow it takes a moment for both people and cameras to adjust to the humidity ~ my lens being cold from outside was fogged up for the first few minutes.  There is a path running through the garden with plants such as passion flower and lemon trees growing all along the sides of it.  I pointed out the lemon trees to the youngest grandson, who at four is probably too young to realise lemons don't grow here usually.  He took a look and said "I don't like lemons".  Oh well.

Some of the beautiful butterflies in the butterfly garden of Tropical World
And, then like magic, through the warm air we started to notice beautiful butterflies gliding all around us, landing momentarily on plants and then moving on again.  I was in heaven!  They are so delicate and beautiful and to think that we can have this kind of magic on a cold, wet afternoon in Donegal is a credit to Clive.  Luckily our oldest grandson, now all of eight years of age, has the photography bug too and so we got to spend lots of time taking photographs of these beautiful creatures.  I would add here that those wishing to take photographs are asked to switch off their flash whilst inside tropical world so as not to upset or hurt the living creatures therein but it is not a problem as it is filled with light. 

The delicate beauty of the Glasswing Butterfly
The stunning beauty of some of the wing markings on the butterflies there is entrancing but for me one butterfly type took my eye above all others.  The fragile beauty of this little butterfly almost stole my heart.  I have never seen such a creature with it's see-through wings, delicately trimmed with coloured patterns.  Later, I learned that this is called a Glasswing Butterfly and truly the wings are like the most prettily painted glass.  When I commented on how beautiful it was, Breda, Clive's wife said that many people don't even see the Glasswings and I am not at all surprised as their see through wings allow the colour of whatever they land on to show through thereby offering them great camouflage.

Take time to find some of the better camouflaged species in the Butterfly Garden
I would advise visitors to spend some time in the Butterfly Garden.  Perhaps sit quietly on the bench there and just allow time to take in the vast variety of butterflies there that otherwise they would miss if they just rushed through.  Some of the species you might see along with the Glasswing are: Tree Nymph, Clipper, Scarlet Swallowtail, Great Eggfly, Blue Morpho, Blue Grecian, India Leaf, Zebra Longwing, Ismenius Longwing and Postman.

At the end of the Butterfly Garden there is a little wooden bridge with water rippling below ~ an ideal place to stop to take a photo of the children and adults with you on your trip to Tropical World's Butterfly Garden. 

And then out from there and into the Reptile Area.  Of course this area was much more interesting to two little boys.  Curious eyes peered into the various glass enclosures to try to find the lizard or snake enclosed there.  I am not crazy about reptiles but that said, there were some fabulous small and slightly larger lizards to catch the eye and we ended up spending quite a while looking at and discussing them. 

Some of the lizards which can be seen at Tropical World
The vibrant green of the gecko with his amazing little suckered feet was very eye catching.  The tiny chameleon too was worth a while spent watching to see if he changed colour.  Of course as tapping the glass is, rightly, not allowed, he never got scared of us so had no need to change colour, but he was still so cute you just had to stand a while.

In the Reptile Area too there are various breeds of tortoise together with a small pond of terrapins.

Just some of the fabulously coloured species of bird at Tropical World
The next area we spent time in was the exotic birds.  Noisy and colourful they almost demanded attention, none more so that the beautiful Sun Conure parakeets (middle photograph, top row, in the montage above) who interact with visitors on a much higher level than any of the other birds.  Well, they did with me anyway!  Every time I put my lens up to the wire they immediately made their way rapidly across the wires to check out this large black glass so near them.  Although their squawk was ear piercing, I noticed that one of the pair when spoken to in the lower tones from me, started to change his squawk to a much lower tone, almost mimicking my tone.  These are very clever birds indeed but sadly now endangered.

Some of the other species include: Chinese Painted Quail, Rock Pebbler, Barraband Parakeet, Kakariki, Indian Ringneck Parakeet, Bourke's Parakeet, Red-Rumped Parakeet, and Crimson Rosella.

One of the cactus plants in the raised cacti garden
There are various small raised gardens throughout the Reptile and Bird area including a cacti garden showing lots of different cactus and probably more interesting to children, the garden of carnivorous plants.  I know that when our children were younger we often had carnivorous plants at home as kids just love to see how they trap and eat insects.

The Exotic Bird area concluded the inside tour of Tropical World and we exited back into Reception and then across the Reception Area to the doors to the Pet Area.  Taking three large umbrellas, the youngest child just choosing to skip for shelter between the three, we passed through the picnic area which has tables and benches where visitors, on a sunnier day, can enjoy a picnic and area allowed to take their own sandwiches if they wish or alternatively buy food and drinks from the cafe there.

One of the chipmunks in his house within a house

The boys loved watching the little chipmunks whizzing about their house and they loved too all the different coloured rabbits munching food and playing among the sawdust on the floors of their large wooden houses. 

At the end of the pet area sat a very wet, stoic looking snowy owl, called, well ... Snowy of course.  Despite having a covered area he had chosen to sit getting his feathers wet in the downpour.  Who said owls were wise?

Back inside, the boys enjoyed having a look around the gift area which has shelves of all manner of small animal and reptile keepsake toys to look at and there is absolutely no pressure to buy.

We then wandered back out to make our way along the entirely covered path, through the many beautiful plants on display in Alcorns Garden Centre and back out to our car, all happy with a pleasant afternoon spent at Tropical World.


THE NITTY GRITTY

Location: Just outside Letterkenny on the Ramelton Road

Open April - end of September

Opening Times: Monday - Saturday 10 - 5.30 (last admission 4.30), Sunday 1 - 5.30 (last admission 4.30)

Entry fees (2011) Adult €12.  Children under 14 €6.50.  Family (2 adults/2 children) €20.  Children under 3 years of age, free.  School/youth groups €6 per child and teacher/leader free.

Disabled Access: All ramped but inside there is bark chippings on the floor which may make wheelchair progress slow (but still possible).

Parking: Ample parking and no charge

Lavatories: Yes, beside Reception Area

Cafe: Yes (closed Sundays).  Also picnic area where visitors can bring their own food.

Contact Details: Tel: +353-74-21655

Website: Tropical World Letterkenny

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A TASTE OF DONEGAL FOOD FESTIVAL 2011

DONEGAL in chocolate (by Brenda Ryan) at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival
For the second year running we attended the "A Taste of Donegal Food Festival" in Donegal Town this weekend.  It is run the last weekend of August each year and seems to go from strength to strength and as with last year the entrance fee was kept to a minimum of €2 per adult (children with adults enter free) or alternatively a €5 ticket which covers entrance in for the whole 3 days of the festival.

A Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2011 ~ live cookery display
The festival is mostly under cover and takes up much of the new pier at Donegal Town on the edge of Donegal Bay.  On Sunday, when we attended, the cover was not needed as the sun was shining, the skies blue and cloud free and so during the course of our visit we were able to take a cappuccino break at one of the many tables outside the main tented area and at the same time enjoy one of the live shows going on, a lady speaking on wines.  The festival runs many live shows during the weekend including not only wine appreciation but also cookery displays by various chefs both from Donegal and guest celebrity chefs such as the gently spoken and very talented, Neven Maguire.

One of the outdoor stands at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival
There are many stands both inside and outside the marquee and include a range of products such as cakes, sweets, olives, cheeses, smoked produce, soups, chowders, wines, beers, ice creams, fudge selections, homemade sausages, breads, rganic vegetables and fruits and much more. 

Huge selection of olives at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2011
You can taste free samples of the foods available and purchase those you like.  You can also buy tubs of delcious homemade chowders ~ we bought one from one stand and one from another to compare.  Both were delicious and packed with a variety of seafoods, so both were winners in our view and well worth the €2 in one case and €1.50 charge for them.

Cupcake Heaven at the A Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2011
Inside again, as was the case last year, it was cupcake heaven with many cupcake stalls with a colourful and tempting display of colourful cupcakes.  The ones that made me smile were the many cupcakes with the Donegal flag and colours on them in support of the Donegal team who sadly didn't make it to the all Ireland final as it turned out.

Old fashioned sweets at the A Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2011
The sweet theme continued with stalls selling old fashioned sweets from jars and a huge stand with every variety of jelly sweets, marshmallows and strings of liquorice.

Lots of sweeties at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival!
I watched, as did many others, the deft knife skills of a chef carving pretty flowers from raw carrots.  Her skill with a knife was great to watch as she rapidly produced delicate petals to form a large chrysanthemum type flower.

Carrot carving at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival
Further on, at one of the stalls we were amazed by the skill of a chef there.  Brenda Ryan of "Dream Cakes By Brenda") was helping out at the stand of the Smugglers Creek Inn, a restaurant based in nearby Rossnowlagh which enjoys an enviable location with views over the 4 mile long sandy beach there. 

The hugely talented cake maker, Brenda Ryan with her chocolate display
Brenda had created a huge display of flowers, little animals, waves and dolphins all fashioned out of chocolate.  I could scarcely believe it was all chocolate and had at first thought some of it was carved out of wood or in some cases maybe metal sculptures.  But I was wrong and every part of it, save the grass in the little gardens, was made of chocolate but even the grass was edible as it was made using wheat grass.  Brenda is one highly skilled and talented lady.  You can contact Brenda for "wedding and celebration cakes made to order" at info@dreamcakesbybrenda.com

Seafood sausages by the Smugglers Creek Inn
The Smugglers Creek Inn stand rightly won the Best Stand Award and I was intrigued to see "Seafood Sausages" there.  I asked the ingredients and found they are made of various seafood together with seaweeds.  The taste was sensational. 

Award winners Niamh and Peter Curry of Carraig na Breac and Mark Rush of the Smugglers Creek Inn
Beside the Smugglers Creek Inn was the stand of Carraig na Breac who had a full range of their own home smoked foods including their hugely flavoursome smoked bacon.  Carraig na Breac is owned and run by Niamh and Peter Curry from Drumshambo, County Leitrim and they won an award at the festival for their tasty produce. 

Wandering along further we watched three men from the excellent four star hotel, Harvey's Point which sits on the shores of Lough Eske just outside Donegal Town, as an aside here I have to add that Harvey's Point must offer some of the largest hotel bedrooms in Ireland!  At the fair they won a number of awards including the deserved "A Passion to Inspire 2011" Award.

Gino "The Singing Chef" at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2011
What attracted us was not the fresh pancakes being made and topped with either chocolate of fruit for the crowd (which in fairness were an attraction in themselves), but rather the wonderful music emanating from the stand.  After watching for a moment I realised that the man in chef's whites with the name tag "Gino" was actually singing live and not miming as I had assumed. 

It was magical and he had the crowd firmly in his hands, entranced as they were with his wonderful voice.  Luckily my husband's camera can also video so I managed to get Gino in full voice captured for others to enjoy as we did. 

To watch the video of Gino singing "Time to Say Goodbye" click the link to my YouTube video HERE.

For those interested in taking a stand at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2012 year, you can email them at development@donegaltown.ie  And judging by the success of this years event and the number of stands, it might be as well to get in touch with them as soon as possible to guarantee a place next year.


Inside the marquee at the A Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

WHY MAKE DONEGAL YOUR IRISH DESTINATION?

I decided to compare Donegal with the other tourist destinations in Ireland and I found I agreed with myself, Donegal is the best place in Ireland! 

Why?  Well the object is not to put down other areas of Ireland but rather to offer an option and show that just this one area of Ireland, County Donegal, can at the very least match the famous tourist destinations of Ireland both in beauty and magnificence.

Beautiful Donegal
Read on and take a trip with me from Dublin to Donegal and on to the Giant's Causeway and Belfast and back to Dublin to find out why and see too how your trip to Ireland could be made more compact whilst still seeing a lot of what Ireland, and Donegal, has to offer. 

So, let's begin our tour starting off in Dublin.  Spend a day in Dublin and take in The Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol and afterwards, Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum (do the tour and see the graves of some of Ireland’s most famous men and women), the National Museum of Ireland where amongst many, many things to see you can see the uniform worn by Michael Collins, and while there don't forget to pay a visit to Croppys Acre in front of it, and of course the Book of Kells in Trinity College. Two days in Dublin will give you ample time to see all those plus some extras such as perhaps the Viking Splash Tour, or a walking tour of Dublin, or the excellent Literary Tour in the evening or for the braver and fun, the Ghost Bus Tour.

Two and a half hours will take you to Donegal and on the way you could stop off at the ancient site of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara and maybe even visit the birthplace and grave of Patrick Kavanagh.

So, let’s compare Donegal with other popular tourist destinations and things to do in Ireland.

THE BOOK OF KELLS AND DONEGAL

Birthplace of St. Colmcille
The birth place of St. Colmcille (who was involved in the worlds first every copyright case from whence the saying "to every cow it's calf" came), the famous saint whose monks later produced The Book of Kells.  In Donegal you can visit the place of his birth at Gartan and then the place he was first educated (Kilmacrennan), together with any of the many places associated with this saint in Donegal.  On the way to Donegal from Dublin you could also visit Kells where St. Colmcille founded a monastery.

THE CLIFFS OF MOHER ... OR IN DONEGAL

A section of the cliffs on Tory Island
In Donegal we have many cliffs to visit, the most famous of which are probably the cliffs at Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) which at 1,972 feet, are the highest sea cliffs in Europe and offer sensational views (and it’s FREE to visit). You could even take a boat trip from nearby Teelin and view the majesty of these cliffs from the sea below.  And speaking of boat trips you could take the ferry to the beautiful island, Tory Island, which has cliffs that are second to none in Ireland.

View from Banaba's Crown, Ireland's most northerly point
And speaking of cliffs ... there can be no better place to stand and take in the bracing Atlantic air than at Ireland's most northerly point, Banba's Head at Malin Head.   

THE BURREN ... OR IN DONEGAL

Donegal has many thousand acres of spectacular countryside unspoiled by human habitation
Donegal has many thousands of acres of unspoiled scenic landscapes, free of houses and all signs of human habitation and with stunning rock faces, mountains and valleys together with miles and miles of walking footpaths, many rare plants and a lot of species of birds.

THE LAKES OF KILARNEY ... OR IN DONEGAL

Lough Meela and Errigal and Muckish Mountains
Donegal has some of the most stunning lake views in Ireland. One part of Donegal (The Rosses) is dotted with hundreds of lakes. At Lough Salt you can stand at the viewing point and see Lough Salt, after passing Lough Dubh a few hundred yards before, and then turn and see not only three lakes behind you but also the majestic outline of Errigal, the highest mountain in Donegal and Muckish Mountain too. With the added view to your right of Ards and Downings Bay.

THE BLASKET OR THE ARAN ISLANDS ... OR IN DONEGAL

Leaving Tory Island
There are many islands off the coast of Donegal, some of which are inhabited and others from which the last inhabitants have long gone.  A regular ferry service will take you to the two main inhabited islands ~ Aranmore Island or Tory Island.  Tory Island is thought to be the first place inhabited in Ireland and has a rich and interesting history, lots of Irish musicicans and traditional artists the home of the Tory School of Art.  The late world famous artist, Sir Derek Hill loved Tory dearly, spending months there over a few decades and it is he who put the Tory artists on the map.  On the mainland Donegal you can visit the house Sir Derek gave to Ireland, Glebe House, his Irish home near Gartan.

THE VARIOUS FAMOUS CASTLES OF IRELAND ... OR IN DONEGAL

Donegal (or O'Donnells) Castle
Whilst Donegal does not have any huge tourist attraction castles to visit it does have many castle ruins dotted throughout our landscape. The main attraction in Donegal is O’Donnell’s Castle (better known as Donegal Castle) and whilst not as grand as others it has the unique benefit that those interested can also visit the place where the O’Donnell chieftains had their inaugurations from circa. 1200 AD. Or perhaps the ruins of the Franciscan monastery (Donegal Town) founded by two of the wives of these high kings. Or maybe visit the ruins of Rathmullan Friary from where the O’Donnell’s fled to Europe in 1607. Maybe you could take the time to visit Glenveagh Castle, not only rich in history but the place where the likes of Grace Kelly stayed when visiting Ireland.  Donegal is steeped in history and as a result historical sites, all worth visiting for those with an interest in such places.

THE VARIOUS HISTORICAL SITES OF IRELAND ... OR IN DONEGAL

Kilclooney Dolmen
Donegal has the only Tau Cross still in situ (Tory Island); has one of the oldest early Crosses, the Killaghtee Cross which pre-dates the early High Crosses; or the Kilclooney Dolmen which is an intact Dolmen and one of the finest examples left in Ireland. There are many such sites to visit in Donegal and more can be read about HERE.

TOURISTY, ORGANISED TRADITIONAL MUSIC NIGHTS ... OR IN DONEGAL

Traditional music in County Donegal
Traditional music forms an integral part of the Donegal experience and rather than have organised, paid for nights, here in Donegal it is possible to find groups of traditional musicians gathering in many of the small bars around the county. Most villages and towns have at least one pub where traditional music is played at least once a week. Rather than being too organised and touristy, these are gatherings of men and women who love their music and show up at appointed venues to enjoy their music and entertain those gathered there.

AND SOME MORE REASONS TO VISIT DONEGAL

Donegal Bay
Donegal not only offers all the above but we also have the largest bay in Ireland, Donegal Bay, which you have the option to enjoy by taking a short (45 minutes) boat trip on the Donegal Bay Waterbus to view in all its splendour or view from many places around south Donegal; the clearest diving waters in Europe (at St. John’s Point, the longest peninsula in Ireland); some of the best surfing beaches in Ireland and comparable with the best in Europe (Rossnowlagh, Bundoran, and more).


Ballymastocker Bay, named as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world
There are miles and miles of sandy beaches sprinkled along our almost 800 miles of coastline, one of which was named one of the 10 most beautiful in the world making it the most beautiful beach in Ireland; some of the best golf courses in Ireland; horse riding; bird watching; fishing of all sorts; and maybe even catch a glimpse of the100 + pod of bottle nose dolphins around our coast ~ there are numerous boat trips to take you out into our waters to try and catch a glimpse not only the dolphins but maybe even some of the whales there.

"Surf's Up!" Donegal
We have friendly, owner run taverns and restaurants, including the Donegal Good Food Taverns, serving the best of local produce including lamb and beef reared here in Donegal together with a huge range of seafood caught along our Donegal shores. And speaking of Donegal Shores, in Donegal you are also in the birthplace of the world famous Daniel O’Donnell where you can visit the wee village of his birth, Kincasslagh.

Enjoy a bowl of Seafood Chowder in Donegal
And if music is your bag, a visit to Leo’s Tavern is a must. The “Leo” in Leo’s Tavern is the father of Moya Brennan who together with two of her brothers and two of their uncles formed Clannad and also Enya, the world renowned singer and musician. Not only is Leo’s Tavern full of memorabilia of his famous family but is a place where the visitor can enjoy a good, home cooked meal and perhaps even enjoy a bit of great traditional Irish music too.

There is of course much more to see in Donegal but this gives a tiny taste of it.  At the end of your stay in Donegal you might want to finish off your visit to Ireland with a trip the Giant’s Causeway, which whilst of course not in Donegal, remains one of the most popular tourist destination in Ireland and you are nearer to the Giant’s Causeway from Donegal than any of the other popular tourist destinations here with the added benefit that on the way you can visit the only city in Europe with its city walls still intact (and walk along them), in Derry and spend a little time in the city seeing all it has to offer.  You can even take a sea trip to from Donegal to Derry by taking the ferry which leaves Greencastle in Inishowen over to Magilligan in County Derry and on from there to Derry city.

Or maybe enjoy a visit to the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, a living museum which deals with the mass emigration experience in Ireland during the famine, and where the visitor can walk through an Irish village of that time, board a famine ship and disembark in the America of that time, visiting shops and houses on both sides with actors playing the parts of the people of the time.

Afterwards, travel along the scenic countryside and visit Dunluce Castle then perhaps stopping off at the famous Bushmills Whiskey Distillery on the way before arriving at the Giant’s Causeway.  You can then drive along the beautiful Antrim coast to Belfast and take in the sights of Belfast.  At the end of this journey you are travelling home out of Dublin? Belfast to Dublin is just a short two hour drive now.  Alternatively you could travel from Donegal, visiting these places and back to Donegal in the one (long) day.

Statue of Liberty near Gweebara Bay
And sure, where else in Ireland can you see the Statue of Liberty!

I hope I have opened your eyes to perhaps moving off the worthy, but now very well beaten tourist trails usually taken by visitors to Ireland and venture to County Donegal up here on the north west coast of Ireland, Ireland’s crown, albeit worn at a jaunty angle!

Visit our website to see more about Donegal at WeLoveDonegal

Thursday, August 25, 2011

22 MAIN STREET, KILLYBEGS ~ DGFT LAUNCH

Hugh O'Donnell, one of the founder members of the Donegal Good Food Taverns initiative hosted his launch in his recently refurbished Seafood Bar in Killybegs (also known as 22 Main Street) last Tuesday evening, the 23rd of August 2011.

Guests enjoying the launch at 22 Main Street, Killybegs
Hugh very kindly invited me to give the keynote speech and here is the speech I gave.

"The Donegal Good Food Taverns group consists of a number of bar owners who came together earlier this year to provide a high standard of locally sourced foods and great service to their customers.



There are now 10 in the group and their aim is to promote the concept of social dining in a bar atmosphere where the food is sourced as locally as possible, the price is affordable and the group of bars form a trail of Irish music either in their own bars or neighbouring bars in their area. The group are working with Failte Ireland, and with your local Tourism College in Killybegs and are active in identifying new niches and products all the time.


I see the Donegal Good Food Taverns initiative playing an important role for us in Donegal in that the initiative is getting a lot of attention thereby bringing attention to our county. It also gives us a dining experience we can proud to both direct our guests to and enjoy ourselves.


The initiative exemplifies how people can come together, work together and profit from working together and utilise the assets of County Donegal. Before I continue I hope you will all join with me now to congratulate them on their initiative.


As someone involved in the tourism industry myself with my holiday rental home in Dunkineely and as a blogger, twitter user, and as owner of WeLoveDonegal.com, a site I set up solely to promote Donegal and which has had nearly 300,000 people visiting it many of whom email me, I am very conscious of what tourists need and want.

But just out of interest I conducted an on line poll to pinpoint clearly the top priorities of prospective visitors. The result of that poll, especially the first I mention here which is something we can all do and doesn't cost a cent, shows that we can all here meet the needs of our prospective guests and visitors to Donegal.


FRIENDLY, HELPFUL SERVICE


This is so simple to do and we can all do it. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated. Make things as good as possible to enable them to enjoy a visit to your premises. Go the extra mile at all times. A lot comes down to training staff, something I will speak about further on here.


The other important priorities of tourist according to my poll were:


VALUE FOR MONEY


This was probably always an important priority but now it is even more so. How do we in Donegal ensure we offer value for money? Well firstly we need to be aware of charges of services and providers to the tourist industry in other parts of Ireland and remain competitive. And secondly we can add something for free ~ offer the best service you can to each and every customers. Get Donegal the name for being not only good value but with the added attraction that the care and attention we give here is the very best, give us the edge over similar pricing elsewhere in Ireland by offering this free but oh so valuable extra.

BEING ABLE TO HEAR TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC DURING THEIR STAY


I was glad to see that this was up there in the priorities of prospective tourists, as I’m sure are the DGFT group. But it isn’t just about the music, it is the ambience of the pub where the musicians play, an image many have of Ireland ~ so meet that need whether in your own premises or by being aware where music is locally so that you can tell visitors about it. And for those hosting traditional music nights you are on to such a winner ~ all those inevitable photographs taken, most of which will end up on the internet somewhere and that is FREE promotion for your business.

FRESHLY PREPARED LOCALLY SOURCED FOODS


For me this is one of the major priorities and it seems from my poll that it is very high up in the priority list of others too. Nowadays more people than ever are into cooking and cookery programmes ~ think of the likes of Come Dine With Me and how successful that show is. As a result of that interest many now are unwilling to pay out good money for food out of a freezer or worse, a packet. Not only is the food going to be so much better when freshly prepared but it can be cheaper to prepare too.


Sourcing locally not only promotes Donegal but it lessens our carbon footprint, which whilst it may not be top of your list right now, is certainly something many are becoming much more aware of. Added to all that, we in Donegal have the best seafood and meats available which if we use to their full further promotes what Donegal has to offer.

GOOD SIGNPOSTING


This came in fifth in the needs of tourists. Bad signposting is a bugbear of mine and clearly of others who completed my poll. Yes, we all drive around knowing the roads and how to get from place to place but visitors to our county are dependent on maps ~ sat.nav. is not always the best here. Even living here I sometimes find it almost impossible to get to where I want to go following the signposting along our roads so imagine what it is like for a tourist? We need to drive around our roads seeing things through the eyes of a tourist and identify those places badly signposted and TELL the council. Enough voices reporting bad signage might just improve things.


Some suggestions I have to help us improve ourselves and the Donegal experience for our visitors.


1. TRAIN STAFF


The buck stops with you so it is an almost complete waste of time and money if you are breaking your back to serve the best food or offer the best accommodation you can if the much needed and valued customer is put off by a distinct lack of care or service when they are actually in your premises. Everyone needs to spend time enforcing their customer care standards to their staff.



2. MAKE THE MAXIMUM USE OF THE INTERNET FOR YOUR BUSINESS AND DONEGAL


Blog, use Twitter, use Facebook, use Flickr ~ anything to get the word out about Donegal and your business out but do it with care. Having just a website nowadays is not enough. There are millions of websites out there and the secret of good use of the internet is HOW to drive traffic to your site and how to utilise the many places out there where you can get attention. Join travel advice forums such as IGOGO and Trip Advisor to answer questions from people thinking of travelling to Ireland. The internet is the best way to promote your business and area. For instance, I have now had bookings for my holiday home both via Twitter and also through my blog and if I can do it, so can you.



3. ENGAGE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS


This applies to all of us. For instance If as a holiday home owner, I receive an enquiry then I do my best to answer that email immediately. I know that on average an enquirer will email at least four other holiday homes at the one time and so I know if I respond quickly and in a friendly fashion, I am in with a chance of getting that booking. Think about it, all things being equal which accommodation provider would YOU chose? Someone who responds quickly to your enquiry or someone who takes a day or two (or even longer!) to get around to it? The interaction you have with prospective customers or guests is a great platform for you to sell yourself and the fact that you care.

4. PROMOTE DONEGAL AND WORK TOGETHER


Yes, of course we all want to promote our individual business but it is vital we at the same time do our utmost to promote Donegal to its full extent. Through the internet get the people out there to see and read about Donegal, entice them here. If we project across the net the stunning beauty and warm welcome of Donegal we all benefit. Remember, once the visitor is here, they may use any number of our businesses and then hopefully tell others and so encourage them too to come to come here.

5. KNOW YOUR AREA


Guests and visitors want to know about our area and the attractions there. We need to look at it through the visitors eyes, we know where things are but they might not. Tell them about places of interest, find out their interests so that you can hone your information to their requirements, gather leaflets which are freely available in your local tourist office to have in your premises, be aware of festivals and special happenings in your area and try to visit the attractions of your area so that you can speak first-hand about them and even blog or tweet about them. Promote, promote, promote.

6. FOR RESTAURANTS


As a holiday home owner I have a suggestion for restaurants and cafes. At the start of each season POST or HAND DELIVER your menus to local Bed and Breakfast houses and holiday home owners. This is the ONE instance where I would advocate not using email. You want the guests to see your menu in the format or layout you decided which in itself projects your business as you saw fit to show it. A printed email of the menu is just not good enough. You might also consider offering some sort of incentive for guests of the holiday home of Bed and Breakfast to visit your restaurant. Something small like a percentage discount for over a certain spend or alternatively a discount if they dine in your place more than once during their stay, or maybe even a bottle of house wine.

Finally, I would just like to thank The Donegal Good Food Taverns initiative which has lead the way and shown us how working together is the way forward. We must work together to market Donegal as THE place to visit in Ireland. We have possibly, and in my opinion definitely, the best and most scenic county in Ireland. So get out there and promote it. And be aware too that we can’t just concentrate on the American or foreign market. Yes, we want and welcome those tourists but we should bear in mind that marketing ourselves to the rest of Ireland is vitally important. If our fellow country men and women visit Donegal and like it, it is much easier for them to visit Donegal on more than one occasion during the year, something that the majority of foreign tourists will not be able to do.


So, following the excellent lead of the Donegal Good Food taverns initiative, let’s all join together, keep in touch, work hard to promote Donegal and get it the title it rightly deserves ~ the best county in Ireland!


Thank you."
23rd August 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS & PRIORITIES OF OUR VISITORS

This week I am to give a speech on tourism in Donegal and one of the elements will be identifying the needs of visitors and prospective visitors to both County Donegal and Ireland generally, so I have added a poll here (above) to try and see the top needs.  You may select more than one option so if, for instance, your top priorities are "Freshly prepared and locally produced food" and "Value for money" you can select both. 

Don't forget to click "VOTE" when you have selected your top priorities.

If there is something you think is a must have for you were you visiting Donegal and it is not listed in my poll, please add it as a comment so that I can take that suggestion into account.

Thanks for taking part!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

JAUNTS AROUND DONEGAL ~ MOUNTCHARLES

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a delicious meal in the Village Tavern, Mountcharles.  Sitting on their decking outside, eating freshly caught fish in the warmth of a summer's evening was pretty special and as the weather was so perfect, we decided to drive down through the village after our meal and spend a while on Mountcharles pier.

There are of course many scenic areas in Donegal but the views from Mountcharles pier are some of the best and on a summer's evening it is a lovely place to go and relax for a while.

View to Barnesmore Gap mountains from Mountcharles
Parking on the pier, we got out of the car to take in the salty sea air to enjoy these views, and of course take a few photographs! 

The shore road, Mountcharles
The views are fabulous, looking all around there is nothing but perfect scenery from the little shore road with it's houses reflected in the water lapping the shore in front of them, to the views across the bay to the distinctive shape of Benbulben mountain in County Sligo, to the views to the twin mountains of Croaghconnelagh and Croaghonagh which flank the road through Barnesmore Gap and almost straight across from Mountcharles pier you can see the sandy beach at Murvagh. 

Waves lapping the sandy shore at Mountcharles
There is very little noise down there other than the sound of gulls and the lapping of the waves on the sandy shore to the right of the pier.  It is a peaceful and tranquil place to spend a while.

Kayaking at Mountcharles
Further up the pier a small group were getting their kayaks ready to take to the waters, and later watching them bobbing about in the water below the pier end.

Hungry gulls follow a small fishing boat
Out at sea anchored boats relaxed in the water, empty of people but offering a resting place for seagulls.  Two boats with fishermen on them moved around the waters, in their wake dozens of seagulls hungry for a free meal.  Even from the pier we could see the flashes of silver reflected by the sunshine behind us on the fish being line caught by the men on the boats.

Benbulben mountain in County Sligo from Mountcharles
Mountcharles sits on the shores of Donegal Bay, the largest bay in Ireland.  The Bay washes the shores of not only county Donegal but also counties Sligo and Leitrim. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

TURF TOURISM

Driving over Meenaroy, a beautiful area of Donegal between the towns of Letterkenny and Glenties, a couple of weeks ago I saw a most unusual sight.

Meenaroy, County Donegal
Amid the fabulous scenery of Meenaroy, with so much to see and photograph, I saw a large tourist coach pulled over to the side of the narrow road with all the passengers disembarked and wandering about, not as you might imagine taking photographs of the beautiful scenery but rather wandering around the little turf ricks taking photographs of ... turf!

Turf for those who aren’t familiar with it is the deep compressed ground in certain areas of Donegal (and Ireland) which is cut into during the summer and rectangles of the stuff dug up and laid up on the ground to dry, later stacked into little “ricks” to allow air to get to all sides of the turf sod and so allowing it to dry out thoroughly for use as fuel later.

Turf banks (or binks), County Donegal
It made me smile and indeed, laugh a little indeed, at the idea of a whole coach load of tourists, travelling as they were through some of Ireland’s most scenic countryside, being so taken with a stack of turf that they would go to the bother of having their driver pull over and all disembark and walk among the damp ground for a photo opportunity. 

But it got me thinking.  Is this the start of a whole new tourist initiative?  Turf Tourism.  Is this the way forward?  Should the tourist board in Ireland consider running with this idea?

We could have “Turf Cutting Holidays”. Tourists could come here during the summer and take lodgings with local and in return go with them to “the bog” (the areas where turf is cut), spend a long day digging and throwing the cut sods, arranging them in neat lines and later arranging them into ricks. This branch, or sod as it were, of Turf Tourism would extend all the way through to bagging the turf and bringing the turf home. They could even take a commemorative piece of turf home (Customs allowing!). And as the whole process from clearing the sods covering the bog to be cut to taking the turf home extends for months, it would bring tourists for the entire course of the summer.

The Turf Tourism, “Turf Cutting Holidays” would have many benefits to offer the tourist. They’d get to know the real Ireland, they’d get to spend days in the fresh clean air and hopefully sunshine. Many here say that the best tan you can get is from days spent cutting turf.

Open turf fire
They’d get to spend time in the evenings with the local host and maybe later at a village bar enjoying the craic whilst downing a Guinness or two and maybe even a bit of traditional Irish music thrown in and hopefully all in front of a welcoming turf fire.

The Turf Cutting tourists would also gain a memory that will never leave them. The smell of the turf as it burns on an open fire. A smell that cannot be replicated but so special that once smelled is forever with you, bringing you back instantly to the time you smelled it.

Turf Cutting tourists would benefit from weight loss too, so arduous is cutting and sorting the turf. The cutter is down a few feet below the top ground cutting the black sod for the best turf. The spa dhu, as the especially fashioned spade is called is a long instrument and difficult to manoeuvre to those who aren’t trained in the ways of turf cutting. There would also be the element of fear too for those seeking a thrill. Managing to cut sods of turf without cutting a finger off on the sharp edges of the spa dhu is quite an art and one a person would need to learn really quickly to avoid losing a finger or two. And it is cold lifting turf. Even on the hottest day, the turf down deep is freezing cold on the fingers. So you have the heat of the sun on your back but freezing hands and fingers. Freezing fingers mind you, are probably good if you don’t learn the use of the spa dhu!

For those on the top ground they will spend the day bending over sorting the turf. It is back breaking but probably great for developing strong back, stomach, and arm muscles.

Homemade Irish soda bread & Irish butter
Then during a break, the tourists would get to sit with the local host to enjoy a picnic made for them probably made up of soda bread, good Irish butter, cheese, jam and a flask of Irish tea. Enjoying a well earned break, some real Irish food, listening to Irish banter amid stunning scenery would be a totally unique experience.

Hand cut turf
Turf Tourism would also greatly benefit us too.  Going back to hand cut turf would get rid of these monster turf cutting machines that spout out huge strings of turf all over the place.  It would bring turf cutting back to the social thing it was in years gone by where everyone helped one another.

For those less fit and not able or willing for an actual Turf Cutting Holiday, we could run "Turf Spotting for Photographers Holidays". A coach could wander the highways and byways of Donegal stopping off at appointed stops to allow the tourists to disembark and take photographs of just cut turf, turf ricks, or even people cutting turf.

Or we could even run “Hunting for Bog Oak on Turf Banks”. The pieces of old oak, long fallen from trees now long gone and making up the essence of the black soil or turf deep in the ground, are much sought after as pieces of interest in homes and galleries. The tourist could be taken by their local host to wander the Turf land searching for their very own piece of bog oak and then take in back to their lodgings and spend days smoothing it off and polishing it until it is a thing of beauty.

Turf Tourism could be a winner for sure!