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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!