For summer 2019, we are partnering with the Journal.ie to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.
This week, Paul Wilson spins through gorse-lined roads and rugged beauty along the Inishowen Peninsula.
Name: The Inishowen Peninsula – see a map of the full route here.
Where: County Donegal, once the forgotten county, the Inishowen Peninsula is a jewel in the driving crown.
The route: From Derry city, past the sparkling Lough Swilly, secluded beaches and Malin Head.
What makes it one of Ireland’s Great Drives? Remote and sparsely populated, golden crescent of beach, gorse-lined roads and mountains await.
Journey time: 3 hrs, approx. Start at River Foyle, Craigavon Bridge, join the N13 for Buncrana. North to Dunree Head and Malin Head, then to Kinnagoe Bay skirting down Lough Foyle.
Photo opportunities: Near Doagh, you’ll get an incredible snap of the Carrickabraghy Castle ruins, right at the end of the peninsula. But save some space in your camera roll for Malin Head’s irresistible sea views too.
Hidden gems: A painted Yoda in Farren’s Bar on Malin Head to mark the area’s starring moment in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Plus the homemade cinnamon rolls at Caffe Banba, Ireland’s most northerly coffee shop.
For the courageous: Thrashed by sea, Malin Head is the dramatic, windswept final stop where Luke Skywalker once put in an appearance.
To begin your journey, head northwest from the historic walled city of Derry on the N13, over the double-decker Craigavon Bridge – one of few in Europe.
On the eastern shore of Lough Swilly, you’ll find Buncrana, a popular holiday destination – while here, the tourist office will supply information on walks in and around the Urris Hills where Dunree Head can be found via a twisting clifftop road. Make sure to stop for isolated views over Lough Swilly – one of Ireland’s three glacial fjords.
There is a saying that you can’t walk a hundred yards in Ireland without tripping over an ancient monument. Go inland, for 22km to Inishowen and Grianan of Aileach, which according to historian and author Carmel McCaffrey is “one of the largest and most spectacular circular stone forts anywhere in Ireland.”
Take in the entire peninsula, east to Lough Foyle, back west to the sparkling Swilly. North along the peninsula, dip in and out of bay after bay and craggy rock-lined shores, only to find more cloud-scattered vistas.
A stop at Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffin to fill hungry bellies with their award-winning seafood chowder is almost essential – it’s a cosy converted haybarn serving up delectable food.
Doagh was once an island, until the channel silted up and joined the mainland. It’s home to the Doagh Famine Village and includes a Presbyterian meeting house, mass rock and hedge school and a republican safe house. The ruins of craggy Carrickabraghy Castle are at the end of the peninsula.
The R242 will take you to Malin Head, it’s almost as far north as you can go and the natural conclusion to The Wild Atlantic Way. Surrounded by crags, cliffs and crashing sea, ‘Hell’s Hole’, is a chasm of roaring sea water. If you’re feeling peckish, a stop at the family-run Caffe Banba, Ireland’s most northerly coffee shop, is worth it for the homemade cakes alone.
The quirkily-titled ‘Wee House of Malin’ is a hermit’s cave further east. Malin is also the best place to see the Northern Lights in Ireland, that magical show of dancing ethereal light in the night sky.
Another galaxy not so far away, at Farren’s Bar, find Yoda painted on the wall, celebrating the filming of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Further north on the Old Coast Road is Banba’s Crown. Stop off at the old British Admiralty signal station and you’ve made it – the most northerly part of the Irish mainland.
The return journey Derry-ward runs along the edge of the Atlantic. Five Finger Strand is a magnificent secluded beach; Culdaff Beach, two sandy arcs, separated by rocky headlands; a twisting road leads to Kinnagoe Bay. Here, in storm-tossed waters, the Armada ship La Trinidad Valencera sank.
South along the edge of Lough Foyle, pastoral and more gently rolling, Greencastle will lead you to Muff – home for a time to the playwright Brian Friel – and back to Derry. Northern Ireland Railways runs from Derry’s railway station along the scenic shore. According to Michael Palin it’s ‘one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world’.