Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ireland 2014: Donegal Town

If you were to tell me that I could only visit one county in Ireland for the rest of my life, no questions asked, I would pick Donegal. I don't have any family that lives there, there's no 'big' tourist destination to recommend, it's just a beautiful county and worth the effort to visit. My original love for Donegal started with family trips in the 80s and 90s to the Bunbeg/Gweedore area, but a trip to Donegal Town on my own in 2011 renewed my love for the area. And it was in no way influenced by finding a great restaurant and a fun pub.

After settling into the hostel, we headed back into town to visit the Friary ruins before supper. The ruins sit just at the edge of town on Donegal Bay and the grounds now house a cemetery. (Note: this is often referred to as the Abbey, however, historical records call it a friary, the sign posted outside of it calls it a friary, and the Franciscan order that once occupied it calls it a friary. It's a friary!)

The friary was founded in 1473. In 1588, the site was taken over by English forces and turned into a fort. When it was taken back by English forces a few years later, it once again functioned as a friary until 1601 when the powder kegs in the basement blew up during a siege by English forces.

Efforts to rebuild the friary were abandoned in 1607 after the Flight of Earls. The friars, then moved to various other friaries in the surrounding counties, most notably in Co. Sligo.

We played a quick game of Hide-and-take-a-picture to work up our appetites for the lamb shank dinner I had been talking about for three years and then walked up to the Olde Castle Bar only to learn that they were out of the lamb shank.


We order an appy to split, fresh Donegal Bay mussels in a white wine sauce. I'm not someone who takes pictures of food I've ordered in a restaurant because I'm usually too busy stuffing it in my mouth, but these mussels were so good. I may have groaned after I ate the first one.

Heaven in a bowl right there!

These were some of the best mussels I have ever had in my life. Thank goodness they give a slice of bread with the meal to sop up the broth because otherwise I would have licked that bowl. I can't remember what I order for dinner that night (I think it was the chicken with colcannon) but those mussels... I'm drooling just thinking about them!

After dinner and a stroll, we wandered over to the Reel Inn for some live music and a few drinks. That night, the music was Frankie on vocals and guitar with John (the owner) on the accordion. I remembered them from last time I was there and at the end of the night, Katie and I got to talking with Frankie. He wasn't playing the next night but he would be playing our last night in town, and yes, he would play the song that I requested.

Frankie (guitar and vocals) and John (accordion)

I awoke the next morning to find Katie barely able to breathe she was coughing so much. When she did stop coughing, she had to whisper as she had no voice. Linda's husband, Andy, kindly drove Katie to the clinic so she could get checked out while I lazed about writing postcards. I wandered into town to meet Katie at our appointed time and after a bite to eat, we set out trying to organise a tour for the next day. I don't think I have ever found friendlier or more helpful staff than we did at the Donegal Tourist Office. We did some shopping for souvenirs, stocked up on snacks, tried to find a internet cafe that apparently doesn't exist anymore, then walked back to the hostel for a nap. What can I say? Our late nights were starting to catch up with us.

As we were heading back into town for dinner, Linda (hostel owner) asked if we knew about the path along the water so we didn't have to walk along the road. Um, no. We didn't. She gave us directions and what should have been a 10 min stroll along the roadside, ended up taking close to 30 mins because we had to keep stopping to take pictures. We were almost too late to order dinner at the restaurant because of our picture taking!

Walking along the path it quickly became very apparent why we never saw locals walking along the road.

The next day was our tour out to Slieve League and Glencolmcille - I'm saving that part of the day for its own post - before we found ourselves back to the Old Castle Bar for that lamb shank I had been craving for the last three years. So, indulge me, Katie took a picture for me to remember it by.

We also played with our drinks.

I love you Guinness!

We rounded out the night with another stop at the Reel Inn and ended the night seated at a table with Frankie and a few other tourists singing songs and exchanging stories before Frankie gave us a lift to the hostel.

The next morning was breakfast at the Blueberry Cafe where I used very inappropriate language in front of children and we thought we were hilarious by staging it to appear as if our bags were eating breakfast.

Honestly! Can't take me anywhere!

After breakfast, we caught the bus to Galway to continue our adventure.

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