A Hotel Comparison

Throughout our entire October 2015 trip, we kept up this side conversation, comparing the hotels. Which breakfast did you like best? Who had the most comfortable beds? We stayed in six hotels from start to finish, in three weeks’ time.

There are lots of things to consider, from price … to the view from the room. You might have others, but here’s my list of considerations:

Bedroom >size >bed >view from window >other furniture >desk >amenities
Bathroom >separate shower >counter space >amenities
Dining >breakfast >bar food
Comfort >ambience >service >grounds >proximity to activities
Other >spa/pool >parking >entrance >price >stay again?

Here’s how it breaks down:

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in north Co. Dublin, €129

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

You have two choices at the Portmarnock: the wing that overlooks the beach or the wing that overlooks the golf course (both wings have garden view rooms). The golf wing rooms are newer, larger, and have central heat (and air, which is really nice for a few weeks each year). The furniture is comfortable, but the chair for the desk is too low if you actually need to work at the desk. The bed is a true king-size but hard as a rock (one can live in hope that the Irish hotel industry will someday figure this out). Plenty of tea in the room, as well as complimentary bottled water. Nice modern bathroom, though not huge, with Pure brand amenities. Definitely the best bar food of the six hotels, and a strong breakfast too. No pool—swim at the beach!—but a nice, professional spa (I used it back in June) with average hotel prices. Parking is close to the entrance; the grounds are nicely kept; you’re a half hour outside the Dublin city center and perfectly located for sightseeing further up the coast and into the Midlands. The ambience at the hotel is superior: the public rooms are recently remodeled, the staff—all of them—are friendly and helpful. What you see on the website is absolutely what you get—and better. Bottom line? I’ll stay at this hotel every chance I get. Love it.

Redcastle Hotel, Spa, and Golf Resort near Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula, €79

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Gerry describes the Redcastle as “flattering to deceive.” It looks fabulous, with its location right on the shores of Lough Foyle (and, really, the Atlantic Ocean). There are rooms in the hotel that sit right on the water (although we didn’t have one)—as does the dining room, which offers a fabulous view every morning at breakfast. The grounds outside are like a park—gorgeous—and the location is convenient. But once you get inside, it’s old, labyrinthine. (Seriously, we needed a map to get to our room.) Our king-size bed was really two singles pushed together. The whole hotel needs a modern upgrade. I did try out the spa and felt I got very good value for money spent; there’s also an indoor pool which is marketed to the locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. I certainly understand the reason for this but I look for peace and quiet in a pool experience, and that was not to be had (lots of moms and kids). The breakfast was good quality, and you could order from the kitchen in addition to what was on the buffet. But you could also be blinded by the sun—the room faces east—and absolutely nothing is done about that, though we have the technology! Bottom line: if/when we stay on Inishowen again, we’ll look around for another place, in spite of the reasonable price.

Lough Eske Castle near Donegal Town, €170 (with the 3-for-2 deal)

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

Like the Portmarnock, the Lough Eske is a true luxury hotel; from the moment you walk in, your experience is of the highest quality. (I have to admit I don’t like lugging bags up the entrance stairs, though, although they do station a nice young man there to help you.) The public interiors, the staff—everything is top-notch. Our room was spectacular and huge; we had a view of the inner courtyard—about as good a view as you get at this hotel, which is named for the lake it is near, but not on. No lake views without a little walk (and I would’ve liked it if someone on staff had pointed out the best way to get to the lake; it wasn’t immediately evident). The bed—a true king-size—was a little firmer than I’d like … but the bathroom! Oh my goodness. Dual sinks, separate tub and shower, dressing area, all of it 2015 modern, and with really nice personal-care amenities too. (This bathroom was as large as our entire suite in Galway, no kidding.) The bar has a nice, old-money ambience and the food was good but we weren’t knocked out by it. We were knocked out by breakfast, which was yummy and is the Irish breakfast I will forever compare all others to: fresh, wide selection, and an omelet station in addition to preprepared eggs on the buffet. The exterior is beautiful and lends itself to strolling—lots of outdoor sculpture to be discovered. There is also an indoor pool and spa, which I did not sample. Bottom line: This was only in our budget because they were running an off-season special, but if you can afford the splurge, do it.

Connacht Hotel in Galway City, €50 (breakfast is extra)

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

As I’ve noted before, this hotel got a favorable review in the eating/drinking/lodging book we picked up at the beginning of the trip, and it is, as noted therein, easy on the budget. We were in a self-catering apartment on the backside of the huge campus, which meant it was quiet (always a plus), and the parking was convenient. It was nice, also, because there was a room with couch, table, desk, kitchenette, and a separate room with beds and desk … so I could work while Gerry watched television in the other room. There’s also an indoor pool and spa, which is heavily promoted to locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. In terms of location, it’s great—on a major thoroughfare and only a ten-minute drive into the city center. If you need a place to crash after being out and about as a tourist, the Connacht will serve you well, but don’t expect luxury; the televisions, for example, were the old tube style. (Oops!) Breakfast and bar food were meh. Bottom line: Great for your budget, definitely serviceable, but if I can’t have some historic character in a hotel, then I want streamlined and modern; this was neither.

Celbridge Manor Hotel in Co. Kildare 30 minutes outside Dublin, €99

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

This hotel markets itself to folks who want to get out of Dublin—for a holiday party, for a girls’ night out, for tea and a B&B, to throw a shower or a wedding—but not too far out, and not too much money. It looks nice outside (it’s a Georgian-era building) and inside, and the rooms are large and furnished with antiques. (And also with some typical hotel furniture—don’t designers call this eclectic? Ha.) They have live music every weekend (glad we missed that); I got the sense that the Celbridge Manor is a local watering hole, if you get my drift. Ample parking, but there are no grounds to speak of (it was a charity boarding school for orphans from the mid-1700s until the 1970s, when it was converted to a hotel). Breakfast was serviceable, bar food was not at all special (Gerry liked it; I didn’t), and there is no pool, no spa services. (I think they’re missing the boat on that.) Bed was advertised as a king-size but was just a double, maybe a small queen—and hard. I do think the hotel could stand to be freshened up, but for a nice quiet place to sleep (maybe not on the weekends), this will work. Proximity to Dublin—for tourism, and/or to stay out of the Dublin hustle-and-bustle—is a huge plus, and Celbridge is centrally located for exploring more of the country too. Bottom line: Priced right, but we’d probably try someplace else next time.

Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport, €167

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

This is an airport hotel, just meant to catch business travelers and offer cheap parking for folks flying out. So ambience and looks don’t really matter so much; we’re just sleeping near the airport so we don’t have to get up in the dark. But … it’s actually a very nice (though always busy) hotel. We have stayed in the Clayton Hotel before, in 2013 when it was called Bewley’s, for several nights, so I can say that the breakfast is just OK, not great. (though we did not have the opportunity to sample it on this trip). We did have supper in the bar and the food was good, better than good. Bed was a true king (hard, of course, but not miserable … though maybe I was just getting used to it). The best feature inside was we paid €40 extra for a suite so we’d have lots of room to pack—and were delighted with the value-for-money! Room was huge with nice chairs and couches. The bathroom was huge too. And it was about five steps away from the elevator (a plus when you’re tired). The best feature outside was the gas station right next door, as in years past the search for gas to fill up the rental has been high stress. Bottom line: This is our airport hotel of choice, and we’re agreed we’d splurge for the suite again too. 🙂

• • •

We have stayed in two other Dublin hotels for several nights, long enough to form an opinion, and I thought I’d include them here for completeness:

Camden Court Hotel, Dublin (2013), €79

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

(Note that this rate is more than two years old, and I obtained it on an advance purchase rate deal, which many hotels offer.) Situated in downtown Dublin near the Grand Canal—the multicultural Portobello neighborhood—the Camden Court caters to tour groups (hence that great rate). So there were moments when the lobby was packed, but most of the time it was quite nice. Though I didn’t sample any of it, the hotel has a hair and nails salon, heated lap pool, a large full gym, massage clinic, salon, sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi. Fantastic location: everything you might want was close by—pubs, good restaurants, shops of all sorts (none of them touristy). Breakfast food was standard issue, as was the bar food. Staff is great, friendly, and parking is free, which is highly unusual. That it’s available at all—and on-site—is highly unusual. So if you’re renting a car, you should consider the Camden Court; we’d stay here again.

The Doubletree by Hilton, Dublin, €149

From the hotel’s website.

From the hotel’s website.

This is the former Burlington Hotel and is located just south of the Grand Canal in Ranelagh, which is an upscale neighborhood. This hotel caters to the business conferences and events trade, so there is a fitness room but no spa or pool. I’ve had more than one meal at this hotel when it was the Burlington, and though it is not as luxe as it was then, the breakfast is good, the location is excellent, and it is very, very quiet (both the hotel and the neighborhood). I like that last quality in a hotel. I would stay here again in spite of the miserably hard bed. 🙂

• • •

One final thought: even two or three years ago, wi-fi in the Irish hotel and B&B trade was hit or miss—only available in the lobby, only available for a fee, or sketchy reception, for example. But in 2015 we had no wi-fi issues. You may encounter isolated locations that lack connection, but for the most part you should have no problems. Progress!

 

The Adventure’s Not Over Yet, Though

10 October 2015, Saturday
Today we got up, had a wonderful breakfast—including a delightful chat with the gentleman who makes the omelets—and then got on the N56 and headed west. We junctioned with the R263 and drove along the Atlantic coast in sight of the sea.

Twelve years ago we stopped at this very lay-by on the R263 just on the other side of Killybegs in midafternoon on a Saturday.

On the R263 about a mile outside Killybegs, at a curve in the road, this little lay-by.

On the R263 about a mile outside Killybegs, at a curve in the road, this little lay-by.

It overlooks Fintra Bay.

That’s Fintra Beach there.

That’s Fintra Beach there.

That day it was a little sunnier (you can see it if you scroll down in this post) but a lot windier. I called my son in Cookeville, Tennessee, and woke him up; he was a senior in college and had just taken the test to CLEP out of biology, which would enable him to graduate the next spring—in four years. He’d passed. We had a moment on the phone. 🙂

The view here is magnificent.

Fintra Bay, on the coast of County Donegal.

Fintra Bay, on the coast of County Donegal.

Looking out to sea from the little parking/picnic area.

Looking out to sea from the little parking/picnic area.

That particular day we were on our way to see Slieve League—some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe—but missed the turn-off. Now, of course, we have the Wild Atlantic Way marketing campaign, and the route is a little better signposted. 🙂 We were determined to get there. Slieve League was calling us.

Two determined old people. Slieve League or bust!

Two determined old people. Slieve League or bust!

I’d done a lot of research. I’d printed off maps. I knew we had to go to Teelin. And so we did. Here’s a map:

Again, Google Maps is failing me. This is a screen grab. You can see an interactive map here.

Again, Google Maps is failing me. This is a screen grab. You can see an interactive map here.

It was definitely worth the journey—but the drive was a little harrowing. We stopped a few times to catch our breath.

Here we have passed Teelin and are still headed up. Can you see the rock wall on the far hill (right-hand side)? That wall runs along the road.

Here we have passed Teelin and are still headed up. Can you see the rock wall on the far hill (right-hand side)? That wall runs along the road.

The road got narrower and narrower; there were curves and switchbacks. We kept climbing.

This car is pulled over (see the wide spot it’s on?), waiting for me to pass. Yep.

This car is pulled over (see the wide spot it’s on?), waiting for me to pass. Yep.

Then … it seemed like we were at the top. We got out. Took more photos.

Yes. Someone has walked/climbed out to that spot. We did not.

Yes. Someone has walked/climbed out to that spot. We did not. Remember you can click any photo to zoom in.

But people kept driving by us (some people hiked by us), so we went on. You come to a car park and a gate; the road beyond the gate—which you have to open yourself, reading the warning sign as you do so—is little more than a track. I was already worn out and failed to take a photo.

We drove on. You do know when you’ve arrived. Because OMG.

Slieve League, October 2015. It’s magnificent.

Slieve League, October 2015. It’s magnificent.

You’ll definitely try to take a photograph. :)

You’ll definitely try to take a photograph. 🙂

You can’t drive any farther than this. But people do continue on foot—you can walk those peaks, and people were doing it on this day. It was chilly and windy, even where we were.

Yeah, that’s a little beach way down there. I’ve read that there are boat tours that take you up close, so you can look straight up. From here, we’re far enough away from the edge that it’s hard to get a sense of how high they are.

Yeah, that’s a little beach way down there. I’ve read that there are boat tours that take you up close, so you can look straight up. From here, we’re far enough away from the edge that it’s hard to get a sense of how high they are.

Pretty stinkin’ high. 🙂

But what a view!

But what a view!

Yes, that’s another little Martello tower out there.

Yes, that’s another little Martello tower out there.

We lingered for a good while, taking pictures and just taking it in. There were sheep everywhere.

Some were close enough to touch. They’ve seen our kind before. :)

Some were close enough to touch. They’ve seen our kind before. 🙂

And then we made our way back down the mountain. Slowly and carefully.

Gerry had seen a sign for a sweater shop in Teelin. “Shall we have a look?” he asked when we got back to civilization (i.e., Teelin). When you look at it on the map—sixteen minutes by car, it says—it doesn’t look like such a big deal.

But we drove … and drove … and drove … through bleak countryside. Where was this place?

There seemed to be nothing out there.

There seemed to be nothing out there.

There were signs, though. Every time we thought Have we gone too far? Did we miss a turn? there was another sign, leading us on. And then (truly, out in the middle of nowhere), there it was. The Glencolmcille Woollen Mill.

You can’t miss it. :)

You can’t miss it. 🙂

The Donegal region is well known for the wool products made here (from the local sheep, of course, which you see everywhere)—weaving and knitting. We’d already seen some beautiful handmade (not machine-woven!) fabric on Inishowen, and you can really see the difference. We wanted to see more.

So we drove and drove and found the place. Rossan Knitwear. Family business. This truly was the factory outlet, because once I saw the label, I recognized it. I’d seen these sweaters in other shops (and at slightly higher prices). We wandered around. It was the end of the season, so inventory wasn’t what it might have been, but after much consideration, we each picked out a sweater. It was a difficult choice because, oh! the colors.

They are beautiful, hand-loomed by the lady you see in the photo below. I asked to take her photo, and she removed her glasses. I was wearing a machine-knit (I’m pretty sure) sweater I bought in Killarney twelve years ago. Still, she remarked on it, and was impressed at its age and condition. (The red one. You know the one; I wear it all the time. I dress it up and dress it down. It goes everywhere.) So I guess the lesson here is a sweater bought in Ireland is a worthwhile investment.

She made my sweater!

She made my sweater!

We started making our way back.

On the little road leading back to the R263. Sheep, this one rounded the corner and ran up into the farmer’s yard.

On the little road leading back to the R263. Sheep! This one rounded the corner and ran up into the farmer’s yard.

When we got back to Carrick, there was a Saturday market in full swing, complete with livestock and crafts. It was hard not to stop, but we pushed on. We had treasures in our boot. 🙂

A farmers market in Carrick, Co. Donegal.

A farmers market in Carrick, Co. Donegal.

Back in Donegal Town, we stopped for an early supper of comfort food at the Blueberry Tea Room on Castle Street. It had been recommended to us by a shopkeeper the day before, and was also written up in the Wild Atlantic Way book we’d purchased back in Moville. The place was packed, and the ambience was fantastic.

When we returned to the hotel, we noticed there was a wedding reception just getting started. (First we noticed it in the parking lot. We had to drive out to the back nine, so to speak, to park.) There was a vintage Rolls Royce parked in front of the entrance, as if the wedding couple were the only people who might be using the door.

Interestingly, there had been a wedding reception here at the hotel Friday night, and we barely knew they were here, though we’d seen them and their guests coming in. But starting with the Rolls outside, this was a very upscale event. Or at least you would have thought that, based on the accoutrements. Yet by 3am—because, yes, we were still awake—they were behaving like what people in my neck of the woods would call trash, these fancy people, both men and women. One couple had an argument in the courtyard right outside our bedroom window, using their outside voices. Groups of people shouting (shouting!) and carrying on in the halls as if they were the only people staying in the hotel. It was shameful. Money doesn’t buy class, obviously.

In Which We Stay in a Castle … ish

9 October 2015, Friday
Oh, yes, we were living the life of Riley* at the Lough Eske Castle Hotel. I have always looked askance at folks who declare their desire to go to Europe “and stay in a castle!” (Insert high-pitched squeal here.) Why? Because this is what I think of when I think of a castle:

Trim Castle, a twelth-century Norman castle in County Meath. It was a featured player in the Mel Gibson–directed movie Braveheart. I picked this photo up from Wikipedia.

Trim Castle, a twelth-century Norman castle in County Meath. It was a featured player in the Mel Gibson–directed movie Braveheart. I picked this photo up from Wikipedia.

Trim Castle, of course, isn’t habitable, but I cannot imagine the concept of “castle” without thinking cold, damp, stone walls, and, you know, thousand-year-old plumbing. 🙂 But I realize now that what most folks mean is something like the Lough Eske Castle.

Ooooooh.

While the hotel traces the roots of a castle (actually, a friary) in this location back to the late 1400s, the current building was constructed in the early 1860s. Those Victorians! They did love their nostalgia and their sentiment and their (ahem) fake castles. 🙂

Call it a castle—

Here’s another angle of the Lough Eske Castle Hotel, October 2015.

Here’s another angle of the Lough Eske Castle Hotel, October 2015.

—or call it whatever you’d like. It made me swoon when I saw the website months ago, and it made me swoon when we drove up to it too. We slept like babies, and then we got to sample a most spectacular breakfast buffet, oh-my-goodness-gracious.

I grabbed this from the hotel’s website. At the back, there, is the omelet station.

This is the breakfast room. I grabbed this from the hotel’s website. At the back, there, is the omelet station.

The breakfast was wonderful. A manned omelet station. Every single product was of the highest quality. And I discovered these:

The best yogurt I’ve ever tasted. In charming glass jars.

The best yogurt I’ve ever tasted. In charming glass jars.

Glenilen Farm is a small family-owned dairy farm in west County Cork. If I could, I’d have the yogurt every morning. And then I’d turn around and have it for dessert too! Anyway, you can rest assured we did not miss a single breakfast at the Lough Eske.

After breakfast we wandered around taking photos of the whimsical outdoor art …

The leaping salmon fountain in the front driveway.

The leaping salmon fountain in the front driveway.

The red deer peeking out from the edge of the woods.

The red deer peeking out from the edge of the woods. (Remember, you can click on the photo to zoom in.)

The fire-breathing dragon in the side yard.

The fire-breathing dragon in the side yard.

In the welcome package in the room we’d found an advertisement for the Belleek Pottery company, located in what is now Northern Ireland, so we decided to see the Visitors Centre. You’ve seen this pottery: Wikipedia says is is “characterized by its thinness [and] slightly iridescent surface”—and that classic shamrock pattern. Waterford and Belleek = Ireland, in some ways.

It’s a nice drive, but we had to laugh: our GPS was loaded only with maps for the Republic, so the minute we crossed the line it just went dark. Fortunately, the factory isn’t but a few thousand feet over the border, in a pretty setting. (And when we crossed back—magic!—the map appeared again.)

The grey building is the Visitors Centre, and that’s the factory behind it. The complex sits right on a river.

The tall grey building is the Visitors Centre, and that’s the factory behind it. The complex sits right on a river.

Taken from the parking lot at the Belleek Visitors Centre.

Taken from the parking lot at the Belleek Visitors Centre.

I’ve always had a thing for glass, china, pottery … so this was right up my alley. We went round and round that showroom, making a decision. (Made somewhat more difficult by the arrival of a tour bus.) Finally, we picked out a beautiful vase and had it shipped home to Tennessee. We were warned it would take five to seven weeks—and it did, which was interesting, because we have shipped things home from Nicholas Mosse Pottery and had it arrive in a week. That’s not such a big thing, really, but I must say Nicholas Mosse does a great job of packing in brand-new reinforced boxes, whereas the Belleek factory shipped our vase in a box that had clearly been used at least once before—it was, at best, dilapidated. The vase was rattling around in a box inside that wasn’t the box it had been displayed in, and to be frank, we were astonished to find it in one piece. (Really, Belleek, you should visit Nicholas Mosse sometime and take a look at how they do it. If they can get it to us in a week in a brand-new box at no more cost, surely you could do better than six weeks in a beat-up old box? Just a thought. Presentation is important.)

Furthermore, the marketing materials in the Visitors Centre proclaimed that we would never find better prices on Belleek Pottery anywhere—which made sense at the time, right? we were right there at the source—but later that day in a Donegal Town gift shop, we found the same pieces we’d looked at for a little less (and they weren’t sale prices). So all in all, I’d say if you’re going to visit the Belleek Pottery Visitors Center, check out online retailers and get an idea of what the cost is before you visit the factory.

We’d also seen mentions of the Donegal Craft Village, a collection of local artisans working in a retail environment. This is a lot like the Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny (they have a retail-only store in Dublin we like to shop at), so we stopped there for a visit. Then we drove on in to Donegal Town, where we parked and walked.

At one point we’d discussed staying here, in the middle of town. We’d heard it was nice. But … the traffic! the congestion! the noise! We’re so glad we didn’t.

At one point we’d discussed staying here, in the middle of town. We’d heard it was nice. But … the traffic! the congestion! the noise! We’re so glad we didn’t.

We shopped a little around the central square (and off it, too), finding our way, eventually, to the Four Masters Book Shop (of course!), where I did buy a couple books. (Possibly more than a couple. It all gets so hazy.) Then we toddled across the street to the public square (they call it a diamond, but, hey, one gal’s diamond is another gal’s square, y’know?) and admired the monument to the Four Masters. They’re a thing.

The Four Masters momument in Donegal Town.

The Four Masters momument in Donegal Town.

I hadn’t heard of them, of course. That’s what writing these blogs are for. 🙂 In a nutshell, the Annals of the Four Masters—hello: a book!—purport to be a chronicle of Irish history dating from the Flood (uh-huh), which the writers dated as 2,242 years after creation, to AD 1616. You can read more about it here.

The base of the monument.

The base of the monument.

Wikipedia says, “The chief compiler of the annals was Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh from Ballyshannon, who was assisted by, among others, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain.” Here are two of those names.

Wikipedia says, “The chief compiler of the annals was Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh from Ballyshannon, who was assisted by, among others, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain.” Here are two of those names.

I’ll be frank: Donegal Town was crowded and noisy in the early afternoon, and we were still tired. In the previous week we’d had a big party, stayed up really late, driven across the country, and then all over Inishowen. All of it was fun, but it was catching up with us; we were both completely exhausted. It was too early to eat, so we went back to the hotel. I had some editing I needed to work on anyway.

On the way, we found a more convenient way to enter and exit the hotel property, by ignoring the GPS. 🙂 This road actually drove us right by Lough Eske (the lake).

It’s a pretty lake, and though we intended to drive completely around it while we were there, we never managed to.

It’s a pretty lake, and though we intended to drive completely around it while we were there, we never managed to.

I worked a little, then we went back to the bar for supper. If I have any criticism of the hotel, it’s that the food in the bar, though it looked good, was not that special, and they were pretty chintzy with the portions.

Still, it was good just to relax in our spacious room, reading, watching TV (rugby! the world championships were on the entire time I was in Ireland, and I watched a lot but never truly understood the rules), snacking on goodies we’d picked up. Good night!

* Am I showing my age? My parents used this expression frequently when I was growing up. You don’t hear it these days.

 

Good-Bye To All That

8 October 2015, Thursday
Today we moved from Inishowen to Donegal Town. On the way, we were going to drop John at the Donegal Regional Airport. And I had a few more adventures planned. 🙂

So we had breakfast in the sunny dining room, then got packed and left around ten o’clock. Drove down to Muff and back across the R239, which we’d found so exciting coming in but was old hat now, and left the peninsula.

You can see the route here. We were on our way to another head—Fanad Head.

For some reason, Google Maps will not embed this evening. It doesn't recognize the Pb parameters—whatever that is! So I’ve made a screen shot instead. Good grief!

For some reason, Google Maps will not embed this evening. It doesn’t recognize the Pb parameters—whatever that is! So I’ve made a screen shot instead. Good grief! (UPDATE: It will, however, embed the map below. I’m so confused.)

On all our Inishowen travels we’d learned to use the paper map, plus John’s mobile phone map, plus the GPS to sort of triangulate where we wanted to go and how best to get there. The GPS alone had a tendency to take us the most direct route—but those were often bad roads (not well taken care of) or excessively narrow and just a little bit frightening. Sometimes you’re just better off taking a slightly longer route but staying on a main road. Coupled with lack of sign-posting (what is the name of this road? who knows?), each destination is an adventure.

But our printed map stopped at the peninsula, so we weren’t quite sure where we were half the time.* I took the pictures, though, and looked them up later.

Thus I can tell you this was taken along Mulroy Bay. (On Google Maps you see it called Broad Water. And while I was researching this, I found this fabulous video of it.)

Thus I can tell you this was taken along Mulroy Bay. (On Google Maps you see it called Broad Water. And while I was researching this, I found this fabulous video of it.)

Looking north along Mulroy Bay. That’s the Fanad Peninsula on the right, the Rosguill Peninsula on the left.

Looking north along Mulroy Bay. That’s the Fanad Peninsula on the right, the Rosguill Peninsula on the left.

The further north we went, the smaller the roads got, and the more convoluted the route with sharp turns and confusing road signs. We drove and we drove and we drove. We could see the sea, finally. And then we went over a little rise, crossed a little bridge, and—boom!—there it was. All three of us gasped.

Wouldn’t you?

Wouldn’t you? That’s the lighthouse on the left. Remember, you can click on this photo to enlarge and zoom in.

We pulled over, got out, stretched our legs, took photos. Drove a little father, took more photos.

Again … wouldn’t you? What a view!

Again … wouldn’t you? What a view!

But even here we weren’t all the way there. So we drove as far as we could. Until the road ended.

They don’t let you onto the lighthouse property.

They don’t let you onto the lighthouse property.

The lighthouse at Fanad Head.

The lighthouse at Fanad Head.

The sign at the tiny parking turnout reads:

For centuries, Fanad Point has had strategic importance in protecting the Irish coastline and passing ships. The first lighthouse—lit in 1817—replaced an earlier British watchtower. The Navy called for a lightouse after the HMS Saldahna wrecked about 1811. Only the ship’s parrot survived. The present lighthouse dates to 1886. The ruined buildings are the remains of a coast guard station. In the mid-1800s, about 90 stations were built around Ireland. During WW1, Lough Swilly became the main Atlantic base for the Allied Fleet. Fanad Point guarded its entrance.

We all agreed that Fanad Head was worth the drive. The view was spectacular!

Looking back the way we came to Fanad.

Looking back the way we came to Fanad.

See the pretty beach? Immediately west of Fanad Point.

Here’s a satellite view I grabbed from Google Maps, so you can tell what you’re looking at. But then, maybe I’m the only one who obsesses about where, exactly, I am. I do love a map.

Here’s a satellite view I grabbed from Google Maps, so you can tell what you’re looking at. But then, maybe I’m the only one who obsesses about where, exactly, I am. I do love a map.

Now we were going to head to the airport, with a stop in Glenveagh National Park. But remember what I said about trusting the GPS? There might have been more comfortable ways to get there, but instead we bounced along on tiny backroads across the top of the Fanad Peninsula, threading our way on the little piece of dry land between Kincrum Lough and the northernmost point of Mulroy Bay. Honestly, I can’t even tell if the road is numbered. (It’s not: it was a private road, I’ve discovered.)

Here’s a look at the map again:

Finally the road turned decidedly south and we crossed Drongawn Lough (a branch of Mulroy Bay) on the very modern Harry Blaney Bridge onto Rosguill Peninsula.

 I did not take this photo; I snatched it from the Internet, and don’t even know who to credit. Nice shot, though.

I did not take this photo; I snatched it from the Internet, and don’t even know who to credit. I can’t tell you which side the photograph’s taken from, either. Nice shot, though.

It was picturesque country, to say the least. (Majestic … spectacular … those are closer to the truth.) I’d planned to take us by Doe Castle—it’s a national monument now—but I’d learned just that morning that it was already closed for the season. A view of it is, however, on the Wild Atlantic Way, and we settled for that. 🙂

The Wild Atlantic Way strikes again!

The Wild Atlantic Way strikes again!

Doe Castle on the shores of Sheephaven Bay at low tide, October 2015.

Doe Castle on the shores of Sheephaven Bay at low tide, October 2015.

A closer view of Doe Castle.

A closer view of Doe Castle.

Then we got back on the road, through ever-changing countryside.

Crossing the Lackagh River, which drains from Sheephaven Bay into Glen Lough.

Crossing the Lackagh River, which drains from Sheephaven Bay into Glen Lough.

Again, we went from bare hills into tree-covered countryside, from highway to country lane. Just after the bridge above, this …

An old farm truck, with the farm dog riding shotgun. They were moving very slowly.

An old farm truck, with the farm dog riding shotgun. They were moving very slowly.

… and then we followed the signs to Glenveagh National Park. It is the second-largest national park in Ireland, and it is magnificent. Whoa.

A view of Lough Veagh in Glenveagh National Park, October 2015.

A view of Lough Veagh in Glenveagh National Park, October 2015.

Glenveagh National Park, October 2015.

Glenveagh National Park, October 2015.

The history isn’t pretty, though. The estate that forms the bulk of the park was purchased in 1859 by John George Adair, who then built a castle on it in 1870–73. He was rich, and he was, well, an asshole too: Adair notoriously evicted 224 poor tenant farmers for no reason other than he believed they spoiled his view. In 1937 the estate was purchased by American Henry Plumer McIlhenny, who later sold the land to the Irish State; in 1981 the family gave the castle and gardens to Ireland outright.

John and I took the shuttle bus two miles in to Glenveagh Castle, while Gerry declined. (He made himself useful with a camera, though. You’ll see.)

It would have been a lovely place to live, Glenveagh Castle. If your neighbors didn’t hate you.

It would have been a lovely place to live, Glenveagh Castle. If your neighbors didn’t hate you.

We decided against touring the house and just strolled around outside, admiring the gardens, then found our way to the tearoom for a cuppa. (I have yet to eat in a venue tearoom that wasn’t delish. Yum. I had Banofee pie, which is banana/toffee.)

Garden at Glenveagh Castle.

Garden at Glenveagh Castle.

All the doors were painted this lovely aqua—one of my favorite colors.

All the doors were painted this lovely aqua—one of my favorite colors.

In one of the gardens I heard a bird singing loudly, very close by the bush I was standing under. I looked and looked and looked—and there he was! I’ve since learned this is a robin. (A European robin?) It’s much smaller than the North American robin, but my Irish and British friends tell me they are very vocal and are unafraid of humans, which was obvious here.

I clicked several photos as quickly as I could, worried that the bird would fly off, but there it sat.

I clicked several photos as quickly as I could, worried that the bird would fly off, but there it sat.

Meanwhile, Gerry was having his own stroll around the park.

A little boathouse on Lough Veagh.

A little boathouse on Lough Veagh.

Grasses growing in the lake.

Grasses growing in the lake.

More of Lough Veagh.

More of Lough Veagh.

A different part of the lake at Glenveagh.

A different part of the lake at Glenveagh.

A beautiful trellised walkway at Glenveagh.

A beautiful trellised walkway at Glenveagh.

Then we drove on toward the coast, along the R251. The rocky terrain was simultaneously bleak and beautiful. Laughing and talking and oohing and aahing. And singing. In the car. 🙂

We’d been watching a peak in the distance, and finally got close enough to stop. Mount Errigal, just between Dunlewy and Gweedore.

Mount Errigal. This really doesn’t do it justice; it’s enormous. The sign says, basically, “Welcome to Gweedore” in Irish. Welcome to the Gaeltacht.

Mount Errigal. This really doesn’t do it justice; it’s enormous. The sign says, basically, “Welcome to Gweedore” in Irish. Welcome to the Gaeltacht.

A view of Dunlewy Lough, opposite Mount Errigal. What a brilliant day that was!

A view of Dunlewy Lough, opposite Mount Errigal. What a brilliant day that was!

Mountains across from Errigal.

Mountains across from Errigal in a late-fall afternoon sunlight.

Here we’d driven halfway around Errigal; the gentle slope that disappears at the right of this frame is where we took the previous shot. Can you imagine having this in your—ahem—backyard? We filled up the car here.

Here we’d driven halfway around Errigal; the gentle slope that disappears at the right of this frame is where we took the previous shot. Can you imagine having this in your—ahem—backyard? We filled up the car here.

Slowly we came back down out of the mountains as we approached the western coastline of Donegal, on which sits the airport. No seriously, it is right on the water’s edge (of the North Atlantic). This was definitely an outpost, but was way cool. Getting there, though, was all one-lane roads through bogland—though at least you could see cars coming, it was so flat. We passed residential areas as we got close, nothing commercial. We wondered if these folks commuted by plane to Dublin (there were a lot of cars in the lot but not a lot of people inside).

We pulled up to the entrance and unloaded, then I went to park.

We pulled up to the entrance and unloaded, then I went to park.

As previously noted: Welcome to the Gaeltacht. Irish spoken here.

As previously noted: Welcome to the Gaeltacht. Irish spoken here.

What a difference from the Dublin Airport! It was peaceful, quiet. I pulled the car around to the lot and then had one of those moments that happen so fast you can’t get the camera booted up quickly enough: as I was leaping out of the car, a flight was taking off. It came right over the top of the tiny terminal, facing me. Loud and close. It was like something out of a movie from the 1950s. That plane was so close I felt as if I could touch it, as if I should be jumping up and down and waving. Definitely a wow! moment, and it was all mine.

The airport was small and uncrowded. We said our good-byes.

John and Gerry. We’ll do it again one of these days, please God!

John and Gerry. We’ll do it again one of these days, please God!

Walking back to the parking lot. That’s Mount Errigal in the distance. See? Massive.

Walking back to the parking lot. That’s Mount Errigal in the distance. See? Massive.

Then Gerry and I headed south toward Donegal Town and our next hotel. As we drove away on the tiny one-lane roads, I said, “No one will ever believe this was the approach to an airport.” So we took a photo through the windshield.

So believe it. This is the R266, not a mile away from the airport.

So believe it. This is the R266, not a mile away from the airport.

There was a lot of roadwork being done on the N56, so it was some tricky driving, but we finally arrived at the hotel. At Lough Eske Castle.

Hello, gorgeous.

Hello, gorgeous.

Yes, I really did stop the car and jump out to take a photo. Wouldn’t you?

Inside, everything was very relaxed and very high end. (I felt like a country bumpkin!) Although we did have to carry some luggage up the front stairs, where the trolley was waiting for us. The staff was friendly and fun to talk to. We were checked in in a Donegal minute. 🙂

Oh, and the room! OMG.

The room was huge and luxurious—and this is only half of it. This was the first and only true king-sized bed we slept in, though every place we stayed advertised the bed as a king. There was a couch and coffee table behind me.

The room was huge and luxurious—and this is only half of it. This was the first and only true king-sized bed we slept in, though every place we stayed advertised the bed as a king. There was a couch and coffee table behind me.

The bathroom had double sinks and both a shower and large tub. Closets and drawers, too—this bathroom alone was nearly as big as our room at the Redcastle.

The bathroom had double sinks and both a shower and large tub. Closets and drawers, too—this bathroom alone was nearly as big as our room at the Redcastle.

A view of a courtyard from our window—actually quite lovely. (The breakfast room also looked out on this courtyard.)

A view of a courtyard from our window—actually quite lovely. (The breakfast room also looked out on this courtyard.)

And on the table near the window, this …

Chocolate-covered strawberries and truffles. I could get used to this.

Chocolate-covered strawberries and truffles. I could get used to this.

… and next to it a hand-written note addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Hampson: “Congrats to you both! Hope you have a wonderful stay with us here at Lough Eske.” Yes, they had me at chocolate. 🙂

We ate in the bar, which had a really nice ambience. But they will not cook a burger to order (I had to ask—a burger sounded really good—but I know from experience the Irish overcook beef, particularly hamburgers, and I will not eat another unless the chef will cook it my way) and they were out of Greenore whiskey, even though they were pushing it on their whiskey menu.

So we lingered next to the window in the bar and watched the shadows grow long, and then went upstairs to bed. It had been a very long day.

This is the waitress coming to tell me they are out of Greenore. (sigh)

This is the waitress coming to tell me they are out of Greenore. (sigh)

* Every morning I tried to look at Google Maps before we left the room, but it’s hard to keep all that in your head. 🙂