Five kilometres of one of the most beautiful beaches in the World
by Tommy Francis
Falcarragh doesn’t have the longest beach in the world. You’ll have to go to Brazil for that. It does, however, have five kilometres of one of the most beautiful. Stretching from the great sea arch at St. Fionan’s Well to the pier at Ballyness Bay it is surrounded by hills and history, islands, sand dunes and has a huge variety of shells, seaweed, seabirds and surfers searching for the perfect wave. (See Water Sports Falcarragh).The Ray River empties gently across the sand after its journey from the mountains. Children paddle and build little dams or castles while their parents watch or join in.
The pier was finished in 1848 when the Great Famine was still at its devastating worst and hundreds were leaving to search for a better life in the Land of the Free. Their story can be seen at the Workhouse in Dunfanaghy just a few miles away. Today you can lie on the sand and watch the contrails of the great jets speeding east and west along the Grand Circle. It is a far cry from the cramped, dark, damp and dangerous conditions of steerage in those not really so far off days.
At Ray Church, a twenty minute walk along the river and over the little bridge, you will find one of the most unique and oldest High Crosses in Ireland. Cut from a single massive slab it is said to be the tallest and earliest example of its kind. Around it are the graves of the Olphert family who came here from Holland in the 1600’s.The Olphert Hoard, a collection of gold ornaments discovered in the sand dunes over a hundred years ago, is now in the National Museum. Perhaps not all of it was discovered so keep your eyes peeled for something glinting in the sand.
Inishbofin,Inishdooey with its medieval church, and Inishbeg stretch out towards Tory, the only island in Ireland which has a king. It also has a Round Tower and a Tau Cross. It is famous for its artists whose works hang in collections around the world.
Look over to the east at Horn Head and you can admire the profile of the Duke of Wellington, Donegal’s answer to Mount Rushmore. There are thousands of seabirds on the cliffs, puffins, cormorants and guillemots. Hundreds of gannets plummet into the sea and their splashes are easily seen from the beach. In the field behind the dunes you can hear the call of the very rare corncrake which still visits the area. To the west is Magheraroarty (where the ferry leaves for Tory) and Bloody Foreland, the scene of a famous prehistoric battle which gave it its name.
At night the beach is completely free from light pollution just as it would have been ten thousand years ago and the stars scatter out above you as many as the grains of sand under your feet. The Aurora Borealis has been frequently seen in recent years and people come from miles around hoping to get a glimpse of its mysterious dancing colours.
So, from Falcarragh beach you can walk, run jog, dander, swim, and surf, explore the dunes or just admire a view that is almost totally unchanged since the first seafarers landed and began to name the lakes, rivers and mountains.Muckish,theAghlas and Errigal, the highest mountain in Donegal, all of them beautiful.
They are not the highest mountains in the world of course. If you want those you will have to go to Nepal.