Driving from Letterkenny toward Falcarragh and ultimately our final destination, Dungloe, a friend of mine not from Ireland once commented “Jesus…I feel like we are driving to the end of the earth”. Nothing to see here folk, move along. Ah but there you see, you are greatly mistaken and don’t turn back for you are driving through some of the most beautiful undisturbed landscape in the whole of Europe. Quite possibly there has never been a homestead on these lands.
“Situated in northwest Donegal, the core area of Glenveagh National Park was formerly an enormous private estate of over 9,500 hectares in extent. The present day National Park now includes elements of another large estate and has a total area of over 16,500 hectares, making it Ireland’s largest. It boasts, like Killarney, beautiful lakes set in impressive mountain scenery (the Park includes the two highest peaks in Donegal – Errigal and Slieve Snacht). The underlying granite gives to the landscape a quite different character to the sandstone and limestone strata of Killarney however. At the south-west end of the Park are the ice-carved cliffs of the Poisoned Glen and Bingorm, while the north-east end has a gentler array of hills, deep peat bogs and the swampy valley of the Owencarrow river.
Natural woodlands of Oak and Birch clothe the slopes of the deep valley that bisects the Park. These woods are inhabited by Badgers, Foxes and Stoats, whilst woodland bird life includes Siskins, Treecreepers, Redstarts and Wood Warblers. On the uplands of the Park, birds more likely to be encountered include Ravens, Peregrines, Stonechat and Grouse, and the upland slopes are dotted with the yellow flowers of Tormentil and Bog Asphodel.
The Park contains a large herd of Red Deer but, unlike Killarney, these are not of native Irish stock. A twenty eight mile fence was erected in the 1890’s to contain the herd, which spend most of the summer on high ground, returning to more sheltered areas during the winter or in prolonged poor weather.
Perhaps the outstanding feature of Glenveagh is its wilderness character with the sense of remoteness and solitude that it conveys to the visitor. The Park was opened formally in 1986 and, from the purpose-built Visitor Centre, visitors travel by Park transport along the shores of Lough Veagh to Glenveagh Castle (built in 1870 by George Adair) and its outstanding gardens, which are both open to the public. ”
Ah yes Sir George Adair….forever memorialized in the song by the popular Donegal band Goat’s Don’t Shave in their song “Evictions at Derryveagh”. In April 1861 Sir Adair evicted 250 families from their homes. Some died on the side of the road, some had no option but to go to the workhouse and some more were shipped to Australia and all so that Sir Adair could install sheep on his valued property and afterward build his castle for his American bride.
The Poisoned Glen, with its spired church where my daddy used to take us on a Sunday to Errigal for a spin in the car, and would tell us girls that it was where Sleeping Beauty got married to the Handsome Prince. And even to this day, that’s what I tell my kids when we drive by…”look…that’s where Sleeping Beauty got married”.