Malin Head, County Donegal

Malin Head’s rugged landscape hosts flourishing wildlife, historic curiosities and some of the island’s most spectacular views

Beach at Malin Head, County Donegal
Beach at Malin Head, County Donegal

As far north as north goes…

Malin Head lies on the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, at the most northerly tip of the island of Ireland. With the wild Atlantic Ocean for a neighbour, the area is renowned for epic coastal scenery, thriving birdlife and plenty of historical significance.

Banba’s Crown

Enter Malin Head along the west side of the Wild Atlantic Way’s Inishowen Peninsula and continue to the tip called Banba’s Crown (named after a mythical Irish queen). "The Tower", as it’s known locally, was built by the British Admiralty in 1805 as a Napoleonic lookout to help defend against possible French attack.

Moving on, you’ll also find Fort Dunree (Dun Fhraoigh in Gaelic, or "Fort of the Heather"), along with two museums and a display of military artefacts from the local area. Also on Banba’s Crown are old WWII lookout posts, which were used by the Irish forces to prevent violation of the country’s neutrality. These days, though, you’re more likely to spot dolphins and the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis from the vantage point (more about the latter later on)!

What lies beneath?

Below the turbulent waters, the folks at Malin Head Shipwrecks can tell you that there are more ocean liners and German U-boats sunk off this stretch than anywhere else in the world. If you prefer to stay on dry land, though, go for a ramble on Banba’s Crown by following the western path from here to Hell’s Hole. This dramatic chasm is 76 metres (249 feet) deep, so mind your step!

History all around

The Inishowen Peninsula is home to the epic remains of a stunning stone ring fort called Grianan of Aileach (Fortress of the Sun). It’s built upon the site of the original 1700BC ringfort, and stands 244m (735 feet) above sea level. On a clear day, check out the views over Lough Swilly, Inch Island and no less than six surrounding counties, as well as the Scottish coastline. The Doagh Famine Village is another chapter of discovery on the peninsula. Take the guided tour and you'll be transported back in time to the life-changing events that dominated the lives of mid-19th-century locals.

And any O’Dohertys out there? Check out 16th-century Carrickabraghy Castle overlooking Trawbreaga Bay – one of four remaining O’Doherty castles on the peninsula…

Explore your surroundings

Feeling peckish? Experience a private dining experience with the Chef’s Table at Brian McDermott’s Cookery School. This innovative chef doesn’t add salt to any of his ingredients, making his creations both delicious and healthy to learn. A brisk round of links golf at Ballyliffin Golf Club is the perfect way to work off the food you’ve prepared and devoured. This is Ireland’s most northerly golf course and, of course, the scenery is amazing. If golf isn’t your forte, take a leisurely walk around Inishowen Head or rent a bicycle from Cycle Inishowen to discover the land on two wheels.

The birdwatcher’s dream

The craggy cliffs of Inishowen are also home to the Inch Wildfowl Reserve, a wetland site with 8km (5 miles) of walks around Inch Lake. This is one of the last areas where you can hear the cry of the corncrake on the wind. Other prevalent bird species include puffins, snow buntings and choughs.

A jewel of a beach

Make sure to find time for the stunning Ballyhillion Beach. This unique raised beach is something of a natural wonder due to the semiprecious stones that line its shores. Keep your eyes open for serpentine, jasper and cornelian.

Just picture it

Finally, one of the world’s most amazing natural phenomena has started to make regular appearances off the Inishowen Peninsula. Thanks to a peak in the sun’s activity, the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis are being spotted off the coast. This is set to go on for a few more years, too, so maybe you’ll be in luck when you visit?

So there you have it: exhilarating coastal walks, unsurpassed natural beauty, spectacular phenomena and historical intrigue… take it all in before heading back on your Wild Atlantic Way adventure!

Geographical coordinates: Latitude 55.3833; longitude 7.3667 (note, if you use your car’s GPS to go directly to this point, you may not always remain on the Wild Atlantic Way route.)

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