Here’s to the ice age. Whatever happened during that freezing, melting, earth-shifting period that began 2.6 billion years ago, it left us with some impressive scenery. Take Donegal, for example. You could easily imagine some otherworldly architect scooping out earth to dig vast valleys, or pulling cliffs up from the Atlantic, making plenty of space for nesting puffins.
And in Donegal’s ice-age crown, one diamond glitters just that little bit brighter – The Inishowen Peninsula.
For anyone that has listened to the lullabye-like Irish Sea Area weather forecast on radio, the name ‘Malin Head’ will be familiar. If you want to go north in Ireland, this is as far as you can go. Go north from here and you’re in the Arctic Circle. Hang around, though, and the rugged, remote and unspoiled Inishowen Peninsula is yours.
As wild as the area can get, it also provides solace. It was into Inishowen waters – Lough Swilly to be precise – where sailor John Newton found himself after the ship he was on hit a violent storm in the North Atlantic in 1748. The horrific experience engendered a new faith in God within the young Englishman. It is said that this conversion is what ultimately led Newton to write the epic hymn Amazing Grace.
If you want a view of that very place, climb to the top of the hills that lie between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. Here, as well as being able to look down on the quiet waters that provided refuge for Newton, you can also explore the Grianan of Aileach. Sitting at just over 800ft above sea level, this mysterious stone ring fort sits on a site that is thought to date back over 4,000 years. The current structure originated in the 5th century, and has had its fair share of guests over the years: St Patrick, the Princes of Aileach, and the heroic mythical royal people, the Tuatha de Danann, all visited.
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Inishowen’s scenery doesn’t end at Lough Swilly. Hop behind the wheel, or hop up on two wheels and just explore. If a feeling of the great wide open, the untouched and the unspoiled is why you came to Ireland – you’ve found it. Atlantic views go on for miles. Roads lined with a tapering line of grass cut through valleys, and wind their way into fishing villages such as Moville, Shrove and Muff.
And when you reach Malin Head and the Atlantic is all yours, grab a glass, and raise a toast to the ice age.
We wouldn’t have Inishowen without it.