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 goddess of Ireland). "The Tower", as it’s known locally, was built by the British Admiralty in 1805 as part of a string of buildings right around the Irish coast to guard against a possible French invasion.

More modest are the nearby WWII lookout posts. Malin Head was one of 83 coastal locations used to provide a picture of wartime events along the Irish coastline. The coast watchers here had plenty to report on in the early stages of the war as German U-boats attacked convoys in the vicinity.

What lies beneath?

Overall, the turbulent waters off Malin Head have witnessed more than their share of maritime history. The folk at Malin Head Shipwrecks can tell you that there are more ocean liners and German U-boats sunk off this stretch of coast than anywhere else in the world.

The view from the top

Several miles off the coast of Malin Head lies Inistrahull island, composed of the oldest rocks in Ireland, metamorphic gneisses dated at around 1.778 billion years old! Further to the east, the hills of Scotland can be seen on a good day. 

Also in view just along the coast from Banba’s Crown is Ballyhillin Beach, a unique raised beach system of international scientific significance. It’s a reminder of a time, 15,000 years ago, when sea level was up to 100feet higher than today. The beach is also well-known for its semi-precious stones.

It’s not uncommon to see dolphins at play along this coastline, and sometimes the spectacular Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis can be seen from here (more about that later on!).

Rambling on

You can go for a ramble from Banba’s Crown along the western path to skirt past Hell’s Hole (not publicly accessible), offering a view into a remarkable subterranean cavern pounded by the sea. The chasm is 76 metres (249 feet) deep, so mind your step! Nearby is a natural rock arch called the Devil’s Bridge.

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) at Burt. It’s built upon the site of the original 1700BC ringfort, and stands 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, and is centred on a ‘clachan’ or group of traditional farmhouses. 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 the centuries-old Carrickabraghy Castle, also on the Isle of Doagh, along the beach from Ballyliffin – one of four remaining O’Doherty castles on the Inishowen 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 about. 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 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.

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 this 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, the Inishowen experience: 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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