Errigal Hostel looks to change perceptions

Errigal Hostel looks to change perceptions
Errigal Hostel, at the foot of Donegal’s great peak, shows how today’s hostels are well suited to backpackers, birthdays and business meetings.

Errigal Hostel, at the foot of Donegal’s great peak, shows how today’s hostels are well suited to backpackers, birthdays and business meetings.

It has been seven years since An Óige built the new, purpose-built Errigal Hostel at Dún Lúiche, replacing the original facility that first opened its doors 45 years ago.

Located in the Derryveagh Mountains, and not far from the beaches of Gaoth Dobhair, the hostel has always been very popular with people coming to Donegal to enjoy the county’s beautiful outdoors. They still regularly host walking groups from Ireland and abroad, as well as schools and scout groups. The hostel’s Gaeltacht location also draws visitors who come for the Irish-speaking heritage and traditional-music sessions: Most of the current hostel staff are native Irish speakers.

But in more recent years the hostel has also seen people rent out the whole building for a weekend birthday party, and hosted talks and other events and conferences. They will host their first wedding reception later this year.

“The perception of what a hostel is and what it has to offer is changing,” said Ann Mooney of Gaoth Dobhair, new manager of the hostel.

The hostel’s 60 beds are distributed among 15 rooms -- two, four or six beds -- some rooms ensuite and some of the bigger rooms with loft beds. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the large dining area overlook the mountains and Lough Dunlewey. There is WiFi service and the first-floor common room has also been used for meetings. The hostel can provide meals for guests and events on request through their registered catering kitchen, or guests can opt for self-catering.

“We have facilities for any type of gathering,” Ann said. The hostel has twice been awarded the European Union ECO Flower Label, an environmental accreditation for commitment to sustainable tourism and protection of the local environment.

The hostel held an open-day recently, inviting the public, community groups and those who develop cultural packages for visitors to see what they have to offer. “We will be able to fulfill their needs and they weren’t aware of that,” Ann said.

Ann and staff member Sinead O’Donnell said that guests’ habits have changed over the years. Where Errigal guests used to stay for one or two nights, perhaps a weekend stop, they now stay longer, using the hostel as a base for visiting other parts of the county. Many are return visitors. They get visitors from the north and abroad, as well as a good number from Donegal.

Still, Ann and the staff hope that by helping to change the way people think of a hostel, they may see a boost in the number of visitors who come to Dún Lúiche in the quieter winter months and throughout the year. Local people, groups and organisations “are what will actually pull you through a dark season,” Ann said.