"With a weather-nibbled coast spotted with sea stacks, Blue Flag beaches and offshore islands, Donegal is a land that feels undiscovered. Last summer, scenes for 'Star Wars: Episode VIII' were filmed on the Inishowen Peninsula. But this area of Ireland is also expecting 2017 to be a big year; there’s an array of reasons to visit, from surfing beaches in Magheraroarty and Ballyhiernan Bay to Horn Head – a driving, walking or cycling loop that squeezes the 1,600-mile Wild Atlantic Way into a 4.5-mile nutshell."
Donegal has been named by National Geographic Traveller (UK) as No. 1 place for 2017 in it’s an annual “Cool List” of recommendations for people who love to travel. Among plenty of other “culture capitals, hipster hotspots, wild escapes and places generally keeping it cool” Donegal beat other great destinations to visit such as Greenland, Sudan and Seoul.
Speaking to the Irish Times, editor Pat Riddell said the county deservedly won the magazine's No. 1 place, “We considered many destinations for our Cool List 2017, but we felt Donegal was in a real sweet spot – off-radar and hard to access, but on the cusp of a breakthrough. On the one hand, you have big pushes like the Wild Atlantic Way and the recent visit of 'Star Wars'; on the other you only have to drive a few miles to have a beach or a road completely to yourself. It’s a warm-hearted place, but wilderness always feels just a stone’s throw away. And it is wilderness . . . world-class wilderness. We think it’s due a big year.”
Donegal’s hero and legend captain of the Donegal 1992 football team Anthony Molloy was given the Freedom of Donegal last June. The editor of National Geographic Traveller should definitely be the next recipient! This breaking news has made me sit up and appreciate what we have here in Donegal. It is a case for many of us not being able to see the forest for the trees. I certainly agree that west Donegal is class and our undulated coastline is one of the most picturesque in the world. The “wilderness” is truly “world-class” and I hope that it stays that way.
I suppose those of us who live in Donegal always knew that we have a gem in our vast swathes of quiet beaches, rolling hills, spectacular mountains, boundless bogs and especially our warm people who make up for the unpredictable weather that we often endure. The so-called Celtic Tiger never did reach Donegal. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average. Thanks to my involvement in football, I know the geography of my county like the back of my hand. Those people who live in the wilds of the county appreciate the untamed beauty of their landscape but, few have benefitted from it. An improvement in infrastructure coupled with investment in proper and adequate marketing would be a great help. The Wild Atlantic Way initiative has given us profile but we need more. Thanks to National Geographic Traveller Magazine, things might just be on the turn for our ‘forgotten’ county.
I’m off to London this weekend with my lifelong friend and playing colleague Marty Carlin for a few engagements in respect of my autobiography. I lived and worked in London for a spell but never forgot Donegal. I was just 19 years of age then. Initially, I was quite homesick but, gradually settled into obscurity in this vast metropolis. I found refuge in Gaelic football, namely, the Tara Gaelic football club. I detail my experience in the book which is a story in itself. Marty joined me in London at a later date and we both had a very successful time with the Tara club. We went on to represent Britain in the All-Ireland club series when a very talented Scotstown team narrowly beat us in Monaghan. Marty and I hope to renew acquaintances over the weekend and rehash some stories and memories. The main event will coincide with the Slaughtneil versus St. Kiernans (London) All-Ireland club quarter-final game at Tir Conaill GAA ground in Greenford on Sunday at 1pm.
I met Donegal’s number 1 supporter Edmund Brennan in the Diamond, Donegal Town earlier this week who had a number of things to say about ‘Confessions of a Gaelic Footballer’. Edmund “thoroughly enjoyed” it but, he wondered why I hadn’t mentioned the success that our U-21 team had in the Hastings Cup while I was manager in 1995. To be honest I totally forgot about it. The Hastings Cup was a pre-championship competition involving a selection of the better teams from Ulster and Connaught. Edmund hadn’t forgotten it though. He never misses a Donegal game, under-age or senior, home or away.
Donegal GAA had their annual awards function last weekend where many guests were honoured. You may not have been on that list Edmund but for us who appreciate your enthusiasm and loyal support, you will always be on our list.
As always, keeping the faith!