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Donegal's Greatest 'Shrines'

Whatever your God may be, a 'pilgrimage' to these wonders will reward the soul.

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Rating: 4 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 300 miles
Duration: Multiple days
Family Friendly

Overview:  Two of the great sacred cows of 20th century Ireland seem to be inextricably linked to Donegal, the Irish language via Gaeltacht... more »

Tips:  Ensure you download our Donegal Guide app, the link of which is on the right hand column. Do not use this App while driving, which is ... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Drowes river

Shrine One: the angler's first salmon.

Right on the border with Leitrim is the River Drowes, duly famous for regularly producing the first salmon of the year, being one of the few rivers opening on the 1st January. Rarely is there a year when a fish is not caught on opening day. Indeed this is a very festive occasion with some 250 anglers fishing... More

2. Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival

Shrine Two: Hometown boy.

It's hard to believe, but Rory died in 1995 aged 47 from complications after transplant surgery. His memory lives on with this tribute weekend, a newly unveiled statue and the three day extravaganza that is the festival named after him. All from a town that he lived in for only the first year of his life, born... More

3. Rossnowlagh

Shrine Three: surf's up.

Donegal Bay made the headlines recently for having a 20 metre wave off its coast - the highest recorded in Irish waters. The truly great surf beaches of the bay are Mullaghmore and Tullan Strand in Bundoran, but for a host of reasons, we're pointing you to somewhere with surf, scenery and safety.

Rossnowlagh is a very... More

4. St. Asicus's Grave

Shrine Four: in a league of his own.

Tucked up the top of a hill on the outskirts of Ballintra, look out for the unlikely burial site of Roscommon's patron saint. St. Asicus, the patron saint of coppersmiths, having been St. Patrick's very own coppersmith and silversmith. You don't have to go too far to see his work - his copper work can be seen ... More

5. Na Cruacha Gorma

Shrine Five: all things bright and beautiful.

One of the great ambassadors of the county is affable postman, Michael Gallagher, renowned for his uncanny ability to forecast the weather by a careful observation of wildlife and the elements, a skill he attributes to the people of Na Cruacha Gorma in the deepest part of the Finn valley. At the... More

6. St. Colmcille annual pilgrimage

Shrine Six: Tough station.

St Colmcille brought Christianity to the north-west corner of Ireland and the area is named and this annual pilgrimage is held in his honour.

The place is famous for the 'turas' or penitential pilgrimages that are made round the various stations on the 9th of June, the saint's day. The three mile pilgrimage starts at... More

7. The Laurels

Shrine Seven: dance to the music of time.

'The Laurels' is the actual house where Brian Friel's aunts, the 'five brave Glenties women' of the play, Dancing at Lughnasa, actually lived together in the 1930s. Just off Station Road outside of the harvest fair town of Glenties, this is the site that inspired a modern masterpiece by a playwright at... More

8. Inniskeel Island

Shrine Eight: For whom the bell tolls.

The magical Island of Inniskeel is the seat of a pilgrimage in honour of St. Conal Cael, one of Ireland's early saints. It contains his church and his cell and in it repose his sacred remains in the grave under a large boulder, traditionally known as St Conal's bed. Near the site is St Conal's holy well, but... More

9. Kerrytown

Shrine Nine: a blessed encounter.

For a considerable time in 1938, numerous people, including the parish priest, saw visions of the Virgin Mary at this very spot. Note the mementos that people leave behind of loved ones.

The shrine has long been a place of prayer and contemplation. It began in 1938 when a young girl and her sisters from... More

Shrine Ten: the first son of Donegal.

This is Donegal's version of Graceland with maybe a hint of Father Ted thrown in. This hotel, formerly owned by legendary local singer, Daniel O'Donnell, has become a shrine to the great man, despite the fact that he doesn't live here nor indeed still own it. Hailing from Kincasslagh, Daniel frequently makes ... More

Shrine Eleven: it's a family affair.

One of the most famous pubs in Donegal by virtue of the prodigious siblings who made up most of Clannad as well as the fragrant Enya. It's well signposted and is 3km south of Gweedore on the road to Crolly. The parents, Leo and Baba Brennan still serve behind the bar, but the nearest you'll see of the kids is ... More

12. Teach Hudi Beag

Shrine Twelve: the genesis of 'ceol agus ol'.

No visit to Ireland is complete without a proper traditional Irish music session. Only an idiot would call it diddley-i music for a true session is where women swoon, spirits soar and Gods are created in a single night. As such, a visit to this pub is a trip to "Mecca' for fans of the real thing. This... More

Shrine Thirteen: sacred clay in the real kingdom.

From the moment you see it for the first time from Magheroarty, your eyes are drawn to the magnificent island of Tory - home to the mythical Balor of the Evil Eye, the last place in Ireland with its own monarch, the incomparable Patsy Dan Rogers, where locals have been cut off from the mainland... More

Shrine Forteen: I can see for miles and miles.

In a land famed for its hills, there's one hill that is known far and wide, indeed it was voted Ireland's most iconic mountain by Walking and Hiking Ireland in 2009. Errigal is a 751 metres (2,464 ft) mountain near Gweedore and is the tallest peak of the Derryveagh Mountains and the tallest peak in... More

15. Doon Rock and Doon Well

Shrine Fifteen: O'Donnell Abú.

The O'Donnell clan ruled over most of Donegal, known as Tir Chonaill (excluding the Inishowen peninsula) from the castle, but were inaugurated as heads of the clan here at Doon Rock near Kilmacrenan in north Donegal. A straight white wand was handed to the chieftain by one of the clan's nobles with the words ... More

16. Grianan of Aileach

Shrine Sixteen: the forgotten dynasty.

Grianan of Aileach, the stonehouse of the sun. According to legend, it was built by Daghda, an ancient King of the Tuatha de Danann. A hillfort that once was at the historical centre where 18 high kings ruled over Ireland. During that time, the acts of its kings, warriors, tribes saints and sages dominate... More

17. Lough Swilly from Dunree

Shrine Seventeen: the lost souls.

Certain landscapes, such as the Boyne valley or Kinsale harbour, have borne witness to seminal dates in Irish history. Lough Swilly, whose name appropriately derives from the Gaelic for eyes, “suile” on account of St. Colmcille slaughtering a beast with many eyes on its shores, must rank highly amongst such sites... More

18. St. Eigne's Holy Well

Shrine Eighteen: All's well that ends well.

At the top of Mamore, you should stop off to view St. Eigne's Holy Well, renowned for its healing qualities and situated beside shrines to the Virgin Mother and St. Padre Pio.

There's a small tin jug by the well and you are encouraged to fill a bottle of holy water to bring home and cure ailments from ... More

19. Malin Head

Shrine Nineteen: a parent's farewell.

Ireland's most northerly point overlooks the crashing waves of the Atlantic. Far removed from any city lights, this is the best place in Ireland to witness the full spectacle of the night sky and of a chance to see the Northern Lights. Salute the stars and marvel at this jewel of the north for nowhere else on... More

20. Amelia Earhart's landing spot

Shrine Twenty: when Inishowen became Paris.

Pedants out there may note we're into another jurisdiction, but as we are five fields from Donegal and in light of the fact that the event being honoured, human endeavour and bravery, is far bigger than a border, we'll let it stand.

On the morning of May 20, 1932 the flight pioneer set off from Harbour... More

21. Beltony Stone Circle

Shrine Twenty one: saluting the Sun.

Raphoe is the smallest cathedral city in Europe, but it a site of worship over a mile south of the 'city' that there stands one of the best preserved stone circles in Ireland. Reputedly older than Stonehenge, it consists of 64 standing stones out of an original 80. Beltony is a corruption of Baal tine, the... More

22. McCumhaill Park

Shrine Twenty two: the pride of all.

There is nothing that unites the people of Donegal like its much loved Gaelic football team. The home of the team is in Ballybofey, the centre of the county and it is here that regular training occurs and where many battles have taken place in the championship. The senior team's All Ireland victory of 1992 is ... More

23. Famine Pot

Shrine Twenty three: the great hunger.

From this pot were the impoverished locals fed during the Great Hunger of the late 1840s. It stands as a memorial to all those brave souls that perished during those dark days.

The famine of the 1840s or the Great Hunger, caused by a complete failure of the potato crop, was the most devastating event in... More

24. St. Patrick's Purgatory

Shrine Twenty four: time out with a difference.

Located on Station Island in the middle of Lough Derg, this is believed to be where St. Patrick fasted and so do 30,000 pilgrims from June to mid August. It's quite gruelling so check out the website; best to be a genuine pilgrim, not a curious traveller! See the website below for travel details.... More