12. The Longest Road

Published on 6 May 2023 at 11:23

Musseden Temple

Today was day 12 on our road trip around Ireland and our last day exploring Wild Atlantic Way. The Inishowen peninsula boasts the longest signposted scenic drive in Ireland – the “Inishowen 100”, and is County Donegal’s hidden gem. From spectacular beaches and headland bluffs, to the towering Dunaff mountain range, the drive takes you through diverse and stunning terrain laced with rich historical sites. It was definitely our favorite scenic drive in Ireland!

We started our journey with a stop at Grianana Ailigh, the royal seat of the O’Neill clan who ruled from here for over 500 years. It’s the only remaining terraced fort in Ireland and is linked with the Tuatha De Danann, one of three legendary ancient tribes who ruled over pre-historic Ireland: the other two being the Fir Bolg, or Bag Men – Hunter gatherers from Scotland, named for the leather pouches they carried, and the Fomorians, a giant war like maritime race from Africa. The Tuath De Dannan were eventually dispossessed by the Milesians, Celtic invaders from Central Europe (known to modern historians as the Gaels).

The story goes, that the Fir Bolg King, Eochaid mac Eirc, who then ruled Ireland, had a dream foretelling him about the arrival of a group of ships. The dream was fulfilled as 300 ships of the Tuatha De Danann, led by their King Nuada landed in Connaught. When they came ashore, they set fire to their ships to hide their arrival but also to make retreat impossible. Smoke from these fires could be seen for miles and filled the sky for 3 days and 3 nights. The first battle of Mag Tuired (Moytura) ensued, and the Fir Bolg were defeated and fled Ireland forever.

The Tuatha De Dannan were a druidic race with rare insight into the workings of nature and the curative properties of plants. They were also skilled craftsmen, musicians, soldiers and poets. In addition to their great wisdom, their divine status was reinforced by their incredible beauty. Tall and slight, with very light skin, delicate features, blue, gray or green eyes and long golden hair, it was said that their, “ faultless beauty could make mortal people crazy” (Koltypin, 2013).

After their defeat by the Milesians a bargain was struck to divide Ireland between them, “But the Gaels were cunning, and offered to split the lands of Ireland if they were allowed to stake their claim first. When the Danann agreed, the conquerors chose the land above ground, which then left the gods of old to preside over the lands below. They were forced to depart beyond the mortal world through the Sidhe [the earthworks and barrows scattered throughout Ireland]” (Jillian, 2015). Deprived of offerings and affection the Tuatha de Danann shriveled and withered until they became the little people or the Faerie Folk of legend.

From Grianana Ailigh we stopped briefly at Fort Dunree and Five Finger Strand as we followed the coastal road to the most northerly point of Ireland, Malin Head. This is the closest point in Ireland to Scotland. There used to be a land bridge connecting the two countries and on a clear day you can still see the Scottish hills from here, and apparently, if the Northern Lights are forecast, you can see the spectacular aurora borealis.

We took the mile long ramble along the cliff tops to explore Hells Hole and Devils Bridge before heading to Farren's, "Ireland's Most Northerly Bar," for lunch and a little liquid refreshment and relaxation (we already visited the most Easterly pub on the Dingle Peninsula). Then it was back in the car and time to leave the Wild Atlantic Way behind us as we headed to Greencastle to catch the ferry across the Lough, back to Northern Ireland and our final stop for the day, Mussenden Temple.

This fascinating building was built by the eccentric Earl of Bristol and Protestant Bishop of Derry as a memorial to his cousin, Mrs Frideswide Mussenden. It was built to replicate the design of the Temple of Vesta at Trivoli, and was originally designed to be used as a library (or according to other sources, an illicit boudoir for his mistress). The ruins on the estate are fascinating to walk through and the cliff top setting and Temple itself are magnificent - definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!

We ended the day in Portrush at the Portrush Holiday Hostel. Portrush makes a great leaping off point for exploring the famous Antrim coast. It is a large seaside resort town with a promenade along the tiny harbor, sweeping white beaches, and an Old Time Amusement Arcade.

Grianana Ailigh, Fort Dunree, Irish Road Block, Five Finger Strand, Malin Head, Farren's Bar, Mussenden Temple

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