The area around the bustling town of Ardara contains some of the most contrasting landscapes in Donegal. Rugged mountains lie to the southwest, traversed by the steeply sinuous Glengesh Pass and fringed by the unspoiled expanse of Maghera strand. Inland to the northeast sits the stately village of Glenties, while to the north the coastline forms peninsulas punctuated by the Gweebarra River, which, in turn, leads inland to the tranquil villages of Doocharry and Fintown, virtually surrounded by mountain scenery of an almost lunar quality.
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Lively ARDARA, traditionally a weaving and knitwear centre, is an excellent place to buy cheap Aran sweaters. Molloy’s, a kilometre south of town, is the biggest outlet, but Kennedy’s, uphill from The Diamond, is handier (its owner is also a mine of local tourist information); both stores are well stocked with hand-loomed knitwear and tweeds. The Catholic church west of Ardara’s Diamond has a striking stained-glass window, Christ among the Doctors, by the Modernist-inspired Evie Hone, one of the most influential Irish artists of the twentieth century. The authors of the Gospels are depicted symbolically with the infant Christ at the centre and David and Moses above and below.
Set at the foot of two glens 10km east of Ardara, GLENTIES is a tidy village, with a beautiful modern church, at the Ardara end of town, designed by the Derry architect Liam McCormack; its vast sloping roof reaches down to 2m from the ground, and rainwater drips off the thousand or so tiles into picturesque pools of water. Opposite the church, St Conall’s Museum and Heritage Centre is one of the best small-town museums in the country and displays much material of local interest, focusing on wildlife, Donegal’s railways, antiquities, and the effects of the Great Famine. There’s a special display on local music, featuring the travelling Doherty family and an old 1885 Edison phonograph. Upstairs is devoted to the playwright Brian Friel, whose mother hailed from here – his Dancing at Lughnasa bears a dedication to “The Glenties Ladies” and was partly filmed in the neighbourhood – and the town’s most famous son, author Patrick MacGill, whose semi-autobiographical Children of the Dead End brilliantly recounts the wayward lives of migrant navvies: a summer school is held in his honour in late July, attracting hundreds of people to its exhibitions, seminars and literary debates.