Ireland // Donegal //

Glencolmcille and around

As the road from Carrick approaches GLENCOLMCILLE, it traverses desolate moorland that’s dominated by oily-black turf banks amidst patches of heather and grass. After this, the rich beauty of the Glen, as it’s known, comes as a welcome surprise. Settlement in the area dates back to the Stone Age, as testified by the enormous number of megalithic remains scattered around the countryside, especially court cairns and standing stones. There’s evidence, too, of the Celtic era, in the form of earthworks and stone works. According to tradition, St Columba founded a monastery here in the sixth century and some of the standing stones, known as the Turas Cholmcille, were adapted for Christian usage by the inscription of a cross. Every Columba’s Day (June 9) at midnight, the locals commence a barefoot circuit of the fifteen Turas, including Columba’s Chapel, chair, bed, wishing stone and Holy Well, finishing up with Mass at 3am in the village church. (Columba and Columbcille/Colmcille are the same person – the latter is the name by which he was known after his conversion, and means “the dove of the church”.)

Heading northeast from Glencolmcille, the minor road to Ardara runs through the heart of the peninsula, travelling via the dramatic Glengesh Pass before spiralling down into wild but fertile valley land. Just before reaching Ardara, a road to the left runs along the southern edge of Loughros Beg Bay for 9km to MAGHERA, passing the transfixing Assarancagh Waterfall, from where you can embark on a hardy ten-kilometre waymarked walk uphill to the Glengesh Pass.

Maghera itself is an enchantingly remote place, dwarfed by the backdrop of hills and glens and fronted by an expansive and deserted strand that extends westwards to a rocky promontory riddled with caves. One of the largest is said to have concealed a hundred people fleeing Cromwell’s troops; their light was spotted from across the strand and all were massacred except a lucky individual who hid on a high shelf. Most of the caves are accessible only at low tide and a torch is essential. Beware of the tides, however, as even experienced divers have been swept away by the powerful currents. Behind the village, a tiny road, unsuitable for large vehicles, runs up to the Granny Pass, an alternative and very scenic route to Glencolmcille.