Driving the Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s first long-distance driving route, runs from northern Donegal down to West Cork, traversing isolated headlands, inlets, and little-visited peninsulas. The route follows the tortuous twists of roads that hug this indented coastline for more than 2,500 km (1,500 miles), but is arguably at its most dramatic in the Northwest. Donegal, with nearly 30 percent of all Ireland’s sandy beaches, has the lion’s share of golden strands. Malinbeg beach or Rossnowlagh are places to get out of the car, listen to the booming breakers, and absorb the tingling fresh air that has crossed 4,828 km (3,000 miles) of sea.

All along the coast "Discovery Points" showcase areas of interest (including bars and restaurants), provide information on heritage and culture, and suggest viewpoints at which to breathe in the dramatic scenery and watch the interplay of light. Secret places to visit along the way are said to be "where the locals go," and generally speaking, local knowledge is the best advice to go on. The driving route, which is well signposted with new information boards pointing you in the right direction, has created a wave of regeneration throughout the area. Information is also available from tourist offices in Sligo, Donegal, and Letterkenny where you can pick up copies of the Fáilte Ireland North West Tourist Pocket Guide, which includes details of the route. Each of the west of Ireland areas that make up the route from Donegal to Cork also has its own pocket guide, which are available in local tourist information offices. In the Northwest, highlights include the following favorite stopping points:

  • Start your journey at Malin Head, the most northerly point of the route and at the headland known as Banba's Crown, named after a mythical queen. Call into the Seaview Tavern where the owner Michael Doherty will direct you to local beauty spots. The spectacular stretch of coastline from Bunbeg to Carrigart includes Horn Head where squabbling seabirds converge, while across Sheephaven Bay, the rugged splendor of the Rosguill peninsula is ideal for a short looped walk or bike ride.
  • Famed for its musical connection and walls filled with memorabilia, Leo Crolly’s Tavern at Meenaleck in western Donegal is the home of musicians Enya, Clannad, and Moya Brennan. It is the place to see dancers kick their heels in the air. facebook.com/leostavern.
  • A narrow strip of Atlantic coastline at Streedagh Beach in northern County Sligo provides unique access to rocks encrusted with fossils as well as the site of three Spanish Armada shipwrecks. (www.seatrails.ie).
  • Fancy a hearty gallop on a young horse along a deserted beach? Then canter along on your own private island that crosses an Atlantic channel to O’Connor’s and Dernish Islands at Grange near Sligo. (www.islandviewridingstables.com).
  • One of Ireland’s original coastal thatched pubs, the Beach Bar at Aughris in County Sligo is the place for a warming bowl of chowder surrounded by 300 years of maritime history. It’s a pub where locals will happily spin you a yarn in exchange for a pint. (www.thebeachbarsligo.com).

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