Ireland

Wild Atlantic Meditation – Harness the Power

Roger Holmes No Comments

Wild Atlantic Meditation brings me home. It brings me to myself. Something magically transformative occurs when meditation is combined with  the power and serenity of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the Donegal coastline on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

I meditated for the first time high on a clifftop, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, at Port and Glenlough in Donegal. The seascape views from up there are simply stunning. That initial experience inspired me to create this blog, and embark on a journey of self-improvement and discovery. Id like to share a little of that Wild Atlantic Meditation experience with you.

After crossing the Atlantic over and back for two years while Yesi and I dated, following our October 2016 wedding in Donegal, I moved to New York City and we eventually decided to set up our home from home in the city that never sleeps. That move hasn’t been easy. There are times when I feel like a bird in a cage. When you go from wandering on remote coastlines, enjoying the fresh Donegal sea air, to living in an apartment in Queens, New York, you need to have something to ground you. I miss home, I miss family and friends, and I miss the powerful healing affect of those winter storms as they roll in from the Atlantic. But Wild Atlantic Meditation brings me back almost every day – back home and back to myself.

I often close my eyes and imagine that I am in the ocean, watching as the winter swells in the Atlantic send perfect waves rolling towards one of Donegal’s many beautiful beaches. In what I have come to call Wild Atlantic Meditation, I play the scene in slow-motion within my mind. As a wall of water starts to build to create a wave, I breath in, feeling the power generated by the wave standing up against a stiff offshore wind. I feel the power behind that breath as it fills not just my lungs, but my whole body and mind. I imagine the ocean smells and the unique freshness of the air on the Donegal coastline.

As the wave reaches the point of no return, I pause the scene, and hold my breath for just a second, right as the first white tips are appearing at the top of the wave. And then…aware of the power that it has created within itself, I let go. The images play slightly faster now, as the wave crashes forward under its own weight and momentum. As this happens, I breath out. Often, as I imagine the white horses galloping forward towards the coastline, I mimic the sound of the cascading water by blowing out through my lips. I maintain that breath and sound until the white foam has washed up on the sandy beach. I imagine how refreshing that wash up onto the beach is.

There is then a moment of complete serenity, before the water eventually succumbs to the back rip, and I again imagine that I am out beyond the break point, watching another wave building in tandem with my breath. Waves in a good swell often come in sets of seven, with the middle five being the most intense. I normally never make it to number five. After three or four deep breaths in tandem with imagining the waves breaking on the Donegal coastline, I am able to reach a meditative state. And it is pure bliss.

One of the interesting findings from oceanology is that waves do not actually move any matter most of the time. The water mostly remains in situ, and it is the energy which is transferred from one place to another. Perhaps only at the top of the wave as it breaks, and as the last foam reaches the high point on the shore, does the water actually move. I find that interesting when I think about the theory behind Wild Atlantic Meditation. The energy crosses the ocean, even if the matter does not. I like to compare the harmonic motion and oscillation created by energy moving across water, to the transformative affect it has regarding meditation.

I arrived in New York City as winter was taking its grip, and Donald Trump had just been elected to the office of president. As the winter wore on, and Yesi and I decided that I would file for a green card so that we could stay together in New York, there was a serious air of uncertainty creeping in. There was (and still is) much talk of stricter immigration policy. It would have been so easy to get down about it, especially since I am sitting around in an apartment most of the time, as I do not yet have permission to work. But Wild Atlantic Meditation has eased that intense feeling of uncertainty, and made the transition and the waiting manageable.

I don’t think it is coincidence that I draw solace from Wild Atlantic Meditation. For tens of thousands of years, water has played a pivotal role in human development and improvement, especially in a spiritual capacity. Water rituals are used in just about every organized religion. We flock to the ocean to get away from our busy lives, be it on vacation or on a day trip. We sit by it, walk in it, swim in it and sail on it. The salt water is one of the best natural healing aids for a variety of dermatological conditions. But I believe the ocean can also cleanse and heal our minds in the same way or better than it heals our skin.

We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know if I will be allowed to stay in New York. But while waiting for news, and while unable to physically travel home for a visit, I do a ‘Spancil Hill’ or ‘Lake Isle of Inishfree’ by sitting down peacefully in Queens, New York, and using Wild Atlantic Meditation to take me home to Donegal. Perhaps not in body, but certainly in mind. But unlike the homesick rhetoric in ‘Spancill Hill’ or the Lake Isle of Inishfree’, I am not hankering to travel home alone at some undetermined point in the future. It is very much in the now. I am there while I am here. And I am here while I am there.

Wild Atlantic Retreat in Glencolmcille, Donegal

Roger Holmes No Comments

Wild Atlantic Retreat announced for weekend of March 11th-13th 2016, in Glencolmcille, Donegal, Ireland

Let the refreshing ambience of the Wild Atlantic Way soothe your soul in one of Ireland’s most spectacular coastal locations.

Wild Atlantic Retreat

Wild Atlantic Retreat

Get away from it all for a magical weekend of pure fresh air, ocean views, chill-out time, hiking, meeting new friends, meditation, live music, good food and spectacular scenery. This is your chance to escape the world, on The Paris Method‘s inaugural Wild Atlantic Retreat in Glencolmcille, County Donegal, Ireland.

The calming influence of the open ocean and spectacular coastline along the Wild Atlantic Way in south west Donegal will revitalize you, setting you up for a great spring and summer. Staying at one of Ireland’s finest hostels, Aras Gleann Colm Cille, you will be treated to the famously warm Donegal welcome, and enjoy a memorable weekend of YOU time.

Details:

  • Friday March 11th, Check into the wonderful Aras Gleann Colm Cille. (Check their trip-advisor here).
  • Friday evening ‘Meet and Greet’, followed by an introduction to the area, and The Paris Method.
  • Saturday March 12th Following breakfast, we spend a quiet hour together, building on our introduction to meditation.
  • Hike to the wonderful Silver Strand Beach at Malin Beg, picturesque pier and Martello Tower (With Packed Lunch).
  • After a warm shower, relax over a simple but delicious home cooked evening meal.
  • After dinner meditation hour.
  • Saturday night live music entertainment.
  • Sunday March 13th breakfast followed by short meditation time, and reflections on our experiences.
  • Sightseeing trip to the majestic Slieve League cliffs (With Packed Lunch).
  • Lunchtime check-out with farewell session.

FREE collection/drop-off to connect with local transport services.Fly-Drive package available from Dublin and Glasgow via Donegal Airport

  • PRICE: €119 per person sharing.

 

To book your place:

Web: www.arasgcc.com

Email: info AT arasgcc DOT com

Phone: +353 74 973 0077

Hostel Facebook Page:  Aras Ghleann Colm Cille

The Paris Method Facebook Page: The Paris Method

*Itinerary subject to change, based on group size and weather conditions

Shanghai to Donegal in a Mini Cooper!

Roger Holmes 7 comments

They drove from Shanghai to Donegal in a Mini Cooper. But has the journey now ended?! Let’s help if we can…

A modest Chinese couple slipped quietly into a popular Donegal hostel on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in December 2015. They had arrived at their intended destination – beautiful Glencolmcille, with it’s majestic cliffs, hidden coves and famous traditional culture. This is not a particularly unusual occurrence; Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille attracts visitors from all over of the world, right throughout the year. But this wasn’t any ordinary arrival. The self-styled ‘Two Lunatics’ from China had made the 16,558 kilometer trip from Shanghai to Donegal in a Mini Cooper! Now The Paris Method wants to track them down using the #Find2Lunatics hashtag, and send our best wishes for their journey home to China.

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Luna and Han Jin Li who drove all the way from Shangai to Donegal in a Mini Cooper, pictured here at Aras Ghleann Colm Cille. This was the most westerly point of their epic road trip.

September 12th 2015 was an exciting day in the lives of Han and Luna Jin Li. Having updated their social media accounts with hashtags such as #MinisOfInstagram and #TransEurAsian, the Shanghai couple loaded up their new Mini Cooper and took to the open road. (Let’s hope they remembered to switch the immersion off!) Bidding farewell to their home city on the East China Sea, they set off northwards via Beijing towards the Mongolian border. They would eventually ‘kick’, ‘drag’ and ‘push’ their ‘little car’ around the world to the Wild Atlantic Way in Glencolmcille, Ireland.

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The mammoth road trip took the lovable ‘Lunatics’ through north-eastern Mongolia, into Russia and it’s vast Siberian wilderness. Passing by the worlds deepest lake (5,314 feet) at Baikal, and through the historic Russian cities of Tomsk and Novosibirsk, they eventually reached Red Square in Moscow – where the excited couple first encountered snow.

Moscow_Red_Square

Up next was St Petersburg; and then it was northwards into Scandinavia. The little Mini Cooper got to visit Santa’s Village at Rovaniemi, and crossed the Arctic Circle to visit Inari. From here the traveling trio veered south, through Sweeden, where they shopped in the largest IKEA store in the world at Haparanda and relaxed in the capital city Stockholm.

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Driving from Shanghai to Donegal takes you through many different landscapes and experiences

The Norwegian leg took in ‘expensive’ Oslo, and the coastal cities of Bergen, Stavenger and afterwards they visited the beautiful city of Copenhagen, Denmark with its little mermaid.

 

Central European highlights were enjoyed in Berlin, Cologne, Amsterdam (where the ‘little car’ had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Van Gogh museum), and Rotterdam with it’s iconic windmills.

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A car ferry brought them to England for a stopover at Oxford, and another from Holyhead in Wales carried the couple across the Irish Sea to Dublin. Once on The Emerald Isle, the satNav was set to the north west; to the wild Atlantic coastline which the Two Lunatics had dreamed of visiting.

In the Irish midlands, Storm Desmond greeted Han and Luna’s arrival; reminding them that the Wild Atlantic Way was aptly named. When the now rapidly aged Cooper finally turned into the Aras Ghleann Colm Cille car park, it looked a little worse for wear, with flood debris trapped in the front grill. But Han and Luna had achieved their goal of traveling all the way from Shanghai to Donegal in a Mini Cooper!

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Half way around the world, from Shanghai to Donegal, with a list of destinations on the Mini Cooper’s door

Paul O’Hare, who manages the family run Aras Ghleann Cholm Cille, initially saw nothing out of the ordinary about the couple’s arrival. “We have people from all over the world coming to stay with us, so a Chinese couple showing up in December is nothing new. We just got them checked in as usual, helping them feel welcome ad comfortable. It was only later when I went outside and noticed the car registration plate, that I realized they had actually driven all the way from Shanghai to Donegal! I was amazed. The funny thing is, they were equally amazed by the beauty of the Glencolmcille, Malin More and Malin Beg area. They loved the coastline and the culture here.”

When asked about the journey from Shangai to Donegal and their plans for the return leg, Luna and Han explained how they loved to travel, and seeing the Wild Atlantic Way around Glencolmcille was a dream come true. The Slieve League cliffs, the Folk Village, ghost village of Port and Glenlough, Glen Village, Malin More and Malin Beg were on their bucket list. The couple thoroughly enjoyed their visit, relaxing along the rugged Wild Atlantic Way -with it’s often stormy yet beautiful relationship with the Donegal coastline.

Glencolmcille represented the final destination on their westward journey. After a few days of enjoying the beautiful scenery and famously warm hospitality, they once again loaded up the Mini Cooper and took to the road; this time planning to take in central and southern central Europe.

So off the happy, free-spirited couple went. But then, it appears, there was a slight diversion. One of the last updates from the Two Lunatics social media, documents a harmless slide into a ditch near Doonbeg Golf Club. Thankfully Han and Luna were completely uninjured, and received some great assistance from the locals. But it appears that the Mini Cooper took a little collateral damage.

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Luna and Han’s Mini Cooper slides into a ditch 🙁 Thankfully they were uninjured.

 

And then – the updates suddenly stopped with a simple Merry Christmas message, and no updates have followed. Have Luna and Han abandoned the Mini Cooper and flown home? It is very possible that they are resting up along the Wild Atlantic Way, sheltering from the latest storms, while the Mini Cooper that made it from Shanghai to Donegal is patched up for the return journey. Maybe we will never know. But with your help, we just might. Please share this story so we can all send them our best wishes.

Han and Luna have thanked the ”kind and warm-hearted Irish people” for their help, following the incident with the ditch, using the loveIreland hashtag. Well, as it happens, that is exactly what we are famous for. Visitors come to Ireland for the first time to see our beautiful scenery, but often leave with an even greater memory of the amazing Irish friendliness and hospitality.

SO…let’s get behind this couple, and help in any way we can to get them home…wherever they may be. If you have any news with regard to how this epic Trans-Eurasian return leg is progressing, please send Paul O’Hare a message via the Aras Ghleann Cholm Cille website; he would really like to wish his guests well. You can track any updates that Paul will hopefully receive by checking on the hostel’s Facebook Page.

Leaving

Lets find this happy and adventurous couple, and send them our help and best wishes for their return journey home to China! Do you have an update about their progress?

In the meantime, we can only but sit back and admire the adventurous spirit of this amazing couple. If there is one thing better than having a dream, it is doing whatever it takes to make that dream become a reality, and seeing others reach out to offer help along the way.

What an epic road trip and experience this is. Luna and Han, if you are reading this – please know that there are people in Ireland cheering you on to finish this epic road trip, and share the amazing story of how you drove over sixteen and a half thousand km’s from Shanghai to Donegal in your Mini Cooper! Hopefully you will also be able to tell us about your safe journey home to China. Bon Voyage!

Wild Atlantic Way Meditation

Roger Holmes No Comments

This is the story of how I first discovered what I call my Wild Atlantic Way Meditation using The Paris Method. I hope that by sharing it, I can help at least one other person to experience a little bit of peace. I would love to tell you that I made this discovery out of some deep experimentation with spirituality involving soft music and candles, but I did not. I discovered it out out of pain, loneliness and desperation. Maybe it was better that way.

Sometimes life gets us down. There are times when we feel the need to just get away from it all. I am no different. Having discovered meditation by chance, while on a trip to Port and Glenlough in County Donegal, I now believe that there is no better place for soothing the soul, than Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. I recorded the video below at St John’s Point on a winters evening. I think it epitomizes the soothing influence of the ocean on the Wild Atlantic Way, under a sky that is very specific to Donegal at sunset.

I am not too sure what it is about the ocean that captivates me. I am almost hypnotized by the movement, size, depth, power and beauty of the Atlantic ocean. I love the smell of the seaweed and the salt water, and if in Donegal, the feeling of being deeply cleansed by some of the freshest air imaginable. I love the dynamic coloring of the water, from aqua to white, and blue to grey, sometimes all within a single seascape. I am as content sitting watching the ocean as I am being in it or on it. This stimulation of my senses forms a mystical attraction which pacifies me, cajoling my mind towards complete relaxation.

The calmness and serenity I feel from Wild Atlantic Way meditation on Donegal’s rugged coast, has brought me to a beautiful place emotionally – a place that I did not know existed. Maybe because so much of our body consists of water, we find identification by embracing such volumes of it. Maybe the ocean speaks to us on some higher level of serenity, far beyond our comprehension. We may not be able to understand it, but we can certainly feel it. This gives the ocean a mystical characteristic which is really alluring. The Wild Atlantic Way meditation which I discovered and will describe in this article, gave me one of the most profoundly beautiful experiences of my life.

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One of the many different types of sunset over the Atlantic ocean, seen from the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal

At different times in my past I had been open to the notion of meditation. For one reason or another, be it a busy work schedule, pressures of taking a masters degree, drinking too much, or just from burning the candle at both ends, I had felt down and on edge. Although I was open to meditation, I always thought that it wasn’t for me because my head was too busy. Isn’t it ironic that the very reason that I needed to meditate was the very reasons why I did not.

So, I just stumbled through life, from from dark patch to the next, always with racing thoughts. If I was being creative or when I would be in a happy place, racing thoughts were fine – maybe even beneficial. But when I would suffer lows, my thoughts would continue racing, only this time in a negative manner. So I would just wallow there, and the subsequent self pity would lead to negative and festering emotions.

Maybe I just didn’t want to face myself; preferring to conceal my inner feelings in the shadows cast by anxiety and unhappiness. I am a man after all, and I always understood that a requirement for membership of the masculine club was to appear to be too tough to consider my own feelings. Big boys don’t cry and all that. I think I presumed that everyone felt the same way i did. My life just seemed to rumble along without much awareness. And then I had a biking accident. Absolutely everything changed – and everything changed absolutely.

I came off an electric bike, hitting my head and face off the road at approximately 35mph. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I suffered a lot of cuts and injuries over most of my body and was also badly concussed. I was, in the words of the surgeon who treated me, ‘lucky to be alive’.

Unable to work, drive or do much at all for two months, I was laid up on a recliner chair in a stupor. A nasty cut to the back of my hand had damaged a nerve, so I was given morphine to relieve pain. Weeks later, when the concussion had cleared, I realized how low I was feeling. My social interaction had evaporated. I was probably suffering from cabin fever and mild circumstantial depression. I remember thinking that I had hit rock bottom. Funnily enough, since then, I have looked back and thought that rock is actually a great foundation on which to build something!

Being injured and off work had created financial problems. The accident had left me experiencing a lot of anxiety and negative thoughts. I felt vulnerable. I suppose it is only when we are forced to stop, that we really take a look at ourselves. I didn’t particularly like what I saw.

I planned a drive to the coast in the hope that a walk would clear my head. So on November 8th 2014, I got into my car and drove. About 45 minutes into the journey I saw a sign post for a place that I had heard of just once before, but had never been. On the spur of the moment, I made the turn. Port is probably one of the remotest places in Ireland, and it would be here, in this most desolate and lonely outpost, that I would find myself.

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Panoramic picture at Port, Donegal, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

The long and lonely road simply comes to an end at a little cove, which is surrounded by dramatic cliffs. The nearest other human being is probably 4 or 5 miles away. I parked up and climbed up on a hillside, eventually arriving at the cliffs. The scenery is absolutely amazing; there is nothing but ocean, sky and the coastline. Man’s footprint has not been visibly left here.

Torero Island Rainbow

Rainbow over Tormore Island, at Port, Donegal, Ireland

I did not fully appreciate the beautiful scenery at the time. I was distracted. The drive had done little to lift my spirits. I was probably also suffering from self-pity. I walked along the cliff face and repeatedly ran my problems over and over in in my head. I was thinking about the mounting bills, struggles with finding the right medical treatment and how to pay for it. I was worried that my career was coming under threat. And ironically, I was mostly worried about how worried I was.

The walk which was intended as a way of clearing my head, was actually making me feel worse. My negative thoughts were racing, and on each rerun my problems seemed to magnify. I felt at one with this place in terms of isolation. How I was feeling at that time was pretty close to self-inflicted mental torture. Finally, almost out of desperation, I just stopped walking. All of the stress and negative emotions had left me feeling completely exhausted. My rational and logical thinking had been completely browbeaten by worry, negativity and self-pitying emotions. From my vantage point, four hundred feet up on the cliffs of Port, I stood gazing aimlessly out over the Atlantic ocean. Out of sheer desperation I completely surrendered to all of the emotional pain. My thinking was: I am so tired of feeling this way – and I just want to give up.

Time passed. Eventually I sat down on some heather, continuing to stare out over the ocean. A breeze was blowing onshore, and my senses were filled with the sights and sounds of the Atlantic. I noticed the patchwork or colors on the water, where in places the faint sunlight was breaking through the clouds, sending sunbeams down onto the ocean. Other patches were darkened by the passing of a heavy isolated shower. There was an average swell, and I watched as the waves made their way towards the base of the cliffs, where they would smash against the rock, sending spray high up onto the cliff face. A few hardy sea birds hovered in the wind, no doubt searching for an evening meal. I didn’t really notice it happening, but I began to relax. (If i had have noticed, it might not have happened!)

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The view over the Atlantic ocean, from the remote cliffs at Port, County Donegal, Ireland

In the past, when I had tried to meditate, I had merely ended up getting more frustrated and stressed. I read once that when trying to meditate, that I should concentrate on emptying my head of all thoughts. How on earth could I both concentrate and have no thoughts at the same time?! That contradiction always bothered me. But by simply taking in the phenomenal natural beauty of my surroundings on the Wild Atlantic Way, I had finally arrived at the point where my frenzied thoughts were quieted by more conscious thought. And that is when I inadvertently practiced The Paris Method for the first time. That method finally afforded me the chance to harness and relax my rollercoaster thoughts enough so that I could meditate – and it was beautiful.

It had started when I had surrendered my quest to find immediate solutions to my problems, and became aware of my surroundings. I came to realize that my perspective at that very moment was pretty good. I was under no immediate pressure, and the panoramic view in front of me was pretty spectacular. So right at that moment, I realized that all of my worries were either in the past, where I could not change them, or were so far off in the future that they did not require a solution right there and then – if at all. I discovered that all I really needed to focus on at that very moment, was that very moment. That was a really nice and welcomed thought, and it completely grounded and pacified me.

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400 feet above the Atlantic waves. Port Cliffs, Donegal, Ireland

I then made a decision that regardless of how dire my financial, medical or career situations actually were, I would face them with a positive attitude. I realized that I was completely on my own, and that the only ally that I could call upon was myself. If I was to rely on myself alone, then I needed to make sure that my attitude was positive, otherwise I would be working against myself which would only serve to restart the emotional turmoil.

Upon reflection of how I could adjust my attitude, I realized that much of my worry was actually brought about by procrastination regarding medical appointments, paperwork, and communication with my employers. I made a decision right there and then to deal with those outstanding matters at the first available opportunity. And guess what? Once I made the decision, my problems suddenly seemed more manageable, and my worry towards them began decreasing. I had done nothing but make a decision, and my problems had eased to the extent that they faded from my present thought.

This brought me to realize that life can sometimes be difficult for a reason. I thought on one of my favorite movie quotes: ‘without the bitter, the sweet aint as sweet.‘ By becoming aware that these tough times may actually serve the purpose of enhancing the good times, I had given myself the inspiration to fight my way out of this low ebb.

The peace that I was starting to find led to the final step, which is spirituality. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy such a beautiful location, with a thought process which wasn’t racing uncontrollably like a neurotic roller-coaster. This awareness and gratitude made me very much aware of the growing sense of spirituality which I was feeling. The more I focused on it, the more beautiful and enjoyable it became. And that, is how I arrived in a meditative state for the first time in my life. It was peacefully euphoric.

Maybe men don’t openly talk about these sorts of emotions regularly, but I am not ashamed to say it: I had found the most serenely beautiful moment of my life. Given that just a short time earlier I had been pacing with worry and anxiety, it seemed incredible that I had found such a peaceful feeling. Maybe it is true what they say: the darkest hour is just before dawn. I began to realize that the more I had surrendered the more I enjoyed it. I had started to learn about the importance of nothing.

As I made my way back down the hillside to the little cove, it felt as though I was walking on air. My head was clear, and my outlook was greatly improved. On the road home though the wilds of central Donegal, I replayed the experience. I wanted to bottle this peacefulness, and to do that, I had to understand how I had arrived at the feeling. I labelled the steps I had gone through up on the cliff top. Perspective, Attitude, Reflection, Inspiration and Spirituality. I would later abbreviate these steps, creating the PARIS acronym. Paris was a very poignant term, because I had also had an experience in the French capital over 10 years previously. But on that occasion I had not stayed with the feeling long enough to have understood it.

Since that day of revelation at Port, Wild Atlantic Way meditation has continued to bring much peace and joy. Even when I am unable to get to the ocean, I imagine that I am there, and repeat those 5 simple steps of The Paris Method. I imagine the sounds of the waves; the wind and the sea birds. And I imagine the entire Wild Atlantic Way seascape under the amazing twilight of a Donegal sunset. The experiences are just too profound to keep to myself. I know that I have to share them.

Port, County Donegal, Ireland.

Sunset over the Wild Atlantic Way, at Port, Donegal

There is something magically transformative about the ocean. Just as the salt water can help to heal our broken skin, the clean air and the vast expansive ocean can somehow also heal our minds, and soothe our soul. I know without doubt that the rugged Atlantic coastline of county Donegal has given me a remarkable awareness of how to be myself, and how to like what I see when I meditate.

This Wild Atlantic Way meditation has turned my entire thinking around, allowing me to appreciate life on a whole different level. I am a long way from perfect (I have no wish to be perfect!), but my wild atlantic way meditation has given me a framework onto which I can build some positive direction in my life. Up until today, that direction has taken me on a journey which is so beautiful that I cannot even start to put it into words. But I will, eventually.

The fact is, that back on that November day in 2014, I had not yet encountered the worst effects of my biking accident. I am still working through those. It is a long, arduous, and sometimes very unpleasant process, but my Wild Atlantic Way meditation is helping me to get through it.

Maybe, just maybe, if you try The Paris Method for yourself, you will discover some of the peace that I am referring to. I really hope you do.

Edge of the World at Cnoc Fola, Donegal

Roger Holmes No Comments

Cnoc Fola, or Bloody Foreland as it is more commonly known, has a real edge of the world feel to it. Located as it is, right up in the very north west tip of Donegal, Ireland, it is one of Europe’s great outposts. This broad headland stretching from Ballyness Bay to Gweedore, is famous for spectacular scenery, friendly people, magnificent sunsets, and the ferocious atlantic swells which batter its coast. It is places like Cnoc Fola which epitomize everything that is so alluring about the Wild Atlantic Way.

To get a good ocean experience in the depths of winter, you need to either plan well or just get lucky. On January 2nd 2015, I probably did both. A strong weather front had been slowly moving across Ireland for a couple of days, bringing heavy rain and high winds. I picked my moment, got on the road early, and was lucky enough to arrive at the coast when the storm’s vortex was right over Donegal, meaning I got to see big waves, in high wind, but also got the blue skies and sunshine. Perfect! When I started comprehending The Paris Method, that is exactly what I had imagined – finding a way to get to, the eye of the storm. Bright, peaceful clarity, in the midst of the maelstrom that life can sometimes throw at us.

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The winter sun lighting up the Atlantic horizon off Bloody Foreland and Gweedore, Donegal, Ireland

Light is such a precious commodity in winter, especially over the holidays, when the temptation is to stay indoors more. The days are short and the weather can make it difficult to get outside for exercise and fresh air. Thankfully I was given this chance, and I took it. The bright sun light, enhancing the white foam on the breaking waves, was just beautiful. Once you have been to Cnoc Fola, you will realize the significance of light. This area is famous for it. The hills (Cnoc) turn a blood (Fola) red, when the sun is near the horizon. Sunbeams reflect off the underside of any evening clouds, illuminating the coast during the long Donegal twilight. It is a sight well worth seeing.

I drove around the headland, marveling at the ocean views, and at Cnoc Fola Lower, I parked up, and climbed down the cliffside into a semi-circular cove. I spent around an hour enjoying one of natures winter shows in this remote Atlantic amphitheater. I had worn several layers of old clothes, so was able to lay back against the grassy bank and completely relax. From down here, there is only cliffs, beach, the ocean and sky. I did however, rather unexpectedly, meet a new friend! He stayed with me as we watched the powerful Atlantic storm batter the coast in front of us. It was strangely relaxing.

Stories I had read about the harsh realities of life in this Gaeltacht region of Donegal, came to mind. Caisleáin Óir by Séamus Ó Grianna, who hailed from Rann na Feirste, tells the heartbreaking story of Séimí Phádraig Dubh and his sweetheart Babaí Mháirtí. As children they played together on the rocky Donegal coastline, and just like you might experience for yourself, they stood spellbound by the sight of one of the famous sunsets. The sunbeams cast on the approaching clouds over the horizon had painted such a remarkable sight, that Babaí had asked what it was. Séimí, with all the charm of a young man serenading his love, told her that they were Caisleáin Óir (golden castles), and that he would give them to her when they were older. Sadly, Babaí and Séimí succumbed to the same plight that met so many other young couples from the area during the 19th and early 20th century. Séimí would be forced to leave his love and their dreams, traveling overseas in an attempt to make a living. Their golden castle dream never did become a reality.

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The north west coast of Donegal, Ireland. A beautiful, but at times in the past, very harsh place

The factual story I had read, was an even harsher account of life for many of the local people. The Hard Road to Klondike is the post-humous biography of Mícheál MacGowan, based on the memoirs from his travels in search of a livelihood. MacGowan first left his native Cloughaneely parish when he was just a child, sent to ‘The Lagan’ via the hiring fair in Letterkenny. Later, he would travel to Scotland on the infamous Derry Boat, where barefoot young travelers from Donegal shared passage with cattle, on their voyage to find work in Glasgow and beyond. Eventually moving onwards to America, MacGowan worked his way across the country, from the steel works in Pennsylvania, via the Montana mines, to the wilds of Alaska. Like many others, he joined in on The Gold Rush, which brought him to the harsh climate and terrain of the Yukon.

MacGowan suffered many hardships that are almost impossible to imagine today, yet despite some near death experiences, and a variety of setbacks, he was one of only 4000 people from the 100,000 who set out, who actually made it back alive with gold. This fortune was enough to take him home to Donegal, enabling him to set up home and raise a family. Many people from the west of Donegal faced the same adversity in their constant struggle to survive. Some of them never made their fortune. Others did well for themselves, but settled overseas. Today their descendants visit Donegal on their summer holidays. These recollections had taught me to be very grateful for what I have today. Life can sometimes seem tough, but sparing a thought for the poor souls of the past puts things in perspective, brings humility and gratitude.

Cnoc_Fola_14A bright and stormy day at Cnoc Fola, Donegal, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

The winter days are short here, and evening was on its way. As the wind blew white foam out of the powerful Atlantic waves onto the beach before me, I consciously took in the magnificent setting, scanning it into my mind, knowing that I would recall it in the future. I closed my eyes and faced into the wind, feeling the full force of natures powerful elements blowing away my Christmas cobwebs, freshening me up for a new year ahead. Although it was really cold and noisy, I found great peace and perspective out there. Something about the force of the Atlantic along Donegal’s amazing coastline, helps me to become aware, focused, grateful, and calm.

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The day was changing, so I said goodbye to the friendly dog, and climbed up the cliff, stopping every so often to admire the scene. This little cove on Bloody Foreland is just one of many outstandingly beautiful places on this largely unexplored part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Perhaps the best way to see it in all its glory is to fly into Donegal Airport at Carrickfinn, which is about 10 miles south of Cnoc Fola. There are a lot of things to see and do in the area, and with a flight time of only an hour from Dublin and Glasgow, the airport serves as the gateway to north west Donegal, and this very scenic coastline.

As the eye of the storm moved inland, the winds picked up, heavy clouds appeared over the horizon and the short winter day was drawing to a close. My trip to Cnoc Fola had fully refreshed my body and mind, and given me such a feeling of gratitude. I was thankful for the life that I have, and the for the beautiful county that I call home. Thankful for better times than what the people around these parts had experienced in the past.

As I drove back to Letterkenny through the Derryveagh Mountains, I paused for reflection at An Droichead an nDeor (The Bridge of Tears), where so many emigrants had left their friends and family behind. The locals walked with their departing loved ones to this remote spot between Muchish and Errigal mountains. The goodbyes, and the tears, lasted through the night until it was time to depart. For many of these families, this would be the last they would ever see of the emigrants. I was happy in so many ways that I had made the trip to Bloody Foreland. Recalling the harsh realities of past life in north west Donegal had been a thought provoking experience. I returned home full of hope, confidence and positivity for what lay ahead for me in 2015. My trip to the edge of the world had been very productive.

Tranquility at St John’s Point, Donegal

Roger Holmes No Comments

A journey through Donegal, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, brings an eclectic mix of experiences. A land of outstanding natural beauty collides with the might of the north Atlantic Ocean, and the result is a spectacular coastline which is ideal for many types of activities and vacations. Among the many spellbinding visual wonders, Donegal also has a mystical, thought provoking and inspiring allure.

 

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Donegal Bay, Ireland. At peace in the late evening sunlight. Mid-December 2014

 

The experience I will recount, happened during the busy shopping days in the lead up to the Christmas holidays of 2014. I was feeling a little bereft of Christmas spirit. As mentioned in my bio, at that time I was still finding my feet after an accident, and was therefore a long way from where I had been the previous year. Being off work and recovering from an accident, meant that money was tight, and so, I was beginning to feel a bit like The Grinch. Self-pity mode had been activated, therefore some ‘me’ time was needed, to ensure that this feeling would not spoil the holidays.

Back then, I was still in the process of forming (or becoming aware of) the meditation technique which is today The Paris Method. Now, when I use the method, I could be on a crowded train and still manage to have a quiet moment to myself. But back then, I relied heavily on the tangible conduit of the wild Atlantic coastline in Donegal.

 

 

 

So, in mid-afternoon on that busy December day, I took off, leaving the crowded streets of the market town behind. As it was already well into the short December day, I needed to go south. I wasn’t sure where, but I was going south.

Following the mid-winter sun, hoping to catch a glimpse before it disappeared, I arrived on the shores of Donegal Bay. And then, I remembered someone had mentioned that they had visited a lighthouse at the end of a peninsula in this area, so I decided to find it. I’m now very grateful that I did.

Midway between Donegal Town and the cliffs at Sliabh Liag, the road weaves and dips through the village of Dunkineely, which almost stands as a gate lodge for the road to St John’s Point – a long and narrow headland sticking straight out into Donegal Bay. The road passes by the haunting ruin of McSwynes Castle, a 15th century stronghold which passed through many owners, before falling into disrepair. Marguerite at Castlemurray House across the road, will be happy to tell you the history of the area, in her beautiful boutique hotel.

 

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Donegal Bay, Ireland, on a clear December evening in 2014. Looking towards Sliabh Liag

 

I stopped briefly to admire the evening views over Coral Beach, a lovely little cove on the sheltered side of the headland, which has blue flag status, meaning it is safe for swimming. These waters are also very popular for snorkeling, diving and fishing. The photo below shows Coral Beach in summer. It is a lovely place for a quiet day out on the beach.

 

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Coral Beach, St Johns Pt, Donegal, Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way. Image: welovedonegal.com

 

Onwards I went, further out into the bay, venturing over the stretch of moorland which rises up to screen the tip of the peninsula from the mainland. It was then that I saw the lighthouse sitting proudly in all of it’s glory, looking out over Donegal Bay towards the setting winter sun. It is a view that has stayed with me, and I recall it often.

 

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St John’s Point Lighthouse, looking out over Donegal Bay, Ireland.

 

I walked around for a while, taking pictures, enjoying the fresh air, and admiring this very special place. As the sun neared the horizon, I ventured past the lighthouse, down onto he rocks near a small jetty. I sat down there for a period of time, and was given one of the most serene experiences that anyone could ever wish for.

The ocean was calm. There was little or no wind. Considering it was close to the winter solstice, the sky was unusually bright and clear. The reflecting light coming off the smooth waters of the bay was amazing. I closed my eyes and listened to the gentle lapping of the water against the jetty. It was just such a peaceful scene.

I practiced The Paris Method, and sat in silence, fully aware of the beauty around me at that very moment. I was completely at ease. I had moved from Grinch to gratitude. From cranky to content, and from self-pity to serenity. Time stood still. The entire world right then seemed to be at peace.

As I again slowly started to walk around the tip of the peninsula, taking pictures and videos, I reminded myself just how lucky I am to have such an amazing place to call home. I was also gratefully aware that the motivational powers of the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal, had once again given me such peace and contentment.

The location of St John’s Point Lighthouse, sitting proudly over 7 miles out into Donegal Bay, offers many beautiful views, and symbolic perspectives. From Donegal Town to Bundoran in the east, Sligo and Mayo to the south, and beyond Killybegs, Kilcar and Teelin to Sliabh Liag and Rathlin O’Birne Island in the west, the seascapes are breathtaking. As the sun gradually disappeared over Mayo, sea fog began to creep up on Sliabh Liag. To the north, the magnificent wilderness of the Bluestack Mountains began to slowly drift out of sight.

 

 

In the cold twilight, I once again sat, looking towards south Donegal and Sligo. Benbulben, the majestic and iconic mountain which presides over that stretch of coastline was silhouetted on the last of the amber evening sky. I thought about her most famous son, Ireland’s first Nobel laureate, Sligo poet William Butler Yeats. What is probably his most celebrated poem came to mind:

 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 

In The Lake Isle of Innisfree , WB Yeats is apparently using the romantic dream of escaping to a peaceful and remote place, to lift his spirits as he makes his way through the busy streets of a 19th century city. The Atlantic on that December evening was as peaceful as the Lough Gill waters, where in Yeats dream he would build his wattle cabin. I realized that Yeats romantic dream from 1890, which he kept with him in his heart everywhere he went, could also apply to my use of The Paris Method.

I cannot always rely on having the time or means to take off and chase the sunset to beautiful locations in search of peace. As much as I love the Donegal shore, I cannot always be here. I need to be able to recreate the images and the peace they give me while I walk the busy streets of life. As I turned to leave, I wondered if Yeats had been to St John’s Point on an evening such as this. I’m sure he had.

As I started the car, the radio turned on. An Irish evening talk-show host and his guest were discussing the issue of men being less willing to discuss their emotions and feelings. It occurred to me that perhaps many men would indeed be willing to discuss their feelings, but are probably not overly comfortable with the response it would receive. Asking for full disclosure is all very well and good, but understanding and accepting it is another matter entirely.

Turning the radio off, I smiled and became busy with my own positive thoughts and plans concerning this blog, and the things that I will write about. As the last of the light faded, I began my northward journey home. Another Yeats poem came to mind in this ”night and light and the half light”.

I hope The Paris Method can give you as much as it has given me. I am doing this for the silent men. On their behalf, I remember Yeats lines …

 

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 

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Donegal Bay, Ireland, in the ”Night and light, and the half light”

Sleep in a 200 year old Irish Lighthouse!

Roger Holmes No Comments

It is the stuff that dreams are made of. Literally! Donegal, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, now offers visitors the chance to sleep in a world famous, 200 year old lighthouse. ‘Land Ahoy!! – Fanad is open for business.’

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The iconic Fanad Lighthouse in Donegal, Ireland. Sleep in a 200 year old lighthouse on the Wild Atlantic Way!

 

When it was completed in 1817, the sole purpose of Fanad Lighthouse was to keep people away from the trecherous rocks at the mouth of Lough Swilly. Now the iconic tower is inverting that purpose; luring visitors from all over the world. Having been handed back to the local community by Irish Lights, Inter-Reg funding was secured and Fanad Lighthouse is now well on it’s way to becoming the shining light on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Three homely accommodations are available; ranging from the cozy and romantic Dunree View, with it’s wood burning stove, to the country-styled Tory Island View which includes a queen-sized bed. A stone-flagged patio offers a fantastic location for summer sunset barbecues or panoramic coffee mornings.

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Fanad Lighthouse, Donegal, Ireland, on a stormy day on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Just picture the scene. You could spend your days strolling along Ballymastocker beach (which was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world). Or playing a round at the majestic Portsalon Golf Club. Or marveling at Great Pollet Sea Arch, taking surf lessons or a fishing trip, or generally exploring the many beaches and attractions on the Fanad Peninsula. As the evening closes in, you get drawn back to your dream cottage by the sea, like a moth to a streetlamp. After dinner and a nightcap its lights out – and lights on.

In the afterglow of what can often be a spectacular sunset over the Atlantic, you can cast your gaze northwards, watching out for an Aurora Borealis display. They have been known to be quite impressive up in these parts. North Donegal is a great place to star-gaze. The Milky Way is often in clear view too, as shown in the image below, taken by Joe Langan in August 2015. But now, it is the moment that you have been waiting for – it is bed time in 200 year old Fanad Lighthouse, on the Wild Atlantic Way.

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All The Way! Bedtime under the Milky Way, on the Wild Atlantic Way. Fanad Lighthouse, Donegal, Ireland. Image Credit: Joe Langan

After you have stoked the open fire to bring a warming flicker to the room, imagine drifting off to sleep, soothed by the sound of the Atlantic waves breaking on the rocks at the lighthouse foundations. All under the mesmeric reflections of the rotating beam overhead. The fresh air and exercise from your daytime adventures, coupled with the hypnotic sights and sounds, will send you into a deep peaceful sleep. It is time to live that dream.

Allow yourself to drift off aboard your pirate ship, sailing two miles due north in search of lost treasure at The Laurentic site. En route from Liverpool to Halifax Nova Scotia during World War 1, the armed merchant cruiser was hit by 2 German mines and went down with the loss of 354 men. The Laurentic had been carrying a secret cargo of 3,211 gold bars, worth a cool $450 million in todays money. By the mid 1930’s most of the bullion had been recovered. All with the exception of 22 gold bars, which are said to be awaiting discovery on the sea bed, within sight of Fanad Lighthouse. A dream payday of $3m should help you sleep easy.

The sound of the ocean lapping the lighthouse, may guide your dream towards that perfect wave you have always wanted to surf. Donegal is a fantastic surf location, and lessons are available at many of the great locations nearby. Or maybe a sea-kayaking adventure, as you search for local fairies or smugglers in the many coastal caves of this rugged coastline. Perhaps you will dream of rowing out to meet the killer whales, basking sharks and friendly dolphins, which have been spotted in this area.

Speaking of Jaws, horror movie fans may get subconsciously transported via their dreams to Point Reyes lighthouse in California, where many of the scenes for John Carpenter’s 1980 movie The Fog were shot. Or to Shutter Island where you join Leonardo di Caprio in hearing his fate at the lighthouse. The more romantically inclined may meet him in their Titanic dream. You might also spare a melancholic thought for the reliable lighthouse keeper of long ago, who was here on his own, on stormy nights, with his supply of paraffin and an eagle eye. He and other heroes like him had many lives in their hands.

The more adventurous visitor could try to time their stay to coincide with one of the many Atlantic storms which batter the Donegal coast every winter. The big waves just off the lighthouse can hit some dizzying heights, and in the right (or wrong) storm, send spray against the panes of glass in your bedroom window.

More likely, given this idyllic location, your dreams will be tranquil, consisting of happy beach days spent walking barefoot by the waters edge, gathering shells and star fish, of picnics and sandcastles. Poetic license may even allow you to meet a Donegal seahorse or mermaid. Whatever it is that you dream of, you can now dream it in Fanad Lighthouse.

Awakening fully refreshed  and motivated, you might take up the opportunity of climbing the 79 steps to edge yourself out onto the suspended platform which surrounds the base of the light – 150 feet above the ocean. From up here, the views over the North Donegal coastline and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, will leave you spell-bound. Selfie sticks at the ready!

The Fanad Lighthouse renaissance, when complete, will include accommodation, access to the tower, guided tours, tea-rooms, a visitor’s center and increased car parking space. There will also of course be an abundance of information available relating to this richly historic and naturally beautiful area.

For 200 years, Fanad Lighthouse has been an iconic image in North Donegal, and for miles out to sea. Now it’s powerful beam is reaching the 4 corners of the world, penetrating dreams, luring visitors to the North Atlantic, where the wild gets put in the way. Fanad is now also a quirkily outstanding new attraction on the Wild Atlantic Way. For many it will be a dream come true. Sleeping in a 200 year old Irish lighthouse will be high up on a lot of bucket lists. What was once a danger averting tower, is now a dreamy lullaby projector. This, is the world’s first dream-inspiring lighthouse.

Sweet dreams!

Wild Atlantic Way Secrets – Port and Glenlough

Roger Holmes No Comments

The Wild Atlantic Way on Ireland’s western sea-board is the longest defined and most dramatic ocean drive in the world. From Donegal’s Malin Head at Ireland’s most northerly point, to Mizen Head in County Cork, the 1,500 mile tourist trail is a must see for ocean lovers with a sense of adventure. The secret to an amazing Wild Atlantic Way experience is to get off the beaten track, and go ‘Far From the Madding Crowds’ to places like Port and Glenlough.

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Rainbow over Tormore Island, near Port and Glenlough, County Donegal, Ireland

Port and Glenlough

If you love the raw forces of the ocean, dramatic coastal scenery, and remote barren landscapes, then Port and Glenlough on the Wild Atlantic Way is definitely for you. This beautiful outpost is so remote, that more often than not, you will have only the sheep, sea birds and seals to keep you company. Forgive their suspicions; they don’t often see people out around these parts. Only the most inquisitive of adventurers have headed Port-bound.

The whole area is not for the faint hearted. Out here, there is no passing traffic, intermittent phone signal, and often, not another human being within a 5 mile radius. Two memorials commemorate the 19 souls who lost their lives when the merchant ship Sydney was shipwrecked here in a huge storm on October 16th 1870. This can be an eerie place; beautiful but beastly. Agoraphobiacs beware, for there is little here but dangerous cliffs, a single holiday cottage, small jetty, a few broken down wall-steads and nature. Lots of unbridled nature. All things considered, it is the quintessential secret gem of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Approaching from the lively and traditional town of Ardara, glacial Glengeash Pass signals departure into the wilderness. From here on, the road to Port could be considered one of the loneliest byways in Ireland. The Road to Glenlough is even more ghostly, for it does not even exist, except as the title of a traditional Irish fiddle tune. This is the place where reality meets fantasy.

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The spectacular coastline at Port, Donegal, Ireland – one of the secrets gems of the Wild Atlantic Way

On the final approach, the single-laned road carves downwards through a lonely hidden valley and eventually terminates at the spectacular inlet of Port. The cove at the end of the inlet has a stone beach, where thousands of large dorlins clatter together under the strong wash of each Atlantic wave. The outer jaws of the inlet consist of unusually jagged cliffs and stacks – one of which looks like a huge pillar. Local legend has it that this is the devil’s tail; protruding from the watery grave to where he was banished by Saint Colmcille.

A mountain stream falls over the the nearby cliff face; pure spring water cascading into the ocean. The fresh air is fused with the marine aroma of salt and seaweed. You can feel the sharp freshness of the air in your chest. The roar of the ocean crashing against the cliffs, is pierced only by the call of the odd seagull, puffin or gannet. And those clattering dorlins. You have arrived face to face with the immense power of the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s most isolated coastal frontier.

 

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Living on the edge – An abandoned cottage near the wild Atlantic Ocean at Port, Donegal, Ireland

After you have marveled at the remote and rugged beauty of Port, the final leg of your journey to Glenlough will seem even more elusive. And to many it is. You will need to climb the very steep hillside to the northeastern side of the cove. There is also a pathway on the southwestern side, which meanders along the cliffs tops, past the Napoleonic tower, and into the village of Glencolmcille. But Glenlough; you really need to see Glenlough.

Port, County Donegal, Ireland.

One of the many beautiful Atlantic sunsets over Glenn Head, Port, Donegal, Ireland

Only the fit and mobile will make it to the top of the hill which signals the start of your 3km hike to Glenlough. From up here you really get a sense of the isolation, and of how much of a battering the coastline takes from the north Atlantic storms. On a decent day you will be able to see up to 35 miles of ocean stretched out in front of you to the horizon. Next stop America. It is fascinating to watch the varying weather patterns across such an expanse of open water. The clouds, sunbeams and rain showers give the panorama such a vibrant light and color spectrum.

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The wonderfully dynamic seascapes at Port and Glenlough, Donegal, Ireland.

Extreme care is needed while walking along the clifftop. There is no clearly defined path, the cliffs of Port Hill drop 800 feet almost vertically into the ocean below and the bog ground cover sits on a gravel foundation, which can often become undermined due to the elements. Underfoot conditions, and the gradient of some of the slopes make for slow progress. You will also find it impossible to keep a constant pace, as the scenery (and your pumping heart) regularly demands your attention. But it is worth it. The scenery is amazing!

Tormore Island is particularly impressive. At 490 feet, Tormore is the highest sea stack in Ireland, and despite some tales of yore and possibly lore, it was scaled for the first time on August 10th 2008 by Iain Miller and his team. Miller, a former ships engineer, who had often admired Donegal from the seaward side, has since explored this coastline more than most. Although a highly skilled and courageous climber, he describes Tormore stack as being ‘very dangerous’. I wouldn’t disagree. Even from the top of Port Hill, simply looking over the cliff towards the stack is intimidating. From up here on a stormy day, it is impossible to hear the swells battering the base of the cliff. But you can see it, and feel it. Waves driven by the wind break upwards on collision with the rocks, and in storms I have witnessed the salty spray rise high over the cliff face and far inland, onto the barren hillside.

 

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How is your head for heights? The fantastic 800 foot cliffs at Port and Glenlough, Donegal, Ireland

 

As you reach the top of the hill, you catch your first glimpse of the extended Donegal coastline to the north. Rossbeg, Aranmore Island and Loughros Peninsula come into view. Yet more stunning coastline. But there is an even greater spectacle laying in store, unseen as yet, for it is hundreds of feet below the cliffs in your foreground.

 

Glenlough Bay, Donegal

Glenlough Bay with it’s sea-stacks and storm beach – The secret gem of the Wild Atlantic Way

 

Glenlough Bay is probably Ireland’s most secret location, and one of the most beautiful. Unlike Port, which at least has a road, Glenough remains untouched by the modern world. There is nothing by which to time-stamp the bay or the valley above it. This is timeless, uninterrupted natural beauty. The otherworldly sea stacks catch your attention immediately. One such stack is almost too surreal, and you could easily imagine that some giant has left it there, carefully balanced, right on the shoreline. One of the stacks is aptly named ‘Ends of the Earth’. The raised beach system is also of great geological interest. While descending the cliffs to the shoreline here is very difficult, it is still possible. Iain Miller from Unique Ascent has written a guide to getting down onto the beach. Down here, you are far from everywhere. It really is such a magical treasure.

 

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The amazing coastline of Port and Glenlough, from the summit of Tormore Island. Image credit: Iain Miller

 

It was from a clifftop above this secret paradise, on a brisk November day that I sat on a clump of heather, looked out over the wild atlantic ocean, and had the most profound experience of my life. The ocean raged. But in the maelstrom I found calm; the most beautiful calmness I have ever experienced. The recipe for recreating that peace and contentment is today called The Paris Method™. I am in no doubt that this was the only possible place where I could have been given such inspiration, and the conviction to make use of it.

 

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Spectacular sea stacks and raised storm beach at Glenlough Bay, Donegal, Ireland. Image credit: Iain Miller

 

Why you will wonder, have you not seen images nor heard tales of this beautiful place until now? That little puzzle, is what makes Glenlough Bay all the more wildly beautiful. You have entered the realm of imagination: a place that captivates, revitalizes, inspires and slightly overwhelms.

Unbeknown to me at the time, inspiration had also been sought and granted here in the past. There are some unusual tales of people who have spent time here, seeking out the wild to inspire them and bring peace. While tales of Bonny Prince Charlie hanging out here while waiting for a boat to take him to France, deadly beasts rising from the deep, and sightings of the mythical island of Hy Brasil may be wildly exaggerated or fantastical, Glenlough’s past does reveal some characters.

Local man Dan Ward, AKA The New Zealander, returned from the southern hemisphere to Glenlough  with his wife Rose in the early twentieth century. Here, they fulfilled their dream of ‘buying a valley’ and living in peace by the Atlantic ocean. They set up home in a simple stone dwelling with detached cow byre and set about tending their huge hill farm. But in 1926, they were joined by an unlikely visitor. American artist Rockwell Kent (who illustrated the most popular edition of Moby Dick), had arrived at Port in his quest to escape mankind. Finding 3 cottages there, he was crestfallen to discover that even ”at the end of the earth there was man”. He craved yet more isolation, reportedly pleading ”if we could only find a little house beyond mankind!” There was only one place to send a man with those wishes. Having been pointed up onto the hillside by locals, Kent explored the area and eventually found Dan and Rose Ward’s cottage in Glenlough Valley.

After some negotiations, Dan’s cow was evicted from the stone byre, which was then fixed up by the American. It was a far cry from the roaring twenties in New York. Kent though, had found exactly what he was looking for. The wild scenery and the ever changing skies over the Atlantic, provided an abundance of creative inspiration. While here, he painted some of his most famous and critically acclaimed work, most notably Annie McGinley – depicting the woman laying on her stomach as she sunbathed on Port Hill, Dan Ward’s Stack, and Sturrall. Kent’s happy and productive stay in Glenlough meant that when the next creative visitor showed up in south west Donegal, Dan Ward’s cottage came highly recommended.

 

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Annie McGinley by Rockwell Kent. Image source: port-donegal.com

 

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Sturrall by Rockwell Kent. Image source: www.hermitageshop.org

 

Dylan Thomas, the brilliant but troubled Welsh poet/playwright, had been frogmarched to Ireland by his agent Geoffrey Grigson under doctors orders in 1935. Although a mere 20 years of age, the fledgling writer was already suffering from the effects of heavy alcohol consumption. Burned out, suffering from skin rashes, asthma and the excesses of his new found fame in the bright lights of London, he had been led to Donegal to recover from ‘the ravishes of drink’.

Dylan Thomas in 1946. The poet and playwright died seven years later, aged 39. Photograph: Francis Reiss/Getty Images

Dylan Thomas in 1946. The poet and playwright died seven years later, aged 39. Image: Francis Reiss/Getty Images via donegalnews.com

Grigson, stayed with Thomas for a short settling in period, before returning to London, leaving his client in peace (or so he thought) to produce some master works. Things did not go entirely to plan. Thomas was for a time content while staying alone in Dan Ward’s ad-hoc cottage studio, writing by morning and evening, and exploring the spectacular coastline in the afternoons by way of contemplative relaxation.

But the isolation, increasing boredom, and the temptation of the bottle soon got the better of him. By his own admission, as revealed in letters to trustee friends back home in Wales, his mood had quickly darkened to the extent that he was regularly haunted by twisted nightmares and self pity. He recounts a frightful night when he was haunted by ”Count Antigarlic . . . a strange Hungarian gentleman . . . coming down the hill in a cloak lined with spiders”.

Growing increasingly tormented, Dylan Thomas disappeared from Glenlough in late August 1935, leaving neither explanation nor payment for lodgings. Mr Grigson would later pick up the tab with Dan Ward, and retrace his client’s steps in a bid to determine what had come over the young poet in Donegal.

Rumor abounds regarding the time Dylan Thomas spent at Glenlough. It is thought that his regular nocturnal walks of many miles over the roadless hills to O’Donnells Pub in Meenaneary, were supplemented by a plentiful supply of local poitin. While the poems that he managed to write at Glenlough, including I, in my Intricate Image and the darkly twisted series of sonnets Altarwise by Owl Light had received moderate acclaim, they also served notice of his continued and ever more difficult battle with alcohol and ill health. Glenlough had not been as kind to Thomas as it had to Kent. The isolated cliffs and barren landscapes at Port and Glenlough had once again proven itself to be both beauty and beast.

The Wild Atlantic Way conjures images of land and sea colliding, nature as it’s most powerful, of rugged but beautiful coastlines, and peaceful remoteness. Port and Glenlough ticks all of those boxes, and much more. Better still, it is in Donegal, and as we all know, that makes it a wee bit extra special. Donegal puts the wild into the way, as evidenced by the description on Lonely Planet: ”Donegal is the wild child of Ireland’‘. Chronicles of Narnia novelist, CS Lewis, had his own word for it: Donegality. Lewis created this word to describe the sense that there is something different about Donegal, that sets it apart from the rest of Ireland. Port and Glenlough is Donegality in the extreme. It is beautifully wild, and in local tongue: ”wild beautiful”. To discover which is wilder, you or Port and Glenlough, there is only one way to find out. Activate explorer mode.

Wild Atlantic Way – The Signs are Good for Donegal

Roger Holmes No Comments

Donegal has for a long time been the poor relation among the counties of Ireland’s western sea-board in terms of tourism revenue. Be it as a consequence of peripheral remoteness, lack of infrastructure, geographic proximity to the formerly troubled Northern Ireland, or simply due to a lack of marketing, Donegal has been lagging behind its southern counterparts. However, the ‘forgotten county’ may soon be seen and appreciated by millions of people around the world, if the new Wild Atlantic Way signs have their intended impact.

Fáilte Ireland, is to be highly commended for its vision and marketing prowess when conceiving the Wild Atlantic Way brand. Linking Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head to the Old Head of Kinsale in the south, via the entire Atlantic coastline, has been a master stroke. The points of interest, hidden gems and seaside towns along the route have since seen a year on year increase of 10%  in overseas visitors.

While Westport, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Killarney have traditionally been magnetic tourist hubs, the Wild Atlantic Way aims to get the more adventurous holiday-maker out along the entire west coast of Ireland.

The first wave (pardon the pun) of rollouts from the Wild Atlantic Way project were the updated road signs which help to guide visitors along the meandering highways and byways. The next project milestone was the marketing blast. Fáilte Ireland was very specific regarding their target audience, with huge campaigns launched in North America and Europe, where there is already a palate for Irish vacations. There have also been escorted promotional tours for Asian journalists and bloggers, who have since brought the Wild Atlantic Way into the hearts of millions of potential visitors from newer markets.

By mid-summer 2015 the landmarks themselves received their first aesthetic upgrade, with the erection of unique identification signs. There has been some criticism regarding their visual protrusion. Any protrusion however, is owing more to marketing strategy than design flaw.

The boxed metal signs which incorporate the Wild Atlantic Way logo and the name of each landmark, really do scream out to the visitor: ‘Hey! Photograph me! Show your friends where you have been, and collect photos of the many other signs too!’

This is really clever marketing by Fáilte Ireland. They are using the actual product to market itself. It encourages visitors to capture the names of the places in their photographs, giving the places a very definite identity, a link to a successful brand, and they encourage the visitor to collect photographs at the other locations too. There is no need to ‘check in’ photographs, as this is not so much about digital tagging. It is physical tagging. These tourist photos will be seen by millions, and the name of the place is right there in the shot. Also, for the tourist, the lure of the signs is a bit like football stickers; if a kid gets a few then he wants them all. From this point onwards, you won’t just visit Westport or the Cliffs of Moher, you will visit a single point on the Wild Atlantic Way.

This connection between the unique places and an overall brand is of particular benefit to Donegal. The Cliffs of Moher currently attracts over a million visitors per annum. The other tourist hubs of the west bring that number higher still. If only a fraction of those tourists become aware of Donegal’s undoubted natural beauty and many attractions as a result of the identification signs, then suddenly there is a captive audience. For marketeers, having a captive audience as the result of state sponsored advertising is like shooting fish in a barrel. If 1 million people like to visit the Cliffs of Moher in a year, then selling other cliffs under the same brand should not be problematic.

The spectacular sea cliffs at Sliabh Liag, which are among the highest in Europe, are an obvious attraction. Banba’s Crown at Malin Head has natural beauty combined with the distinction of being Ireland’s most northerly point. Fanad Lighthouse now offers tourist accommodation and the prospect of climbing to the top of the lighthouse itself, where the panoramic views are among the finest on the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

Fanad_Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse, in north Donegal

Lighthouse at St John's Point

Lighthouse at St John’s Point

St John’s Point, which remarkably juts 7 miles out into Donegal Bay, Rathlin O’Birne Island just beyond Sliabh Liag, Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head and the quaint seaside at Stroove all have picturesque lighthouses which are well worth exploring.

Donegal is famed for the many outstanding beaches on its staggering 772-mile coastline. Blue Flag beaches are to be found at the ‘back strand’ in Falcarragh, the shorefronts of Buncranna and Bundoran, at Coral Beach on St Johns Point, at Dooey near Lettermacaward, in Downings, Fintra Beach near Killybegs, Five-Finger Strand (which is home to the largest sand dunes in Europe), the beach near singer Daniel O’Donnell’s home in Kincasslagh, at Kinnagoe Bay where some of the Spanish armada washed ashore, Magheroarty Beach where you can catch the ferry to Tory Island, Murvagh, Pollan Bay near Ballylifin, the surfers’ paradise at Rossnowlagh and at Tra na Rosann.

Ballymastocker Bay near Portsalon, was voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in…wait for it…THE WORLD! Yes you read that right. Ballymastocker was bettered only by a beach in the Seychelles. To put the other beaches of Donegal in perspective, many local folk would not even consider Ballymastocker the most beautiful beach in Donegal! That gives a good indication as to the calibre of beach in the county.

With at least 25 further top quality beaches, among them Bunbeg – home to the iconic Bád Eddie which appeared in a music video by U2’s Bono and Clannad  (1.5 million views on youTube). Donegal has arguably the finest stretch of coastline in all of Europe for diverse, naturally beautiful and unspoiled beaches.

The real beauty is that on any given day, you will have them all to yourself. Indeed, Donegal man William Holmes is so impressed by the splendid remoteness of Tramore, to the west of Dunfanaghy, that he has renamed it ‘Solitude’. Access to this heavenly beach requires a peaceful 1.5 mile trek through forrest and over some of the most expansive sand dunes in Ireland.

Donegal also sits at the top table in terms of golf courses. Murvagh, Naran and Portnoo, Rosapenna, Portsalon and Ballylifen are undoubtedly world-class links courses, and the region also includes some fine parkland courses; notably Barnhill in Letterkenny.

If this wasn’t enough, you can venture further off the beaten track to find some of the most amazing coastal locations that you will ever visit, such as Port and Glenlough, with its barren and breathtaking cliffs, stacks, caves and sea arches. Should the coastline leave you overawed, you can venture inland to the wonderful Glenveagh National Park, climb Mount Errigal, or take a shopping day in Letterkenny which was voted Ireland’s Tidiest Town in 2015. The lovely village of Fintown, where the Foyle and Finn sources are found, snuggles into the northwest face of the Bluestack Mountains, and offers a chilled-out train ride along the serene Lough Finn.

Further up in the Bluestacks, Lough Belshade, one of the most untouched places in all of Ireland, offers the more adventurous campers the chance to really get out into the wild. The Poisoned Glen in Dunlewey is another geological marvel. Best seen from the summit of Errigal, Poison Glen, or Heavenly Glen (take your pick depending on a one letter variation in the Gaelige name ‘An Gleann Neamhe’) is steeped in fairytale and folklore, and even has its own resident ghost – The Green Lady. Geologically, this glen, is a fine example of a glacial corrie (or cirque). In fact, most of Donegal is of geological interest, with many of the area’s mountains and valleys cut from the same retreating glaciers that shaped the Scottish Highlands. There are several examples of raised beach systems which act as a museum on Ireland’s tectonic timeline.

Perhaps history is your special interest. If so, then the 6th century home of the Gaelic Kings at Grianan of Aileach will fascinate you, as will Rathmullan – scene of the flight of the earls in 1607. Kilclooney Megalithic Tomb, near the bustling town of Ardara, is one of the finest such examples in Ireland. Beltany Stone Circle in Raphoe is believed to be two and a half thousand years old. The county is also richly populated by castles and forts, for example Doon Fort, which is built upon a clearly defined crannóg on Lough Doon,and is 4000 years old.

So why, you may ask, is this wonderfully beautiful, unique and welcoming county not on the bucket list of every visitor to Ireland? Well, the term ‘forgotten county’ refers to Donegal’s position on the island, and to the subsequent political and social isolation which occurred after the Republic of Ireland emerged from the fallout of the War of Independence and the Civil War. Donegal is bordered mostly by Northern Ireland, sharing only a 10 mile connection with the rest of Republic of Ireland, and is more than 40 miles from its nearest provincial Republic of Ireland neighbor. Donegal has approximately 3 times as much border with the Atlantic than it has with the rest of Ireland. (hence the county has so much potential as a Wild Atlantic Way destination). Donegal’s social, economic, political and geographical position is a complex subject, and is perhaps better explained by viewing a map.

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Letterkenny, marking Donegal’s place on the map. Note the tiny border Donegal shares with the rest of the Republic of Ireland en route to Sligo, and the county’s long Atlantic coastline.

 

During The Troubles, Donegal suffered greatly due to the hesitancy of many people to venture near the border. Were it not for the sporadic trading upturns as a result of a favorable currency exchange rate against Sterling, things would have been much worse. Donegal is now a fashionable getaway location for many people from Northern Ireland, with the towns of Buncranna, Bundoran, Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy benefiting in particular. But overall, the county has a very different tourism demographic and history compared to its southern compatriots.

A large percentage of the overseas visitors who do come, are actually returning Donegal emigrants. These are the people who have for decades been forced to leave their beautiful home due to economic stagnation, when ironically, actual real tourism could have helped towards keeping them at home.

Traditionally, the overseas tourists who journey along Ireland’s west coast, and often as far as Donegal Town and Sliabh Liag, stop short of continuing their adventure through to the beautiful peninsulas of north Donegal. In many local peoples eyes, this is akin to visiting Las Vegas, and not going the extra little bit to see the Grand Canyon.

When the Wild Atlantic Way was launched, many people in Donegal, especially business owners, were optimistic regarding the prospects of finally getting to take their rightful place on the tourist trail. As outlined above, the area has so much to offer the visitor. The product is there. Donegal is renowned for its friendly people. Visitors to ‘the hills’ probably receive a few more than the usual ‘cead mile failte’  that the rest of Ireland is famed for.

With the arrival of the identification markers and the internet and social media marketing which will follow, Donegal may finally be seen by more overseas tourists. While debate regarding the best locations on the Wild Atlantic Way is subjective, it is certainly the case that when all of the pictures of the new landmark signs are shared and viewed by millions of people around the world, Donegal can certainly stand tall and proud. Thanks to the Wild Atlantic Way, the signs may be good for Donegal at last.

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