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.
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.
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.
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.
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.