On The Road Back To Donegal

Misty Killybegs Harbour

Last week, like I sometimes do, I ran away again… I know what’s coming you see, the Capitalistic-apocalyptic tsunami that is December, I have stopped counting the number of times I heard or saw myself mentioning the “C” word since the last week of August. This is the life I chose I guess, no point arguing about it! I heard some shops in Dublin already have their windows decorated, enough already! The swallows are still here for Christ sake ( sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist), or at least that is when I last saw them, outside of Mullaghmeen forest, gathered on telephone lines, waiting for the conductor to signal a final “all aboard!”. I was heading for Co. Sligo first, eager to visit the People’s market in Strandhill, literally in the airport…

Hangar 1 – Home of the People’s Market
People’s Market – Strandhill, Sligo

The intention behind my escapade was to pack as much images and micro memories as I could, safety nets and lucky charms I can always come back to when I’ll be in the middle of it! I initially decided to fly solo for that trip, meaning that I was craving for a bit of unknown or to be unknown again… Not in a famous sort of way, a rock star or troubled actor seeking refuge in the dissolution with others, like an alka seltzer in a glass of lime water after a gig too many. No, nothing as such. I just didn’t want to play it safe and ring and meet everyone I know on my itinerary. That said, I was delighted to catch up with my friend Declan, frontman of Sligo born band “Darktown”; he loves rock’n’roll and so do I ( so put another dime in the jukebox, baby), a mine of art and musical knowledge! I couldn’t pass it up!

Declan from “Darktown”

I popped back to their home for a cup of coffee, after enjoying a great chat and a veggie curry on the market; great value and ideas of presents for C… No way! I am doing this again! I caught up for an hour with my Godson and his mother Eileen, then headed towards Killybegs via Manorhamilton, Bundoran and Donegal town while listening to Kurt Vile, the soundtrack of my road trip. I thought to myself: ” so much for your solo trip! Six hours in your journey and you’ve already met three people you know!”. I ignored that remark and arrived in my favourite fishing harbour by six o’clock. I checked in in the Tara Hotel, by the port, had a couple of beers and went for a bite to eat in the Fleet Inn, last week of trading… A pity really, I liked that friendly place… I was exhausted and went to bed at 9 pm, looking forward to my trip in Donegal on Monday morning.

The Fleet Inn – Killybegs
Scallops at the Fleet Inn

I was awake – as one can imagine – quite early. As I was enjoying a veggie fry up in the breakfast room of the Tara hotel, the harbour was thick with fog. I was hoping that it wouldn’t linger for too long and as I walked on one of the piers, signs of a lift were looking pretty good as fishing boats headed for the vast Atlantic, I enjoyed a wonderful sort of communion, thinking “you know what? It was worth the journey just for this moment, just for this shot”…

Foggy start in Killybegs

The sun was finally coming out, I gathered my stuff and left Killybegs for Ardara or as one should play the game ” Ard an Rátha”, but whatever you do, it is pronounced “Ardra”, the “a” in the middle is silent, now I know, now I know… As the winter is coming, I wanted to buy myself a good thick jumper and I found just that in the unusually named “Triona” shop, a Donegal tweed visitor centre on the Killybegs side of the town. Another box ticked. I headed for Gaoth Dobhair ( Gweedore) in one of the Irish Gaeltacht ( Irish speaking regions). I wanted to see An Earagail or Mount Errigal… As I was approaching the North western parish, I was thinking that I couldn’t be too far from the majestic mountain, and indeed, there it was, just off the R 251, in all its glory…

An Earagail – Mount Errigal
An Earagail – Mount Errigal

Behind Mount Errigal, is the beautiful parish of Dún Lúiche ( Dunlewy) and Loch na Cuinge ( Lough Nacung)…

Dún Lúiche ( Dunlewy) and lough Nacung
Loch na Cuinge ( Lough Nacung)…

I kept on driving on the R 251, knowing that I was soon to be stopping in Glenveagh National Park where I worked in the summer of 1991 on the Rhododendron clearance project, past present (curse) from the Victorians … I didn’t know anyone there anymore, and was catching back with the original script. I have an old picture back in Brittany I took then, it was nice to revisit the site… And take it again!

Walk the line…

We had to climb that mountain ( at the back of the valley, on the left) twice a day, picking small shoots, 40 to 50 Stag Red Deer on top. I worked with lads my age, some a bit older from the village of Church Hill behind these hills, great memories, even if their favourite game was to dislodge and roll big stone boulders towards the team underneath with a simple warning “Stone rolling!” it gave us enough time to run sideways, avoiding therefore a mild case of certain death. Yes, health and safety wasn’t that tight then, but we sure knew how to have fun…

Glenveagh Lough Beagh
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park

I stopped in Church Hill that afternoon, I have meant to do so for a very long time. I was looking for a beautiful road I had taken few years ago, the area is called Glendowan and the road is the R 254 but since I left my road map at home, I took this opportunity to have a coffee in one of the pubs. I mentioned a few names and one chap sipping on a whiskey in the corner of the bar just said: ” oh aye, I know John, he leaves in the big house right behind yee, I don’t remember you though” he said ” did yee work with Maurice?” “yes I did” I said ” a long time ago”. “I still remember people from the 90’s, you should call in”. “Just tell him that Franck from Brittany who worked with him in the summer of 91 was asking for him” I said. ” Aye, will do! Slán” he said, ” Slán, Ádh mor! Go raibh maith agat!” I said while waving good bye and good luck to the puzzled men in the corner…

The road to Church Hill
Glendowan Pass

I drove and stopped in this amazing landscape pretty much alone all the way to An Dúchoraigh ( Doochary), then headed for Baile na Finne ( Fintown) and then up againon the R 250 towards Letterkenny. If like me you like driving, this was pure pleasure! I stopped to say hi in The Counter, café, cheese and wine shop where my colleague and I did a talk in April last. I bought a few goodies, and headed back to Killybegs via Ballybofey, Fintown and Glenties. Left at 10 am, back at 5:30 pm, 297 kms on the clock and after a couple of stouts and a fish and chips, I think I was sleeping by 9 pm… I left quite early the following morning and headed for Murvagh beach for a spot of Birdwatching, hundreds of Scoters, Mergansers and even  a few Eiders! All that before meeting a friend for a coffee on my way home… There he goes again!

Murvagh Beach – Donegal Town
Murvagh Beach
photo (26)
Common Gull

I met Karen in the craft village, just outside Donegal Town, nearly at the exact same spot where she dropped me 22 years ago as I was hitch hiking back to Sligo… 22 years ago, the last time we saw each other! We had a lot to catch up with, around a cup of tea and a bowl of soup in Aroma café ( amazing brown bread btw). Born the same year as me, she hasn’t changed and said the same about me which is always nice. Maybe because I spend 8 months of the year in a fridge? We’ll never know. Now married and a mother of 4 children, she was beaming with positive energy, big into art and photography, I am glad we’ve reconnected, reminiscing of when we were 19, with Sergio, Fab and Thomas, playing in the ruins of Lough Eske castle, now a five star hotel by the lake of the same name. We visited a few artists and she seemed to know them all. She introduced me to a young artist called Michelle McKee using an ancient technique known as “Hand Felting”… Pretty amazing. One of the piece talked to me, so I bought it as a wee souvenir. We said our good byes, promised not to leave it for so long next time. She just said ” 22, just like two swans”!

Michelle McKee – Craft Villlage Donegal Town

I went back to work on the Thursday, telling my new colleague about my amazing road trip, thanking her for the music she had prepared for me, I just said that I was looking forward to Sunday for a good rest. ” You forgot about Sunday? Haha! How could you?” That’s right! The Friday before I left, chef Richard Corrigan was in the shop and I introduced him to Boston born gal who worked in the “Industry” from Boston to New York. He asked her a couple of questions, they knew people in common, I could tell by his body language that “she was in”. He just said ” Franck, this Sunday we are organising a meal, the theme is “Harvest”, you are coming yeah?” The Virginia Park lodge in Cavan is his latest venue, private functions and weddings at the moment, but every so often, he opens the doors to the public for a pop up style lunch or dinner. Pretty impressive! ” Franck, I have invited you three times before and you didn’t come” well once I was sick, the two others, I kind of chickened out kind of thing… He looked at Laura and just said ” you’re coming too yeah?” The look on her face was enough for an answer, I rang the reception to give our names and the following Sunday, Laura picked me up at home and we were welcomed by Richard in person, treated like rock stars which we kind of are to be honest… We were his guests, at his table in a private room, with his wife, family and a couple of friends and one thing we have in common with the man himself, is that we both like to tell a good story ( and music, food and wine, it goes without saying…). We spent six hours over there, what a great afternoon! What a week!

Franckie and Richard

The point I want to make with this unusual post, is that sometimes when we are in soul searching mode or simply seeking solitude we end up having the best of times. This week was very important to me, soaking up memories like a sphagnum moss on a bog, recharging batteries for darker days to come, visiting friends, reconnecting with others and of course making new ones, those who just know, placed on your road, how to speak and feed your soul…

Foggy start in Killybegs

Keep Well and Eat Happy

Slán Tamall


7 thoughts on “On The Road Back To Donegal

  1. I simply loved your road trip. I’m a driving girl … I love the meditational way that time passes when you just let the meander take you with only the vaguest notion of a destination. All those boxes ticked, all those lovely connections and reconnections – I take the heart of this post straight to my heart. And of course I am heavily in awe of that Sunday lunch. Fine stuff. Very very fine indeed. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Fiona; always a pleasure to read your nice comments. There was something quite touching about that funny week, and yes, driving when no one is waiting for you is kind of nice; you can pause whenever you want. To finish with that Sunday lunch was quite something, lil’ Franckie from Brittany at the personal table of a big chef, pinch me already 🙂 😉

  2. Ooooh. I loved this. Lucky you getting to have that (presumably delicious) dinner! Sounds like your week on the whole was one for the memory box.

  3. That’s a balm for the soul on a Tuesday morning! Such beautiful pics, and a wonderful road trip to boot. It’s still a recipe… fine ingredients, blended by a master chef, and lovingly served.

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