Born and bred in Donegal, I'm certainly not going to argue with the recent accolade attributed to my home county here in Ireland - Donegal is the coolest place on the planet to visit. In my youth I will admit to really not noticing just how beautiful my home surroundings really were.
When I got married 25 years ago and finally settled in the neighbouring village of Muff I slowly began to take in my surroundings. Having lived in London, New York, Co. Clare and finally coming home, I saw daily how beautiful my homeland really was.
As my three sons grew up, we would take Sunday drives around Inishowen and then further afield around County Donegal in general. We would make up a picnic in the morning and then just drive. It was during this time that I would be totally blown away by some country lane, a stunning beach, the winding mountain roads, the soaring mountains ahead. Donegal was beautiful from North to South, from East to West. This home county of mine really did have it all.
As locals we always saw how our beautiful county was often overlooked from tourism perspectives in favour of Kerry, Dublin and such. In many ways our wee county was indeed the 'forgotten county'.
It's all thanks to the National Geographic Traveller UK in December 2016 that this county is now very much discovered and at the fore of geographical beauty. “It’s a warm-hearted place, but wilderness always feels just a stone’s throw away,” said National Geographic Traveller’s UK editor, Pat Riddell. “And it is wilderness, world-class wilderness. We think it’s due a big year.”
Donegal was very privilidged last year to welcome the cast of Star Wars to Malin Head and Inishowen for their filming of the new film. I was very honoured to meet and chat with non other than Mark Hammond during his visit here. Mark was very kind to speak with locals and take time out with them. I was rather grateful for that as I made many friends and family members jealous with my photo proving my said meet and greet with the legend.
So just what is it that makes our county the 'coolest place on earth to visit'? Of course there's the outstanding scenic beauty. There's many historic and mythological sites. There's fine dining and there's always a great pint of guinness to be had in the bars. There's also the music. We are home to the amazing Clannad, Altan, The Henry Girls and so much more. These musicians ensure Donegal is always noted and at the fore. But at the helm of it all there's the people. There really is none like them. A warm, friendly greeting is always in place. No welcome is every a trouble. No stranger is ever turned away. Friendliness oozes from every local, from everyone you meet.
I often drive around the coast here at home and it's so lovely to meet people walking and wave as you pass by. Total strangers salute total strangers. Walking along local streets, everyone says 'hello'. That's just Donegal.
I recently met and interviewed three young brothers from Donegal who are making their mark on the world music scene, The Byrne Brothers are all in primary school and recently returned from a month playing in the US. On meeting them that day it reaffirmed my faith in our young people. These kids are so very rooted in their home county and it's clear how much they love returning home after touring abroad. Children really are at our core. To see them appreciate home, means so much.
I'm very fortunate in the work that I do meeting many musicians from around the world, and it's always a delight to welcome them to Donegal and encourage them to visit the county and explore our amazing sights.
Living in the little village of Muff now, I am grateful each day for the community I live among. With our new coffee shop, The Workshop Coffee Co. we have the perfect spot to stop off for lunch or a quick cuppa before exploring the surrounding area. Or if it's a wee tipple you're after, we have the delightful traditional bar The Squealing Pig. Every village you pass through will have that something special.
Donegal is often just the county at the top left of Ireland whom no one really knows much about. It's not until you visit us, meet us, and experience life with us, that you get to see just what an outstanding piece of heaven we really do live in.
So next time you are wondering where to visit on your holidays, just book a wee trip to Donegal. You really won't regret it. We'll all be on hand to welcome you with a smile. And rest assured, if you visit us once, you will most definitely return.