Jennifer falls for Donegal
By Jennifer Betts
Aside from the tumultuous Irish weather, my summer is going pretty well so far. I’ve had
one barbecue, one afternoon sipping cocktails in my garden and one dip in the water at the
Being Irish, I’m happy with these singular outings, as I fear I shouldn’t push for more. That would be a bit ambitious now wouldn’t it? I have out – Irished my summer, right down to the trip to Spain I have booked for September. But even with the rain, thunder, scorching sun and humidity – all in one day, I think Ireland can be quite damn beautiful in the correct light. One such place I visited this year was Donegal town.
Every year, since I basically started working, I’ve taken my father out for Father’s Day. Year one; we spent the day in Bray and were privy to an argument between a fellow father and daughter couple. We counted our blessings of our very close relationship, especially on hearing a chorus of ‘whatever you want, I don’t care,’ from a daughter who was clearly put out by the special day.
That, coupled with the fun we had, made me even more determined to outdo the previous year every time and I have managed to surprise my Dad at every turn. We’ve spent a day in the Guinness Storehouse, taken a trip around Howth Bay and even made a visit to Dublinia, followed, I might add, by a sumptuous, foodgasm – inducing meal at Jury’s Christchurch. Seriously, go try it; my ass print might still be in one of the seats.
But this year, as my Dad turned 70, I thought about doing something a bit more special. Hello Donegal! As a young man, my Dad travelled around Ireland with work, but regretfully missed two fantastic counties, Donegal and Kilkenny. It was a hard decision, but as I’d never been to Donegal town either, I selfishly, chose our Northern neighbours. It did not disappoint.
As neither me, nor my Dad drive, we took our only option of transport – the bus. I’ve never minded taking the bus and even the four – hour journey did not hamper our idea of a perfect weekend. If I’m honest, I quite like the twists and turns on the road, passing through little streets, taking my beloved isle and all its magic in with a gust of warm breeze.
Of course, Dublin was having one of its hottest weekends of the year, but to leave behind the normality of home for a couple of days, gave way to our excitement. No cooking, no making the bed and with a splash of culture thrown in. (I’m lying, I don’t make the bed at home either). After a much needed fag – break in Cavan, we were half way to our weekend paradise.
As I mentioned, we don’t drive, so I conveniently, maybe lazily, chose the hotel where the bus stops (and departs). But we were not sorry. Donegal town is not large and the Abbey Hotel nestles right in the heart of the town square or diamond to correctly address it, but the vibrancy hit us straight away, with the coming and going of guests. Hen’s parties, American tourists and us ‘down the roaders’ made for a perfect combination of seekers, as Donegal town has got everything and everything is five minutes from the hotel.
After a very friendly and efficient check – in, we headed to the bar for a pint. The large bar was fragranced with that smell of ‘new’ and we felt at home right away. The bar staff were lovely, the booze was well priced and I was even brought back to the old days when Harp was served in the South. My Dad tried it for old time’s sake and we reminisced about the old ad with the camel and flying pig. Seriously? Good beer.
We took a little stroll around the town, to get our bearings for the next day’s wander and we laughed, albeit happily, at how little we’d have to walk. I would walk anywhere, but years of my baking have slowed my Dad down a wee bit.
We had a table booked in the hotel restaurant, which was agreeably included in our booking price and the food was delectable. Before we left, a friend tried to and nearly succeeded, in convincing my dear old Dad that they only served Donegal catch in Donegal, to which the waitress found very funny. Normally, myself and my 70 – year – old drinking buddy would take a good stab at the drinks menu after dinner, but we were that pleasantly plump with food, we opted for a beautiful stroll along the River Eske, with a picture – perfect view of Donegal Castle in the background.
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, I popped out the back of the hotel for some air and spotted one of our planned activities, not at all far in the distance -The Donegal Waterbus. We saved it for the end of the day as we knew it would be a treat, so beforehand we took a trip to Donegal Castle, also, perfectly located five minutes away.
I’ve always had a slight fascination with Irish history and standing in the courtyard of Donegal Castle, my senses were enthralled with the energy of its 15 th Century past. We then sauntered around the Diamond, visiting various shops and quaint little pubs in search of the essential keepsakes; a fridge magnet, to add to the collection and a few sticks of rock. (Of course).
The locals and visitors alike make this town very special and welcoming and it’s hard still, not to smile, as I think of the many that greeted us throughout the day, especially the ever so affable Seoirse with his wondrous gift shop. After a couple of tipples and a lovely chat with a couple from Derry, we took the Donegal Waterbus around the bay. I had heard of the entertainment on board and happily chuckled at the ancient jokes from our on – board entertainer, but I hadn’t expected my own Dad to get up and do a rendition of Patsy Cline’s Crazy. Nothing to do with the on board bar I’m sure.
Feeling the wind in my hair up top as we meandered around the dwelling seals certainly cleared the cobwebs from this city girl’s busy mind. We ended our day in the lovely Quay West Restaurant and even though I’m not the biggest
fan of fish, I was delighted with my choice of crab claws and meaty monkfish. Not forgetting our scrummy bubblegum cocktails! Hey, when in Rome.
My Dad and I have travelled many times before and more often than not, nights have ended with me serenading my Dad with Christina Aguilera. But this weekend gave us so much more. Maybe it was the humid weather, maybe we’re just not able for the 4am shift anymore, but I will take many memories with me from Donegal. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your intentions are in this cosy town; they’ve got it all! It’s the kind of place where you feel rested, at peace and excited all at once and you can fit so much into even a short time. For my Dad and I, there was something a bit extra special about this Father’s Day and for that Donegal, I thank you and we will return.