Donegal: Grand Dame of the Northwest


Ireland Hopping / By Margaret M. Johnson

By now, regular Echo readers have either heard about or experienced the Wild Atlantic Way, a route on the very edge of Europe that winds it way for 1,500 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard from Kinsale in County Cork to Malin Head in County Donegal. The roads lead you through some of the world’s most dramatic coastal landscapes, towering cliffs, deserted beaches, rocky headlands, and wild scenery. For those so inclined, it’s a place to experience the great outdoors at its wildest — hill walking, surfing, biking. And for those with less active interests, it’s also where you go to experience great events, music, food, drink, shopping, and some of the best photo opportunities you’ll ever imagine.

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For one leg of my north-to-south travels, I spent time relaxing — make that, “luxuriating” — in Donegal at Harvey’s Point Hotel on the shore of Lough Eske. Covering 900 acres, the surface of Lough Eske can be smooth-as-glass or rough-and-tumble depending on the weather and the wind. With the Bluestack Mountains rising above the lough and the hotel sitting at the edge, the scene is a photographer’s dream when you’re trying to grab a photo from the other side of the lough. But it’s inside the hotel that really makes a visit worthwhile.


What began as an old cottage hidden in the hills of Donegal, Harvey’s Point has blossomed into a world-class property. In the early 1980s, Swiss tourist Jody Gysling came to Ireland on holidays, was enchanted by the place and its people, and later bought that cottage from the Harvey brothers. He decided to open it as a guesthouse in 1989 and invited his brother Marc to join him. Local Donegal girl Deirdre McGlone was hired as a receptionist that summer and, as she describes it, “the summer job has lasted almost 30 years” — in 1996, Deirdre and Marc married and became owners of the hotel. Over the years, the property expanded in the number of rooms and amenities; there are now 64 suites in the main hotel, 13 rooms in the lodge, a beautiful ballroom, and “new look” restaurant, bar, and glass-covered terrace. Trip Advisor has named Harvey’s Point “Number 1 Hotel in Ireland” for the past 5 years, and Georgina Campbell’s travel guide awarded it “Hotel of the Year 2017.”

Wine at the pier.


When you tear yourself away from the hotel, you’re only a short distance from some of Donegal’s best places to visit. The picturesque market town of Donegal is renowned for its castle and town center, The Diamond. A “must” visit here is Magee, a fourth-generation business famous for producing Donegal tweed since 1866, and a short stroll from The Diamond is the Bank Walk, a path that winds along the west bank of the River Eske as it flows out into Donegal Bay.

A bit further afield is Murvagh, home of Donegal Golf Course, one of the most spectacular links courses in Europe; the heritage town of Ardara, renowned for its traditional knitwear, hand-woven tweed, and Nancy’s Pub; Glenties, noted for is traditional music and Autumn Harvest Fair; and Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Ireland (yes, five times higher than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare).

The Cliffs, in fact, rising nearly 609 meters (2,000 feet) above the Atlantic, are fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland. You can drive your car right up to the main viewing area to take in the scenery, or if you’re very adventurous, take an exhilarating trek along “One Man’s Path,” considered to be one of the most remarkable walks in Ireland. You might know Donegal’s motto is “up here, it’s different,” and now it’s also cool: it grabbed the top spot on National Geographic Traveller Magazine’s “Cool List for 2017!”




Another good reason to “stay put” at Harvey’s Point is the chance to enjoy its terrific food. The Lakeside Restaurant scooped three awards at a recent RAI (Restaurants Association of Ireland) awards ceremony with dishes like this chowder.

2 tablespoons butter

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 small onion, diced

½ leek (white part only), diced

1/3 cup brandy

1/3 cup pastis, or other anise flavored liqueur

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 cups vegetable stock

3 ounces salmon, cut into chunks

3 ounces, cut into chunks

3 ounces smoked haddock, cut into cubes

1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch, to thicken


Ground black pepper

Brown soda bread, for serving

  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add carrot, celery, onion, and leek and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft but not browned. Stir in brandy and pastis and cook for about 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced. Add wine and cook until reduced by half.

  2. Stir in stock, fish, and cream and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until fish is opaque and broth is thick enough to coat back of a spoon. If needed, thicken with a little cornstarch. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with brown bread.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page now includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, including how to order her cookbooks, visit