County Donegal in the Northwest of Ireland has one of the longest coastlines in the country at over 1130 km (about twice the length of New York State). The county boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, majestic lighthouses, award winning beaches and a vast number of Islands. Of the Islands dotted around this rugged coastline, there are very few which are inhabited all year round. These islands have captured the hearts of many, impressed by their rugged beauty, rich heritage, folklore, and language. Huge strides have been made by local communities over the years to develop facilities on the Islands and to promote their Islands for tourism.
Arranmore Island is the largest of the Donegal Islands. Located 5km off the coast of Burtonport, it has a rich heritage and culture dating back to pre-Celtic times. It is a thriving community and an extremely popular destination for tourists. It is a haven for water-sports enthusiasts, walkers, birdwatchers as well as scholars attending Irish college and cultural courses. In recent years, the Island gained international notoriety as Ireland’s first offshore digital hub, a community run initiative to encourage people to set up their businesses remotely and make Arranmore their home. Other Islands off Burtonport include Rutland Island and Innisfree. Cruit Island is a small island near Kincasslagh accessed by a road and pedestrian bridge and is well known for its Golf Club and for its many sandy beaches. From Cruit Island you can travel by boat the short distance to Owey Island which has amazing views of other Islands and to the mainland.
Tory Island is the most secluded of the inhabited islands being over 14km from the mainland. Weather permitting, a ferry runs daily from both Bunbeg and Magheroarty with more frequent crossings during the summer months. Tory Island has a strong Irish traditional culture, steeped in mythology and folklore. Tory was also home to the last ‘King of Ireland’ who played a huge part in promoting tourism on the Island and was known for greeting all visitors as they disembarked off the ferry onto the Island. The scenery on Tory Island is amazing which makes it extremely popular with visiting artists and photographers.
Neighboring island Inisbofin is located a mere 5km from Magheroarty. It is mostly uninhabited except for the summer months when it is popular for water sports, fishing enthusiasts, bird enthusiasts and has a spectacular unspoiled beach on the far side of the island. The Island holds an extremely popular festival in July when low tide allows visitors to walk from Magheroarty strand to the Island. A new ferry service is planned for Summer 2021 with local tour guides on standby once covid restrictions are lifted.
Gola Island is less than a 2km off the Gweedore Coast and was once a well inhabited island, but most of its residents moved to Gweedore in the 1960’s and settled there. In recent years people have returned to the island and renovated houses as holiday homes resulting in the island being populated for most of the year. During the spring and summer months the Island is serviced by a ferry which has frequent crossings for the short journey from Magheragallon. Nearby is Inishsirrer Island or Inis Oirthir meaning ‘outer Island’ is a deserted island which lies between Gola and Inishmeane Island.
Off the Southwest coast of Donegal, near the village of Teelin, is the uninhabited Rathlin O’Birne Island at the very tip of Slieve League. Slieve League is one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe rising 598m (about twice the height of the Empire State Building) from the Atlantic Ocean and offering spectacular views of the rugged coastline.
Inch Island is located in Lough Swilly, off the Inishowen Peninsula. This small island is a bird sanctuary with a large, manufactured lake - home to swans and many other species of bird which makes it a birdwatcher's paradise. It is connected to the mainland by a bridge and is a beautiful peaceful area with spectacular views over Lough Swilly.
Similar to Inch Island, Island Roy or Oilean Ruaidh in Mulroy Bay, is connected to the mainland by a causeway and is also a sanctuary for nesting birds and other wildlife.
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