|View from Grianán Ailigh|
|Becca & Kegan climbing up the inner wall of the fort||We take our time driving up to Malin Head, at the tip of the Inis Eoghain (Inishowen) Peninsula. Our first stop is Grianán Ailigh, a round stone fort at the southern end of the peninsula that's at least two thousand years old. (A certain LJ friend may be interested in knowing that between the 5th and 12th centuries, it was the seat of the O'Neill's. The king of Munster demolished all but the bottom section of the wall. Secret Catholic masses were held in the remaining structure during Penal times. An amateur archaeologist from Derry lovingly reconstructed the rest in the late 19th century.) The top of the fort affords panoramic views of the surrounding area, including Inch Island, which you can see in the image above.|
Climbing the stone steps on the inner side of the 4-meter-thick wall is no mean feat when they're slick with rain. The gusts of wind raking the hillside constantly threaten to sweep those interested in the view off their feet.
We hop back into the car and drive up the west coast of the peninsula along Lough Swilly. We're almost at the fort when Becca pulls over on the one-lane road to allow a white pick-up truck past and we end up with the left side of the car in the ditch. (It was bound to happen eventually.) The truck eases past and two locals get out, grinning at us. With the help of another pair of sympathetic passersby, we maneuver the car out of the ditch. A piece of turf gets stuck under the bumper, which the locals hand to Becca, saying, "Here, a little bit of Irish for ye."
|After a cigarette break to calm rattled nerves, we continue to Fort Dunree, which guards the mouth of Lough Swilly. The original grounds of the fort are located on a rock divided by a plunging chasm from the nearby cliff face. Though it's only a couple of meters, a metal drawbridge with a vertigo-inducing downward view provides the only access to the Guns of Dunree display.|
The fort is probably most famous two incidents. In October 1798, a small French fleet accompanied by Wolfe Tone, one of the early champions of Irish republicanism, was defeated off the Donegal coast. Tone was brought into the Swilly aboard his ship and arrested. (He was tried for treason later that month and sentenced to hang in November. He cut his own throat with a penknife before the sentence could be carried out.) In October 1914, the entire Grand Fleet took shelter in the lough which, due to its depth, was not accessible to the submarines. In addition to the protection afforded by Dunree's guns, a boom was lowered across the lough entrance and no ships were allowed inside without permission.
As the fort's garrison expanded in the nineteenth century, barracks and other facilities had to be added on the other side of the chasm. Modern visitors can wander among the long-disused barracks, which have fallen into attractive disrepair, and some of them are not blocked off, so it's possible to go inside and inspect the damage inflicted by the elements and vandals.
|The mouth of Lough Swilly|
|Drawbridge to Fort Dunree||View from inside Fort Dunree|
|Fort Dunree from above||Becca & Kegan at a Gun of Dunree|
|Hidden beach near Fort Dunree||Fort Dunree barracks|
|Barracks interior||Barracks interior|
|Kegan with Five Fingers Strand rock formation||We eat lunch out of the trunk of the car and continue our northward journey to the Lagg Sand Dunes and the Five Fingers Strand, so named for the rocks jutting into the ocean. We pass a little white Presbyterian (!) church and park off the single-lane road at the bottom of a sand dune. We are once again overwhelmed by natural beauty and by the weird moon and Mars formations jutting out of the sandy beach.|
Becca and I each claimed a half of the rock formations at the left. Becca claimed the taller one through the ancient and well-respected rite of urination. I claimed the smaller one by stuffing a strand of bullwhip kelp into a crevice. Kegan didn't feel the need to claim anything, which, I suppose, demonstrates that he's secure in his masculinity. Grr. Argh.
|Five Fingers Strand beach|
|We finally reach Malin Head at around 5 PM and check into a clean but personality-less hostel run by an anal-retentive witch, so we immediately go to the only restaurant (the Seaview Tavern and Restaurant) in the area to eat an early and leisurely dinner. A brief shower sweeps through while we're dining and leaves behind a rainbow. We walk down to the Wee House of Malin afterwards. It's a site at the bottom of a steep cliff where secret Catholic masses were held. A small grotto with a three-foot high statue of the Virgin surrounded by white stones, of which we've seen many in Donegal, nestles in the cliff face nearby. Next to it, a wooden plank stretched across a small cave provides a place for prayer or meditation.|
We spend a little time hiking around the rocky beach, peering at tiny treeless islands in the distance and watching the sun's descent. We hike back up the cliff to the tavern portion of the Seaview for pints and whiskey, and spend the rest of the night getting magnificently pissed. I find the experience simultaneously fascinating and depressing. Lonely Irish men between the ages of 40 and 70 pursue me aggressively all evening. I'm pressured into singing, which, naturally, drives all memory of full song lyrics out of my head until finally, desperately, I recall "People Are Strange," which seems appropriate anyway.
|Rainbow over Malin Head|
|Wee House of Malin||Peering through the doorway|
|Scoping out lairs from Malin Head beach|
|Really very dronk in the Seaview Tavern||We leave abruptly when a man sandwiches me in a corner and tries to get me to go trout-fishing with him in the middle of the night. (No, that isn't a euphemism.) I feel rather rude about leaving without saying goodbye to some of the nicer people we've met, so Kegan and I return briefly. I thank the one guy who was around our age who spoke extensively to us for being polite. We leave again. Kegan tells Becca and me that the girls – yes, there were other girls at the bar, but they banded together in a circle with their backs to everyone – had invited us to go out clubbing with them. Since they want us to be at the pub to catch the minibus by 12:30 AM and it's already past midnight, we decide to return and accept the invitation. We are just turning around when a car drives up. It's the polite young man. He offers to drive us to the hostel and back. On the way, we stop at his house so he can change. |
Also, so he can feed us more whiskey.
We are all very, very pissed on arrival at the club in Culdaff, a town that is not an inconsiderable distance from Malin Head. It isn't until several days later when Becca goes fishing through her wallet that we notice the place is called "Mac's Backroom Bar." A band is playing. Becca and I dance. We are pleased to find that our dancing styles are different. Each time we step onto the front of the dance floor, a large space clears around us, so we prudently step off of it periodically to avoid freaking the natives.
|We stay until the club closes at 2:30. Everyone piles back into the minibus, which takes us back to Malin Head at top speed down pitch-black roads in the driving rain. If I weren't so thoroughly alcohol-soaked, I'd be frightened. Rather than taking us back to the hostel, the polite young man takes us back to his house so we can play cards, talk bollocks and he can give Kegan a copy of Tim Severin's The Brendan Voyage.|
Also, so he can feed us more whiskey.
We finally convince him that we cannot possibly drink more whiskey – the bottle's empty anyway – and get him to drive us back to the hostel at 4:30.
Tomorrow is going to be painful. But it was worth it.