Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: Donegal, St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick's Day

Journey to Ireland

Glasgow Health Culture Rambling Club suggested a social weekend to Donegal for St Patrick’s Day in March on a bus trip organised by Caledonian Travel. Twelve of us decided to go on the weekend travelling on Friday and returning on Monday. It is a fairly long journey involving about three hours by bus from Glasgow to Cairnryan Port and then three hours by ferry to Belfast with a further three hours by bus to Donegal. The bus went on to the ferry but we disembarked the bus and went to the café. It was a long journey but comfortable and the bus drivers were very friendly and informative. We crossed the European border into Ireland with a currency change to Euros.

Saint Patrick 

Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. His Feast day is on March 17 (the supposed day of his death in 461 C.E.). St Patricks Day is widely celebrated by the Irish Diaspora and there is a large Parade in New York every year. It wasn’t until the 1798 Irish Rebellion against British rule when green became the colour of Ireland and Irish independence. Green became a way for the Irish officers to distinguish themselves from the British military, who were well known for their bright red uniforms. Most towns in Ireland have a parade on St Patrick’s Day and it is a way for the community to be involved in celebrating their Irish identity. The post boxes are painted green and were previously red with the Royal Insignia when the English ruled.


We were based in the comfortable Dorrians Imperial Hotel in Ballyshannon.  The staff were all friendly and helpful. Ballyshannon (Irish: Béal Átha Seanaidh, meaning “the mouth of Seannach’s ford”) is a town in County Donegal located at the southern end of the county on the River Erne which flows to the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Incorporated in 1613, it is one of the oldest towns in Ireland. Ballyshannon has a cemetery for those who died in the Famine. Between 1845 and 1852 Ireland suffered a period of starvation, disease and emigration that became known as the Great Famine. The potato crop, upon which a third of Ireland’s population was dependent for food, was infected by a disease destroying the crop. Aedh, the King of Ireland in the 6th century, is also buried in the town.

The hotel had a traditional thatched Irish pub nearby where we were entertained with traditional Irish music from a local band.


On the Saturday we travelled south on our friendly bus to Sligo. It is an interesting town with many historical connections such as the JFK Parade. Each one of John F. Kennedy’s eight great grandparents was born in Ireland and moved to the US in search of a better life around the time of the Great Famine. The 35th President of the United States cherished his Irish heritage.

W.B. Yeats, the poet, was the first Irishman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. The Lake Isle of Innisfree is possibly his most well-known poem. He is buried near Sligo and the Yeats Society is based in The Yeats Memorial Building, a former bank.

The Lady Erin statue was erected in 1898 to commemorate the centenary of the 1798 Rebellion and the Sligo men who fought in the insurrection. It depicts Ireland with her hand raised as an act of rebellion and wearing a Phrygian or liberty cap. Carrying a banner with the inscription ‘1798’, the broken chains under her feet symbolise the breaking of the chains of bondage with England.

Donegal Town

We travelled on the bus to Donegal Town on the Sunday, St Patrick’s Day, a journey of twenty-five minutes. When we arrived in Donegal Town, we took some time to look around the Abbey Graveyard.  The ruins of this once celebrated Franciscan abbey in Donegal Town overlook the scenic River Eske estuary at the mouth of Donegal Bay.  Hidden deep among the ruins of this serene Celtic monastery there is a layer of precious local history from an earlier time. Fittingly, the first ever burial at Donegal Friary was that of its great foundress, Nuala O’Connor who was the wife of hereditary Celtic Chieftain of Tirconnell, Red Hugh O’Donnell. The powerful noblewoman died in 1474 before the abbey was completed.

As we had some time to spare before the Parade and it was raining heavily, we took the cruise around the islands in Donegal Bay. One of these islands was Rossylongan Estate, which was owned by Mr Patrick McManus in 1915, who contributed to the foundation of the Irish State. We were entertained on the cruise by our host singing to a keyboard, telling stories and some Irish dancers in the aisles of the lounge. 

We walked up to the Parade in the main square. It is very much a community event and the schools and community groups were all in the Parade along with the pipe bands and even tractors from the agricultural community. The Parade was led by Irish Wolfhounds who are one of the largest breeds of dogs and are noted for being very sweet and docile.

After the Parade we visited Donegal Castle. Red Hugh O’Donnell himself built it as his personal fortress in the fifteenth century. It is said that, leaving to seek succour in Spain in the wake of the Battle of Kinsale, Hugh determined to make sure his castle would never ever fall into English hands by setting it on fire but he was to be disappointed. English captain Sir Basil Brooke became the castle’s new lord in 1616.

We were lucky to meet the re-enactors and the Wolfhounds from the Parade in the Castle grounds.

Donegal Town was the stronghold of the O’Donnells with a statue to Red Hugh on the pier. It had stopped raining at the Parade and the sun came out as we returned to the bus!.


The following day, we headed for home and had a few hours to spend in Belfast where I was very impressed by the City Hall. It is the civic building of Belfast City Council located in Donegall Square. It was built in Edwardian style architecture with Baroque Revival and was completed in 1906. In 1888 Queen Victoria granted Belfast the status of the city and it was agreed that a grand and magnificent building was required to reflect this new status.  I would like to have had time to visit the Titanic Museum located beside Titanic Slipways, the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices and Hamilton Graving Dock. The very place where Titanic was designed, built and launched, Titanic Belfast tells the story of Titanic from her conception, through her construction and launch, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.


No trip to Ireland is complete without imbibing in the national drink of Guinness. Arthur Guinness was the first in a long line of Guinness Master Brewers and the craft of brewing at St. James’s Gate Brewery was handed down from generation to generation. On 31st December 1759, the man signed a NINE THOUSAND YEAR lease on St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. The Harp is the official national emblem of Ireland. The design stems from the 15th Century “Brian Boru” harp, a symbol that reflects Irish culture and arts.

May, 2024.

Coming attractions; Oban Islands and Roman Barr Hill



Oban Islands. June 2024
Helen Rose, Outdoor Diary: Glen Nevis

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