BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Gweedore, in northern Co. Donegal, is probably not a location too many of us American travelers have discovered. Sadly, most visitors stop their northern trek in Donegal Town and that’s a real pity because Gweedore is in a most beautiful part of this wild and wooly county.
The route to Gweedore from the south is circuitous and winds through colorful towns, lush hills, and emerald valleys. Once you arrive in Gweedore, there is much to do and see, thanks to its proximity to attractions such as Glenveagh National Park, Atlantic beaches and islands, nearby golf courses, fishing, and more.
A friend and I recently enjoyed a midweek stay at the historic An Chuirt Gweedore Court Hotel and Spa in Gweedore. This storied 4-star hotel was originally purpose-built back in the 1830s by Lord George Hill, a local landowner, in the style of Scottish Highland hunting lodges. The design was geared to attract gentry who were visiting Donegal for fishing and hunting. The hotel stands in a stunning location on a main driving route, overlooking the Clady River, noted for its salmon fishing, with Errigal Mountain in the distance.
ONCE A COURTHOUSE
An Chuirt operated as a hotel for more than 25 years before the government took over the building and turned it into a courthouse - thus its Irish name An Chuirt, or “the court.” The hotel is located in a Gaeltacht, one of a number of Irish-speaking areas primarily on the western edge of the country but also found in Meath, Cork, and Waterford. More than half the staff at An Chuirt speak Irish.
By the 1960s, the court had closed and the building lay vacant until local resident Patrick Doherty and his family rescued the property in 1990 and set to work restoring it to its former glory. This summer, the Dohertys, who still own and run the hotel, will celebrate 20 years since An Chuirt reopened.
General Manager Ricardo Freitas has been with the 68-bedroom hotel for two years. Since he arrived, he has overseen a three-month closure of the building for development of the spa area, updating of bedrooms, the restaurant and dining room and additional training of staff members. The work raised standards, he said, while maintaining the Irish welcome. And, we did feel so welcomed by all the staff at An Chuirt, from the general manager on down.
The hotel caters to some 30 wedding parties per year and, Freitas said, for every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through September, it is completely booked. But if you happen to be in that area of Donegal midweek, An Chuirt would be a great choice for accommodation.
Bedrooms there are spacious and decorated with elegant, comfortable antique beds and other furniture. A welcoming basket of fresh fruit - or chocolates - greets the visitor. My friend likes a bathtub and I prefer a shower. Each of our spotless bedrooms was en suite with modern bathrooms that offered a shower over the tub so we were both happy.
Even if there were no other reason to visit An Chuirt, the outstanding cuisine in the dining room would make dinner well worth a stop. I ordered that evening’s cod special and my friend had risotto with sea bass – both were absolutely delicious, beautifully prepared and presented. And, as an aside, the bar offers 52 types of gin. “We are very passionate about our beverages,” Freitas said.
Drinks are served with paper straws, a nod to the ecology and environment. “These are small things,” he said referring to the straws, “but they have a huge impact.”
Freitas is currently working with Aer Lingus to create a midweek offer for customers to fly from Dublin to Donegal airport for dinner at the hotel, an overnight stay, spa treatment, and short flight back to Dublin the next morning. Aer Lingus already flies the route from Dublin to Donegal three times a day, year round, and Loganair flies from Glasgow to Donegal airport daily. The hotel can arrange to collect clients or they can rent cars at the airport.
Behind the hotel - but also on the 100-acre estate - is the Errigal View Pet Farm with an interesting assortment of animals from raccoons to emus, rabbits, and wallabies. There is also an infant play area there and a 9-hole pitch and putt.
An Chuirt recently joined a group called Original Irish Hotels (originalirishhotels.com), a collection of 59 locally run traditional and boutique hotels, castles, manors, and country houses. Freitas said, “It’s a nice group to be part of and these hotels try to help one another.”
For more information on An Chuirt, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website, gweedorecourthotel.com.
JOHN MOLLOY WOOLLENS
Heading south again after our nice stay at An Chuirt, we passed through the towns of Crolly, Dungloe, Maas, and stopped in Ardara at the John Molloy Woollen Mills on the N56 road.
It was so nice to see that, like An Chuirt, this business is also family-run. We were greeted by managing director Michael Molloy, his wife and daughter, and learned that the Molloy family has been involved in the textile industry since the mid-19th century. Donegal tweed is produced there in the family’s factory and the traditional Irish Aran Fishermen’s sweaters are still hand knit in homes across Co. Donegal, and sold at Molloy’s.
The store offers a variety of men’s and women’s clothing, traditional and contemporary. There is ample parking, free factory tours, tourist information, Irish crafts, tea/coffee, wifi, as well as the woolen goods.
For more information, visit johnmolloy.com.
Who doesn’t know at least something about the Star Wars films? While they may not have been your favorites, they surely did appeal to the folks in Malin Head, Co. Donegal, where scenes from “The Last Jedi” were filmed.
The film and its characters appealed so much to local residents that they renamed the R242 road R2D2 highway, and installed the appropriate signage.
There are a number of outdoor events planned for music lovers this summer. Be sure to check ahead as many sell out nearly overnight. Some of the concerts listed this summer are:
• Forbidden Fruit Festival, June 1-3, Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, Irish and international acts, non camping, see: forbiddenfruit.ie for more;
• Malahide Castle concerts, June 7-22, Dublin, ticketmaster.ie, include The Cure on June 8; Mumford & Sons, 14 and 15,George Ezra, June 21, and Lana Del Rey, the 22nd.
• Fleetwood Mac, June 13, RDS, Dublin, ticketmaster.ie;
• Bon Jovi, June 16, RDS, Dublin, ticketmaster.ie;
• Sea Sessions, June 21-23, Bundoran, Co. Donegal, see seasessiions.com for more.
• Kaleidoscope, June 28-30 at Russborough Estate, Co, Wicklow, see kaleidoscopefestival.ie for more.
ALCOCK & BROWN
From June 11-16, Clifden, Co. Galway, will celebrate the centenary of the first transatlantic flight in 1919 when a Vickers-Vimy biplane crash-landed behind the Marconi wireless station in the Derrigimlagh bog.
On board were two British airmen, Captain John Alcock (pilot), and Lt. Arthur Whitten Brown (navigator). The plane had taken off from Lester’s Field in St John’s, Newfoundland, at 4:12 p.m. (GMT) the previous day and arrived at Derrigimlagh, Clifden, at 8:40 a.m. (GMT) on Sun., June 15. The distance covered was a little less than 1,900 miles and flight time was 16 hours and 28 minutes.
Events are planned from June 11-16, including field trips, guided tours, talks, a boat regatta, and much more. See: alcockandbrown100.com for more.
Summer is a great time to visit Ireland. Attractions, many of which closed for the winter, have reopened and are ready to greet visitors. Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.
BY JUDY ENRIGHT