|Bunbeg Beach, Gweedore, Co. Donegal, with Mt. Errigal in the distance|
Well, it's been a busy month, this. I had a visitor over from Canada on St. Patrick's Day - my Dad's cousin from Vancouver, British Columbia. She came over to Dublin first and then spent a few days up in Donegal Town and also in a wee place west of there called, Dunkineely. That's where my great-grandparents came from, who would be this Canadian lady's grandparents. They used to live in a large house next door to the Methodist church in Dunkineely, and my great-grandfather, George Given, was a shopkeeper just across the main street from the house.
Ten of their 12 children were born in Donegal, but something must have caused them to leave there and move to Lisburn, Co. Antrim - that's just a few miles south of Belfast - in 1892? The last two children were born in Lisburn, including the mother of my Canadian relative. The move must have been a big come-down for the familty - from a large house and running a business, to a small kitchen house in a narrow street in Lisburn. The children took jobs minding machinery in the local Linen Mills, or worked as 'smoothers' in the laundry, and my great-grandfather drove a horse and cart for the mills.
It's a bit of a mystery why they all upped and left such a beautiful place in Donegal, btu maybe someday we'll be able to figure it out. Donegal is a very laid-back part of the world - in fact, a friend of mine from Donegal says they're so laid back, there, they're horizontal! There's a Gaeltaecht in Donegal - around Gweedore, near mount Errigal. That's the place to go to if you want to learn the Ulster dialect of Irish Gaelic. Gaelic bands such as Clannad and Altan come from that area, too - it's a great place for music.
Clannad comes from Clann a 'Dore - the clan from Gweedore, with Altan Lough about a mile away! And the father and uncle of the members of Clannad, Leo Brennan, a musician himself, still runs a musical pub called Leo's Tavern, in a place called Croilly. Yer always sure of a bit of a singsong when ye go there! One visitor to Donegal was a bit bemused by the fact that the pubs there seemed to stay open very late at night, so he asked the barman what time they normally closed at? The publican answered him, "Ach, usually about the middle of September!"
We used to stay in Gweedore at a house belonging to some of the Brennan family. Gerry and I arrived down there one Monday night in 1989, at about 10 o'clock in the evenin' and Leo came around to remind us how the heatin' worked and to give us a key. When we'd settled in we decided it was still early enough - by Donegal time, anyway! - to pay a visit down the road to the wee fishin' village of Bunbeg. It's just one main street with a narrow road down to the harbour - and a great wee pub called Hudi Bheag's Tavern.
And sure enough, when we went in we discovered quite a bunch of musicians tuning up for a music session. I slipped out to the car and brought my guitar in to a bench at the back of the pub, where I quietly tuned it up. I didn't go unnoticed, though, for one of the musicians shouted over to me, "Is that a guitar ye have, there? Bring it on over here and join us." Needles to say, we didn't spend a single shillin' in that pub for the rest of the evening! The craic and the music were great and, of course, we didn't leave there till the early hours of the mornin'!
The next day we took a trip in an open boat out to Gola Island, which is only a mile offshore, though you travel about 3 miles to get there. If ye were really feelin' adventurous, ye could take another boat on out to Tory Island, which is about 15 miles out into the Atlantic. The boat leaves you off and goes back to the mainland again, so you really feel like ye're marooned on Gola! People lived there until the mid 1960s, when the Irish Government persuaded everyone it would be better to live on the mainland. You can still see the houses there, most of them open for the sheep to wander in and out of - although a few people have returned to the island and have been repairing some o the houses again.
There are totally secluded beaches - both sandy and stony - on the island, and even a small lake in the middle! If ye ever wanted to really get away from it all, that would be the ideal place to go to! And if ye go south from Gweedore to Croilly, and then west again round the coast to the small Donegal Airport at Carrickfinn, you travel almost full circle and end up opposite Bunbeg again, with only a narrow stretch of water in between you and the Ostan Gweedore hotel across the bay.
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