THE sun beats down on Creevy pier and children take running jumps into the clear blue sea below, the water so pristine you can see the white sand at the bottom.
Other youngsters paddle round the small harbour in inflatable kayaks, while on the beach smaller infants potter about in swimming cozzies, hunting for starfish and splashing about in rock pools. This isn’t quite what I was expecting from a stretch of rugged Donegal shoreline that forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,500-mile coastal route spanning seven Irish counties, taking in the most spectacular scenery along the way.
To get to Creevy, we’ve flown from Edinburgh to Dublin, endured a needlessly convoluted procedure to pick up a pre-booked Hertz hire car at the airport, and set off along the N3, with a pit stop for delicious fish and chips and my first Guinness of the trip at the Lavey Inn in Cavan. The road soon becomes single carriageway and then narrows to single track, with farmland on either side and the occasional donkey balefully observing our progress from over a gate. After three hours, we pull up to the red half-door of Kitty’s Cottage, a traditional dwelling with stone flag floors and a peat-burning fire, but with plenty of modern touches too – dishwasher, washing machine, three double bedrooms, wifi and TV. It’s quaint, cosy and very comfortable and it will be our base for the next three nights.
We unpack and amble the couple of hundred yards down to Creevy pier. With just a few dozen other families enjoying this quietly magical setting, we feel like we’re sharing one of Ireland’s best kept secrets.
Famished after an afternoon of fresh air and fun, we dine in the Creevy Pier Hotel, a deservedly popular spot perched above the harbour, and enjoy a surf and turf of Irish rib eye steak and various seafood fresh from the Atlantic Sea it overlooks.
The next morning, we’re up early for a fishing trip on board Creevy’s own boat, An Duanai Mara, sailing out of Killybegs, Ireland biggest fishing port. We’re nautical novices, but genial skipper Colin Campbell guides us to some prime spots in the decidedly choppy Donegal Bay and we quickly find our sea legs. Our seven-year-old daughter Hope lands the first mackerel of the morning, to much whooping and hollering, and soon her ten-year-old and 12-year-old brothers Joe and Dan, her mum and even me are hauling in plump mackerel, hand over fist. After a couple of hours, we head back to port and Colin guts and fillets five of the super-fresh fish for us in the blink of an eye, ready for snacking or supper after five minutes in the frying pan and a hefty squeeze of lemon juice.
We grab a warming coffee and panini in Mrs B’s Coffee Shop in Killybegs, then drive an hour to the magnificent Slieve League cliffs, reputedly the highest in Europe. From the car park, we walk for a mile up the steep cliffside path, the youngsters heedlessly careering off in all directions, seemingly oblivious to the sickening 2,000ft drop on the other side of the flimsy fence. When we get to the top, part of me thinks that even if one or more of them were to have lost their footing and been dashed on the rocks below, it would have been worth it to gain such stunning views. And there is also a man at the summit with a stall selling fridge magnet souvenirs – what’s not to like?
Having worked up an appetite, we head for the charming and atmospheric Smugglers Creek Inn, which has an awesome menu – oysters, mussels, venison and slow-braised lamb shank recommended for adults, while the kids give their thumbs up to the gourmet beef burger and penne bolognese – and fine views over Rossnowlagh beach and Donegal Bay as the sun sets. It’s one of the highlights of the holiday.
Next morning we head first to Ballyshannon, the oldest town in Ireland and, more significantly, the birthplace of rock legend Rory Gallagher (there’s a statue of the great man in the centre), then surfers’ paradise Bundoran for a bracing stroll along the sands, then Donegal town, visiting its fascinating and visitor-friendly castle, shopping for holiday tat – sorry gifts – and having lunch in the friendly Blueberry Tea Room. Back in the car, we set off along the Wild Atlantic Way once more, enjoying breathtaking views and picture-postcard scenery, before randomly following a steep descent down to the gorgeous deserted beach of Fintra Bay.
With sand between our toes and shorts somewhat soggy from the sea, we head for Kitty Kellys restaurant, which was recommended as somewhere for “lunch, dinner or just a pint” but turns out to be pretty posh, with a following of A-list celebrities as well as loyal locals. It’s easy to see why – for despite being horribly under-dressed, we are warmly welcomed, given a discreet table in a lovely part of the restaurant upstairs, and enjoy a fabulous meal of smoked chicken salad and sirloin steak, while the children devour their prepared-to-order chicken breast nuggets.
And that, really, should be it as far as our Ireland holiday and the Wild Atlantic Way goes. Except that the next day, instead of heading directly back to Dublin Airport, we can’t resist taking a slight detour. Well, quite a bit of a detour really – 140 miles south, as opposed to east, taking three and a half hours in total to our destination in the bleakly beautifully Burren National Park of County Clare – and all for afternoon tea.
But this is no ordinary afternoon tea – this is tea and cake in Father Ted’s House. I’m talking about the actual parochial house that hosted the iconic sitcom’s priests Ted, Dougal and Jack, as well as housekeeper Mrs Doyle. In real life, it’s the home of the McCormack family of two parents, five children, four dogs, two cats, five fish – and on the day we arrive, a young hare being looked after since it was found abandoned in a nearby field. We’ve booked ahead, as all visitors are required to, and mum Cheryl serves up tea, coffee and delicious home baking, while relating the story of the show and the history of the house, as well as providing props for photos and answering questions. But this isn’t like any tourist attraction: it’s one family welcoming another into their home. We tarry for an hour or so, with various offspring and friends passing through the house and exchanging pleasantries, and leave with memories of a special experience we will treasure for a long time.
Thinking of a trip to Ireland? Ah, go on, go on, go on…
• Three nights self-catering at Kitty’s Cottage costs from £352. www.creevyexperience.com
• Creevy Pier Hotel, www.creevy.ie
• Smugglers Creek Inn, www.smugglerscreekinn.com
• Kitty Kellys Restaurant, www.kittykellys.com
• Ryanair flies from Edinburgh to Dublin 23 times a week. www.ryanair.com
• To arrange a visit to Father Ted’s House, go to www.fathertedshouse.com
• For more information about the Wild Atlantic Way and other destinations in Ireland go to www.discoverireland.ie