Viewing the Northern Lights: Co. Donegal
Not only does Ireland possess some of the greatest unspoilt natural beauty in Western Europe, it can also offer a breath-taking backdrop to viewing, for visitors fortunate enough and prepared to work for it, the wonder of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
While many people connect watching the northern lights with remote destinations in Sweden, Canada, or Greenland, the north coast of Ireland’s amazing views and a lack of light pollution put visitors in a great position to witness the awesome spectacle. The hard part is being in the right place at the right time so, to give “light chasers” the best shot at seeing the lights, www.astronomy.ie and the Aurora forecast at www.aurora-service.eu have tools that can be a huge help.
In the meantime, we asked our customers to enlighten us on the best locations Co. Donegal has when it comes to witnessing nature’s greatest light show.
Malin Head, on the Inishowen peninsula, is Ireland’s most northerly point and, as a result, the place in Ireland where the Lights are most often visible. Banba’s Crown, named for the mythical Irish queen, is the very northernmost tip of the mainland and, on a clear night when solar wind activity is strong, visitors may be lucky enough to glimpse the amazing display. Also nearby are the raised beaches of Ballyhillion, where the skies can be observed to the accompaniment of a booming soundtrack as Atlantic waves constantly roll in.
On the eastern side of the Inishowen peninsula is Moville, which can provide some sanctuary for those not prepared to brave the wilds of Malin Head. It’s a charming little town that overlooks Lough Foyle. In the large seaside Victorian Park, visitors can find bandstands and other sheltered spots where they can keep out of the elements, yet still be well placed to see the elusive Lights, if they happen to appear.
Among all of Ireland’s unspoilt locations, Tory Island retains the best of its mystery and rugged beauty. A place of huge historic and mythic significance, Tory can be reached via a ferry from the picturesque harbour of mainland Donegal when there’s good weather but, in the winter months, unpredictable seas and conditions can make the island difficult to reach, and just as difficult to leave. However, any visitors who get the chance to see the Northern Lights over Dún Bhaloir, with its sheer, ninety-metre cliffs on three sides, can expect an experience they will never forget.
Arranmore is Co. Donegal largest inhabited island and boasts over 500 residents huddling together in its isolated, unique landscape, five kilometres off the coast of the mainland. There are ferries that run from Burtonport and the island is generally easy to access, with the trip taking from five to fifteen minutes. The towns on the more sheltered south side of the island, such as Leabgarrow, Ballintra, Fallagowan, or the exceptionally named Pollawaddy, if conditions are right, can offer an excellent opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis.
Best known for Dunree Fort, a decommissioned coastal fortress that is now a military museum, the Dunree area is found about eleven kilometres north of Buncrana. Dunree has a lovely strand, but the views from the fort are often long and clear making it an exceptional location to spot the Northern Lights, when looking north-east. The fort itself can offer some comfort and shelter from the weather and is easy to reach, with car parking right by it on the sandy beach.
Set between the Urris Hills and Raghtin More mountain, the Gap of Mamore offers total blackout and a fantastic panorama of the northern skies, reaching right from west to east. The sheltered Gap is a handy place to park the car during the night, before settling in to wait for the Lights. Also nearby is Ireland’s oldest Neolithic campsite at Dunaff Head, while the Holy Well of Saint Columbanus, where the water dragon Giollamach was vanquished, may be an ideal place to set up for the evening to await the Northern Lights, creating a truly magical experience.
Dunaff Head is also a stunning location with a beautiful coastline, beaches and mountains to climb. At the end of the Lough Swilly estuary, nearby towns of Claggan and Leehan offer everything a cold light-chaser could ask for, including warm pubs and inviting places to eat.
If you are interested in touring the Wild Atlantic Way 2500km route and visit Donegal, Europcar offers car rental service from 18+ locations to choose from. Visit Europcar for more information.