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Donegal Co… Places: BIG and small: A Classy Castle & a Great Cafe (2014)

On Sunday, July 20th, I made a day trip to the Glenveagh National Park which is a remote valley that looks over the hills of Gartan.

On my way there, I passed through a village called Ardara and made a pit stop at a local family-run wool factory and shop, Triona Design Donegal Tweed Center. At the shop, I was hoping to find a long-needed woolen cape to keep myself warm during the fall in New York. Since it was Sunday, the shop was open, but the hand-waving demonstration wasn’t available, but Mr. Dennis Mulhen, the fifth generation owner of the shop, made an exception and gave me a demonstration of the wool weaving process that has been done traditionally for over 150 years. The demonstrations was done with a weaving wheel and trundle board apparatus that has been handed down in the Mulhen family from generation to generation of weavers. Later, I found the cape that I was looking for, an Irish green bog wood cape, so called, because of its use of green thread and bog wood peat. All the color patterns used for making the clothes in the shop were inspired by Donegal Co.’s flora and landscape. I enjoyed my time at the wool factory and shop, but afterwards I headed on my way to Glenveagh National Park.

Heading down to Glenveagh National Park, I passed over an incredibly long, steep, and serpentine road. After some time driving and enjoying the ride as well as the scenery, I arrived at my destination for the day and went for a tour starting with a shuttle bus ride to Glenveagh Castle and Garden. For the most part of the afternoon, I made my way through the garden paths until it was time for the 5:30 P.M. tour of the castle’s interior.

The castle looms high into the skyline, but more importantly, I think that the history of the castle and the 3 private owners outdoes the building itself. The estate of Glenveagh dates from 1861 when the first owner, John George Adair evicted 244 tenants in the cold April of that same year and built Glenveagh Castle (1870) using the granite stones found in the area. After Adair’s death (1885) his wife, Cornelia Ritchee Wadswoth from Geneseo, New York, laid the ground work for the gardens that surround the castle. Later on, the estate was bought by Arthur Kingsley Porter (1929) a Harvard professor of fine arts with special interest in medieval art and architecture. His contribution to the style of Glenveagh Castle was the addition of a collection of AE’s, George Russell, paintings; AE was part of the Irish Revival. In 1936, Henry Mcllhenney, the third private owner, bought the estate and took up his residence turning it into a high-class location known for its entertaining and lively elite social gatherings. Also with regard to Mcllhenney, it must be said that he was the grandson of an Irish immigrant, who came to the state of Georgia. Mcllhenney’s grandfather later became the mayor of Georgia for 20 years. Coming back to Henry Mcllhenney, in 1975, he sold Glenveagh Castle to the Irish State and as of today the castle and its gardens are part of Glenveagh National Park. The castle is at the heart of 170 square kilometers of land and it overlooks the shore of Lough Veagh Lake that spans 20 kilometers.

After spending the day at Glenveagh Castle, I went out to dinner at a local café in Ardara, Charlie’s Westend Café. When one walks in, the café is fill to the brim with local people and tourists alike and the spacing of tables and chairs recalls to mind a small western dinner and of course like other Irish pubs and restaurants the food is fresh. The special of the day was salmon and I ordered a dish of salmon expecting one steak along with a portion of chips (french fries), but to my surprise, the dish came with two salmon steaks, salad, vegetables and chips! After eating, I struck up a conversation with Caroline Whyte, who served my dinner, and asked her about the history of the café. She told me that the café was originally her childhood home and that her father, Charlie Whyte, in 1994 decided to turn it into a café. She, also, told me that all the food was freshly prepared and that the salmon, especially, had been caught that morning by her father. The salmon that is served at Charlie’s Westend Café is caught in season, April 1st to September 30. I definitely enjoyed my dinner at the café and I recommend it to anyone who is in or plans to go to Donegal Co.

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