Archives for 2014

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Putting the ‘fan’ back into Dunfanaghy


IMG_8946Now in its 7th year, the Dunfanaghy Jazz and Blues festival is back from the 11th to the 14th of September. Some might question why have a festival just outside of Summer, but the beauty of this festival is that there is usually a bit of Summer heat to enjoy until All Ireland Sunday. It’s a festival for those who want one last splash of the Summer and for a holiday town like Dunfanaghy, extending the tourist season is a shrewd bit of marketing. Just look at the festival’s funky chicken iconic logo strutting its stuff to see the nonchalant, but clever atmosphere that is being conveyed. Look out for the information kiosk in the square providing information on the festival and the Sheephaven Bay area.

The whole of the town comes together to ensure there is no shortage of entertainment. All of the businesses from Arnold’s Hotel to Muck ‘n Muffins, the bars, plus the golf club and the Work House throw open their doors and offer wall-to-wall entertainment throughout the weekend. It’s of a very high calibre and can properly call itself a jazz and blues festival with plenty to keep the purists happy. Plus they get the basics right – I went to a nearby festival last year that had run out of festival guides before it had even started and most of the accommodation providers had gone off to the Taste of Donegal festival. Not so in Dunfanaghy. The festival website has all bases covered – you will find accommodation and with the well-designed festival guide in your back pocket, you’re never more than five minutes away from some music – okay, that’d be a Mark English five minutes to get to the golf club gigs, but you know what I mean!  A typical touch of thinking ahead can be seen in this year’s line up – Saturday afternoon has the Limavady Big Band and Errigal Groove Orchestra playing at the Square at 3pm, but if is lashing down, they tell you to go to the Church of Ireland hall. No biggie, but a nice touch. A special word of praise has to go to Fintan Moloney taxation and financial consultants, the chief sponsor of the event for the last few years. His contribution effectively underwrites the festival and deserves to be acknowledged.

Big treats last year were discovering the correct door to enter The Mill restaurant (don’t ask), savouring the delights of the Starfish cafe, finding a great array of local craft beers in most places (look out for Muckish Mountain’s Miner’s Red Ale, the voluptuous Donegal Blonde and Kinnegar’s stellar range), a long sunny walk around nearby Ards Forest Park and playing a great game of Dunfanaghy pub pinball as we tried to get in as many gigs as possible. Look out for Ronnie Greer, Lee Hadley, Grainne Duffy, Marion Jordan, show stoppers Johnnie Gallagher and the Boxty Band and of course, almost hometown boys, In Their Thousands whose wrap up gig on Sunday is a wonderful emphatic finale to a great weekend of music and mirth.

Dunfanaghy describes itself as being located between the hills and the Atlantic Ocean, boasting a Blue Flag beach, the spectacular Hornhead cliffs and much more. Coyly, they suggest ‘that we don’t take our word for it you can come and see for yourself’. It is no word of a lie to say the location of the town is stunning with Horn Head to one side and Ards Forest Park plus two great beaches and a golf course to the other side. What gives Dunfanaghy the edge is that there’s a real sense of purpose about what makes a town great for visiting: there are a series of great outdoors activities organised by professional outfits combined with a high standard of accommodation and a wonderful selection of eateries and hostelries to let your hair down. Writing in ISLE magazine’s debut cover story a while back, I described the town as being that cool place you hope to discover on your break to Ireland. My enjoyment of last year’s festival simply compounded that opinion. The town has done its homework and even if the kids have just gone back to school, the grown ups should definitely be out to play for this last Summer treat.

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Donegal Town in August 2014

Taste of Donegal

Picture: © Mark Wickham 

On our app we make no secret of the fact that Donegal Town is a must see location when coming to the county and while we’re at it, a must stay location too. Are we biased? Well, we come from the town and know first-hand what a remarkable number of great features it has. Everything from hill-walking to heritage, golf courses to Blue Flag beaches, surfing to fishing, good food to entertainment are all within easy reach. And what it doesn’t have, it has good roads to from Yeats Country to Slieve League, both of which are 45 minutes each way from the town.

Handy for making the trip complete is i on Donegal which is a free publication available in most bars and restaurants around the town – it’s a what’s on guide to entertainment, food and drink in the town. The Tourist Information Office down by the pier is open six days a week and can help you in all practical areas of your break with handy hard copy material for you to browse through. And yes, in 2014, we added the Best of Donegal Bay tour on our free Donegal App with a stay in Donegal Town in mind – it has 91 points of interest in the locality to visit on with a number of specialised tours, namely: –

Donegal Bay South Guide
Donegal Town Heritage Guide
Hidden Gems of the area
Slieve League hidden gems Guide
Yeats Country Guide (with full audio)
Yeats Sligo Town sites

The big event for August in the town is A Taste of Donegal Food Festival from the 22nd to the 24th. Now in its sixth year, the whole of the pier area comes to life with a host of tastings, cookery demonstrations and master classes and of course plenty of entertainment. Find out more information by going to the Donegal Town website’s homepage. You’ll also notice at the top of it an icon to the Donegal Town App – our sister series of free travel guides giving you even more specialized information about the locality. Of particular interest might be our Donegal Town Food Guide showing where all of the top food heroes both in the town and surrounding areas are. We don’t just tell you where the top restaurants are, we show you the best craft butchers, farmers’ markets and even a boulangerie! Download the guide onto your iPhone or Android and away you go!

Watch the Singing Chef in action at the festival!

Another must see treat in store for you in August in the town is Keith Corcoran’s free one hour storytelling evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9.30pm in the Olde Castle Bar. Afterwards, the legendary Reel Inn is where to hear some traditional Irish music. There are numerous other must do’s when in the town – from going to Magee of Donegal, the Donegal Craft Village or Forget-Me-Not to dancing in the Abbey Hotel, cruising on the Waterbus or getting a taxi out to the award-winning Village Tavern in nearby picturesque Mountcharles. There is too much to mention here in fact – so make yourself comfortable with a glass of vino, download our best of Donegal Bay tour complete with YouTube videos galore to showcase some of the wonders on offer. Alternatively, download our sixteen other travel guides on the Donegal Town App to get even more information on the town and area – hill-walkers and heritage lovers will enjoy the audio tour of the 51km Bluestack Way app.

We’ll diplomatically let Trip Advisor tell you where to stay in the area – and yes, the town has won its coveted 2014 Traveller’s Choice award as one of the top ten towns in Ireland to stay, so we’re not completely biased. Feel free to pass this Blog on to any of your friends with time to savour in August. If the Donegal Minor and Senior Gaelic footballers can keep up their winning form, expect this homecoming town to be festooned with the Donegal colours and a buzz that is infectious. All things considered, on the Wild Atlantic Way, all roads lead to Donegal Town this August.

Picture below: © Emmet McCauley


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Were we watching the same programme?

A few days on from  Nationwide’s *ahem* ‘special’ on the Wild Atlantic Way and I’m trying to figure why the two state bodies of RTÉ and Fáilte Ireland are high-fiving each other on a job well done. Far from it I’d say. Now before anyone gets on to me about carping or whinging, this is called good old-fashioned constructive criticism, so relax. I’m all for the concept of ithe Wild Atlantic Way and the notion that at last, the west is getting the attention Mother Nature doled out to her a while back, but if this is termed a successful selling of it, then I’m the Shah of Iran, or the King of Tory even.

The problem was that it was RTÉ painting by numbers; we were given a lazy formulaic series of pieces complete with some token background trad music. The episode simply had no soul and was about as wild as a bingo night in Drimarone. Rarely did we get a sense of the raw wonder of it, the vibrancy, colour and splendour of its people and places. Instead we had Eileen Magnier fast-forwarding her way through Donegal, barely catching breath. Pat McGrath’s piece on Mayo was very flat – you’d never guess that Erris had just been voted the best place to go wild in the country by The Irish Times. Like its GAA team, Mayo deserved better.

The wooden spoon though goes to Cathy Hallorn who really failed to capture to magnificence of Clare, sticking instead to what must have been a school mate called Laura Foley who ‘heritaged’ us out a bit too much. Again, Loop Head won a major Irish Times award last year – you’d get no sense of why you should go there from that dull piece.

Finally, we had Maria Mullarkey telling us a smidgeon about done-to-death perennials Funghi the dolphin and Kinsale before coasting through the rest of the piece as a corporate video for Fáilte Ireland complete with its boss Shaun Quinn worryingly telling us that the wesht was knackered and that the Wild Atlantic Way was Fáilte Ireland’s response to diminishing numbers. Gulp.

Four uneven and varying pieces from four different personalties. A stodgy and somewhat wooden affair that really should have been canned or at least dealt with over say ten episodes as a proper series and one solid presenter with a love of travel and a natural curiousity – it would have made perfect RTÉ Summer schedule filler surely? The Wild Atlantic Way is a truly epic journey; 24 minutes equates to under one minute for every 100 kms, the piece could not and did not do it justice. They say that politics is campaigned in poetry and governed in prose. The same could be said for those regional news correspondents who are used to dealing with the prose of the local district court and not the poetic wonder of a very exciting new route.

What the national broadcaster missed though should not put people off. The trip is a personal one and the only true medium to enjoy it in is by getting on a bike, a car, a boat or shank’s mare and taking in that fresh sea air and doing your own homework – the route has loads to offer and is right on our doorstep at any time should we feel the urge to enjoy even a small piece of it. And for the record, the self-funded FREE Donegal App which is designed to help folk come to not just Donegal, but the north west, has been systematically ignored by Fáilte Ireland, despite us asking nicely for even just the odd tweet say. Too bad they do cartwheels when a one night special does a poor job of promoting it instead or when Norm from Cheers or the Kimye circus are passing by. It is now the height of the tourism season. Despite a so-called launch in February, Fáilte Ireland’s social media campaign for the Wild Atlantic Way only kicked in recently, their dedicated app for the Wild Atlantic Way promised in June is nowhere to be seen and the stand alone Wild Atlantic Way .com domain name is still parked under Blacknight. Giving a wee bit of attention to a bona fide Wild Atlantic ambassador who has had all of these in place since the start of the year would not have killed them, would it?

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The countdown commences

“… We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.”
― Albert Camus

For fans of Mad Men, the long wait is nearly over. The seventh and final series starts on the 13th of April if you’re living Stateside and three more gruelling days after that if you’re over here.

We’re told to expect the unexpected; the trailer below reminds us how exquisite the whole production of it is from the wit of Roger Sterling to the complexities of Don Draper/Dick Whitman. Then there are the plush sets, the verisimilitude, the layered stories, the soundtrack, the outfits – it’s a series of Edward Hopper paintings brough to life. Put simply,  it is the best thing on television in a post Breaking Bad world.

The new series, like Breaking Bad is being delivered in two sets – each of seven episodes, with the grand finale coming in 2015. Creator Matthew Weiner has hired in some big guns such as Oscar-winning scriptwriter, Robert Towne to get it right. Fans of the series Lost still shudder at how badly a well-loved series can end when not enough time goes into wrapping up those loose ends.

The Donegal App has saluted Don Draper with our very own video, juxtaposing his easy charm with the wonders of the county. The video takes a minute to get into, but listening to how Draper reels in his ‘catch’ is always a pleasure to watch. His message in the piece appealed to us and with all apologies to copyright holders AMC and Lionsgate, we took the rather large liberty of mixing it with our own brand. Technology is indeed a glittering lure which can give a sentimental bond to the public – we believe that for fans of Donegal, our service offers emigrants a chance to remember the many wonders they left behind and for visitors, it serves as a reminder of a very special holiday. We’d like to think it acts as a portal to a host of happy memories – both delicate and potent.

The great thing about Donegal though is that it will always be there – in our hearts and in our heads. But don’t just reminisce about the place; plan your next trip, whet your appetite by looking at the myriad sights and sounds we have conjured up and crafted into one handy smart travel guide for your pleasure and then book it. Open up our app today on your iPad, watch one of the many YouTube videos on offer and ‘favourite’ a dozen or so places for that Summer 2014 trip. Relish the frisson of excitement as you discover another hidden gem and savour the fact that by doing so, you are in a way already there.

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Smart phone turn-by-turn directions now available on the Donegal App

With the latest version of the Donegal App released today,  the north west has a comprehensive multimedia smart travel guide that’s second to none. Android and iPhone smart phones now have turn-by-turn technology just like Garmin and TomTom sat navs do with the app. Effectively with one handy device in your pocket, you can now do the following for free with the simple click of a button:

  • Be guided turn-by-turn with a voice to your destination*.
  • Call your destination e.g. ring to book a tee time at a golf course.
  • View your destination’s website or email them direct.
  • Be up to date on that point of interest with their social media details.
  • Read our informed review on what the point of interest offers.
  • See a picture of what the point of interest looks like.
  • Watch the most interesting YouTube video we could find about the place.

Both in helping you plan your trip (save what you like as a Favourite to build up an itinerary) and in helping you find the places when you get here, you are in great hands with the Donegal App. It’s really only the weather you’ll be leaving to chance on your trip to the north west!

*You should be able to enjoy this feature without roaming charges, but please check with your provider first. We recommend using an O2 pay as you go SD card for foreign visitors.

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Overhauled 2014 Donegal App is now available for smart phones & sat navs

Two years on from the 2012 Leap Day that it first appeared, the Donegal App’s 2014 offering has been launched with significantly increased material for the north west tourist to enjoy. New additions include tours of Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems, a Best of Ulster guide and a Best of the Donegal Bay area. We’ve also produced an exciting new promo video for our 2014 app and we now have a new website. Not bad for a free app.

We’ve had a complete rethink into how we can offer the tourist the ultimate chance to sit down and plan a truly exciting visit to Ireland’s most beautiful region. Picture the scene, you download the new 2014 app onto your iPad and with it, you not only get to read about where the great places are (and Favourite them for your itinerary), you find out all you need to know about them, their contact details and finally you get to see a YouTube video on why you would want to go there. That’s right, where available we have found the most original YouTube video to allow you to savour the wonder of that place. There are hundreds to view***. The mapping system has moved from Google to Apple Maps and will soon allow for turn-by-turn directions on iOS devices.

Coming in at 50 meg, the new 2014 app is extraordinarily detailed in what it offers the visitor to the north west. The big travel news in 2014 is the Wild Atlantic Way from Donegal to Cork. We have included all of the discovery points, north west secrets and ambassadors that Failte Ireland refers to along the Donegal coast and have augmented those Points of Interest (POIs) with a host of other hidden gems we know of to ensure you don’t miss a single treat along the Way’s most picturesque section – 97 POIs in total. We’ve included the best places to eat, visit and stay along the way with all restaurants having won awards or acclaim for their efforts, with seafood a speciality of course. Accommodation ranges from glamping in Creeslough to a castle by the shores of Lough Swilly.

In our preparation for 2014, we felt we were being a bit narrow in our focus on just Donegal in previous years – is that really the way a tourist works? Of course not! We needed to ensure that the curious tourist based in Donegal had the material on the app to go to the Giant’s Causeway or Toddsleap Adventure centre or Yeats Country down in Sligo. With our new guides, we have added all of the information needed to make that happen. To that end, we are delighted to announce a full audio tour of Yeats Country containing a comprehensive audio guide on both his poems and his favourite haunts. Drive along and be told as you round a corner about Dooney Rock or the Sally Gardens of Ballysdare. Sticking to the northern half of Donegal Bay? You’re in for a treat – all of the hidden gems along the coastal route to Sliabh Liag cliffs are there for you to discover. Starting your holiday in Belfast? Follow the coast all the way to Sligo via the causeway coast and wild Atlantic with our guide – there is nothing quite like it for its depth of material and sheer innovation.

This cross-platform app offers a comprehensive travel app where audio, visual and social media platforms are incorporated into the information for your convenience. Not only can you connect to a place’s website, send them an email or call them with a click, but you’ll see any interesting YouTube video that exists out there on them. Best of all, the service works offline so that you will not be charged roaming charges when exploring the county*.

There are a total of eight tours within the one app, namely: –

Donegal’s Arts and heritage – 82 of the best places to visit from trad music to festivals, theatres to museums and the pick of the county’s crafts artists.
Donegal’ Activities – a guide featuring 75 places for water sports, golf courses, adventure, horse riding & places for children to enjoy.
Best of the Donegal Bay area – 91 POIs from Sliabh Liag sea cliffs to a Yeats Country audio tour, find all of the bay’s treasures.
Best of Inishowen – the northern peninsula that rewards you with 105 hidden gems.
Best of Ulster – enjoy 68 of the very best attractions of the province’s other eight counties from causeways to Nevin’s cuisine.
Donegal’s Greatest ‘shrines’ – from the sacred to the sublime, here are 24 special parts of the county that are worth discovering.
Donegal’s Great Outdoors – here’s a special guide of 80 POIs just for birdwatchers, fishermen, hill walkers and lovers of scenery.
Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems – experience nearly 100 of the most enthralling places to visit, stay and eat on Ireland’s finest coastal drive.

The 2014 app is now live in the App Store and Google Play where all eight tours download automatically for you**. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for further updates or for feedback/suggestions. Please note that all tours are subject to acceptance of the Licence terms. Available on iPhone, Android, Garmin or TomTom devices – click on the various guides at the top of the page to download onto your device.

March 2014: The Donegal App has been completely overhauled for 2014 with close on 600 places of interest to enjoy. It now includes the other counties of Ulster as well as Leitrim and Sligo together with a host of YouTube clips*** where found on places of interest.
*Please check with your service provider first. O2 pay-as-you-go SD card recommended.
**2014 version is out now on Google Play and the App Store – 50 meg of space is required.
***Clips only play on downloaded devices, not on the Donegal App website. Ensure you are on the latest version of Apple and Android OS to enjoy these videos.

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