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Donegal's Magnificent Mountain Passes

By Go Visit Donegal ~ Updated on: 10 March 2021

Ireland has some pretty famous mountain passes but they don’t come more spectacular than the ones that weave through the Donegal hills. Unchanged for millennia, these ancient routes take you through some of the most rugged and breathtakingly beautiful parts of Donegal giving you a glimpse of another time and place and making the journey as memorable as the destination. Here are six of our favourites.
Once voted the most beautiful route in Ireland,  the narrow road from Glencolmcille to Ardara, weaves through a valley gouged out by vast glacial forces 12,000 years ago. The views are epic along the way.     

Image: Glengesh Pass by Fiachra Mangan (@fiachramangan)  
To the east is the lesser known but equally spectacular Granny’s Pass, etching its way through through the Slievetooey mountain range towards the spectacular Maghera beach and caves.

Image: Granny’s Pass by Gareth Wray (@garethwrayphotography)

The view through Muckish Gap back into the Derryveagh Mountain, has changed little for millennia. But in the 19th century it must have been the saddest sight in all of Donegal.  Midway, a tiny bridge known as Droichead na nDeor or the Bridge of Tears marks the spot where families bade a sad farewell to their loved ones on their way to the port of Derry, the main departure point for Donegal emigrants during the pre and post famine years. Most never returned. The bridge inspired Percy French to write ‘The Irish Mother’ and was the subject of Clannad’s moving ‘The Bridge of Tears’.

Image:  Muckish Gap Bridge of Tears by Don McMahan

A glorious eight kilometre walking route along the Bridle Path through the Derryveagh mountains towards Lough Veagh , takes you past derelict farms, oak woods and tumbling waterfalls with the faint ramparts of notorious landlord John George  Adair’s former home of Glenveagh Castle, looming in the distance.

Image: Bridle Path by Don McMahan

Anyone who dared venture through Barnesmore Gap, a notorious mountain pass on the N15 between Donegal Town and Ballybofey between Croaghconnelagh (Connall’s mountain) and Croaghonagh (Owen’s mountain) in the 1700’s were taking their lives in their hands. This panoramic and strategic gateway through a great wide valley, separating north and south Donegal, was once terrorised by highwaymen.

Image: Barnesmore Gap by Don McMahan

For a brief spell  in the early 1800’s locals closed off the Mamore Gap in the Urris Hills in the Inishowen peninsula,  and declared the townland of Urris to be an independent poitín Republic. The Urris Poitín Republic was considered an ideal place for distilling the illicit potato-based alcohol, because the area was surrounded by mountains and only accessible through Mamore Gap. Today’s reward for travelling through Mamore Gap is the breathtaking vista over Leenan Bay, from the top of the hill and a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure.

Image: Mamore Gap by Jerome Keeney 

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