Image: The road to Port by Fiachra Mangan (@fiachramangan)
The road to the deserted fishing village of Port on the remote south west Donegal coastline, unfurls towards the horizon like a never-ending ribbon. Heading southwards from Ardara, take a right at the top of the Glengesh Pass, signed for Port, and follow what is sometimes scarcely more than a dirt track, due west for 14 kilometres, as it draws you inexorably downwards towards the ocean.
When you can go no further, you have arrived into the lost world of Port, surrounded by ocean and heather-covered hills, absorbed by wilderness.
Image: Port Bay by Fiachra Mangan (@fiachramangan)
In front lies the crescent-shaped Port Bay, where heaving seas come to a crescendo, crashing waves onto the stoney beach. Here time is measured by the eternal swash and backwash of the sea smoothing the stones. The air is pierced by the cries of gannets and gulls. Mostly, you will find the place deserted, except for the occasional lobsterman checking his pots and farmer coming to cast an eye over his flock.
Image: Cottage ruins by Fiachra Mangan (@fiachramangan)
It wasn’t always so. Close-by stand the ghostly remains of stone cottages, where once lived a thriving fishing community. But eking a living in such isolation was never easy. Desolation began in famine times and was complete by the mid twentieth century.
The area is a climber’s paradise, a paddler’s, a walker’s paradise, a dreamer’s paradise. 500 metres from shore is the distinctive black phallic sea-stack, Bud an Diabhal, one in a succession of sea-stacks standing sentinel at the entrance to each tiny cove.
Image: View from Port Hill by Fiachra Mangan (@fiachramangan)
Head uphill on either side and you can walk southwards towards Glencolmcille or northwards towards Ardara. The 16 kilometre mountain walk from Port to Maghera via Slieve Tuaidh (Slievetooey) will take at least seven hours with spectacular views of the rugged coastline and seas from the quartzite clifftops along the way. From Slieve Tuaidh and Meenacurrin you will be rewarded with views of such magical lakes of Lough Adoochro, Lough Croaghballaghdown, and Lough Acruppan towards the beautiful Loughros Beg Bay.
Image: Glenlough Bay by Gareth Wray (@garethwrayphotography)
But it’s the jawdropping sight of Glenlough Bay, six kilometres from Port that truly takes the breath away. It was to this desolate place in which poet Dylan Thomas famously came in the summer of 1935.
"Here in Ireland, I'm further away than ever from the permanent world. I'm writing by candle-light all alone in a cottage facing the Atlantic --- Soon I'm going out for a walk in the dark by myself; that'll make happy as hell," he wrote to a friend. He was brought there by a well-meaning friend, in the hope that the isolation might help him abandon his heavy drinking. A safe bet you’d think, considering the nearest pub was around 10 miles away, but Thomas inadvertently stumbled into a thriving Poitín distilling community.
Image: The Cottage at Glenlough by Jerome Keeney
Nine years earlier, American artist Rockwell Kent stayed in this same cottage, falling in love with the ever changing play of light between skies, seas and brooding valleys.
No wonder that it’s here you’ll witness some of the most spectacular sunsets of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Image: Evening light in Port by Fiachra Mangan (@fiachramangan)