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Donegal Town, County Donegal, Ireland

Donegal Town Bank Walk

A pleasant scenic stroll along the river Eske to Donegal bay, the town's hidden gem.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.0 miles / 1.6 km
Duration: 1 hour or less
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: Donegal Town is fortunate to have a 'walk in the country' so near the middle of town in the form of the bank walk. It's the perfect early evening stroll prior to a meal - a mile to the end and a mile back. If you'd like to make it a loop rather than a straight back track, you can carry on right after the second flora and fauna sign and come onto the Killybegs roads.

This Guide is one of the twelve guides available on the 'Donegal Town Guides', all available for free in one click of that bundled guide - simply click on the link to the Donegal Town Guides to get all twelve. You'll need to download each guide individually.

The ex Mayor of Donegal Town, Tom Conaghan, was behind an initiative to upgrade the walk and it is now that little bit safer and has nice touches like bird boxes and signs on the tress to tell you what they are. Please note that the various signs for the trees all seem to be very high up, but they are there when last checked. You may wish to have some fun with your young ones by seeing how many signs and bird boxes they can spot along the way. New secure fencing as of November 2011 ensures that the more precarious precipices are no longer an issue for concerned parents.

On the other side of the river bank, you'll see (and hear) the landmark that is the Abbey hotel, the original old pier and quays, scene of the August food festival, the must-do waterbus, the historic old abbey as well as seeing the various isles of the bay - St. Ernan's, Belle's isle and the Green island with Murvagh golf club and the plateau of Ben Bulben in the distance.

This is a very special stroll that generations of Donegal folk, both young and old, have savoured and conjured up their very own Narnia in. We feel slightly guilty in passing on this town 'secret', but like any good secret, it needs a wider audience. Donegal Town writer, James Henderson, would have been one such child who marveled at this walk at the head of the bay. He had these words to say about it: -

'Cold is the heart of him whose gaze,
Can meet the scene of early days,
And view unmoved the places where,
With spirits buoyant as the air,
His hopeful days of youth were passed,
Ere life's dull care their shadows cast,
Across his path to cool his zeal,
And force his thoughts to things more real'.

'The Head of the Bay' - James Henderson

Tips: Donegal weather can be changeable so make sure you bring an umbrella and rain gear. Good comfortable sturdy footwear will serve you well, especially when the path narrows near the end. Some parts of this walk are up a gentle gradient. The new gravel path covers up most of the tree roots, but one or two may still be encountered so look out for them. Bring a camera and some water.

The guide is offered subject to acceptance of the Licence Agreement, which is linked on the right hand column of this page. If you are downloading, we recommend the use of the EveryTrail Pro app, which allows for offline map usage of the guide.

2012 UPDATE: Please note that the far section of this walk is no longer accessible due to a landslide - there are markers to indicate where this hazardous section is. Do not stray beyond them. We'll keep you posted once this section is repaired.

Points of Interest


Flora and fauna map

Just over the stone bridge, you'll see the Methodist church to your right and immediately to your left tight against the fence is a flora and fauna map of what to expect to see and hear along the bank walk. Take your time on examining this, but remember, you will get a second chance to view a similar map further along the walk.

Once done, you'll be making your way up the gentle gradient and taking a sharp left after the parked cars to the start of the bank walk.

Bank walk map

There's a helpful map immediately on the left to help you get your bearings on the walk. It's relatively short being about a mile each way if staying by the water and slightly over two if taking the looped walk around by the GAA pitch on the Killybegs road.

Around the corner

Around about here, you'll realize that you've left the town behind and are to all intents and purposes, in the country. You'll see the odd set of steps to the left, which lead to the houses along Drumcliff terrace - no real item to explore up there so carry on. Pretty soon, you'll start to see some great sights such as a tree that could have come out of The Lord of the Rings or Pan's Labyrinth, complete with some serious fungi festooning it.

Bird boxes

Dotted along the way, you'll find bird boxes high up in the trees. They're numbered and a great game can be had with the kids trying to spot them all. Extra points for seeing a bird appear in one!

Tree types

Also of some help is the placing of signs (very) high up various trees to tell us what species they are. We've counted seven of these signs - see if you spot them all.

Water bus

Across the estuary is the Donegal bay waterbus - you'll hear it before you see it as it blares out a variety of rebel songs. If you wish to see more of Donegal Bay, this is one way. The waterbus box office is located down by the quays (beside Pier One) and booking is advised about one hour before sailing time.

For the more adventurous, Paul Ricketts has a chartered boat, the MFV Donna Marie, that can bring you out on 086 6096035.!

First junction point

You'll hear the slow gush of water from the stream as you approach the first junction along the walk.To your left is one of the high tree signs and directly ahead of you is another bank which offers two further trails. Both are about 300 metres long and will rejoin our main path. Good to take if you want to really clear your head and get away from it all, even if for a short while!

Long stretch

There's a 300 metre stretch here that marks where the Eske river really starts to open out into Donegal Bay. There's a seat around the corner if you fancy a quick breather, but if the waterbus is blasting out its muzak, don't expect much peace! Across the way, if you look through the branches (someone really needs to cut these down!) you'll notice the statue to the first Red Hugh O'Donnell at the end of the old pier.

First view of bay

Through the trees on your left, you'll see Donegal Bay, an extraordinary bay that needs to be seen from both Mullaghmore and Glencolmcille to truly enjoy. Currently home to over 100 dolphins enjoying the fine supply of salmon and mackerel.

Best of all is seeing the epic Slieve League sea cliffs that overlook the bay from a boat. Click on the link to read our account of such a trip:

Abbey view

You should also be able to see the old Franciscan abbey from here. From this tranquil and picturesque location, the greater part of the finest book to chronicle Ireland's history was written, known as The Annals of the Four Masters. One commentator called it 'the most remarkable collection of national tradition in all Christendom'. We'll tell you more about them at the Four Masters' obelisk in the Diamond.

Besides being a site of great cultural significance, it serves as the final resting place, not just for the chieftain Red Hugh O'Donnell, but for most of the old families of the town, with no religious favour given here - all creeds lie beside one another. If you have time, take note to the many ornate and finely designed tombstones. There can be few resting places that can offer such a beautiful setting.

Wirey trees

Around about where the other banks rejoin the path, you'll notice that the trees have quite a wirey look to them - some have ventured that it is an area where the fairies can be found and indeed for those that took the upper bank walk, they'll have observed a fairy tree in the middle of the field. After these trees, there's a gentle slope downhill and a low wall where the bay occasionally laps against the wall.

Second junction point

That second flora and fauna sign is on the right hand side. Beyond it is a private house that once belonged to the writer Seumus McManus and his wife, Eithne Carbery. Mountcharles author McManus (born 1869-died 1960) was well regarded as both a writer and storyteller. Older residents still remember him telling stories to children at the water pump in Mountcharles. His best known work is 'Rocky Road To Dublin' although his 1921 work 'The Story of the Irish Race' is highly regarded. How fortunate is the town to have had two ventures on each side of the river assiduously chronicling Ireland and its people.

You'll have a choice as to where to go from here. If you carry on straight up the slope, you'll be carrying on for another 10 minutes until you come to a seat overlooking the bay. Turn right by the large boulders will take you back out onto the Killybegs road. You'll be turning right when you come out here, right by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) pitch. Try and get in a game when in town - it's fast paced for 70 minutes and there's always a good social scene afterwards.

Final stretch

2012 UPDATE: Please note that this far section of this walk is no longer accessible due to a landslide - there are markers to indicate where this hazardous section is. Do not stray beyond them. We'll keep you posted once this section is repaired.

For those of you who carried on, you'll notice the path has narrowed and there's less to see as the greenery is in abundance. There's a bit of a slow gradient here, but nothing too strenuous. Within no time it comes back down slowly for the final 100 metres of the walk.

The Hassans

You've come as far as this walk will take you. With any luck, you'll get a good evening with the tide in to really view something very special in and around Donegal bay. Starting left, you'll be looking at Muckros which has a causeway out to St. Ernan's island (now in private hands and closed), then to Belle's isle, Murvagh golf club, Green island, Loughran hill then immediately in front of you is the old Rossylongan estate of Patrick McManus, brother of the aforementioned Seamus. Rossylongan is another good place for a walk and can be accessed by taking the first major left turn off a mile or so outside of town on the Killybegs road.

In front of you, the channel to the open sea through which the water passes is known as 'The Hassans'. It comes from the Gaelic 'Na hEasanna' which means 'swift currents'. Inside The Hassans, the Green island and Loughran hill curve to form a sheltered anchorage called 'the ship's ride' from where many famine ships lay at anchor waiting for a favourable wind to sail off in. Emigration took place from that spot from the start of the 19th century until 1900.

That's as far as this pleasant stroll goes. Once ready, retrace your steps and head back into town for your evening dinner. We hope you've enjoyed this walk.
Pictures in this guide taken by: navigatourist

Donegal Town Bank Walk Map

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