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Limestone Brook Bridge, Ulster, Ireland

The Bluestack Way Part 1

From Donegal Town, meander along the river to the famous Lough Eske.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 4.1 miles / 6.6 km
Duration: Half day
Overview: Opposite the Bank of Ireland on the Diamond, you'll see a sign that marks the starting point of arguably the finest walk in the north west of Ireland. No doubt you'll have studied the route of the Trail already - and we do recommend from the off that you take Ordinance Survey Maps 10 and 11 with you! Savour the charm of the Diamond, a place that has been the site of many great moments in the life of the area, most recently it was where 20,000 rain-soaked, but proud supporters, waited patiently to welcome back the victorious All Ireland senior football players from Croke Park in September 2012.

Donegal Town is a great place to spend a few days and we have also designed a sister guide on EveryTrail called the Donegal Town Guides that will let you have everything you'll need to enjoy your time here.

We'll be making our way out to Lough Eske along the eponymous river and in sight of the Bluestacks. We'll be telling you stories along the way about this mountain range. This first stage is the shortest as we recommend you spend some time in Lough Eske at the end of Part One. The ever colourful writer John M. Feehan described Lough Eske as 'a place for lovers or honeymoon couples whose vistas are still undimmed by the realities of living. Almost at every turn one meets scenery of unearthly beauty and little secret places where one can rest, relax and experience an awakening of the soul to boundless joy'. As such, there's no hurry and a walk around the lough, in Ardnamona Woods, up Banagher Hill or over to Barnesmore will be time well spent.

Tips: PLEASE NOTE: This App is primarily intended as a means of enjoying the lore and history of the area. While it follows the route of the Way via GPS, it should be used as a supplement to, not a replacement for, proper map and compass reading. Full advance preparation should be made of the route with Ordinance Survey maps that should be taken with you together with proper equipment, apparel and sustenance. We can recommend the following professional guides: Patsy McNulty +353(0)877941234 (for Parts One and Two), Brendan Proctor (for Parts Three and Three Alternative) +353(0)863373031 and Bradas McDyer (for Part Four) +353(0)863530537.

This guide and each of its associated guides is subject to acceptance of the navigatour™ Licence Agreement whose link can be found on the right hand column of this page. Please inform navigatour™ of any changes or improvements that can be made to this App in the future:

If you are downloading, we recommend the use of the EveryTrail Pro app, which allows for offline map usage of the guide.

Points of Interest


Start of the Bluestack Way

The Diamond
Before moving off from the Bluestack Way sign, savour the rich heritage that The Diamond offers. Salute a time that may be long gone, but where the beauty and the serenity of the area remain intact; this is a town from which to base yourself for hillwalking, golf, scenic drives, water sports and fine dining. Like the thousands of foreigners that have marveled at its many assets throughout history, we believe that you will be delighted with your time in the town.

The Diamond is the rather fanciful name that squares in the northwest are called - you'll see Diamonds in Ardara, Carndonagh, Raphoe and Derry as well. Donegal Town served as the market town for the surrounding villages and hinterland as far as Ballintra to the west, Barnesmore to the north and Killybegs to the east. For centuries, it has been the hub of commerce and socialising, where the sounds and smells could be overwhelming and there was eating and drinking to be done in the local hostelries at the end of it all.

The Diamond is where folk would travel for the fair day and the market day. Patents for these days go back as far as the early 1600s when Sir Basil Brooke had taken over the castle from the O'Donnells. The fair day was held on the second Friday of each month while the market occurred every Saturday.

Hiring fairs where young men were 'sold' to farmers for up to six months at a time took place here - Paddy and Mairead tell us more in the audio piece.

The Four Masters obelisk
In front of the Abbey Hotel, you’ll see the impressive Mountcharles sandstone monument in the centre of the town was erected in 1935 from funding by local solicitor P.M. Gallagher. It honours the four men who helped to write the celebrated Annals of the Four Masters, Brother Michael O'Cleary and laymen Peregrine O'Clery, Peregrine O'Duignan and Fearfeasa O'Maolconry.

It serves as a full account of Gaelic Ireland from its origins until the end of established Gaelic order when the last of the chieftains fled in 1607 from Rathmullan, Co. Donegal in what is known as the Flight of the Earls. To read the Annals would take you several months and set you back about e900 - not quite a breezy holiday read if you're thinking about it! With every second building in town named after them, you may be wondering where exactly are the Annals of the Four Masters today? They're now kept by the Franciscans in Switzerland, but details can be obtained from the National Library on Kildare Street in Dublin as well as from the Four Masters bookshop.

'Four meek men around the cresset,
With the scrolls of other days;
Four unwearied scribes who treasure
Every word and every line.
Not for fame or not for fortune,
Do these eager penmen dream.
Oh ! that we who now inherit
All their trust, with half their toil,
Were but fit to trace their footsteps
Through the Annals of the Isle;
Oh ! that the bright Angel, Duty,
Guardian of our task might be,
Teach us as she taught our Masters,
In that Abbey by the sea,
Faithful, grateful, just to be!'

T.D. McGee

These days the Diamond area is used to celebrate the homecoming of local heroes such as the victorious Donegal Gaelic football team in 1992 and more recently on a wet night in September 2012 when over 20,000 watched the team raise the Sam Maguire cup to the adoring fans.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, it has recently played host to Irish Eurovision phenomenons, Jedward. Farmers' markets and fayres occur here on a regular basis. The chroniclers of medieval Ireland may not approve of everything they'd see before them today, but in the town of the Four Masters, they are not forgotten and we'd like to think they'd be proud to be in the heart of the action of this thriving historic town.

Looking for more heritage information on the town? The two best books to have (and are gratefully acknowledged as sources for this part of the App!) are: Joe McGarrigle's 'Donegal, past and present' and Malachy Sweeney's 'The Sands of Time; a history of Donegal Town and its environs', the later of which you should be able to get in The Four Masters bookshop. Alternatively, look for our sister App, ‘Donegal Guides’ covering everything you’ll need to know about the town from a food guide to two local walks and wider guides on the best places to visit in the area.
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Diamond history

Chieftains, merchants and victuallers

Donegal castle
It would be remiss of us to tell you to leave the Diamond without visiting Donegal Castle, which you’ll see in the distance beyond the Bluestack Way sign. For most of the last two hundred years, the majority of Donegal Castle lay sadly in ruins, but was almost fully restored in the late 1990s due to an unwavering local campaign by the likes of legendary Mary B 'Dee' Crossan & one of our audio guides Paddy Meehan (amongst others).

Built in 1474, the castle consists of a 15th century rectangular keep with a later Jacobean style wing. The complex is sited on a bend in the River Eske, near the mouth of Donegal Bay, and is surrounded by a 17th century boundary wall. There is a small gatehouse at its entrance mirroring the design of the keep. Most of the stonework was constructed from locally sourced limestone with some sandstone. The castle was the stronghold of the O'Donnell clan, Lords of Tír Conaill and one of the most powerful Gaelic families in Ireland from the 5th to the 16th centuries.

Open Mid March-End October: Daily, 10:00 - 18:00. 1st November - Mid March, Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun 9.30 - 16.30. Last Admission: 45 minutes before closing. Average Length of Visit: 45 minutes. - 1 hour. Disabled access on ground floor only. Toilets. Tirchonaill Street, Donegal Town, 0749722405,

Magee of Donegal
A key passage in Brian Friel's masterpiece 'Dancing at Lughnasa' refers to a factory opening up in Donegal Town that signaled the end of the two sisters home weaving business. That factory was Magee of Donegal and its shop is overlooking the Diamond to this day. John Magee had started a draper's shop in the town in 1866 and soon his enterprising cousin Robert Temple had joined the business, buying it from Magee in 1901. Temple saw the need for improvement in the weaving process and in order to ensure quality, he ended up employing his own weavers under factory conditions. With the recruitment of Robert's son Howard in 1931, the business continued to expand into the ready to wear tailored suit.

Donegal tweed is known the world over these days and it's mainly thanks to the Temples. The current factory was built in 1966 and the shop on the Diamond is worth a visit – one for the pre walk day in the town? All the apparel you’ll ever need to climb the Bluestacks or even the Himalayas are to be found here. In the Summer, there are weaving demonstrations as well as a cafeteria upstairs. Magee of Donegal doesn't just cater for men's suits - look out for their ladies' range as well.

Merchants and victuallers
The Diamond has gotten rid of the serious sights and smells of yesteryear's commercial activity, but still retains a proud tradition of selling. Besides a visit to Magee of Donegal, there are some very impressive shops to visit in the vicinity - Britton's jewellery shop is just after Magee's, across the road from Magee's is McGettigan craft butchers (ensure you try some of their award-winning sausages) and beside Magee's are the highly rated Four Masters' bookshop and Forget-Me-Not giftware shop.

Besides these fine shops, look out for some great dining in the locality. Aroma in the nearby Craft Village is well worth a visit, as is Castlemurray in St. John's Point near Dunkineely and the two famous hotels out by Lough Eske, Harvey's Point and Solis Lough Eske Castle. Closer to home, you'll enjoy the Red Hugh Restaurant above the Olde Castle bar, La Bella Donna and The Harbour - find these and other restaurants on our Donegal Town Food Guide, part of the Donegal Town Guides bundle.

Old milestone to Derry

Main street/St. Patrick's church
You'll be carrying on up Main street past the Ulster bank. Beside the bank on a corner is an old milestone for the carriages on their way to Derry – it states that it is 40 miles away. Further on up the street, you'll see the Coachman's pub - well worth a visit with a very nice cavern.

The most domineering edifice on Main street is of course St. Patrick's Catholic church, known as The Memorial Church of the Four Masters. Built in a Neo Irish Romanesque style, it is 100% Irish built with Barnesmore granite and Mountcharles sandstone, designed by Dubliner Ralph Byrne and built by Messrs. Wm. Donnelly from Fermanagh.

Main street retains many of its original architectural characteristics. Indeed it has its fair share of characters - from Tosh McCallion to the legendary Charlie Doherty. Sadly, Frank Bustard, who used to decorate his shop with meticulous care, and a trademark cart and turf outside, has recently passed away.

Local walker and writer Paddy Meehan tells us about the milestone in our audio piece.
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Milestone for Derry

Famine graveyard

Famine graveyard
If you continue some 400 metres up Main street, you'll see a sign for the Famine graveyard, burial site of locals who died in the Great Famine of the 1840s. Next to it is Donegal hospital, former site of the workhouse where the poor of that famine were forced to go to feed themselves.

You’ll be walking straight out the N15 – please note that the last shop you’ll be passing for sometime is on your left, so stack up on water or energy bars. Carry on until you see Clarcam Park on the left and follow the Bluestack Way sign.

In our audio piece, Patsy McNulty tells us more about the hospital/workhouse and the graveyard. Please note it is signposted as the Famine graveyard although Patsy refers to it as the paupers' graveyard.
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Famine graveyard

Turn off for the Bluestack Way

Say farewell to 'civilisation' as you turn left and start your walk into the Bluestacks in earnest. This route is well signposted so carry on down the road keeping an eye out for the various signposts.

Simply the best
'If you ask which is the best county in Ireland to walk in, I reply Donegal (or Tirconnell, Tir Connaill, Connell’s country to give it its ancient title)…I choose it because there is nowhere else where the beauties of hill and dale, lake and rock, sea and bog, pasture and tillage, are so intimately and closely interwoven, so that every turn of the road opens up new prospects, and every hill-crest fresh combinations of these delightful elements’. - Robert Lloyd Praeger from 'The Way that I went'

In our audio piece, Mary Murphy tells us about Donegal - the meaning of the word and its history.
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The Eske river

Eske river
After the turn off from the N15, you’ll be walking straight for some 500 metres before passing by the Eske river to your left – you’ll see a nice fishing perch for the keen fishermen out there. Take time to savour the flow of the highly regarded Eske river as it comes near the end of its journey. Fancy a spot of fishing on the river? Help is very close to hand; at the top of Water Street just after the bridge, you'll find Doherty's Fishing Tackle shop. Here, Charlie Doherty will be able to get you a licence, rent out a rod and tackle and tell you some secrets about the river if you ask nicely.

For information in-season (1 May to 30 September) contact: Eske Angling Centre, Lough Eske Demesne. Tel: 0749740781.
For information off-season contact:
Northern Regional Fisheries Board, Station Road, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Tel. 0719851435

Licence Fees in 2013
National Annual Licence e120
District Licence e58
21-day Licence e46
One-day Licence e32
Juvenile Licence (under 17) e18

Permit Fees in 2013
Note: You must have a permit as well as a fishing licence.
Daily Adult Permit e30
Daily Juvenile Permit e12
Weekly Permit (seven days' fishing e150
Permits are available for collection from the Eske Angling Centre, Lough Eske Demesne, just before Harvey's Point Country hotel. Tel: 0749740781.

Under the bypass

Under the bridge
Keep walking on and you’ll see and hear the bypass ahead of you. Follow the Bluestack Way sign and turn left towards the river again. Carry on under the bypass and note that you are to all intents and purposes in the countryside – a wealth of different terrains, colours and fragrances await.

Carry on down the narrow road passing the Water works. At the T-junction, you’ll be taking a left up a very narrow road. The road for the next 3 miles or so is a verdant hallway with the trees on either side nearly meeting. Now and again, you’ll get glimpses of the lush countryside and the blue hue of the Bluestack mountains. As you walk along, there aren’t too many points of interest, but we will use the chance to tell you about other noted walkers in the area over the centuries.

Pearl fishing
Fishing for pearls in the Eske was once a great attraction in the Summer months when the water was low. A writer in the Dublin Penny Journal of 1841 wrote ‘The county of Donegal is rich in mines and minerals, but the rivers abound with pearl mussel. I have seen large and round and lustrous pearls taken out of the streams around Donegal which would not disgrace the fishery of the Straits of Manar in South India’. Fishing for pearls was a back breaking and tedious process, but there was always the hope of finding just the right sort of pearl – ideally ‘pear shaped and be almost translucent and have a subdued iridescent sheen’ according to writer Joe McGarrigle who had been taught the patient art by Tommy O’Donnell.

In our audio piece, Patsy McNulty tells us about the pearl mussel of the Eske river. We must emphasize that the practice of pearl mussel fishing is strictly prohibited under a variety of EU laws, so best buy a Lottery ticket if hoping for a quick windfall - the pearls are out of bounds!
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Eske river

Walking in the hills

At this point, you'll need to take a left in the fork in the road, looking out for the yellow man signpost for the Bluestack Way.

Walking in the Hills
What many consider to be the new tourism phenomenal to hit south Donegal in recent years is actually one of the oldest pastimes of the area. From the beginning of human history in this locality, when people first walked up the Eske Valley, about eight thousand years ago, man has walked through the Bluestacks for fun, adventure, pilgrimage and work. Indeed the journey of the descendants of these first people in Lough Eske, is indeed the history of Ireland, step by step, from the beginning to the present time. These first people did leave a footprint in the area, though not a carbon one. Their biggest mark being the wedge tomb in Winterhill and the Cairn Tomb in the townland of Tawnavorgal at Lough Eske. The next great walkers to arrive were the Fianna and their Leader Fionn McCumhaill. They made their summer home in these parts and local lore is full of their exploits. Indeed they were more inclined to run than walk such was their zest for their greatest pastime, hunting. We hear about Fionn in our audio piece.

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147 stacks

The 147 stacks or peaks known as the Bluestack mountains are broken into four sections: the north range, the Blue Stack range, the north-east range and on the far side of Barnesmore, the east range. We'll list them all along the way, giving you the original Irish spelling and the meaning. A lot of them do not have a name.

Because of its natural beauty, peace and tranquility, Lough Eske and the Bluestacks has always been a place where man has thought about, and sought to connect with, his God or Gods, whoever or whatever that may be. Many well-worn paths lead up Banagher Hill, 'Beann an Actual', the place of the Sacrifice, the first Bluestack you meet as you leave Donegal Town.

The first Stone Age farmers climbed this hill to the spot they call Leagan, the place of the standing stones, to pray to their Gods and offer sacrifices that they may have a happier after-life. This they must have done in great numbers and a great many times as the paths they left can be still clearly seen thousands of years later.

In our audio piece, historian Helen Meehan tells us more about the first people to venture into the foothills of the Bluestack mountains.
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First people of the Bluestacks

Visitors to the Area

Ensure you take the left lane as you come to this junction - look out for the yellow man sign for the Bluestack Way.

Four Masters
In the following years, as Catholicism was suppressed in Ireland, the Franciscan community was banished from their Friary in Donegal Town. They moved to their new home in the “wilderness” of Lough Eske, as it was described in a letter by St Oliver Plunkett to his Superiors when he was Bishop of Ireland. From their new home, which gave its name “The Friary” to a townland on the shores of the lake, these Monks dressed in their long brown robes, walked through the hills to bring the message of God to their parishes and far beyond. One of the routes they took was a path known as “Casan na Brathra”, the Brothers Path, which led from Lough Eske through the Bluestacks to Glenfin, no easy walk on the best of days. This path, still to be seen, was marked by piles of stones, every quarter of a mile or so, with a white quartz stone on top, which could easily be seen in rain or fog, to guide the brothers on their way. Indeed, it was probably in this Friary where the final chapters of the “Annals of the Four Masters” were written – the first complete history of Ireland.

The next group of Walkers to take to the hills, were probably the group which came to be most identified with the area. They arrived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, over the next two hundred years were to put a name on every stone, cliff, lough and stream that was to be found in these hills. These were the men that followed the newly introduced Scottish blackfaced sheep and freely roamed the wide open spaces. This opened up a new source of income for the small tenant farmer on land, before, regarded as useless. These men, mostly Irish speaking, were the great Custodians of the Mountains as they tramped each day, faithful dog at their foot over great expanses of moor and rock after their flocks. Sadly over the last few decades this way of life had greatly disappeared and this breed of men have joined that other new kind of farm species, the Rare Breeds Society.

The only other people who walked into the Mountains at this time were the Gentry as they hunted the wild animals for sport. Their main quarry was the Red Grouse who lived on the heather seeds of the high hills.

In the Bluestacks

Francis Harvey is originally from Enniskillen, but has lived near Donegal town for years. As he says himself ‘I owe an awful lot to the county of Donegal. In fact, I think I might never have become a poet if it wasn’t for the landscape of Donegal.’

Among Francis Harvey’s great poems is the one about Condy the sheepman, almost a mythic figure but rooted in the landscape of the Blue Stack Mountains. Written over thirty years ago, the Donegal Democrat believes that 'it encapsulates the struggle between ‘progress’ and stasis, between an old man’s dignity and the encroachment of modernity'.

We are delighted to have the poet recite Condy for us in the audio piece and wish to thank him and his daughter Esther for making it happen.


He lives alone in the shadow of mountains;
his tilted stony acres fray the clouds;
he takes eight years out of a dog and knows
his ewes better than the sons he never had.
The horizon is his fence, his sheep range free,
and yet his mind is penned, his spirit tethered.
He climbs through darkness into the light on the summit
but hears no voice from a cloud.
He fears death – the rickle of bleached bones in lonely places
and in drink weeps for himself and his brothers and for the others
on whom the shadow of mountains fell.
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Barnesmore in the distance

Keep walking along the path - in the distance, you'll see Barnesmore, which is the first major access point through the mighty Bluestacks between Binbane on the Glenties road and Killeter in County Tyrone.

This is the very heart of the county, where north meets south - it's an extraordinary sight whether you see it from Sligo or coming south from Letterkenny. On another visit to the county, ensure you stop off at Biddy's O'Barnes pub. Tales of highwaymen, hangings, fairies and strange weather abound in this place - make sure you see the information on the walls by the restrooms in Biddy's to get an idea of what we mean.

There is a mountain on either side of the gap - the mountain you see on your left is Croagh Connallach (Conal's Mountain) and the mountain on your right is (Eoghan's Mountain). From 1882 right through to 1959, a spectacular rail journey could be made through the gap on An Muc Dubh or The Black Pig train. Today, there is no commercial railway in the county, one of only three counties without any rail line (but arguably the one most deserving one to truly enjoy its scenery).

Local Donegal Town John Boyce had a nom de plume of Paul Peppergrass and as a writer, he may be known to some of our elder American cousins. One of Peppergrass's best known works was called 'Shandy Maguire'. The book was so popular with the Irish in America that it was dramatised and for many years was a feature of stage productions on St. Patrick's Night - the setting and language of this perennial favourite was Barnesmore and its people.

Our audio piece is our first song from the area. It's a tune from the 1950's in Irish from a local singer whose identity we're unsure of. He is singing about his young love and even if you cannot understand it, the language of love is universal and you certainly pick up on the man's dedication to his lady.
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Bluestacks View

The verdant hallway ends and you’ll be turning left down a steep hill, over the Eske river and up a hill until you get to a crossroads. Follow the Bluestack Way signs until you get to the signs for Lough Eske Castle. You’ve made it to the end of Day One on the Bluestack Way. We suggest you enjoy the wonderful surroundings of Lough Eske and get in touch with local tour guide Patsy McNulty to see and hear more about the area. He also has a great self-catering house overlooking the lough if you’re interested in waking up to a wonderful view. Ask also about taking a walk around Ardnamona. Two other highly regarded Ann McGlinchey @ Eas Dun B&B and Grainne McGettigan @ Rhu Gorse B&B

Once timber had become scarce in Ireland, as the land became denuded due to the demands of her ever-increasing population, people began getting fuel from the bog. A day in the bog began with a walk to, and finished with a walk from, “the moss” as the bogs were known locally. Turf was cut and then dried in the summer sun, so that it could be used to warm homesteads and cook food in the open hearths of the thatched cottages.

The population exploded in Ireland during the latter half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century due to the new wonder food introduced into this country from the Americas, the humble potato. This food was so well suited to growing in Irish conditions and fed so many people on so little acreage that the population almost trebled in this relatively short period of time. But a great disaster struck in 1845 with the arrival of potato blight, which caused severe famine for the next seven years. The government didn't believe in free handouts or charity which meant any relief measures had to be worked for. Many of the projects on which the poor and hungry had to work in order to get food from the relief agencies were of no strategic importance, just ways thought up by officials to make work for the starving. One such project was the road from behind Lough Eske Castle, up Burns Mountain to the peak of Banagher Hill, ‘the road to nowhere’. The road had no practical use until hillwalkers started to follow its path for recreation over one hundred years later.

The Big House
As the 1900s approached and industrialisation began, and people had more recreational time to spend, the railway arrived in Lough Eske, or rather nearby Barnes. This was the start of ‘tourism’ as we know it. Most of the first visitors to this region came to the Big Houses, Lough Eske Castle and Ardnamona. They mostly came to fish and shoot and many a walk these activities entailed through the wild mountains and the woodlands. But as yet the numbers were small and reserved for an elite. But as demand grew, both Ardnamona and the Castle become hotels. The Castle’s first reign as an hotel came to an abrupt end with the fire of 1939, which almost totally destroyed the building. Ardnamona was to remain a hotel up to the beginning of the 1980s.

After such an information overload, our audio piece has a bit more levity in telling us about some of the great proverbs you may hear in the locality.
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The Bluestack Mountains East Range

The Bluestack Mountains East Range

The 147 stacks of the range are numbered from left to right and we shall be telling you about their names with the original Irish spelling and the meaning of the word. A special thanks goes to the Renaissance Man that is Seoirse O'Dochartaigh who complied this information in the booklet 'The Mountains, Loughs, Rivers and Place-names around Donegal Town'.

The final 51 stacks are to the right of Barnesmore Gap, which as you'll soon see, is a somewhat superfluous title as it translates into the the big gap gap. The stacks in this range cross over into County Tyrone.

We are delighted to have native Irish speaker, Moya Reid, originally from Kilcar, recite the names of all of the stacks in Irish. In the following audio piece, she can be heard reciting the Irish of all the stacks named and listed below.

97 Meenalughoge Hill - Cnoc Mhín na Luchóg gan ainm, The Hill of the Smooth Place of the Mice
98 Croaghonagh (district) - Cruach Eoghanach, The Stack of the Tribe of Eoghan
99 nameless
100 Croaghnagawna - Cruach na nGamhna, The Stack of the Calves
101 Croaghonagh (mountain) - Cruach Eoghanach, The Stack of the Tribe of Eoghan
102 Barnesmore - An Bearnas Mór, The Big Gap
103 nameless
104 nameless
105 Cross Hill - Cruach na Croise
106 nameless
107 Cnoc na Carraige Duibhe - Carrickaduff Hill
108 nameless
109 nameless
110 nameless
111 Croaghakeadew - Cruach an Chéide, The Hill of the Black Rock
112 nameless
113 nameless
114 nameless
115 nameless
116 nameless
117 Croaghmeen - Cruach Mín, Smooth Stack
118 Croaghloughslug - Cruach Loch Slog, The Stack of the Lake of the Disappearing Water
119 nameless
120 Meenabrock - Mín na mBroc, The Smooth Place of the Badgers
121 nameless
122 Clogher Hill - Cruach an Chlochair, The Stack of the Stoney Place
123 Croaghmeen - Cruach Mín, Smooth Stack
124 nameless
125 nameless
126 Croaghnakern - Cruach na gCarn (or gCeithearn), The Stack of the Cairns (or of the Kerns or Outlaws)
127 Croaghnameal - Cruach na Míol, The Stack of the Insects (Midges?)
128 nameless
129 Meenadreen - Mín an Draighin, The Smooth Place of the Blackthorn
130 Meenadreen - Mín an Draighin, The Smooth Place of the Blackthorn
131 nameless
132 nameless
133 Ballykillowen Hill - Cnoc Bhaile Chill Eoghain, The Hill of the Homestead of the Church of Owen
134 Finmore Hill - Cnoc Fionn Mór, The Big White Hill
135 nameless
136 nameless
137 Polldoo Hill - Cnoc an Phoill Dhuibh, The Hill of the Black Hole
138 Meennameal Hill - Cnoc Mhín na Míol, The Hill of the smooth Place of the Insects (Midges)
139 nameless
140 Blabreenagh - Blátha Braonacha, Dripping Wet Flowers
141 Binna Hill - Cnoc na mBeann The Hill of the Peaks
142 Croaghgarrow - Cruach Garbh, Rough Stack
143 Croaghbrack - Cruach Breac, Speckled Stack
144 Tievetooey - Taobh Tuaithe, Side of the Kingdom
145 Crockmore - An Cnoc Mór, The Big Hill
146 Ardmore Hill - An tArd Mór, The Big Height
147 Oughtadreen - Ucht an Draighin, The Hill Breast of the Blackthorn
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East range

Traditional Walks

Turn off point

You'll be coming to a T junction around this point. You'll be taking a left here - as always, it is signposted so look out for the Bluestack Way sign.

Traditional Walks
There are two old traditional walks in the Bluestacks, still practiced to the present day. The first one is the walk up Carnaween on the first Sunday in June. Hundreds of people still do this walk on the day to keep the old tradition alive. People usually climb from three sides: Drimarone, the Glen of Glenties and Silverhill. Traditionally it was a way of meeting and keeping in touch with people from the other sides of the mountain before the days of the mobile phone. Many’s the match it is said, was made on the top of Carneween. The other traditional walk, which is sadly dying out, was on the third Sunday in July is Bilberry or Heatherberry Sunday. In olden times people went to the mountain on this day to gather Bilberries or Heatherberries to make a kind of wine. It was used as a tonic to keep the body sound.

The Bluestack Ramblers
The Bluestack Ramblers grew out of the demand from walkers coming to these hills requesting locals to show them the spot where a World War II plane had crashed. On the 31st of January 1944 just before midnight a Sunderland M43 flying boat (DW- III) on a return mission in the North Atlantic, crashed into the Northern face of Binmore. There was a crew of twelve men on board of which seven were killed in the crash. There is now a memorial plaque to these men and the survivors at the spot where the plane crashed. Little of the plane remains except for part of the engines.

The Bluestack Ramblers Walking Club was founded in the year 1995, and has grown into a very successful club since with around one hundred members at present. It organizes walks most weekends, mostly local, but they have travelled extensively also, all over Ireland, Britain and the European Continent. They also organise the Bluestack Walking Festival every May, which attracts a large number of walkers to the area. As interest in walking continues, they are going from strength to strength.

In the audio piece, Helen Meehan tells us how folk in these parts used near cuts to get about.
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Taking the near cuts

Thrushbank bridge

The Eske isn't just a good fishing river, but is also a fine river for canoeists.

The start for a canoe trip is in fact the next bridge at Corveen - take a right at the next junction and you'll find it 1 km on by the mouth of the lough itself. The river is Grade II+b for the first 1.5km, otherwise Grade I, except for the last kilometre which increases to Grade II again.

The river Eske drains Lough Eske and discharges to the sea at Donegal Town. It is a shallow river and often doesn't have enough water to paddle in, never the less, due to the action of the lake, the water level is slow to rise and fall.

The rapids in Donegal Town will be a good indication of the conditions. In the first section, there are good stretches of rapids and standing waves as the river slides over gentle angled slabs of bedrock.

The only significant drop is Mill Fall at 1.5km, where the river passes under a low footbridge at an old mill. Watch out for this in flood, where there may be insufficient clearance under the bridge. The fall drops nearly 2.5m over a couple of shallow rocky steps.

From Mill Fall, the river has cut a rocky gorge which is pleasantly forested. There are no further significant rapids before the first get out point is reached at the next bridge. The longer trip to Donegal Town follows a long stretch of river, until the outskirts of the town are reached and the gradient starts to pick up again. There is a small, vertical walled waterworks weir just outside the town, which can develop a nasty stopper in high water. From there, the river passes over some pleasant, easy rapids before meeting the sea.

From 'Irish Whitewater - a guide to Irish Whitewater Rivers and Surf'. Contact Brendan Proctor for further details on canoeing in the area: +353 (0)863373031

In the footsteps of monks

You'll be coming up to a crossroads here. You'll be carrying on over the road skirting past the Lough Eske Castle estate on your right. As always, there's a signpost for The Bluestack Way to help you. In the links section on the right hand column, we've listed the three best accommodations to stay in around Lough Eske, Friary Brae Cottage (self catering), EasDun B&B or Rhu Gorse B&B.

Walking Hub
The newest development in walking in this area, was the decision by Failte Ireland to choose Donegal Town as one of its dedicated Walking Hubs in 2009. They choose five areas throughout the country as Walking Centres of Excellence which guarantee they are Walking Friendly and offer the walker a second to none service. The other hubs in the country are Tinnahealy, Ballyvaughan, Aherlow and the Slieve Blooms. On November 24th 2012, Failte Ireland handed over the control of the hub to a steering committee and it is now up to the tourist industry in the locality to make the most of this unique opportunity.

Walking in Lough Eske and the Bluestacks has now become mostly a recreational activity, although a few farmers still traverse these hills in the pursuit of their livelihood. Today the people who take to these hills mostly go for the exercise, for the peace and quiet, and the sense of being at one with nature. We may not be any different from the Druids and Monks who first went into these hills, hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Maybe after all we are still on the same journey, looking for the same things and it is no coincidence that we go to the same places to try and find the answers. As the old saying goes “the more things change, the more they remain the same”.

Another interesting facet of the countryside was the widely held belief in piseogs - in our audio piece, we tell you more about this curious phenomenon which has declined significantly in recent years.
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Lough Eske geology

It is possible that Lough Eske owes its location to the juxtaposition of the 325 million year old Carboniferous rocks on the western side and the 600 million year old Precambrian rocks on the eastern side of the lough. The contact between the two represents a weakness, which has been exploited by erosion to create the depression in which Lough Eske is formed.

The concept of time is often difficult to deal with regarding the processes of the earth. The oldest rock in the south Donegal region is 600 million years old and forms many of the hills of the Bluestack mountains. If the time period of 600 million years is condensed into a single day, then the Ice Age ended about two seconds to midnight and humans first appeared about one second to midnight.

Friar's Bush

We're grateful to Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh who tells us a bit more about one of the placenames nearby - Friarsbush in the middle of Barnesmore, some three miles away.

An tAthair Niallán Mac Dáibhid by Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh

There was a young man on board with the Flight of the Earls whose body was found over two hundred years later in Barnesmore Gap when the railway line was under construction there in 1883. He was Niallán Mac Dáibhid from Inishowen who, in 1607, was on his way to Rome to study with the Franciscans. He had travelled with the Earls in the company of his father, Seán Crón Mac Dáibhid, one of four very accomplished sons of Art Mac Dáibhid, all descendants of Dáibhid Dubh Ó Dochartaigh. They were the effective rulers of Inishowen when the 14-year old chieftain Sir Cathaoir Rua Ó Dochartaigh was too young to make important decisions. Indeed, Niallán’s mother was Fionnuala Nί Dhochartaigh of Buncrana Castle – a relation of Sir Cathaoir’s. She was left behind to care for Niallán’s brothers and sisters when her husband and son sailed out of Rathmullen in 1607. Seán Crón’s letter home -in Irish - urging his wife to join him in Bordeaux was intercepted by the English. The letter survived in translation but the family was never re-united as far as we know.

Eamonn Monaghan of Drumkeelan, Mountcharles, has researched the rather sad story of Niallán’s return to Ireland in August 1661 as a middle-aged Franciscan priest. He landed on the Mayo coast after travelling from France and began making his way up through Donegal Town in the direction of his home place in Inishowen. He was soon intercepted by Major Folliott and his men and imprisoned in Donegal Castle. Niallán had in his possession a letter in Irish addressed to Antain Ó Dochartaigh of Inishowen. Henry Brooke – the occupier of the castle at that stage – was nervous and suspicious of anyone who looked as if he might be plotting to bring Spaniards across to Ireland. There was always the possibility that another rebellion would start up. Brooke was unable to find any local people willing to translate the letter for him, so Fr. Niallán was set free but was then followed by Brooke’s men who tracked him down as he travelled through Barnesmore Gap. They brutally killed him and left his body to rot.

Years later, in 1883, a skeleton was uncovered by a railway worker involved in the building of the railroad. He was called Big Eddie Rogers from Frosses. Eddie recognised him as a priest because of the remains of a priest’s collar still on the skeleton and by bits of his rosary beads. The bog land had preserved much of the clothing.

Eddie’s boss allowed Eddie and his friend to bury the holy man. They did so near a stump of a holly bush growing by a stream flowing into the Lowreymore River. A simple wooden cross was attached to the tree and it remained there for years and was always replaced when it fell off. Finally it vanished. The memory of the murdered priest also faded.

But after much searching, Eamonn met a man called Malachy Quigley from Barnes who was able to take him out and show him the bush which marked the resting place of the brave Niallán Mac Dáibhid. Some time later Eamonn arrived out with Peter Kane, who owned a metal detector, and after a long search of the area they found a simple crucifix with a metallic figure of Christ attached. This cross may not be as old as 1661 but it was a significant find in that it proved that the memory of the murdered friar was kept alive for at least three centuries!

Fr. Niallán, according to local tradition, is buried in the townland of Friar’s Bush alongside the little waterfall where the famous holly bush grows. The ordinance survey map of 1835 shows Friar’s Bush as a named townland, but uninhabited then as it is now. Perhaps it was so-named in the previous centuries by people who knew about the incident but didn’t know the actual spot where the bones lay. The skeleton was unearthed on the opposite side of the Lowreymore River, on the railway side. Friar’s Bush is on the opposite side where the old footpath used to weave its way through “the Gap”.


The Banshee

Patrick Campbell knew of a brother and sister returning home one night from a market. ‘At a rather long hill on the road, which was densely sheltered with shrubbery and high trees, an unnatural cry was heard. This spot is known as ‘Brahan Brae’, which held its place-name since the famine days of 1846-47. The frightened brother and sister were followed by this unnatural wailing cry for over a mile along the way home. The ghost then seemed to go higher up the mountain and stop near a friend’s house and there the plaintive wail continued while the brother and sister travelled a further half mile along the bohereen to their own home. Some days later a young man died in the mountain home where the banshee’s cry came to a halt’.

Our audio piece tells us about the origins of the dreaded banshee.
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Lough Eske and environs

Part One of our walk ends at the splendour of Lough Eske Castle. Part One is deliberately shorter than other stages as we recommend some time spent in the area to walk up Banagher or the Ardnamona Woods or perhaps to fish in the lough or canoe down the river. You're in a wonderful part of the world and it seems a shame to pass it by without savouring it properly. Give Patsy McNulty a call to be guided along any of these routes with some cracking stories along the way: +353(0)877941234

The flora highlight of the Castle grounds can be seen at the front of the hotel in the form of a Specimen Cedar of Lebanon. There's plenty of fauna on show too, but they're all metallic! Above the Famine Pot on Brachan Brae (the hill where the stirrabout (porridge) was distributed by the Quakers during the Famine, you will find, just inside the Coilte gate, a stand of Californian Redwoods. These iconic trees are the tallest tree in the world. The tallest Californian Redwood which stands at 114.5 metres tall and is thousands of years old. The Lough Eske examples are only babies at 200yrs old and approx. 35metres high!
This site has had a big house on it since 1621 with the Brookes of Donegal Castle infamy having a presence here until 1896. Thomas Brooke had the Derry architect Fitzgibbon Louch completely redesign the existing manor house; the result was a grand Elizabethan-style residence finished in 1868 which became known as Lough Eske Castle. The castle was sold at the end of the century and later became a guest house; by the mid-twentieth century it was in a state of ruin having been destroyed by fire in 1939, but was reopened as Lough Eske Castle Hotel in December 2007.

You'll be finishing today's walk at the back of the castle by its gates at a crossroads. Turning left would take you on the Road to Nowhere. Why such a curious name? The British government's belief in not giving charity during the Great Famine of the 1840s meant any relief measures had to be worked for. Many of the projects on which the poor and hungry had to work in order to get food from the relief agencies were of no strategic importance. They were just ways to make the starving work for food. One such project was the road you are looking at from behind Lough Eske Castle, up Burns Mountain to the peak of Banagher Hill, the road to no where. The road had no practical use until hillwalkers started to follow its path for recreation over one hundred years later. Another reminder of those times can be seen later on at the nearby Famine Pot.
Pictures in this guide taken by: © Mark Flagler, Flagler Films, navigatourist

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