Glenveagh National Park

Rural, isolated, rugged, and always breathtaking, Donegal—Ireland’s northernmost county—has a distinctive, top-o’-the-world feel. Its 230-plus miles of sea-torn, largely uninhabited coastline define the northwestern corner of Ireland that faces the open sea toward Iceland. Slieve League, the tallest sea cliffs in Europe, are its dramatic highlight. But like a microcosm of Ireland, it also includes heather-covered moors, peat bogs, and the island’s steepest mountains. A corner of Ireland that the bus caravans of Waterford shoppers and Blarney-kissing tourists never allot the time to visit, independent Donegal still clings proudly to Gaelic, Ireland’s native language (it is the largest area where it is still widely spoken), and ancient customs.

Deep within the county, far from its distinctive coastline, is Glenveagh National Park, considered Ireland’s most beautiful (the concept of national parks is still rather new to Ireland) and one of the country’s most important natural attractions. The park itself is closed to traffic, but a jitney from the Visitors’ Center provides drop-off service at Glenveagh Castle, built in the 19th century, whose important exotic gardens flourished under its American owner, who left it to the Irish nation in 1983. Beyond the 4 acres of cultivated gardens of flora brought from Chile and Tasmania, the Far East and the Himalayas, the park gradually reverts to a wild lonely loveliness that takes many visitors by surprise.