Many travel experts consider west Donegal to be the most scenic and culturally rich regions in all Ireland and two innovative projects – ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ and mng Ventures – are showcasing the multi-faceted tourism treasures this quaint yet relatively unknown northwestern coastal area offers.
“With islands, mountains, lakes and the Atlantic Ocean right beside us, this place is truly world class,” said Moira Ní Ghallachóir, a native of Ranafast in the region who returned from London three years ago to set up mng Ventures and organize outdoor pursuit activities for groups and individuals through what she terms, ‘Rock agus Roam.’
“Not only is Donegal on the edge of Europe, but it also has a rich culture of Irish music and language. These factors all combine to offer what many people are now seeking in a holiday – quality, environmentally-friendly, culturally-satisfying experiences.”
mng Ventures operates out of a small office in An Chrannog, a modest, community-based complex in the coastal town of Bunbeg in the Donegal Gaeltacht, one of several specially-designated Irish-speaking areas in the country. Here, on any given evening under the managership of Cathal Ó Gallchóir, diverse activities are hosted, ranging from traditional music and language training to yoga.
Having arrived back home with no experience in the tourism sector but with a bagful of enthusiasm, passion and energy, Moira noticed the large number of local people with outdoor activity expertise, including Iain Miller, a renowned professional rock-climber and sailing instructor Gareth Doherty of Selkie Sailing. “I decided there and then that I could link the skills of these various people with individuals and groups keen to explore this beautiful region,” said Moira.
Among the activities it organizes, mng Ventures lists rock-climbing, sea kayaking, sailing, island hopping, whale watching and hill walking, with duration ranging from one day to a week or more.
‘Ireland Writing Retreat,’ now in its third successful year, is co-ordinated by Columbia Hillen who, like Moira, considers the raw, rugged scenery of west Donegal on the famous ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ to be the most inspiring of any region in Ireland.
With more than a decade of experience as managing director of a national publishing and events company accounting for more than one million euro in annual turnover in her native Romania, Columbia realized the beauty of the Donegal landscape would help release the artistic Muse. Noticing there were already painters and musicians enjoying the area’s natural tranquility, she decided to invite established authors and trainers to host creative writing workshops.
“Environment plays a vital role in any artistic endeavor, and there’s no more perfect one than right here, in this idyllic rural paradise between the mountains and the ocean,” said the Transylvanian-born woman. “To put it in proper perspective. Imagine a ‘Celtic Avalon,’ then you have a better idea of what it’s like here.”
Authors and writing guides at the ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ have included John DeDakis, a former senior editor with CNN whose three novels involve mystery and suspense and Irish writers, Anthony Quinn and Kenneth Gregory, whose novels range from crime to magic realism.
In addition to group writing workshops, one-on-one tuition and authors’ talks, participants are also immersed in the local culture. Diverse activities include boat trips and island walks, music concerts, Irish ceildhe dance and language classes and hill walking with guide, Séamus Doohan, who is also well-versed in local Celtic mythology.
“The idea is that participants become inspired by the ever-changing landscape and seascape all around them, as well as by the intriguing history of the area,” said Columbia. “Many of the writing assignments are based on actual experiences participants enjoy while they are here.”