Unexpected Ireland: Letterkenny

Letterkenny, in Ireland’s northwest, is not a place you’ll find on tour itineraries,. Guidebooks spend but a line or two on it in passing if indeed it comes in for any sort of mention. Letterkenny is a workaday Irish town, a hub for those heading west into Donegal, a center for nightlife and education and shopping which draws people from nearby by towns in the republic and equally nearby places just across the border in Northern Ireland. It may be a good thing that those guidebooks pass Letterkenny by. I’ve always found a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.

It’s fun just to settle in to the day to day rhythm of the place. I’ve often found it amusing (though rarely when I’m trying to cross the street during rush hours) that Letterkenny is known for having the longest main street in Ireland. That’s quite probably true and it may be a historic fact as well: the area where the city sits today has been a crossroads of commerce, arts and cultures across long centuries of time.

It still is. An Grianan Theatre hosts music, dance, comedy, plays, and talks all through the year, featuring national, international, and regional artists from all sorts of genres. The Earagail Arts Festival Festival, which every summer celebrates the arts across Donegal, is a highlight, as are the festive winter holiday themed shows in December. It has a good cafe with a cheerful staff, too.

I’ve spent time through years over tea and conversation at Dillon’s Pub. In the Letterkenny Court Hotel on a corner on that long high street, it’s a place where travelers and people from the town are both welcomed and welcoming. For a bit more traditional sort of pub The Corner Bar has been a good choice. The Yellow Pepper is a welcoming place for a meal. For a casual snack, Pat’s Pizza is rather a Letterkenny institution. You can choose your own ingredients ot try combinations you may not have considered, including bacon, cheddar, and potato or salmon with dill — both very Irish sorts of pizza indeed.

The county history museum does well in sharing the history of the region, but for me the place itself holds a sorrowful an aura, as it was a workhouse during the Great Hunger. Saint Eunan’s Cathedral is well worth your time to see, as well. It is a Gothic Revival church, rather than an ancient Gothic one, built at the end of the nineteenth century with a thought to honor Ireland’s history and to give inspiration as people recovered from hard times. Saint Eunan’s looks especially dramatic when lit up at night.

On a quiet week day evening, as the light lingers long in summer or dark comes early graced by a snowflake ot two in winter, one of my favorite things to do in Letterkenny, though. is to sit on the steps of a small park which is right by the high street and let the bustle of shopping and the quiet of evening interact. There’s a statue there, to mark the memory of children who were often hired out as workers and servants to help families survive during the recovery times after the Great Hunger. Many hiring fairs were held in Letterkenny. The figures of children which stand in the park remind of the hard times, and yet the artist has given some of of them a touch of the grace of childhood too. It makes contrast worth a nod of respect and bit of thought as evening draws in.

If you’d like a soundtrack to go along with this, consider these fine Irish voices.

Photographs are by Kerry Dexter and are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

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