That is true whether your interest is in hill walking, hiking, sea scape, history, natural beauty, exploring a natural landscape, or any combination of these things.
At this writing travel to and within the Republic of Ireland is under the highest level of restriction. Until it becomes time to travel again, Sliabh Liag is a fine place for dreaming now and planning for later travel.
While you are at that dreaming and learning, you may wish to know that Dermot Byrne, John Doyle, and Eamonn Coyne have recorded an album called Liag, named after the cliffs and including music inspired by and from southwest Donegal.
Archaeology tells us that people have been coming to Sliabh Liag since prehistoric times. It is thought that it was a place of spiritual significance in their beliefs before the coming of Christianity to Ireland.
Christian believers came in their time too; to this day one of the walking routes along the cliffs is called the Pilgrim’s Path, and there are traces of monastic life, including remnants of beehive huts and a chapel.
What drew these folk to Sliabh Liag? What continues to bring people to this far flung corner of the northwest of Ireland to this day?
Sliabh Liag is, among other things
An áit a gcuirtear an t-am ina stad
A place where time stands still
There are other cliffs along the coasts of Ireland. Kerry, Antrim, and Clare have especially notable ones. The cliffs at Sliabh Liag are really high, though. They rise 1,972 feet/601 meters above the Atlantic Sea . This makes these cliffs more than three times as tall as the well known and well visited Cliffs of Moher, far to the south on the coast in Clare.
The height means the views out to sea and down to the waters can be especially moving. It also invites challenges and changes from weather. Ireland’s weather is notoriously changeable and it is no different high up on Sliabh Liag.
At times there are brilliant blue skies and fast moving white clouds, and you can see the tiny looking boats among white crests of waves swirling below.
At other times there will be mist and fog swirling, inviting you to focus on nature that is just a few feet in front of you while parting now and then to allow views of sea and sky.
It is wise to take care when walking the cliffs at Sliabh Liag. Good hiking boots, clothing to take account of that changeable weather, and respect for the fact that these are walks and viewpoints on high sea cliffs — some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe — are all needed as you visit.
That said, there are viewpoints and paths to explore. There is a visitors’ center which, when open, is worth your time, and there are stones outside it which have been carved to tell parts of the stories of the cliffs. From the visitors’ center, you are able to walk or drive up to the principal viewpoint at the cliffs. If you choose to walk, you may meet a few friendly sheep along the way.
There are stories, indeed, from tales of fairies to legends from those prehistoric times to prayers of the monks. This part of Ireland is Gaeltacht, Irish speaking. You will hear Irish spoken in day to day life, and see signs as Gaeilge, as well. Perhaps you may hear whispers of stories from the past in the wind. They might be in Irish, too.
Sliabh Liag is part of the story, too, of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. There is also a connection to the Appalachian Trail in North America.
Before the continents separated more 175 million years ago, geology shows that there was a mountain range that spanned parts of what are now North America and Europe. This has been the basis for the International Appalachian Trail, a continuation of one of the world’s largest trail networks, running from the USA, into Canada, Iceland, across to the island of Ireland and beyond. Sliabh Liag is the start of the International Appalachian Trail in Ireland. In recognition of the increased interest in walking during the pandemic, there’s investment in improvements in the Ulster-Ireland segment of the IAT, of which Donegal and Sliabh Liag are part.
While increased interest will no doubt bring more visitors to this part of Ireland’s far northwest, and they will be warmly welcomed, Sliabh Liag is still a place where there is room for time to stand still, if you allow it.
Photographs of car park path and mist on One Man’s pass by Colin Park
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