One of Donegal’s most renowned valleys, Glenveagh is a wild and scenic place blanketed with oak and birch forest, its steely lake set at the food of heather-clad mountains. This rural idyll lured wealthy landowner John George Adair who built a castle here in the 19th century. High society followed and exploring the formal castle gardens and the lavishly decorated rooms gives a sense of the lives of the rich and famous who regularly visited in times past. Today, the castle, grounds and larger forested estate are protected as a national park and offer scenic walks through rugged Donegal wilderness.
A remote wilderness in the heart of County Donegal, Glenveagh National Park has long attracted visitors from across the globe. The second largest national park in Ireland, it was only established in 1986, after the land was gifted to the state by Glenveagh Castle’s then owner, Henry McIlhenny.
A vast expanse of heathland, woodland and mountains surround the 6 km (3.7 mile) long Lough Veagh. The park’s landscapes provide a habitat for red deer, foxes, badgers, owls, peregrine falcons and pine martens.
Arriving at the park, you can meander through the visitor reception area which has a small exhibition on the ecology of the park and the wildlife seen here, or follow a short nature trail that begins at the car park. There may also be an opportunity to join a ranger-led walk of the woodlands.
From the visitor reception area, you can either walk the 4 km (2.5 miles) to the castle, or board a shuttle bus which runs every 15 minutes.
Imposing Glenveagh Castle is set on the shores of Lough Veagh, and was built in the 19th century by a wealthy landowner from County Laois, John George Adair. His vision was to create a grand hunting estate, and although he died before this dream was fulfilled, his American wife made Glenveagh her permanent home, extending the castle and becoming a high society hostess.
Later the castle was briefly owned by Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter of Harvard University and then by one of his former students, Irish-American Henry McIlhenny. Each of them made improvements to the castle’s interior and grounds.
A guided tour of the castle runs every hour and offers a chance to see the flamboyantly decorated rooms and learn about the castle’s history, architecture and interiors, as well as some of the famous names who were regular visitors here. Outside, the formal walled and Italian gardens have impressive planting schemes and can be explored on well-marked trails.
Further marked trails of varying difficulty and distance lead into the parklands from the castle and offer a gentle way to explore the valley and see its best views.
After your tour or a longer walk, the castle tea rooms make a good stop before continuing on your journey.