Press Trip to Donegal
Last Thursday we were whisked off to the Northern most place in Ireland for lunch, a trek along part of the Wild Atlantic Way, dinner, overnight stay and finally breakfast, before returning home on Friday. We, being a lovely bunch of press folk from the written and spoken word. The destination was McGrorys Hotel in Culdaff and Malin Head. The trip was organised by McGrorys and Michelle McTernan Management.
McGrorys Hotel started life in 1924 by Mr McGrory, as a guest house and a shop. It is now being run by the third and fourth generation descendents. On arrival we checked in and deposited our bags in our wonderful, spacious rooms. There was a lovely surprise of chocolate strawberries, macaroons and fresh cookies to welcome us, they were delicious!!
We were hungry and in time for a superb lunch of seafood chowder, homemade wheaten and homemade butter followed by bites of breaded chicken, battered cod goujon and fish cakes served with salad and homemade chips. The venue was the Front Bar and we had a roaring open wood fire to warm us up!! The wheaten was rich and tender and butter was light and creamy and complimented the chowder superbly. My chicken goujons were delicious and breadcrumbs crispy and the batter on the succulent fish was also light and crispy. The fish cake was delicious and perfectly prepared. The presentation was lovely and suited the bar scene. The chips were served in a chip basket- a nice touch, all in line with casual dining. John (third generation) met us and shared more about the history of the hotel and area and this was also when we met our guide Bren Whelan who also gave us a rundown of the local area.
After our hearty lunch we were ready for our exploration of Malin Head and in particular the beech, flora and fauna and a trek along the coast from Malin Head to Banbas Crown. Our guide was the very well qualified Bren Whelan. Bren is a true man of the great outdoors. He is a rock climber, mountaineer, scuba diver, skier, trekker and a real font for local knowledge and history. He showed us some absolutely breathtaking scenery. The sheer ruggedness and uniqueness of the area is a big reason why Star Wars VIII will be filmed here. Our walk was about 2 miles in length along some tricky terrain with stunning views and scenery. For those who love the great outdoors Malin Head has lots to offer be it trekking, climbing, diving or kayaking. Bren told us how Eire got its name- the story goes thus: a local king had two daughters Eire and Banba and that they had a race to see who gets to the top of the island first. Eire won so her father named the island after her, her sister had the honour of having the northern most point named after her-Banbas Crown.
Also on the shore line was a big white sign which read EIRE 80, which formed part of a network of 83 points along the coast of Ireland to show World War II fighters that they were flying over Ireland. Also at Banbas Crown was a mini early warning lookout tower which was built in the early 1800’s. These formed a network of towers which circumscribed Ireland and acted as an early warning system to warn if Napoleon was coming. From here many people left this area to escape the famine. Banbas Crown is the start or finish of the Wild Atlantic Way. This is a 2400 km long road trip which goes around the coast and finishes in Cork. It is a superb drive rivalling the likes of the Pacific highway (USA) or Garden Route (South Africa).
John warmed us up with the most divine creamy hot chocolate and cookies after our trek. On our return we stopped off at a very quaint thatched house which has a thatched conservatory and is owned by a Lisburn man!!!!! We popped into The Curiosity Shop which has all sorts of nick nacks. I bought a wee fridge magnet to add to my collection. When we arrived back at the hotel we freshened up before some cocktails and beer tasting before dinner.
The cocktail was a fruity rum and poteen concoction and the beers were from local brewers being Bog Hopper (Dirty Chic and Hairy Bullocks) and Kinnegar (Rustbucket, Otway, Scraggy Bay and Limeburner).
Our dinner was a true local gourmet affair in The Front Room. There were Lough Foyle Oysters (natural and Mornay-cheddar and Parmesan) with Guinness shots which went down well. The starters were a choice of Panko Goats cheese balls on beetroot with orange and rocket, which I had and it tasted great but I thought the slate did not do it justice, I would have liked it better if it were served on a white plate, or Malin Head Crab Claw (all fish is locally sourced from Greencastle)
The main course was a choice of Greencastle Masala Monkfish, Inishowen Lamb or Butternut squash and Cashel Risotto all served with root vegetables and champ. I had the monkfish which was delicately spiced, succulent and worked very well with the tomato, ginger and hint of chilli. The root vegetables were al dente and champ was buttery and fluffy. Very well presented and perfect portion size.
For dessert I had the white chocolate crumble, there was also chocolate brownie. Tea and coffee followed. The sweet dish was a perfect size and sweetness to finish off a delightful meal. There was red and white wine to accompany the meal.
After dinner we retired to The Back Room for drinks and were entertained by a local band, who played some great Irish music and sang cover songs as well, it really was great “craic”.
The breakfast the next morning was bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, mushroom, fried eggs and beans. Again all local produce and tasted well. There was a range of cereals, breads and juice available also, as well as toast, tea and coffee. A great hearty way to start the day.
McGrorys is an amazing home run intimate hotel. It has 17 very comfortable and spacious rooms and can accommodate upto 40 people. It has a real homely feeling and all the staff and management, treated not just us but other guests like we were part of the family. Its a great venue for live music, indeed Brian Kennedy is playing on the 25th March, tickets available on eventbrite.ie. It is also superb for bar food and drinks as well as gourmet fine dining. It is the gate way to North Donegal and Malin Head. I would definitely return with my family or friends for some more great hospitality.