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The Bluestack Way Part Three Drimarone to Glenties

A mini Camino?

You’ll have enjoyed two good days on the Bluestack Way at this stage, but what comes next is possibly the best part of it. The sight of the pristine and perfectly manicured Tymeen football pitch, the sacred serenity of Disert, the hulking presence of Carnaween, the agony of climbing up Lugnabrogue, the ecstasy of getting to the top and admiring the best view in Ireland, the calmness of Doobin, the surreal sight of a sofa just when you want one and the joy of seeing Glenties are yours to behold – this is one special section.

The Bluestack Way is a well-regarded waymarked way, but the more I think about it, it’s a pilgrimage of sorts; a doffing of the cap to generations of people and of ways that are long gone, where determined people lived and exciting (and at times inexplicable) occurrences took place, where the harsh land gave knowledgeable and grateful residents a living and where the epic and ever-changing beauty would make the heart of the most hardened cynic skip a beat.

Savour its fresh air, its exquisite scenery, its remarkable stories, its quiet and tacit dignity and its enduring appeal – getting to the top of the Bluestacks is a treat we should all enjoy at some stage on our own personal pilgrimages.

In days gone by, you would have seen children walking to school around here carrying not only their school bags, but two pieces of turf – each child was obliged to do so as it was the only means of heating the local school. Hear more in our audio below.


Its three kilometres from the Centre to get back on the Bluestack Way – simply turn right and walk past the church taking the right in the fork in the road. The full wonder of what awaits you will become apparent. There will be an important divergence soon in this section which we will alert you to after Disert – it will be whether you take Section 3 over the mountain or whether you take the easier section 3A, the alternative route that avoids any difficult ascents. 

Bluestack 3

Part Three starting point

Many seats of learning

The Drimarone area you are walking through had numerous seats of learning over a long time. In 1824 Hedge schools at Ednamock, Selacis and Tullynaha preceded the National schools that followed: Drumnaherk to the south, Lettermore to the west, Letterfad to the north and Ardbane to the north east. Writing in the Drimarone Schools Reunion, editor Peter Campbell opines ‘all four schools enjoyed success until the great wisdom of civil servants in Dublin wiped the entire National School system in the area’. Lettermore closed in 1967, Letterfad and Drumnaherk in 1970 and Ardbane in 1972. Campbell notes ‘there have been many changes in the Drimarone area since the National Schools were established; many changes since they were closed. 

Gone are storytellers and the rambling, the postmen on bikes and the Post Office; the open houses like Emby Meehan’s where the house phone was available to all comers. In its place we have a phone in every house; electricity for everything and we are even producing our own locally on the Blue Stacks. The rambling has been replaced by TV; cars at every house and two at some and the bicycle is now redundant. Everything has changed but thankfully some things stay the same. Walking the Bluestacks is becoming fashionable again’.
Ask Rosemary or Pauline at the Bluestack Centre for a loan of the Drimarone Schools Reunion booklet – it is a wonderful collection of memorabilia from the former pupils of those four National Schools and is full of insight, wit and warmth on their recollections of those days. One section that caught our eye were the reminiscences of Gerry Meehan, known to one and all as the singer ‘Folksy Gerry’:
Gerry had gone to Drumnaherk National School when all around him were going to Letterfad. Years later over a drop of whiskey with his father, he managed to get to the bottom of why this was the case. His ancestors had all gone to Letterfad, but Gerry’s Uncle Packie was a ‘bit mischievous’ and got into trouble with the Headmaster there, Master James Mulhern in the early 1920’s. This became a slight family disagreement with the school and the parents decided to bring the remaining children away from Letterfad.
‘Because you normally go to the school of your parents, that is provided you haven’t moved homeplace, I found it amazing that because of some minor incident that occurred years ago, it had the knock-on effect of determining what school myself and my brothers and sisters were to go to, over forty years later and ultimately determine the circle of friends you would hang around with for many years after’.
In the audio piece, Dan Gallagher who went to school on the other side of the mountain recalls his memory of taking the two sods of turf to school and taking the cane.

Speaker: Mary Murphy

From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

An old saying in Ireland concerning St. Brigid went ‘put a green cross beneath your roof on the eve of good St. Bride and you will have luck in your home long past Lammastide. Put a green cross above your door, ‘twill be hard to keep green but it will bring luck and happiness long past Hallowe’en’. Together with local saint Colmcille and national icon St. Patrick, Brigid makes up the trio of great Irish saints, although her sainthood was bestowed by the people, not the Pope. Today, the three saints are buried beside one another in Downpatrick, County Down

Patrick Campbell recalls the making of the St. Brigid rush crosses at home: ‘My grandfather would begin the preparations early in the evening. Taking a hook he cut a bundle of rushes on our land and brought them to our cottage door. It was necessary to do this before sunset. At ten o’clock that same night, the Rosary was said. Every member of the household had to be present as all were expected to give a hand at making crosses. When the prayers were finished, my grandfather went outside and closed the door behind him. Picking up the rushes he had cut earlier he returned to the house and knocked on the door. The door was then opened to him and as soon as he appeared he would say (in Irish) ‘Go down on your knees and open your eyes and let Brigid in whereupon the family replied in unison ‘Sea Beatha’ – she’s welcome. Grandfather then distributed the rushes placing them on the chair of each one present and then the cross making started. When enough had been made, they were sprinkled with holy water in the name of the Holy Trinity. Next morning the crosses were placed over the door of the cottage and in every room and outhouse. The old crosses were collected and burned’.

Different designs were peculiar to parts of the country, but all were made with great skill and diligence. Brigid was a 6th century saint from County Louth and was said to possess an uninterrupted communication with God throughout her adult life.

In our audio piece, we tell you how this feast day, like so many others in Ireland, replaced an earlier pagan festival known as ‘Imbolc’.

Speaker: Helen Meehan

From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

In our audio piece, historian Helen Meehan gives us an overview of Carnaween and Disert which you are approaching. You will be hearing more about both places, both Helen as always has another angle on these phenomena that are worth hearing.

It must be said that Helen is a walking encyclopaedia of all things local. She has written a multitude of articles on everything from Eithna Carbery to her latest book about Inver parish. 

Speaker: Patsy McNulty and a local farmer

From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Local songs and ballads in the area are unfortunately very rare. As each day passes more and more ballad material will be lost as the old folks pass away with no-one to take up the tradition and keep it alive. People from the Mountcharles district remember with great affection the powerful singing of Jane Doherty, yet no one can sing her songs now. One has only to think of certain areas of Co. Clare, Co.Kerry or Co. Sligo where the song traditions thrive, to realise how much we have lost. 

When asked, local people will mention “such and such”, who died a few years ago or “old so and so” who is now in a nursing home and doesn’t sing anymore. Their songs – the few that come to mind – are remembered by title only. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could compile a collection of the words and music of local songs? As yet, we only have a few titles to go on: “The Woods of Bonnyglen”, “The Round-Up in Tamur”, “The Drowning of the Inver Fishermen”, “The Frosses Bell”, “Dysert Brae”, etc
The audio piece reflects the sentiment above. We never did get Michael McGrory’s witty ditties or Eddie Gallagher’s, who is referred to in the audio.

Speakers: John McGroary and Patsy McNulty
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

It is a good 5 km from the Bluestack Centre to the Tymeen Football field which you’ll see on your left. Surrounded by an uneven boggy surface in all directions, this verdant patch is all the more striking – ask the folk in the Bluestack Centre when the next game is on and perhaps you could coincide your walk with part of a game there. Having turned left at the pitch, some 15m along the road, you’ll be turning right into a laneway. 400m down the lane, you will find an old lime kiln on your left. Continue up the lane, following the Bluestack Way signs through a number of gates – please ensure you close them after you pass by. Note the abundance of wild fuchsia. The lane continues for another 1.3km until you reach the sign for Disert Graveyard on your left.

Disert is a townland situated at the foot of Carnaween, one of the Bluestacks most iconic mountains. There are many versions of the meaning in Irish of Carnaween – Seoirse’s version has it as Place of the Birds for example. Carn is translated in English as ‘heap of stones’ and Buion means a gathering of people. So Carn a Bhuion may be taken to mean a meeting place for a gathering of people. It has been a custom of hundreds of years for people to gather and climb Carnaween every year on the first Sunday of June – maybe dating back to Celtic Ireland when people met to make laws, settle disputes and have sporting events such as the Tailteann Games.
These days, there is a dedicated Facebook page for Disert Heritage and its many secrets that we’d highly recommend following. The Disert Heritage Project is a community-based archaeological research project looking at this historical landscape. Our audio piece gets both John’s description of this hallowed turf.


Come down the brae and at the bottom of it turn left where you’ll see the sign for Disert graveyard, going past sheep gates. There’s a well worn path to get to the site and more signage.

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Diseart is the Gaelic word for Hermitage. After St. Patrick brought the Christian faith to Ireland in A.D. 432, it became a custom for men and women to go to remote places to pray and do penance alone and away from the lures and temptations of worldly matters. Between two heaps of small stones and beside a thorn bush there’s a holy well called Tobar Cholmcille (Colmcille’s Well). There’s no evidence even in folklore of when the custom of doing the turas started, but probably early in the sixth century. It is believed that St. Colmcille blessed the well and that the water in it cured toothache and other illnesses. Pilgrims doing the Turas had to say three Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be’s at the well followed by fifteen decades of the Rosary, while walking around three heaps of stones near the altar, three times around each heap and throwing a small stone on the heaps each time. The water from the well is taken home and rubbed on the offending aches and pains.

There is a large flat topped rock near the well presumed to be the altar where mass was offered. On the altar there’s a round stone with a hole in the centre. It is said that St. Colmcille looked through the hole and blessed the surrounding area visible to him through the stone. It is believed that this stone was used as a candle holder during Mass and that there were two but one has been lost. Not far from the Altar rock stand two leaning flagstones about 2.5 feet or 3 feet high with one horizontal flag stone placed across at the top of them, dolmen-like. A pilgrim suffering from back ache had to squeeze through between the erect stones, touching them with his back. Cures are known to have happened in this way. To get rid of an eye ailment, the pilgrim looked through the stone that sits on the altar. The holy well is situated in the centre of the field in a hollow.
In times past, people came from far off places to do the Turas. They used to erect tents and remain there longer than necessary. Some of them brought uisce beatha, got drunk, fought and behaved badly. The graveyard was closed and access forbidden to outsiders. Local people kept up the custom however and the method of doing the Turas is still known, exactly the same as from its foundation.
In the 20th century, it is known that unbaptised babies were buried there as they were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. This probably came down the years from the Monastic system in Ireland which was both rigid and severe. The last person to be buried there was Paddy Neill Ruaire O’Donnell over 100 years ago. The graveyard is now covered with bracken, briars rushes and weeds leaving any traces of by-gone days invisible as you’ll see from our video.
Mention must be made of the Diseart clay (creafog dhibirte) which is famous far and wide for its ability to banish rats. A local who inherits the gift from his ancestors must take up the clay for the recipient. With only a handful of residents now, this is easier said than done. It is believed that the clay was blessed by St. Colmcille and enjoys the same banishing power of the clay he blessed on Tory Island and Gartan.
In our audio piece, John gives a comprehensive description of the customs that occurred in this sacred site.

330. cross close up

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Disert – the area around the wall and burial site at Disert presents a restricted, but interesting flora. Bluebells thrive in the area, even in intensely grazed fields, probably due to the non-application of artificial fertilisers. Thistles are common and are reportedly a favourite food of donkeys no less. Many fields are bracken choked in the summer months, possibly another indication of the absence of artificial fertilizers. Near the parking area on the way to Disert a small stream has incised a deep gorge which has fenced off and contains a stand of hazel trees with a local rich flora of primroses, lesser celadine and wood amemone. Along the road there are also dog violets, foxglove, wild strawberry and various fern and moss varieties.
In our audio piece, John tells us about how this area coped during Famine times.

Speaker: Helen Meehan
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist.
 In our audio piece, Helen Meehan explains why Disert declined as a place of regular worship.


 Make your way back through the fields to get back on the road. You’ll be turning left and carrying on down the road for some 300m before turning right. Follow the tarred road for approx 1km where it turns left through a gate onto an unsurfaced track. This track turns under a steep rock face on the side of the mountain to an old fashioned ruined homestead cottage, marked by a large Sycamore tree and old Fuschia hedges. This in turn is overshadowed by impressive cliffs lined with Rowan trees.

Speaker: John McGroary

From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

GPS location: 54.730491, -8.191558

Here you are faced with a choice of routes; one, the main Bluestack Way traverses the mountain of Loughnabrogue, before crossing the Bluestack range to drop into the valley of Doobin (pronounced Dibbin). This is a route for experienced walkers and safety is of paramount concern. Appropriate weatherproof clothing and stout footware are essential.

The route is well marked with waymarked posts and also has larger posts to navigate ‘line of sight’. These are large posts 6-7 feet high with tops painted yellow. These are meant to guide the walker along the route of the walk and are interspersed with the regular posts, either freestanding or attached to the posts of the fence that crosses the mountain and forms part of the path.
The other route (Alternative or bad weather route) is a gentler walk that does not cross the mountain and joins the main Frosses to Glenties road (R262) just below Binbane mountain. It follows the road and re-joins the main Bluestack Way at Ivy Bridge and proceeds to Glenties.

332. stone megalith and trees

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist
In our audio piece, John tells us what to expect.


This is the toughest part of Bluestack Way. Stick closely by the Yellow man markers. The terrain is wet and uneven with large clumps to overcome which are a result of turf cutting from many years ago.

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

The first Sunday of June, found the youth of Patrick Campbell’s day making their way after Mass to Carnameen mountain top, a tradition that is still practiced to this day. Campbell observes ‘many a joyful Sunday evening I passed on this famous summit, and we were always welcomed for further refreshments on our way home by the kindly people in Dysart (sic) at the foot of this beautiful mountain. From Carn’s top, the eye could behold the far off mountains in County Mayo, Benbulben in Sligo, and the long range of the Fermanagh hills, south of Lough Erne. But the June evening was always too short and the evening mists were often the means chasing us home, as valleys re-echoed the sounds of our latest songs and our gaze descended to those beautiful deep valleys along the Eanny Beg.’

Carnaween is composed of quartzite. A major fault trends along the lower slopes of the mountain and joins the Boundary Fault. This fault trends southeast to Killybegs where it caused a weakness in the rocks that the sea exploited to form the natural harbour, which gives rise to Ireland’s major fishing port.
In a double audio piece, John and Patsy tell us more about the great mountain and how it united the people of the Bluestacks once a year 

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

The view from the top of Lughnabrogue is one of the great treats in life. Everything that is magnificent and epic about the north west can be saluted from this point, with you as lord or lady of all you survey. With views as far south as Cavan to one side and Mayo to the other, the hills of Fermanagh and the serene behemoths that are Ben Bulben and Slieve League sit on opposing sides of Donegal Bay like two gargantuan sphinxes.
On the north facing side, you get to see Slievetoohey, Meenacurrin, Maghera caves, Loughros Bay, Arranmore Island, The Rosses, Errigal and the Derryveagh mountains. Feel free to let out a roar as this scenery deserves nothing less than a primal scream from those lucky enough to witness it – it doesn’t get much better than this.
In our audio piece, John tells us what parts of the country you are viewing.

Speaker: Michael Gallagher
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

One of the great ambassadors of the county is affable postman, Michael Gallagher, renowned for his uncanny ability to forecast the weather by a careful observation of wildlife and the elements, a skill he attributes to the people of Na Cruacha Gorma in the deepest part of the Finn valley. At the extreme end of his daily itinerary lies ‘Na Cruacha Gorma’ – the Croaghs, as it is called. A sparsely populated area, it is one of the most inaccessible parts of Ireland, where electricity only arrived in 1975, but it is here that Michael met people whose vast repertoire of folklore seemed to be unending. Much of the folklore has been recorded by folklorists not only from our own country, but from as far afield as Switzerland, Germany, Iceland and North America.’


You’ll be carrying down the mountain. Once you get to the pathway, you’ll be turning left following the course of the Owenroe river. If you were to turn right and walk for four miles, you’d be in the heart of the Croaghs.

It was from conversing in their native language with the people of this area that he first became interested in weather forecasting all those years ago. As he says himself: -‘Most of the people from na Cruacha could forecast the weather accurately for a month or a season in advance and even a year ahead at times. They had such a knowledge of nature, learned from their daily struggle with the elements that they believed each feature of God’s Creation was linked by them with climatic conditions.
The knowledge of what we call ‘book learning’ was sparse but they had a rare wealth of lore and wisdom that was a source of amazement to all who came in contact with them. These, coupled with their natural vitality, enabled them to eke out a fairly comfortable living for themselves on their mountain farms in a remote area without the benefits of modern equipment.
As Michael writes ‘In the course of my travels, I discovered – among other things – that clocks and watches were almost unknown in that area until after World War One. Thus, the sun was their guideline. Incidentally, I never learned how they managed on the countless days when the sun refused to shine!’
Observing the animals around them, the folk of the Croaghs would tell you that a dog eating grass was a sign of a change in the weather, that a fox crying on a Winter’s evening is a sure sign of heavy snow coming, that the crex crex cry of the curlew is a sign of rain as are crickets singing behind an open hearth fire. Folk here were able to ascertain accurate forecasts from the stars, the sun, clouds, damp, echos, mist, pains, thunder and trees. Curious terms such as ‘the peck’ and stacked jam jars in windows were other unorthodox methods of forecasting.
In the audio, Michael marvels at the valley at his favourite time of the year.
245. white flowers close up
276. Bluestack Way signs at road junction


If you were to turn right after Lughnabrogue and Cloghmeen Hill and carry on past Carnaween, you’d be going in the direction of Meenalig by the Reelan river.

Speaker: Michael Gallagher
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist 

In our audio piece, postman Michael Gallagher tells us about the passing of things in the Meenalig valley – in this case the last time he’ll see sheep been taken up the mountains. Paddy McGroary had been reared in the bare mountainless townland of Meenalig and in 1883 he sailed for the United States. Some sixty years later, these lines were found by his friends in Connecticut, where he died. They’d been written in his own hand some weeks before: –

On St. Patrick’s Day of ’43 I let my thoughts roll back,
To see what the toll of sixty years had done to the old shack,
Where boys and girls would gather to trip a reel or jig,
While the turf fire bright kept up the light in dear old Meenalig.
With a morning sup of poteen I would peep across the sky,
View mists along the valleys, see if the hills look nigh,
Take a loving eye at Carn-na-ween with its image of Finn McCool,
Look towards the heights of the Grey Mare’s Tail and the lofty hills of Schruel.
So often in those good old days, I allowed my eyes to stray,
From Eglish on to dear Ardban, Letterfad, and old Tullay,
Lough Eske so sweet, and Drawin so steep, Lacrum and Augherbeg,
From Legan on through Golands, and back home to Meenalig.
St. Patrick’s Day is over and my pen begins to stall,
With an old man’s prayer to Meelanig and dear old Donegal,
A last farewell to Barnesmore, Stranorlar and Strabane,
Down through Lough Foyle with a weary heart and back to Uncle Sam.


Speaker: Sean McMahon
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

After your descent, you drop into the valley of Doobin joining the roadway at the bottom of the hill and taking a left turn along the track to Glenties.
With no habitation and little disturbance, the occasional glimpse can be had of the peregrine falcon and merlin; more rarely the hen harrier ranges across the mountains. The golden plover is also found on some of the slopes here but more commonly, the familiar call of the stonechat frequently breaks the silence as it hops along the fencepost. Other birds of note are the wheatear, skylark and the ever present meadow pipit.

The track follows the course of the Owenroe river which has its source in the townland of Croankeeran on the northern slope of Carnaween mountain approx 4 km to the east. When in spate this river can be spectacular during wet spells and provides plenty of interest where it runs over the rock outcrops, with small waterfalls and many rapids. This river is framed by this beautiful valley deep inside the Bluestack mountains. A rock known as ‘Carraig an Tabla’ on the north side of the river was said to be used as a mass rock during Penal Times. We tell you some more about mass rocks in our audio piece.

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

In our audio piece, John tells us one final anecdote about the area’s most famous visitor, Fionn McCumhaill.


This point marks where the Alternative route rejoins us – ensure you follow the signs to the right to get to Glenties.
Following the track down to the site of the old school, turn right over the concrete bridge and take a left turn through a gate 1km further on.

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Doobin, which needless to say is pronounced ‘Dibbin’, is the remotest point of our journey. Now with sheep as the only permanent residents, this place once had a community as the derelict national school will testify to – built by the indefatigable Canon McFadden back in 1912. The valley had ten households in 1833, thirteen in 1857 and by the time of the Census of 1901, some eight families were registered as living in the area, mainly involved in agriculture with the exceptions of a seamstress and a sprigger. The national school closed as late as 1969 with the last family moving out in 1984.
With Glenties over five miles away and Drimarone a mountain away, this place really was far from the madding crowd.
In our audio, John guides us down into the barren Doobin valley.

Speaker: Mary Murphy
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

You are now approx 7 km from Glenties; known as the Cosan, this path has been used by the people of Doobin for centuries going to mass or to the fairs in Glenties for shopping. It was used by the people of Disert, Drimarone and beyond for the same purpose, crossing over the side of Carnaween by Carn Lough. Sheep were frequently driven this way to fairs in Glenties up until the 1950s. Many would drive sheep the night before, always assured of a bed for the night and shelter for their stock in the households of Doobin.

You are truly in the middle of nowhere right now – you’ll come across an abandoned sofa that should be enjoyed. The Cosan to all intents and purposes has been conjured up by a mischievous Samuel Beckett – a seemingly never-ending bog road that goes into infinity; the sofa one last luxury before you embark on this challenging terrain. Some left field theatre company may well stage ‘Waiting For Godot’ here some day!
Our audio piece has a handy piece of vernacular in telling you that bog is not just a noun, but also makes up the verb, bogging!

Speaker: Seumas Gildea
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Our audio piece has the local raconteur, Seumas Gildea, telling us what he thinks of Irish poets from MacGill to Heaney with his trademark candour. Few people would admit to being baffled at times by Heaney, but Seumas never sugar-coated matters. 

I was lucky enough to have been able to know Seumas beyond his teaching days and penned a tribute piece about him when I heard he had died back in 2016. 

The Path Across the Moor
Words: Seumas MacManus; Tune: Traditional, set by Eamonn Monaghan

One harvest evening as I took the road from Glenties fair, I overtook a fresh littl’ coleen of modest mean and air;
So pleasant our discoursing was, it grieved me to be sure,
When she said at length “Good-bye, kind sir, my path’s across the moor.”

I looked upon her wistfully, her gaze fell on the grass,
“It’s lonesome walking in the moor,” I said, “mo chailín deas; And the path is not so narrow, there’s room for two, I’m sure;
If you don’t object I’ll take with you the path across the moor.”

“The moon is up and the path is straight,” she answered courteously, “And I never do feel lonesome when crossing of Tyree;
A kind good-bye, pray gentle sir, my father he is poor, And I a humble maid have never been beyond the moor.”

“You do your father wrong,” I said, “for his is wealth untold, And the King of Royal Spain is not so rich for all his gold; And wealth and worldly riches for me have little lure;
I barter both to walk and sport with you across the moor.”

I looked into her gentle eyes; she blushed and cast them down. I touched my lips upon her hand, still Rosie did not frown.
I took her hands in both of mine and prisoned them secure,
While she murmured “You may join me on the path across the moor.”


Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Patrick MacGill was born in the Glen of Glenties in 1889 and was the first of eleven children. After only a few years’ schooling and after having worked on the home patch of land, he set out at the age of twelve, one of a group of youngsters from the locality, for the hiring fair in Strabane and worked as a servant boy in Tyrone. MacGill’s literary career began in 1910 when he asked the Derry Journal to print some poems. At that time he was working as a plate-layer on the Glasgow- Greenock line of the Caledonian Railway Co. Shortly afterwards he moved to London and had “Children of the Dead End” and “The Rat Pit” published.

 They became best sellers. He wrote more novels, some with an Irish setting and some located in England, but never again did he achieve the intensity of these two novels which really form a single work. Since 1981, an annual Summer school has honoured his name – see the VIP hotel for more on it. In our audio piece, John, who works in Glenties, tells us about its proud heritage.

This poem is the foreword to MacGill’s ‘Songs of Donegal’: –


I speak with a proud tongue of the people who were
And the people who are,
The worthy of Ardara, the Rosses and Inishkeel,
My kindred —
The people of the hills and the dark-haired passes
My neighbours on the lift of the brae,
In the lap of the valley.

To them Slainthe!

I speak of the old men,
The wrinkle-rutted,
Who dodder about foot-weary —
For their day is as the day that has been and is no more —
Who warm their feet by the fire,
And recall memories of the times that are gone;
Who kneel in the lamplight and pray
For the peace that has been theirs —
And who beat one dry-veined hand against another
Even in the sun —
For the coldness of death is on them.

I speak of the old women
Who danced to yesterday’s fiddle
And dance no longer.
They sit in a quiet place and dream
And see visions
Of what is to come,
Of their issue,
Which has blossomed to manhood and womanhood —
And seeing thus
They are happy
For the day that was leaves no regrets,
And peace is theirs,
And perfection.

I speak of the strong men
Who shoulder their burdens in the hot day,
Who stand on the market-place
And bargain in loud voices,
Showing their stock to the world.
Straight the glance of their eyes —
Under their feet the holms blossom,
The harvest yields.
And their path is of prosperity.

I speak of the women,
Strong-hipped, full-bosomed,
Who drive the cattle to graze at dawn,
Who milk the cows at dusk.
Grace in their homes,
And in the crowded ways
Modest and seemly —
Mother of children!

I speak of the children
Of the many townlands,
Blossoms of the Bogland,
Flowers of the Valley,
Who know not yesterday, nor to-morrow,
And are happy,
The pride of those who have begot them.

And thus it is,
Ever and always,
In Ardara, the Rosses and Inishkeel —
Here, as elsewhere,
The Weak, the Strong and the Blossoming —
And thus my kindred.

To them Slainthe.

Speaker: Sean McMahon
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

From the rock outcrops at the top of the hill, fine views can be had of the glens with the town nestling quietly below. In the valley, the Owenea river flows from east to west passing Glenties on towards Ardara to enter the Atlantic ocean. To the right is Lough Anna from where the town gets its water supply. it is said that the monks used to have a resting place on an island in this lough whilst ministering to their flock in this region.


Standing on the ridge before this descent into the valley, take time to look at the rock outcrops which are part of an interesting geological feature known as Appinites. The hills immediately south of Glenties are made up of an igneous rock called appinite (after the Appin region in Scotland where these rocks are particularly abundant). These rocks are part of the fiery geological history of Donegal. At the culmination of the continental collisions around 410 million years ago, vast volumes of hot magma rose through the crust to cool slowly within the metamorphic rocks already present to form granite. Donegal contains ten large granite masses, one of which named Barnesmore granite is seen at Barnesmore. Slightly earlier, but intimately related to the large granite masses that make up much of Donegal, are the much smaller appinite bodies that can be seen here.

The Appinite magma was generated by melting rocks deep in the Earth’s interior, termed mantle rocks. It is thought that the special conditions that are often present near the end of continental collision are necessary to create the magma. The magma then rose and cooled, crystals started to form and were carried along with the rising magma. Among the earliest minerals to crystalize were a greenish black mineral called hornblende which in places nearly entirely makes up the rock. As only minor amounts of white feldspar crystallised with the hornblende, the rock is very dark in colour. The shape of the hornblende crystals indicates that they formed extremely rapidly from the magma.

With certain crystals constantly being crystallized or extracted from the magma, the residual magma constantly changes and becomes less voluminous. This can mean that rock that forms from the magma early on can be completely different from the rocks that form later.

In the Appinite just south of Glenties later batches of magma have intruded rock that formed much earlier (hornblende-rich rock) in the form of thin criss-crossing veins. These later veins stand out on the rock surface. They are light-coloured because they are made up almost entirely by feldspar with minor amounts of other minerals. These veins probably represent rock that crystallised from the last fraction of the magma. Many examples of these rock formations can be observed on the hills towards Glenties.

In the audio piece, in what will be our last direct view of Loughros Bay and the Atlantic, we tell you of the legend of Hy Brasil that is off in the horizon.

Speaker: Patsy McNulty and a local farmer
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

According to Michael Gallagher, sheep are often regarded as being downright stupid, but they actually notice changes in the atmosphere early on, and set out to prepare themselves for it. When in late autumn, winter or early spring, they gather together and jump and play as if showing their prowess in athletics, snow is in the offing.
Again when they keep close together or run in formation to a high ditch, a hedge or old wallsteads, high winds are fast approaching.

In late spring, sheep in lowlands head back to the hills and can make their way to the particular pastures they inhabited the previous summer. They’re leaving the lowlands as an indication that the harsh winter and spring have ended and good weather is on the way. If the shepherd forces them to go to the mountain in the spring against their wishes, they will invariably return to the lowlands as they realise that more harsh weather is to come. If the sheep on the hills head for the lowland pastures at the fall of the year, harsh weather with storm, hail or snow can be expected in the near future. Our audio piece might just be the best one recorded along the way – featuring as it does some very vocal sheep and two knowledgeable sheep farmers!

Speaker: Seumas Gildea, telling us about the early MacGill festivals he remembers. From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

Nestled between two glens on the north westerly edge of the Bluestacks at the convergence of two rivers, Glenties is the largest population centre in the parish of Inishkeel. Surrounded by mountains and hills on three sides that open along the Owenea valley to the Atlantic ocean to the west at Ardara, Glenties is noticeable for its lush tree-covered valleys in stark contrast with the Atlantic seaboard mountain habitats of blanket bogs and moorland on its approach road. The eastern half of Glenties is situated at the Donegal Gaeltacht which is one of the largest native Irish speaking areas within Ireland.

Approaching the real Ballybeg

Descending the hills, you’ll come to your first proper road since Tymeen. Cross this road and continue straight on over a metal bridge that crosses the Owenea river, the waterway you’ll be meandering to Ardara with tomorrow. Once you get to the R253 main road, you’ll be taking a left into Glenties.

Those planning to spend more time in Glenties should look for St. Connell’s museum which provides both history of the area and tourist information. Look out for the walk to Owenbhan waterfall above Meenahalla, a sight to behold when in full spate. The contours of Liam McCormack’s famous Catholic church built in 1974 reflects the mountainside above it.

Going Home (Doherty’s shack) by Patrick MacGill

I’m going back to Glenties when the harvest fields are brown, And the Autumn sunset lingers on my little Irish town, When the gossamer is shining where the moorland blossoms blow I’ll take the road across the hills I tramped so long ago-
‘Tis far I am beyond the seas, but yearning voices call, “Will you not come back to Glenties, and your wave-washed Donegal?”

I’ve seen the hopes of childhood stifled by the hand of time I’ve seen the smile of innocence become the frown of crime, I’ve seen the wrong rise high and strong, I’ve seen the fair betrayed Until the faltering heart fell low, the brave became afraid- But still the cry comes out to me, the homely voices call, From the Glen among the highlands of my ancient Donegal.

Sure, I think I see them often, when the night is on the town, The Braes of old Strasala, and the homes of Carrigdoun- There’s a light in Jimmy Lynch’s house, a shadow on the blind, I often watched the shadow, for ’t was Mary in behind, And often in the darkness,‘t is myself that sees it all, For I cannot help but dreaming of the folk in Donegal.

So I’ll hie me back to Glenties when the harvest comes again, And the kine are in the pasture and the berries in the lane, Then they’ll give me such a handshake that my heart will leap with joy, When a father and a mother welcome back their wayward boy. So I’m going back to Glenties when the autumn showers fall, And the harvest home is cheery in my dear old Donegal.

Speaker: John McGroary
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist.

Youtube video showing the strange case of why Fr. Barney was singled out:
Glenties is commonly regarded as being the mythical village of Ballybeg in Donegal that playwright Brian Friel used in a dozen or so plays, where his real life aunts and uncle lived in the 1930s.

Just before we get into Glenties, there’s a story for all theatre buffs – look at the graveyard on your right. See where the real life Fr. Jack who went ‘native’ in Africa is buried. Learn in the video how the Catholic church had their own way of showing their disdain for a shepherd wandering from the flock.

Glenties is special enough in real life, but the fact that this is where some of the greatest drama of the last 50 years is based gives it an added lustre. Unlike the house on Dublin’s quays, which Joyce never actually set foot in but in which he placed the action in ‘The Dead’, Friel knows this area well: he attended all three of the festivals that were held here in his honour and, with a deceased uncle in this grave, there were events etched in his mind that go beyond fiction. 

Friel is buried in the very top right of the graveyard with a huge black marble tombstone with just a Bridget’s Cross, his name, his dates of birth and death and the words “I just want to put my arms around you and hold you close.’

Writing in the MacGill summer school programme of 1981, Friel stated: –

‘A community that celebrates a local writer does two things. Rightly, and with pardonable pride, it participates in the national/international acclaim. And rightly, and indeed as importantly, it celebrates itself because the writer is both fashioned by and fashions his people. Because of my own close connections with Glenties- it occupies a large portion of my affections and permanently shaped my imagination – I am delighted that this festival is taking place and I congratulate the people who dreamed it up and made it real. Long may it prosper!
In our audio piece, John McGroary tells us a bit more about the MacGill Summer school. The video shows the last dedicated Friel tribute in 2008.

Speaker: Breesy Willows
From the Bluestack Way Part 3 playlist

2022 update: please note this was recorded in 2012 and there has been a change in hotel ownership.

The Highlands hotel does a number of things very well – it has a steak that would feed a family of twelve, it has a very congenial staff, comfortable rooms, an artistic vibe reflected throughout and a whole host of female hostesses (seven sisters I believe). As such, it is an hotel worthy of note, but come the high Summer, it really takes off for it is here that the heartbeat of political debate takes place every July as part of the MacGill Summer School.

Joe good, Jim better

The Dáil on tour  

News-starved reporters looking for stories when the Dáil is not sitting know that the place to be is Glenties. All manner of headline stories emanate from this hotel and all the movers and shakers from the Taoiseach to the vacationing cognoscenti will glide through its doors. Oh, but do not think you can simply book a room in advance – it doesn’t work like that. 

Why? Well the owners have an unorthodox understanding with the festival director, local-boy-made-good, Joe Mulholland, in keeping rooms ‘available’ as last minute changes in the agenda are de rigueur. Learn a bit about how Ireland got itself into the current situation and maybe enjoy some great human watching too. Never a dull moment.

Speaker: Francis Houston
There are many reasons why Glenties is on the map for the discerning traveller, but at the time of writing (2012) and no doubt for many years to come, the biggest deal has to be that it produced Donegal’s finest son, Jim McGuinness. We’ve marked where his family still have a cafe in town. Jim managed to guide the Donegal Senior Football team to victory in the All Ireland final of 2012. An anthem that has been adopted for the team declares that ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ (look out for it on YouTube) and indeed he is. What was remarkable was the fact that he achieved it in Year Two of a Five Year Plan for the team. McGuinness changed a team that had only two years before been ignominiously dumped out of the championships in Round One; eleven of that team played in the All Ireland win. 

Jim produced a team that believed they could win and indeed trained them to a level of fitness that would be considered professional. As pundit Joe Brolly put it ‘Their focus is icy and they thrive in the heat of battle. After all, Jimmy insists on it.’
 You will see pictures of him festooned around the town – his passing resemblance to Che Guevara has given rise to one famous picture of him complete with beret and goatee beard and the motif ‘Until Victory Always’ that can be bought as a T-shirt in the Highland hotel (where the artist works). And yet, Jimmy had been rejected for the top job on three occasions in the past, only getting it when he’d shown his pedigree as Under 21s manager. A trained sports psychologist, on both paper and in deed, the right man at the right time.

A special night for Brian Friel

Speaker: Catherine Byrne

 The Laurels

GPS location: 54.800685,-8.285022

This is the actual house where Brian Friel’s aunts, the McLoone sisters, the ‘five brave Glenties women’ of the play, Dancing at Lughnasa, actually lived together in the 1930s. Just off Station Road outside the harvest fair town of Glenties, this is the site that inspired a modern masterpiece by a playwright at the height of his powers. The Public Theatre and Professor Martin Andrucki summed up its power in their critique of the play’s denouement: –

‘In the last lines of the play, the narrator Michael tells us that when he remembers that summer of 1936 everybody seems to be “[d]ancing, as if language had surrendered to movement…as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way…to be in touch with some otherness. Dancing as if the very heart of life and all its hopes might be found in…those…movements. Dancing as if words were no longer necessary.” Each of the characters in the play dances at some crucial moment: Gerry and Chris when they meet after a long separation, Father Jack when he celebrates the power of the Goddess, all the sisters when the sounds of the wireless bring them into contact with the outside world.

 What Michael suggests is that people dance at such moments because dancing provides a way to transcend the painful contradictions, conflicts, and uncertainties of ordinary experience. Dancing takes us beyond the everyday world of language and its ambiguities to a place where our hopes can be painlessly, though fleetingly, fulfilled. If the kites imply the conflicting emotions associated with change, both exhilaration and terror, dancing promises a deliverance from such inner conflict, allowing an experience of undivided happiness’. 

The play is a remarkable tribute to the Mundy sisters’ spirit and from this meagre setting did such a magical story evolve. Try and see the play being performed with a good cast as the Mundy sisters. Meryl Streep can do many things (including outdrinking most people the night she opened this house with Friel some years ago no less), but the film is not a patch on the tour de force that is the play.

For the MacGill summer school of 1991 honouring Friel for the second time, the Abbey theatre famously came up for one night only and performed the play in the Comprehensive school you’ll have passed by. Friel in introducing the play that night said he was nervous as a kitten being so close to the action from the 1930s. He needn’t have worried as the performance was mesmerising and got a standing ovation. 

Our audio piece remembers that famous August night in 1991 when a great play came home. 

This completes part three of the Bluestack Way. Ensure you click on the official link to Glenties below. It is a town with a great community spirit and hospitality. You may well need to add an extra day to your hike as it is just a lovely place to relax in with plenty to do.

Original Abbey Theatre cast. Catherine Byrne is on the table in white.
Original Abbey Theatre cast. Catherine Byrne is on the table in white.