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The Bluestack Way Part Four Glenties to Ardara via Owenea river

The final stretch of the Way is relatively flat, largely following the path of the Owenea river from Glenties to Ardara, two of the most beautiful towns you’ll find in Ireland, both with a deep sense of civic pride. It’s not surprising then that each has produced two of the most iconic personalities of the county in the form of Jim McGuinness from Glenties and Anthony Molloy from Ardara. Jim we’ll have mentioned already, but Anthony has a unique position in Donegal GAA football in being the first Donegal captain to ever raise the Sam Maguire cup back in 1992 (young Jim was on the panel that day).

Once again, you’re exploring completely different terrain. With the winding river’s stepping stones and the abundance of hawthorns often associated with the fairy folk, we also take the opportunity to tell you a bit about the fairies. Many a man may laugh at the notion of such a thing, but few if any would ever cut down a fairy tree.

Part Four - starting point

Speaker: Mary Murphy
From The Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

Just as Gar had to leave Ballybeg in ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’, we must leave the beautiful town of Glenties to complete the Way. With any luck you’ll be back for the MacGill festival, the Harvest Fair or just to base yourself for a future visit.

So we’ve told you all about the joys of Dancing at Lughnasa, but we feel we need to explain that most curious of words. In our audio piece, we tell you about what the festival of Lughnasa actually was about.


The starting point of Day Four is opposite the Limelight nightclub up Main Street and is of course signposted. You’ll be walking some 400m along the road and taking a left in the direction of Ardara and the imposing mountains around it. 

On the T-junction itself, you’ll see the circular skid marks left by boy racers – this somewhat pathetic activity is known as ‘donuting’ and the cars that caused them are easy to spot; garish souped up twin cam motors with exhausts like bazookas. You’ll hear them before you see them and if so, step well in off the road, not out of respect, but safety.

Speaker: Dan Gallagher
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.
Photo: the Lawrence collection.

In our audio piece, Dan Gallagher tells us about how Glenties would have been thronged with sheep during the annual Harvest Fair in early September. It is a wonderful insight into the chaos and mayhem on a day when there was selling and drinking to be done. 

Following the walk approx. 3km from Glenties, the roadway is flanked by gorse or whin bushes with their bright yellow flowers. In May and June, when the blooms are most prolific, you will find colonies of a little known Irish butterfly – the Green Hairstreak. A careful look along these Gorse Hedges by the roadside will often produce good numbers of this fast-flying insect. 

Upon alighting on the yellow flowers, the closed wings reveal a ‘metallic’ sheen which characterises this beautiful butterfly. Along the riverbanks, look out for the Common Blue butterfly in June/July.


Speaker: Mary Murphy
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

To those of you who are looking hungrily at the imposing mountains across the way, the good news is that there is a highly regarded waymarked walk called Sli Cholmcille that takes in the mountains to the left – Mulnanaff, Crocknapeast and Common Mountain (the horse shoe) going down to the base of Glengesh before taking on the beasts that are Crockuna, Meenacurrin and Slievetooey.
Look out for Adrian Hendroff’s excellent book called ‘Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim Mountain and Coastal Hillwalks – a walking guide’. These are dealt with as Walks 15 and 16, with Walk 17 being simply called ‘Ireland’s finest coastal walk’ and no, Slieve League is Walk 18. Here’s hoping we’ve whetted your appetite – it’s the best walking book of its kind in Ireland, a case study in practical and intelligent information with some fun festooned throughout.
Going in the direction of Loughros Bay, we tell you more about Grainne and Diarmuid who are believed to have fled there in Irish mythology escaping Fionn McCumhaill.

Speaker: Sean McMahon
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

From this laneway, the route turns left into a field and goes directly to the riverbank. Follow the waymarkers carefully along the river, crossing many bridges and walkways as you head towards Ardara. Some of the bridges were built to facillitate anglers using the river, but most were built for workers at the nearby Bord na Mona peat extraction works to get to and from their place of work. One of these bridges, a rail crossing, was used to transport the extracted peat from these extensive peat boglands.

The colour of the water

According to Michael Gallagher, the river in all its moods, was a very accurate forecaster of weather conditions; the sounds of a flood being heard from upstream when the river was low, meant a flood in the near future that was known as “Tuile Bhreige’ or false flood. The colour of the water was also a guideline – black and murky water with froth on the surface was a sign of heavy rain imminent while when the sand and pebbles were clear visible in the river bed, that meant fine weather on the way. 

If spa water begins flowing from a bog-hole, a long break in the weather is approaching. Twinges of arthritic pains can be felt in ageing joints, and sometimes in joints not so old, before the onset of heavy rain.

The experienced angler can predict the weather, from his success or failure in landing trout or salmon. If after a flood, the fish do not rise to the bait, he knows more rain is on the way.

In our audio piece, Bart tells us how Ardara has both the Owenea and the Owentocker river flowing by and how it got to have its very own glamourous West End.

We’ve also found a lovely short video of forthcoming Ardara from 1976 that nicely captures the friendliness of the town.

Speaker: Bart Whelan
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

The Owenea River runs for some 13 miles, draining Lough Ea in the west of the Croaghs, into Loughrosmore Bay at Ardara. The Owenea is primarily a spate river taking around one to two days to run off after a good flood. The season on the Owenea runs from 1 April to 30 September.
The Owenea is one of the best salmon rivers in the county. The river has a run of spring salmon, grilse, sea trout and has a resident stock of small brown trout. The fishery consists of nine beats on the bottom eight miles of the river with good pools spread throughout the whole river. 

The river has a lot of nice fly water with the majority of fish being caught by this method. When in condition the river is one of the best in the country for grilse. The main grilse run starts in July with salmon right to the end of the season.
The fishery has access for disabled anglers along a section of beat 3. There is an ongoing programme of maintenance and upgrading of access, angling structures, habitat restoration etc. N.B. Shrimp and Prawn are strictly prohibited.
Bookings/Further information
Single-day and multi-day fishing products are available. Please ensure that you also purchase a licence if you book your fishing permit online. To fish on the Owenea you must hold a fishing permit and a fishing licence.
Bookings are non-transferable. Rods are assigned to beats on a first come first served basis. Payment can made by credit or debit card, including Visa, MasterCard and Laser.

Bookings and in-season information available through:
Owenea Angling Centre, Glenties Hatchery, Glenties, Co. Donegal. Tel: (074) 9551141. Fax: (074) 9551444. Email:
Off-season information available through
Northern Regional Fisheries Board, Station road, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Tel: (071) 9851435. Fax: (071) 9851816. Email:

Speaker: Sean McMahon
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

Local writer Séumas MacManus collected and told of the gentle people in his book, ‘Donegal Fairy Stories’. Writing on Old Lammas Day from Donegal Town in 1900, his preface starts:- ‘tales as old as the curlew’s call are today listened to around the hearths of Donegal with the same keen and credulous eagerness with which they were hearkened to hundreds of years ago. Of a people whose only wealth is mental and spiritual, the thousand such tales are not the least significant heritage…

…the professional shanachy (sic) recites them to a charmed audience in the wake house, in the potato field, on the green hillside on summer Sundays, and at the crossroads in blissful autumn gloamings, while the green marge rests his hearers’ aching limbs…he would wish that this world might for a few hours, give him their credence on trust, consent to forget temporarily that life is hard and joyless, be foolish, simple children once more, and bring to the entertainment the fresh and fun-loving hearts they possessed ere the world’s wisdom came to them. And if they return to the world’s wise ways with a lurking delight in their hearts, the shanachy will again feel rejoiced and proud for the triumph of our grand tales.’

The photo shows aforementioned local legend Séumas performing for a large audience at the Santa Monica Public Library, c.1935. Look at the spellbound faces of his audience! We hope you managed to visit his grave and that of his beloved Ethna in Frosses cemetery at the end of Day Two. 

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Speaker: Mary Murphy
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

Fairy lore is prevalent in Donegal, albeit not to the same extent it was over 100 years ago, which some sceptics tie in with the development of modern technology to entertain us and the diminishing of native poteen making and of tales spun to keep people away from certain places with a well placed fairytale.

Folklore collector Séan ÓhEochaidh’s ‘Fairy Legends from Donegal‘ is the definitive book on the subject in these parts with a dedicated section on stories collected from the Bluestack Mountains. Long out of print, but worth looking out for and buying if you come across it.

The Fairies by William Allingham
Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren’t go a-hunting For fear of little men; Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; Green jacket, red cap, And white owl’s feather!
Down along the rocky shore Some make their home, They live on crispy pancakes Of yellow tide-foam; Some in the reeds Of the black mountain lake, With frogs for their watch-dogs, All night awake.
High on the hill-top The old King sits; He is now so old and gray He’s nigh lost his wits. With a bridge of white mist Columbkill he crosses, On his stately journeys From Slieveleague to Rosses; Or going up with music On cold starry nights, To sup with the Queen Of the gay Northern Lights.
They stole little Bridget For seven years long; When she came down again Her friends were all gone. They took her lightly back, Between the night and morrow, They thought that she was fast asleep, But she was dead with sorrow. They have kept her ever since Deep within the lake, On a bed of flag-leaves, Watching till she wake.
By the craggy hill-side, Through the mosses bare, They have planted thorn-trees For pleasure here and there. Is any man so daring As dig them up in spite, He shall find their sharpest thorns In his bed at night.
Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren’t go a-hunting For fear of little men; Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; Green jacket, red cap, And white owl’s feather!

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Speaker: Bart Whelan
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

The Bluestack Way makes its final river crossing at ‘Iron Bridge’ in the townland of Glenconwal. Take a final look at the panoramic views over Loughros Mor Bay and the rising mountians of Meenacurrin and Slievetooey in the distance.
Just by the bay is a place known far and wide as Kentucky – Bart Whelan tells us why in the audio piece.

Speaker: Bart Whelan
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

Upon getting onto the R261, you may wish to turn right and view the nearby Owenea Standing Stone, a massive block some 3.5 metres high in a scraggy field behind a ruin. Folklore says that Fionn McCumhaill threw this shoulder stone from “Clo na Cleire Mountain” and it landed here. When you get to the brown sign on the right saying Owenea river, cross the stile right beside it and turn left to see the standing stone – you have the landowner’s permission to be there.


You’ll be taking a left at the T-junction to bring you into the last stop of Ardara. On leaving the river, the route makes its way to the main Ardara to Narin/Portnoo road, the R261. At this road, you turn left to make the final kilometre of the Bluestack Way into the village of Ardara – well done and here’s hoping you’ve made it to the end in one piece!

Taking the right would get you to the beautiful coastal villages of Narin and Portnoo – we could not complete the Way without having Bart Whelan tell you one of the great tales of the area, the early days of Narin golf club and its unusual golf hazards.

Speaker: Bart Whelan
From the Bluestack Way – Part 4 playlist.

The end of the Bluestack Way is at Ardara on the Atlantic coast on Loughros Bay. Ardara – Ard an Ratha (pronounced ‘Ardra’) means Hill of the Fort, named after the large ringfort situated above and overlooking the village. Located behind the national school at the top of the town, the ringfort is approx. 28km in diameter and enclosed by an earthen bank and ditch. it was probably home to a single family and dates from AD 500-800.
Our pictures show you the wall and gate to look out for to access the Ardara fort. Make your way over the gate and up the hill to see the fort.

There is an even more impressive ring fort a few miles away, just outside of Portnoo called Doon Fort.
Wondering what else to see in the area? Ask about any one of these wonderful sites: –
Iniskeel Island, St Connell’s Church and two Cross Slabs; Narin’s championship 18 hole Golf Course, Kilclooney Portal Dolman; Cloney Wood Forest walk; Massrock at Morganstown; Owenea Bridge standing stone (see POI 7), Ardara Fort at Hillhead, Evie Hone stained glass window, Drumbarron Hill scenic view, The Dorleens, Loughros Point, Maghera Caves, Assaranca falls near Maghera, Glengesh Pass (in photo) and Ard an Amharc.

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Famous scribes in Ardara

‘A village you can’t get too far from’

We’ve made a point of bringing local writers to your attention at the end of each part of the guide. Our last two are not quite local per se being world famous foreigners, but on the subject of Ardara, their opinions couldn’t be more different. In nearby Glenlough, none other than a 20 year old Dylan Thomas rocked up in July 1935. Arriving on what was intended to be a two-week holiday, the mission was to get away from the “comrade bottle” of which he was becoming increasingly fond. “Ten miles from the nearest human being…and as lonely as Christ,” he wrote, describing the experience.

He produced six poems during his stay, including the famous ‘I, in my intricate image’ and ‘Altarwise by owl-light’ published in Twenty Five Poems in October 1936. Although a ruin, the cottage where Thomas once lived still exists. Accessible only on foot, the journey takes 1-2 hours, traversing some of the most spectacular wild and rugged scenery Donegal has to offer.

In Ardara, he is still remembered for describing the place, most unfairly, as a village “you can’t be too far from“. It transpires he got himself barred from every pub in the place that summer! He was to return to it in The Doctor and the Devils, a screenplay from 1953. Perhaps it was a revenge of sorts that one of its leading characters, Robert Fallon, a graverobber and murderer, hailed from Ardara! Another story, which has become urban legend, concerned a row with the local postman which Thomas countered by ordering a newspaper every day, forcing the poor man to hike an extra eight miles a day to deliver it.

John Prine: honorary Ardara man

Dylan Thomas was of course responsible for music’s only Nobel Laureate changing his name from Zimmerman to Dylan in his honour. Dylan Mark 2 admired another writer, well songwriter to be precise, who’d fonder memories of Ardara: the late great American singer/songwriter, John Prine.

To Bob Dylan, Prine was one of his favourite writers, stating, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. ‘Sam Stone’ featuring the wonderfully evocative line: ‘There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, and Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose.’ All that stuff about ‘Sam Stone’, the soldier junkie daddy, and ‘Donald and Lydia’, where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that.”

Sadly, John Prine died in 2020 due to Covid-19, but his legacy is secure. His Ardara connection comes from his marriage to local woman, Fiona Whelan-Prine. Married since 1996, she was his muse and rock. He loved coming to Donegal and was always a hit with the locals. On one occasion, I’d secured the best seats in a pub before the Christmas rush. With my pint settled and a cigarette in my mouth, all was well. Who should step out of the side door, but John Prine with the words ‘you look like the happiest man on Earth!‘ as he nodded and strolled nonchalantly on. At that very moment, he was damn right.

Congratulations – you’ve made it!

We hope you’ve managed to complete the tour in one piece and with a good thirst and a healthy appetite. As long as you’re not an irascible Welsh poet, Ardara can ensure both needs are met – the town has won national awards for its hospitality, has over 40 festivals per year and even won the Best Village To Live In Ireland sponsored by The Irish Times, so don’t be in any hurry to leave just yet! Perhaps pretty Portnoo or maybe even gloomy Glenlough beckon?

Try our Donegal’s Hallowed Sites if interested in further adventures across this most scenic of counties. If you enjoyed this guide, please ensure you let others know on social media or feel free to leave us feedback. 

John Ward, Racontour Productions, May 2022