Playing On The Edge of Ireland – Donegal’s Seastacks and Islands

In part 1 of a 3 part series, mountain instructor Iain Miller describes the incredible adventures to be had on the spectacular Donegal coast.

Living along the western seaboard of County Donegal live 100 guardians of an ancient and little known world. Sculptured by the pounding heart of the wild Atlantic Ocean over thousands of our lifetimes these towering rock sentinels stand guard at the outer edge of our distant shores. Marking the boundary between the moving and the static, these gothic leviathans are the last remains of a time long forgotten.

These are the Donegal sea stacks.


Magnificient Donegal Seastacks A true climbing adventure

Imagine travelling 20 km on single track laneway from the nearest main road followed by a 4 km walk over Ireland’s last great wilderness to visit the most remote point of land on mainland Ireland. From here standing on the summit of this near 1000 foot high sea cliff overlooking the distant edge of the further, we descend to sea level to arrive on outstandingly beautiful storm beaches in the most remote, isolated and atmospheric locations in the country.

We launch from the shore to cross open ocean and land on the bases of these wave-sculpted rock towers. We then climb these lonely towers to arrive on a pristine pinpoint summit far from anywhere in the real world.

Standing on an isolated summit over 100 metres above the ocean, 500 metres from the nearest point of land on mainland Ireland and over 20 km from the nearest main road can easily be described as a truly spiritual experience. You are now standing on a summit that has been visited and stood on fewer times than the surface of the moon.


Exploring the best of Ireland’s beautiful coast

Off course there are many more outstanding places to visit and activities to do along Donegal’s 1000 kilometres of coastline.

Donegal Islands

Living off the coast of north-west Ireland are some of the most beautiful, remote and uninhabited islands in western Europe. Found in the nautical hinterland between mainland Ireland and the deep blue Atlantic Ocean these islands provide a unique unspoilt habitat for many rare and rarely seen animals, birds, insects and plants. Island visits are easily described starting with the easier permanently inhabited islands such as Cruit with its bridge to the mainland or Arranmore and Tory with their daily ferry services.

The next set of islands are a small step up the ladder in the terms that they only have summer residents in holiday homes and a summer ferry. Gola and Owey Islands have an incredible amount of quality rock climbing on their granite sea cliffs. Both Islands have been climbed on since the 90’s with Owey over the last few summers getting a rebirth with a pile of very hard new routes being climbed on it’s higher and steeper seaward faces.

The next tier of islands have no ferry service and no (or very few summer inhabitants,) they are also less than a kilometre sea passage from the nearest mainland pier. InishsirrerInishmeane and Inishfree Lower are each pristine islands with immaculate tropical style sandy beaches, with reletively easy sea passages they make great starter islands and even better days out.

Paddling out from Port Noo to land on isolated Roan Inish (Roaninish) 

Raising the bar a little more the next set of islands have longer sea passages involving circumnavigations around other islands and outlaying skerries. A wee bit of nautical knowledge is required to reach these middle distance outposts. UmfinTororragaun and Raithlin O’Birne each offer a remote island experience the landings of Umfin And Raithlin O’Birne being quite easy rocky beach landings and Tororragaun being a tidal rocky shelf landing.

The final set of islands are the very remote and harder to reach with over 5-kilometre sea passage from mainland Donegal and no human inhabitants at all. Stags Rocks and Roan Inish both providing very different far distant island experiences.  The Stags are very rarely visited and landed on as they are tiny and steep side lumps of rock, they are also open to every ripple of motion south through to the north.

Next time in part 2, we explore the spectacular hills of Donegal.

Iain Miller is a fully qualified mountain instructor with over 30 years experience and is company director of Unique Ascent which provides outdoor adventure holidays, outdoor activities and mountain training courses with a difference. To find out more about Unique Ascent and the outdoor adventure packages they offer, visit their website Unique Ascent.

About the Author

Daniel Farrell
Interested in all things on the Irish coast and sharing the best of it. // Email: // Follow on Twitter: @DanielsSeaViews