Northern Lights: What's it like to stay at a lighthouse on the Wild Atlantic Way?
Short breaks in Ireland
In winter's darkest, wildest days, where should you go to unwind? To a working lighthouse in Donegal of course!
Set the mood
The Wild Atlantic Way was named Ireland's top tourist attraction in our Reader Travel Awards 2018, and here, it truly lives up to its name.
Set at the end of a fingertip of a peninsula poking into the Atlantic at St John's Point you'll find two restored, 200-year-old keepers' cottages. In winter, these lime-washed havens, alongside an historic marine beacon sentinel, are a storm chaser's dream. The world is banished because you can't use phone or tablet efficiently and there's no television.
The Schooner, our two-bed, self-catering cottage was masterfully restored in a chic, farmhouse style with cosy kitchen and open-fire living room. But hang on tight outside when the storms blow...
Very careful night fishing at a cove near our keepers' cottage yielded three pollocks for supper in minutes. Bioluminescent marine animals glowed an eerie green below the surface, and stars unfettered by light pollution blazed above. Later, we poured fireside glasses of whiskey and browsed dusty books in a library case once rotated for isolated lighthouse keepers (with titles like Ailments of the Dog and Tales of the West). Be smug as well as snug - your stay is funding the buildings' preservation.
Gerard, the locally-based house manager, will be there to meet you and explain about the lighthouse and cottages. He's extremely helpful and can answer all your questions about their history, the magical peninsula, the best places to visit (and secret locations for great shore fishing).
Get yourself into Killybegs, the Slieve League Peninsula's commercial fishing port, to observe the big trawlers and peer at pierside fishing commerce before it vanishes. You'll even meet Spanish, Brazilians and Russians in the fishermens' pubs around town.
Afterwards, find Mrs B's Coffee House (facebook.com/mrsbscoffeehouse) and order mugs of coffee and a giant slice of peanut stack chocolate cake (it costs €4.75 a slice; an Americano is €2.40). This is the very best peanut snack on the planet, but be warned, you should not allow companions to sucker you into buying just one piece "to share."
Insist on a full slice per person - if you share you will be sorry!
The area's cliff walks and jagged scenery will make your heart race and hair stand on end. Witness the Atlantic breakers exploding against the black-toothed rocks that gutted the Armada's finest, or take a short drive to the epic cliffs at Slieve League. Walk the serene, peach-hued beach 10 minutes from your door. Fooster around rock pools and boreens... You can't get lost - just follow the big beacon home.
Leave small children behind or you'll be watching non-stop to keep them from cliff edges. Oh, and close your bedroom curtains at night - the occasional tourist hillwalker has trespassed, and even peered in the windows!
Get me there
Great Lighthouses of Ireland (greatlighthouses.com) is an Irish Landmark Trust initiative through which the public helps preserve historic buildings by paying to stay. There are 12 lighthouse sites with stays in keepers' cottages and one (Wicklow Head) where you can stay in the tower itself.
The Schooner and Clipper at John's Point, Co Donegal, cost from €451 for a two-night weekend stay in low season (excluding bank holidays, Christmas, St Patrick's Day etc.). For more details contact (01) 670-4733 or visit irishlandmarktrust.com.