Slieve League Cliffs
Slieve League A local’s perspective
The Slieve League sea cliffs in Donegal (also known in Gaelic as Sliabh Liag which means grey mountain) are the ultimate virtually tourist-free cliffs to visit, hike and walk in Ireland.
Slieve League is located on the Wild Atlantic Way route in the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal. The Slieve League cliffs are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. The panoramic views across the water over Donegal Bay, into Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo are breathtaking.
You can feel the raw Atlantic winds battering you when visiting on clear bright winter days and in the summer and spring, the scent of the ocean makes you realize the fumes you inhale in the cities. That unidentifiable smell of Donegal that’s a mixture of salt, the ocean, greenery and turf become addictive.
Slieve League is located less than an hour from where I live in Donegal. It’s a trip we make often just to enjoy the stunning views and feel a sense of peace and solitude. This is probably why Slieve League was a place of sacred pilgrimage hundreds of years ago.
Slieve League vs Cliffs of Moher
Most folks when they come to Ireland have the Cliffs of Moher on their bucket lists and while I can attest to their beauty there is nothing like Slieve League. At Slieve League, there are virtually no tourists and the land and outlook remain pristine. There are no youngsters hanging off the cliffs putting their lives at risk to get stupid selfies just the howling winds and a few others trekking the viewpoint.
Slieve League is also free of charge, unlike the Cliffs of Moher where you have to park and pay in the giant parking lot (if you can get a space) and trek across the road to the Visitor’s Centre. The Cliffs of Moher are always mobbed and no matter the season there will be hundreds of tourists visiting. At Slieve League, there are days when you can head up there and no one is around – now that is outstanding.
History at Slieve League
Although Ireland did not fight during WWII (they declared themselves neutral) many in Ireland did volunteer and during the war, Ireland had several agreements with the Allied Forces.
One of those agreements created the Donegal Corridor which was a narrow strip of airspace that allowed the allies to fly over Ireland. There was a few crashed during those years the most well known of which is a Canadian plane that crashed in Tullan Strand killing all on board.
At that time Ireland placed the word Éire on certain headlands so that the pilots could locate the Island. was placed in stone on headlands around Donegal (you can see another at Malin Head), to act as a navigation aid for those flying above.
These EIRE signs were also to alert German Pilots and crew who had overflown the UK and were running out of fuel, to ditch and parachute to safety. Many airmen lived at the Curragh Camp. They were allowed freedom during the day, eg. they often cycled the lanes and roads to enjoy the peace and quiet and then returned to the Curragh Camp for their curfew hour.
There are 11 Eire signs in Donegal and you can still see the remains of the sign at Slieve League next to the viewing point. There were originally 2 signs here but the viewpoint carpark was built over one of them. The remaining sign is quite indistinct and hard to make out.
The Sliabh Liag Cliffs reach a height of 1,972 feet/601 meters which makes them nearly 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher and twice the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The natural biodiversity of flora and fauna found here on the Cliffs is breathtaking.
How to get to Slieve League
Slieve League is in South West Donegal which is about a 4-hour drive from Dublin, or 3 from Belfast, or Galway. The cliffs are found just outside Teelin which is located on Donegal Bay about 12 miles from Killybegs and around an hour or so drive from Donegal Town.
There is no public transport to the Slieve League Cliffs but there are several tour companies that will take you to the cliffs. However, Slieve League Tours situated in Teelin offers a special service to individuals and to groups of all sizes who wish to see the cliffs, as access to the cliffs is unsuitable for coaches. They run a guided shuttle service to the Slieve league viewing point from the coach/car park at the Slieve League Cultural Centre and from the village of Carrick.
If you are driving from Donegal Town the way to Killybegs is signposted on the road which is the N56. From Killybegs, you will see the signs to Slieve League on the way you will pass the Rusty Mackerel which is a brilliant place for lunch or a rest stop.
From Bruckless which is just before Killybegs, the N56 turns into the R263 follow this road all the way to Carrick (which by the way is where Sarah Jessica Parker and her family come to stay in Donegal). From Carrick drive to Teelin where you will see the road signs to Bunglas Road and the Slieve League Cliffs.
If you pass the Rusty Mackerel on your left you have missed the road to Slieve League and will end up at Teelin Harbour which is a great place to stop for a boat road to Slieve League.
If you are watching carefully you may spot the new Slieve League Visitors Centre on your right-hand side. It’s set back of the road with a large parking lot and hopefully in the coming year will feature bus tours up to Slieve League but for now, it makes a pit stop where you can access some facilities and information on Slieve League.
Further, on down the road, you will come to The Slieve League Cultural Centre which is home to Ti Linn, a unique coffee shop, craft gallery and tourist information centre offering advice on hillwalking and archaeological tours.
Ti Linn is run by Paddy who has a Masters in Archaeology and is one of Ireland’s top-rated tour guides his wife runs The arts and crafts gallery which features local crafts unique to the Donegal area and artworks by local artists.
If you want to hire a guide to hike or walk the Slieve League Cliffs this is where you should book. There is both car and coach parking on-site and they do a shuttle service up to the viewing point to save your feet.
Once you get to this point you can either park the car and walk the 2 miles up to the Bunglas Viewpoint or you can drive through the sheep gate and up to the viewpoint. This may get a little crowded in the summer months, and by crowded the viewpoint only has parking for around 6 vehicles so it may be better to take the shuttle bus up. If you drive please shut the gate or the sheep will run away.
What to See from the Top of Slieve League Donegal
If you decide to hike up to the Slieve League viewpoint it’s about a 2-mile walk up. Once you get to the viewpoint you there is a little parking space and then the paths to the viewpoints and steps up to the rough trail. This trail takes you along what is called the Pilgrim’s Path.
Slieve League Walks
The Pilgrim’s Path at Slieve League
The Pilgrim’s Path is unmarked and only for very experienced hikers no children or dogs should take this path as it can be very dangerous.
The Pilgrim’s Path at Slieve League is about 3km and will take around 2-3 hours, depending on how fast you hike, there and back. It is not for the fainthearted. The path is rough and rocky but the views are stunning.
The Pilgrim’s Path comes from when official Catholic worship was illegal and the Irish who refused to convert met in secret to hold mass. At Slieve League, there was a makeshift church or a “Mass Rock” along the path you will see the remains of this Mass Rock.
Aside from the Mass Rock, there the remains of an early Christian monastic site which featured some beehive huts, although only the unrecognisable remnants remain. There are also the ruins of an old signal tower dating back to the Napoleonic wars which was used when the British were worried about a French invasion.
From the Pilgrim’s Path, you will spot the island of Rathlin O’Birne, which was once home to a fifth-century monastery.
One Man’s Pass at Slieve League
As you continue up the trail you will spot a yellow pole marking the summit. Keep in mind there are no barriers but the panoramic landscapes are outstanding. If you continue on the path you will come to One Man’s Pass along the cliffs, you will see why it got the name and this trail is only for very experienced hikers.
One Man’s Pass is a very narrow, 400m knife-like craggy edge, the land drops dramatically on each side. Less experienced hikers or those with vertigo can take the path on the right, a longer way that avoids the pass.
Sometimes it is good to take a guide along on these kinds of hikes. Here in Ireland, you have some great guides to choose from. Personally I can recommend Walking Ireland they are led by John a guide from Donegal Town who has some of the best reviews around. The tours will pick-up in Donegal Town, Glenties, Ardara or Killybegs.
Just a note here you may see that some of the websites in Ireland are noted by Google as “not secure” pay no attention to that they are pretty secure but don’t pay through those sites online as you don’t want to take a chance on your information being hacked.
This tour is conducted by a qualified tour guide and includes stops at Ireland’s premier fishing port – Killybegs, a drive along a section of the Wild Atlantic Way & the rugged coastline of Southwest Donegal, Kilcar, Carrick, The Sea Cliffs at Slieve League, the Silver Strand at Malinbeg and the Folk Village at Glencolmcille. There will be time for a coffee along the way.
Where to stay near Slieve League
Finding a place to stay near Slieve League can be a bit tricky as the area has no hotels and very little public transportation. There are villages close to Slieve League and a few B&B’s and here are some suggestions if you plan to head to the area. Teelin is the best area to stay as it is just a few km from the cliffs themselves.
Slieve League House BnB is in Teelin and about 1.1 km from the Cliffs. It gets super reviews on Booking. They can help you book kayaking tours and guided walks. The rooms are mainly en-suite and all have mountain views. They serve a great Full Irish Breakfast, there is parking and wifi.
The Rusty Mackeral pub – one of my favourite places in Teelin they have great food, brilliant entertainment, there’s parking and wifi and they offer continental or full breakfast options. They are around 2 km from the Cliffs.
Teach Condys is a lovely little Irish cottage that sleeps 5. Fully equipped for self-catering there is parking and the location can’t be beat as it is within walking distance of the Rusty Mackerel.
Slieve League Weather
Rest assured in Ireland we can see 4 seasons in one day so you may find yourself on the Slieve League Cliffs of Donegal in a typical foggy rainy day. If this is the case you can wait for a bit to see if it clears up or perhaps head back down for a pub lunch and wait till it clears.
Slieve League boat tours
During the season when the seas are calm you can find a few boat tours that will take you around the Bay to view Slieve League from the sea.
Sliabh League boat trips depart from Teelin Pier and been running tours since 1995. They have 2 boats which take up to 12 passengers and they start running in April every year. With luck, you may see wildlife like dolphins, whales, seals, and in May and June basking sharks feeding on the plankton can be spotted. There is also a wide range of birdlife that can be seen nesting and hunting.
In 2020 they are also offering Music Sessions on the boat (weather dependent). You can book this through the booking page stating ”@sea session” in the special requirements. They will be charging between €5 and €10 extra to help cover the musicians’ costs. Rates for sightseeing is between €20 and €25 per person depending on numbers. These tours are around 90 minutes in length. You can also hire the boats privately from €200 for a sightseeing trip up to 8 people. They also offer Dive and evening angling trips with all the gear provided. Call Paddy on 00353876284688 or email him at [email protected] for more information or to book.
If you have cruised into Killybegs and want to see Slieve League from the sea the perfect option for you is Atlantic Coastal Cruises. The Pirate Queen can accommodate 96 passengers and they provide tours of Slieve League Cliffs from the sea which costs around €30 per adult. The Killybegs Harbour Tour is €20. They are also planning new tours for the 2020 season. Keep in mind this is a slightly longer tour than the one from Teelin but there are more people on board. Check their Facebook page for sailing times.
Once you have finished your visit to the Slieve League Cliffs and are heading back make sure to stop off at the Rusty Mackerel for some fantastic Irish food and a pint of the black stuff. A brilliant little pub the Rusty Mackerel has parking across the road and a lovely outside patio for those balmier days in Ireland.
What to pack for Slieve League
Here are a few things you should remember to pack when you head up to Slieve League. Oh and don’t forget to download the PDF of all the free apps you need for your visit to Ireland.
I love a multipurpose jacket Craghoppers 3 in 1 jacket. It’s windproof, waterproof and breathable and has a drawcord at the waist which helps me look like I have one. It’s not bulky and looks good even when not hiking.
Trust me on this one you will have more photos than you can store on either your phone or your camera and you don’t want to be deleting any to take more before you get home.
This Ultra Scandisk chip will work under adverse weather conditions (we get a lot of those here) and keep your photos or drone footage totally safe. A flash drive for your Smart Phone or Android will also come in very handy.
I’m not going to recommend cameras or other types of photographic equipment such as a drone because – well because I am a crap photographer who uses a good cell phone for most of my photos. Now I want a drone but I have to admit I haven’t bought one yet. So I was reading all kinds of reviews and know which one I want this a Holystone 1080P Drone….sigh if only. This has a huge flying time of 26 minutes.
What you should know about flying a drone in Ireland
In uncontrolled airspace, you should never fly above 400 feet and the recommended distance the drone should be from the operator is no further than 300m. But as the laws have changed you can now fly your drone in controlled airspace without a permit, 15 metres (50 feet) above ground level and no more than 300 metres from the operator. You should always avoid flying within 5 kilometres of an aerodrome because you may interfere with a manned aircraft, like a plane coming in or taking off. (from the IAA)
This can be a godsend if your camera or camera phone runs out of juice a Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger, which is an absolute, must-have when travelling. I keep mine charged and then bring it with me just in case. There is nothing worse than running out of juice when you are snapping some of the best views ever. You will never be out of power with this charger.
Here in Ireland a Windproof Umbrella will save your hair and clothes and is a requirement. I really like this small portable travel umbrella. It’s windproof, waterproof, and folds down super small and will fit into any purse or suitcase.
I never would have dreamed of bringing a flashlight with me to Ireland, but when it’s dark here man it’s freaking dark. So one night we wanted to go and see the Northern Lights up in Donegal but we didn’t have a torch. Shopping for one here in Ireland became a journey to 5 stores and each one more expensive than the last. This torch is perfect it has 5 modes, is rechargeable, super lightweight and waterproof you couldn’t ask for more.
Have you managed to get to Slieve League yet? So what are you waiting for?
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