One of the great pleasures when travelling around Ireland, as my wife and I have done over many years, is the discovery of an enchanting little hotel or local pub tucked away in some far part of the country. And to find they are producing and serving great food, seafood especially, is always a delight.
Sipping a glass of creamy topped Guinness – and a glass of decent wine for Vi – with our evening meal, we would chat about the day we had, exploring the spectacular scenery and the mystical wonders of an ancient land. We could only feel the day could hardly get any better than this.
But it could, for I had forgotten the music: The nightly ritual in many pubs and hotels across Ireland, when local residents would troop in with their instruments and take their usual seats, ready to entertain visitors like ourselves. During these sessions with the sound of music beating across the room, I would sometimes reflect on how traditional Irish music and dance has spread and settled in other countries around the world. In fact, during my own travels throughout the Americas and Europe, a few years ago, it was a rare occasion that an Irish-style pub could not be found.
On this occasion, in Donegal, we had elected to stay for the night in a very nice hotel in Ballyliffin village, Donegal, situated near the top of the Inishowen Peninsula on the edge of the Atlantic. It was after our meal in the restaurant bar, when a group of players, men and women, young and old, wandered in clutching their instruments, and settled down next to us. It was to be a wonderful evening of traditional Irish ballads and laments, accompanied by guitar, accordion and fiddle, and instruments that are special to the west of Ireland. It was music that would encourage the audience to clap for more, long after they had finished.
Ballyliffin Golf Club is regarded as having the finest golf links complex, including two championship courses, in the country. It was the host venue for the 2018 Duty Free Irish Open. But if you feel like exploring further, it’s a short run to Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland, which is the beginning and the end of the Wild Atlantic Way – depending on how you look at it – stretching all the way to Mizen Head, the most southerly point on the island.
However, for many like us, it is mystical Donegal and its music that will linger long in the memory.