Visiting Derry and Northwest

You may be wondering what this blog has to do with botanical art, but from 11–24 August, The Playhouse in Derry will be the home of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art. We hope that lots of people from all over Ireland and beyond will take this opportunity to view the exhibition and also to enjoy the hospitality and beauty of northwest Ireland.

Thank you very much to Oonagh Phillips, who has a home in Donegal, for writing up this blog. Oonagh has also been invaluable in helping with the preparations for bringing Aibítir to Derry.

Many thanks to Aoife Thomas of VisitDerry for supplying the stunning images.

The Guildhall and the Peace Bridge, Derry

The Guildhall and the Peace Bridge, Derry


The most direct route by car from Dublin to Derry is to take the M1, take exit 14 for Derry. Follow signs for Monaghan, Omagh and Derry.

Most of the towns are bypassed except for Emyvale, Co Monaghan and Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, just over the border.

We always stop at the Nuremore Hotel en route for coffee and scones/toast in the lobby, it’s nice and relaxing there and the gardens and golf course are lovely….a little oasis off the main road!  Make sure to take the Nuremore Hotel Conference Exit, not the main Hotel Nuremore Hotel one, it’s a lot quicker, about two minutes for the main road.

The other stop is at Supervalu in Aughnacloy where you can pick up a take away coffee, the loos are the cleanest in the country!

THE ULSTER AMERICAN FOLK PARK, about five miles north of Omagh is really worth a visit if you’ve time.  It’s closed on a Monday which I thought I should mention in case you’re coming for the opening, which is actually on a Monday (11 August).

The journey from Dublin takes about three hours.

Derry City Walls

Derry City Walls

DERRY is unique, a place apart! UNESCO has listed it as one of the World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die. The 17th century walls are completely in tact and you can walk the 1.6km circumference and get a good feel for the city. There are guided tours  by a local Derry person if you like – I hear it can be quite entertaining as well as informative! The Guildhall, which is just opposite Shipquay Gate is worthwhile looking around, lovely stained glass windows here.

I have a lot of very good memories of being in Derry when I was little and during my teenage years. Being designated the City of Culture 2013 has helped a lot on bringing a vibrancy back to this ancient city.

The new Guildhall exterior, Derry

The new Guildhall exterior, Derry


  • BEECH HILL HOUSE HOTEL  A really nice country house hotel just outside the city, you’d need a car to get around.  Situated in 32acres of woodland and landscaped gardens, the food is gourmet served in a very nice dining room overlooking the garden.   They offer special deals, check it out on line.
  • CITY HOTEL is a four star hotel situated on the quays and beside the Guildhall.  It’s very convenient to the city centre so you can walk everywhere, there’s parking at the hotel.  There is also a swimming pool.
  • TOWER HOTEL is just off The Diamond and within the walls.  The Playhouse is five minutes walk form there and has an arrangement with the hotel so do check it out their special rates.
  • DA VINCIS HOTEL on Culmore Road, about a five minute drive from city centre.
  • HOUSES OF CHARACTER B and B in the centre of town would be suitable for a group of people travelling together.

The above are just a start. There are lots of places to stay but it’s always handy to be right in the middle ie unless you want to stay at the Beech Hill, in which case it’s worth the drive into town!

Craft Village

Craft Village

The spectacular MUSSENDEN TEMPLE at Castlerock is a short drive from Derry, perched on a 120ft cliff edge with views right down the lough and over to Inisowen. 

PORTSTEWART is a nice resort town where you could have a bite to eat before heading on to DUNLUCE CASTLE, CARRIC-A-REDE rope bridge (rather you than I!) and the GIANTS CAUSEWAY.

You can take a coastal tour from the city to The Giants Causeway, it will pass Dunluce and the bridge as well as a stop off at BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY.

The Peace Bridge, Derry

The Peace Bridge, Derry


My home county of DONEGAL is a beautiful place. Ok, so I’m biased….but it is!

I will suggest a few beauty spots and drives that you couldn’t but enjoy starting with INISOWEN which is only a few miles from Derry.

Drive 1.  Take the road to Buncrana and head north to BALLYLIFFIN and MALIN HEAD. There are magnificent beaches in this area, some small coves where you can picnic and swim and other beaches that go on forever where you can walk but not necessarily swim. Ballyliffin Beach is one and the other is the FIVE FINGERS STRAND outside Malin town. There is an old fort at DUNREE worth seeing if you time.

Drive 2. Drive from Burnfoot, a right just outside the town to the award winning church, St Anegus which was inspired by GRAINAN OF AILEACH, an old stone ring fort in Burt, there are beautiful views right down Lough Swilly from up the hill. We were married in this church a very long time ago!

Drive 3. Drive on to Letterkenny and take a right hand turn to Ramelton just before the town, it’s about six miles from the roundabout. Drive on through Ramelton (where we live!) and turn right over the bridge for RATHMULLAN, head for PORTSALON, make sure to take the coast road all the way, after Portsalon you should drive further out to FANHAD LIGHTHOUSE.

There are some private gardens in the area that are open to the public on certain dates but you could phone for a special visit if you’d like to see them. Check the website for DONEGAL GARDEN TRAIL for the phone numbers.

Drive 4. From Fanhad Lighthouse drive to the new bridge over Mulroy Bay and on into CARRAIGART, a lovely little town. TRAMORE (Blue Flag) at ROSAPENNA is beautiful and goes on for miles, nice for a picnic too. You can take the ATLANTIC DRIVE from here, you’ll see signs. MCNUTTS TWEEDS shop is in DOWNINGS, they make beautiful rugs and other woolen items. There’s a little tea shop next door.

Drive 4A. An alternative drive from Burt is to go from Letterkenny to THE GLEBE at Churchill, an OPW property and gallery, left to the state by artist Dereck Hill. From there you can drive through to GLENVEAGH NATIONAL PARK.There’s a bus to take you up a very long driveway to the castle but walk it if you can as the road runs right along the side of the lake and there are resting areas en route! The gardens at GLENVEAGH are spectacular and there’s a very good tea shop where you can have lunch or just tea and a bun.

You will miss some of my favourite places by taking this route but you won’t be able to do everything unless you have lots of time. But, if you take the Portsalon/Fanhad route you could go on to MARBLE HILL (Blue Flag,worth the detour) and into PORT NA BLAGH, turn right off the main road down to the pier and the lovely little beach. DUNFANAGHY is a good place to stop for a sandwich or pick up something at the Green Man and picnic on the KILAHOOEY STRAND (Blue Flag) overlooking Horn Head. Do stop at THE GALLERY if you’d like to see some nice irish art, crafts and antiques. The hotel down the hill, The Mill, is very nice for lunch or dinner or to stay. It was once owned by the family of artist, Frank Egginton. His daughter owns The Gallery.

Leaving Dunfanaghy, drive on through FALCARRAGH (Back Strand here is beautiful), GORTAHORK, and on down to BLOODY FORELAND, BUNBEG, AN GEALTACHT.

DANNY MINNY’S in Annagray is an excellent restaurant and though I haven’t been there yet, I’m definitely planning a visit this Summer.  Also a nice place to stay.

South West Donegal is less familiar to me but I can definitely recommend that you see SLIEVE LEAGUE, the highest sea cliffs in Europe, amazing.  DONEGAL TOWN is very nice, you could look into MAGEES for tweeds and drive out the road to HARVEY’S POINT and or SOLIS LOUGH ESKE for lunch, or a coffee!

Stop at Nancy’s pub if you happen to find yourself driving through ARDARA, they serve a mean fish chowder. There are very nice tweed shops here especially Eddie Doherty who hand weaves his tweeds right there, you might see him in action if you drop by. His prices are very reasonable.

The above is just a taste if Donegal, there’s more!


THE SECRET GARDENS OF SLIGO are very worthwhile visiting, check out their website.

CO FERMANAGH. There are many interesting and beautiful places to see in Co Fermanagh including a garden trail that would bring you to FLORENCE COURT and CASTLE COOLE.  Hire a boat and go to DEVINISH ISLAND where there is a 12th century round tower, I haven’t been here but there are very appealing images on the DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM