We’re in Donegal, a county of such rugged beauty that any rational human being couldn’t but have a soft spot for it. We set off on Thursday, our destination being Dillons Hotel in Letterkenny (it’s Dillon’s with an apostrophe on their website, but the signwriter went without it).
On the journey, the car radio crackles with the anger and bewilderment of ordinary people as the nation digests news of the exploits of the Arrogant Golf Society (known in some circles as the Oireachtas Golf Society).
It might be entertaining if it wasn’t a symbol of Them & Us…stark, stunning evidence that the Backslapping Brigade haven’t gone away, you know.
Politicians, bankers, media, a Supreme Court Judge…they dine, wine and wink – breaking Covid regulations – while the rest of us fret and worry and comply.
Those who could not see loved ones as they drew their last breath during lockdown, well, they are left with their memories, more hurt, and long nights ahead thinking of time that can never be recovered.
It was our first time in Dillons Hotel and, apostrophe or not, we really liked it. It’s an old-style establishment, with character and good old-fashioned friendly service.
This was our first experience of staying in a hotel in the Covid era. Everything was very well organised in terms of safety measures, the dreaded ‘new normal’ manifesting itself…numerous sanitation stations for guests, staff all wearing facemasks, social distancing measures much in evidence.
It all went really well, but there’s no doubt that the restrictions drain some of the atmosphere you normally get in a hotel bar/restaurant (particularly in summer). There was no man or woman in the corner belting out ‘Sweet Caroline’ or ‘Suspicious Minds’ or even ‘The Town I Loved So Well’. In the hotel lobby, rolling adverts on a screen occasionally flash back to the last time there was live music here…which was in March, before lockdown and the era of multiple restrictions. The screen alluded to long-lost nights when ‘Misty Days’ were on stage, followed by ‘Unlikely Heroes’. That was then, this is now.
It’s different, but staff and guests make the most of it. You can still dine in the hotel, have a few drinks, chat (while socially distancing) and just enjoy the fact that you’re on a break. The staff in Dillons were very friendly and professional and the whole hotel experience, if not quite as pre-Covid, was still very enjoyable.
When in Donegal, you have to explore the magnificent, remote wonders of its landscape. We drove along the coast, passing through a bustling Dunfanaghy, into Burtenpoint, and on to Glenties. There’s some spectacular scenery, and some very chilled sheep!
On Sunday, we drove as far as Malin Head. We’d been there before, but it still takes your breath away.
En route, we stopped off in a lovely, quaint premises, the ‘Malin TownHouse’. This bar/restaurant is very imaginatively furnished, a very welcoming place. A vintage motorcycle catches your eye in the lobby, and there are more novelty items – including a painting of Jack Yeats, a signed Eric Cantona portrait (not for me!) odd books on odd subjects (one on ‘shoe design’) and some nice toy cars!
Over the weekend we also got to Glengesh Pass, where the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Peaceful, remote, stunning.
While we spent a lot of time on the fabulous scenic drives, Letterkenny itself is a nice town, with excellent shops and cafes. Covid-19 notwithstanding, it seems to be busy enough. Many people were wearing facemasks as they walked up and down the streets. Today, the weather is beautiful. After checking out of our hotel, we spend an hour or two browsing around the town.
In the attractive Market Square area, people relax in the shadow of a monument by sculptor Maurice Harron. It depicts a scene from ‘The Hiring Fair’, a phenomenon of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Poor labourers – many of them young children – were paraded at these fairs, in the hope that potential employees might hire them.
In the Square, an intriguing mix of businesses, all human life. There’s a shop which sells old comics which feature superheroes such as Batman, Superman, cartoon characters, Disney memorabilia, etc. ‘Endgame Comics and Collectibles’ is its name. It looks quaint, so I recommend it to our children, and off they go to explore.
Across from Superhero Shop, there’s a pub called ‘The Brewery’, which, with a nod to the dialect of Donegal, describes itself as ‘The Wee Bar’. Sadly, I cannot even pop into a pub on this staycation unless I am ready to grasp a menu!
Above the Wee Bar, as the hill steepens, the constituency office of TD Charlie McConalogue. Also in the Square: Permanent TSB, ‘Donegal’s best vape shop’, an antique store and more.
I pop into the land of superheroes to see if our children like what they see. They’re browsing, I browse. They have masks, I’ve forgotten. The friendly lady says ‘sorry, but I have to ask you to leave…you’ve no mask’. All around me, there are masked superheroes, but not even Spiderman can save me. I leave as quickly as I entered!
On the drive home, callers to Liveline tell Katie Hannon heartbreaking stories of the sacrifices they’ve made, the losses they’ve experienced…this sadness, grief and anger revisited with raw emotion because of the fall-out of the Clifden ‘golfgate’ controversy. In particular, people are furious over the arrogant attitude of Phil Hogan, the EU Commissioner and roving golfer.
Before we leave Donegal, we stop off in Killybegs, then, with stormy weather forecast later on Monday night, it’s time to head for The Gaelic Chieftain and the great county of Roscommon!
And now, as we go to press on Wednesday night, the solemn news that EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has announced he is resigning. Another dramatic twist in an embarrassing saga.
In falling on his sword, ‘Big Phil’ even had time to make a joke – at least I presume it was a joke when he said he was stepping down because the controvery was becoming (my italics) a distraction.