Glenveagh National Park is the second largest national park in Ireland; it covers 170 square kilometres of hillside above Glenveagh Castle on the shore of Lough Veagh.
The visitor centre opens from March to the end of October from 9:30am until 18:00pm and from November to the end of February from 9am until 17:00pm.
Admission charges to Glenveagh only apply if you wish to use the shuttle bus to the Castle (3 euro for adult/ 2 euro for child and concession) or if you wish to take a guided tour of either the castle or the gardens (5 euro for adult / 3 euro for concession / 2 euro for a child). Other facilities include wash rooms (with disabled access), baby changing facilities, a café and restaurant.
Upon arriving we scouted out the visitors centre, which is filled with information about the site and includes a rather large exhibition section with history, wildlife and conservation. We decided to take a guided walk of Glenveagh Castle and we were not disappointed.
Access to the castle is by Guided tour only which leave roughly every 20 mins in peak season.
The tour lasted around 40 minutes and walked us through each of the conserved rooms around the castle and explained what each was for, as well as telling us a little bit of the history.
The castles construction is in a remote mountain setting and was inspired by the Victorian idyll of a romantic highland retreat. It was designed by John Townsend Trench, a cousin of its builder and first owner, John George Adair, a wealthy land speculator from Co. Laois. John Adair later incurred infamy throughout Donegal and Ireland by ruthlessly evicting some 244 tenants in the Derryveagh Evictions of 1861.
After marrying his American born wife Cornelia, Adair began the construction of Glenveagh Castle in 1867, which was completed by 1873. Adair however, was never to fulfil his dream of creating a hunting estate in the highlands of Donegal and died unexpectedly in 1885 on return from a business trip to America.
Cornelia took over the running of the estate and introduced deer stalking in the 1890’s. She continually sought to improve the castle’s comforts and the beauty of its grounds and carrying out major improvements. Over the next 30 years she was to become a much noted society hostess and continued to summer at the castle until 1916.
Following the death of Mrs Adair in London in 1921, Glenveagh fell much into decline and was occupied by both the Anti-treaty and Free State Army forces during the Irish civil war.
The last private owner, Mr Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia bought the estate in 1937. Henry McIlhenny was an Irish American whose Grandfather John McIlhenny grew up in Milford a few miles north of Glenveagh. After buying the estate Mr McIlhenny devoted much time to restoring the castle and developing its gardens.
Eventually he began to find travelling to and from Ireland too demanding. In 1975 he agreed the sale of the estate to the Office of Public Works allowing for the creation of a National Park. In 1983 he bestowed the castle to the nation along with its gardens and much of the restored contents.
Today, the 16,000 hectares of Glenveagh National Park is owned and managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW). It includes most of the Derryveagh Mountains, the Poisoned Glen and part of Errigal. A beautiful spot to enjoy walks and trails, which is exactly what we did next.
Glenveagh offers many different trails, including:
Lakeside walk roughly 3.5km in length which takes you to the castle and the gardens from the visitors centre. A relatively easy walk, suitable for all ages and levels of fitness. The walk starts through a stand of mature Austrian Pines and scattered native broadleaved trees such as Holly, Rowan and Birch.
View Point Trail is possibly the best short walk option in the Park. It leads to a perfect vantage point for relishing views of the rugged surrounding scenery, with superb sights of the castle below, Lough Veagh and the surrounding landscapes. This circular 1.5Km trail starts and ends at the castle taking 50-60 min at a leisurely pace. The surface is good at all stages and steep for short distances.
Garden trail, First laid in the 1880’s for Mrs Adair, the gardens were transformed with widespread fresh planting and the addition of a Tuscan garden, Italian Terrace and the renowned 67 Steps climbing up to a view point. Tree rhododendrons and magnolias polish the woods with under-plantings of azaleas, hostas, astilbes and rodgersias. The Walled Garden is bursting with colour from March to October with fine presentations of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Derrylahan Nature Trail takes roughly an hour on gravel and grassy pathways, access is limited for wheelchairs and buggies. The trail traverses many habitats such as oak woodlands and doire leathan. Keep your eyes peeled for deer and eagles reintroduced to the park.
Glen Walk is a natural extension of the lakeside walk. It follows the shortest and most easily negotiated route through the Derryveagh Mountains. However, before the glen road was built, the route was so rocky and densely wooded as to be virtually impassable. Old settlements, now derelict, and native oak woodland can be seen along the walk which offers spectacular views of Lough Veagh and the surrounding mountains. The route takes 2 hours across 8km of mostly flat dirt roads rising gently over 3km.
Lough Inshagh Walk takes 1 hour and 30 mins approximately, once connecting Glenveagh Castle to the village of Churchill. The carriages of the Lough Swilly Railway brought visitors to the railway station. From here they were transported to Glenveagh Castle over the Lough Inshagh Road by pony and trap. Today the Lough Inshagh Path remains silent except for the occasional red deer browsing on the roadside vegetation or walkers enjoying the solitude and scenery.
We decided to opt in for the Derrylahan Nature Trail, a 2km looped walking route through both native and planted Scots Pine woodlands, a section of blanket bog and a spectacular view point across to the Derryveagh Mountain chain.
We got some fantastic scenic shots throughout the walk, but the one above has to be our favourite. We didn’t have enough time to do everything; ideally you could spend a week here alone, so we’ve put Glenveagh on our list of places to return to in the future.