Shopping spraoi: Donegal town

After the hard years of the recession, a new sense of confidence is starting to return

 

Donegal town, in the south of the county, is a pretty market town that was once the stronghold of the O’Donnell clan. Their ancestral home, Donegal Castle, was razed to the ground by Red Hugh (right) during the Nine Years War, rather than let it fall into the hands of the English. Restored in the 1990s, you can now tour the furnished citadel.

Red Hugh, who left Ireland for Spain after defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, is immortalised in a sculpture by artist Maurice Harron on the town’s pier, which was a working port until the mid 1960s.

There is also an anchor there, presumed to belong to the frigate Romaine, one of a French squadron that formed part of a fleet sent to aid the 1798 rebellion, that cut anchor in Donegal Bay.

The recession hit Donegal town hard. Several premises on its main drag, or its “Diamond”, the heart of the town and Donegalese for what is called a square in the rest of the country, closed. But the opening of Irish House last year and the fact that shops, including Tots & Tassels, are relocating here shows a new sense of confidence.

The town has also been helped by the off-peak tourism efforts of its two country-style, three-star hotels, the Abbey and the Central, also on The Diamond. The former runs country music weekends: don’t forget this is the county that gave us country ‘n’ Irish music.

€20 or less: Proprietor Keith Walsh, grandson of Eddie Walsh who opened his craft butcher business in nearby Ballintra more than 50 years ago, first held a cleaver at the age of eight. The business moved to Donegal town about 25 years ago and came into its own when Walsh snr discovered the Aubrac breed of cattle. He bought five and now the butcher sells all his beef and lamb from his own farm. Its award- winning burgers include a gourmet steak burger with cheese, bacon and onion. At just €1 each, the patties are perfect for barbecues. Eddie Walsh Butchers, Upper Main Street, Donegal town, 074-972 2595, eddiewalshbutchers.com

€50 or less: Run by sisters Elaine, Lyndsey and Zara, McGonigle Glass Studio is one of six studios in the Donegal Craft Village, which is about 2km outside the town on the old Ballyshannon road. In the open plan space, you can watch the women blowing glass beads for their jewellery line, with prices starting from just €10 for a pair of simple studs. The 14-carat gold-plated bangles, €22 each, are one of their signature designs, but the trio also do a range of statement necklaces, €130, and large art glass pieces, from €350. After browsing the studio shop, repair to the Aroma café where on a fine day there is extensive outdoor seating. McGonigle Glass Studio, Donegal Craft Village, Lurganboy, Donegal, 074-9725928, mcgonigleglassstudio.com

€100 or less: Tots & Tassels is a children’s clothing boutique that, at this time of the year, specialises in holy communion and confirmation outfits. Fashions are slow to change in this area, but ballet-length dresses for girls and casual blazer and chino combinations for boys are flying out the door, says owner Deirdre Kennedy. Linzi Jay dresses start from €99, while a blazer by 1880 Club starts from €109. Next week it moves from Killybegs Road to The Diamond. Tots & Tassels, The Diamond, 074-9723828

€100 or more: Irish House is run by Catriona Cassidy, daughter of weaver Denis Mulhern, who named his business, Triona Designs, after her. She opened the shop on The Diamond last year and sells Irish-designed clothing and gifts, as well as operating a weaving set-up showing tourists how the ancient craft is done. Labels include Fisherman Out of Ireland, a knitwear brand whose cashmere and merino wool yarns are spun in Kilcar, and tweed caps by Hanna. Pictured is a knitted tunic, €155, by Fisherman Out of Ireland. Irish House, The Diamond, 074-9721584; Irishhouse.com

€500 or less: The town’s anchor tenant has been Magee of Donegal which has had a premises on The Diamond since 1866. The Temple family weaves its own tweed, and a plethora of fashion houses from Ralph Lauren to Dolce & Gabbana have used the cloth. It also sells clothing lines to specialist stores and in its flagship shop on Dublin’s South Anne Street. Pictured is a man’s rust-coloured herringbone jacket, €250. Magee, The Diamond, 074-9722660, Magee1866.com

Down time: Sample Killybegs fish and chips at The Harbour Restaurant (theharbour.ie) or take the family to Sunday lunch at Harvey’s Point, a five-minute drive away. Or treat yourself at Solís Spa at Lough Eske Castle, also just a five-minute drive away from Killybegs (solishotels.com).

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