‘At times like this we daydream about moving to Donegal’
Paddy Logue: The barren northwest feels like a foreign country but also feels like home
'The Sweeney Logues try to get back to Donegal at least once a year and often stay in Rathmullan. There’s not much going on there, but that’s why we like it.' Photograph: David Sleator
Logue’s bar is on Main Street in Carrigart, Co Donegal. The sign over the door announces it as “P Logue Wines, Spirits and Beers” and it looks like any typical Irish country pub. Its website, however, promises pizzas served in the adjoining rustic pizzeria, fresh from a wood-fired oven no less, and washed down in the bar with “beautifully garnished gin” and craft beer. I’m sure they serve pints of “normal” beer also if you wish. Like lots of bars around Ireland its owner has done a good job at adapting and now Logue’s looks like it does as much to serve the many thousands of visitors who flock to Donegal as it does to serve the Carrigart locals.
We always stop off in Carrigart on our regular trips to Donegal, usually for coffees and ice creams for the kids. At the other end of the town to Logue’s sits the Carrigart Hotel. This old-school establishment is also undergoing something of a revamp and only a few months ago we sat in the renovated lobby for lattes to while away an hour or so.
Parts of the building have been virtually untouched in decades and tell stories of a bygone era. Herself used to stay here on some family holidays in the 1980s and confirmed that that the basic layout of the place was exactly as it was then. A different time, of course. Back then it was in its heyday and alive with raucous crowds, smoke and tradition, while kids not yet in their beds sat on the stairs to listen to the adults. Today we are the only people in the lobby save for a small boy playing on his iPad and doing his homework near the fireplace. I think his mother owned the place.
It’s at times like this we daydream a bit about moving to Co Donegal, setting up a bar or a hotel or a cafe, maybe even have P Logue over the door. I’d probably drive a pick-up truck, have several large dogs that I’d run out on one of the beautiful beaches every morning. It’s a pipe dream, but we have such connections to the place, connections that keep us coming back; it would feel like the most natural thing in the world to take our relationship with Donegal to the next level and commit to it, bad weather, boy racers, underinvestment and all.
There’s a montbretia flourishing in our small garden in Termonfeckin. It’s a first cousin once removed of one that has spread right around the Sweeneys’ garden in Drogheda. It is really beginning to come into its own at this time of the year. Its long, narrow green leaves are looking lush and turning a lovely shade of dark green and soon the interesting orange flower will be out.
There’s not much going on in Rathmullan, but that’s why we like it
They consider it something of an invasive weed up on Donegal but the montbretia was adopted by the Sweeneys during a visit home at some time about 35 years ago, or so I’m told, and we adopted a shoot when we moved out to Termonfeckin 12 years ago. Whenever it flowers it brings my thoughts to the northwest.
The Sweeneys ran a hotel, and other ventures, over the other side of the county in Dungloe. They were well known in the town for this reason and also because one of their clan was a heavy hitter during the Easter Rising. Joseph Sweeney was on the roof of the GPO in 1916 and was later imprisoned by the British. He went on to become a TD in the first, second and third Dáils and fought on the pro-Treaty side in the Civil War. Sweeney is buried in the family plot in Dungloe.
The Logues, too, were movers and shakers in the northwest. My great grandfather John Logue ran a bacon factory in Derry at the turn of the century. The Logues were well-to-do Catholic business folk selling goods in Ireland, England and Scotland. Hanging on a wall at home is a picture of my grandfather Fred, a young man about town, on a “UI” registered motorbike, and there are stories of him also driving a red sports car around the place which would have been an unusual sight at the time.
Economic factors including the imposition of import duties on bacon by the De Valera government in 1932 finally saw the family business close, by which time my grandfather had acquired a farm on the shore of the Foyle a short distance over the Border in Carrigans, Co Donegal, much to the apparent disgust of the local Orange Order.
The Sweeney Logues try to get back to Donegal at least once a year and often stay in Rathmullan. There’s not much going on there, but that’s why we like it. For a bit more life we’ll go further afield to places such as Dunfanaghy or over to the west coast. Barren, so disconnected and even aloof, perched at the edge of the island, Donegal feels like a foreign country, yet as we take the trip up north over the Border at Aughnacloy and onwards towards Omagh and then Strabane it also feels like we are on the way home.