Soaring over 1900 feet above the crashing waves of the North Atlantic, the cliffs of Slieve League (in Irish, Sliabh Liag) are among the highest and most dramatic sea cliffs in Ireland—which is known to have no shortage of cliff competition. Luckily, these spectacular peaks are accessible for either a quick glance from the car or an extended strenuous hike.
The mountains of Slieve League are on the peninsula of southwest Donegal—a rugged, rural county in northwest Ireland—near the pastoral seaside villages of Carrick and Teelin. Thanks to recent development, the clifftop path is easily accessible either from Teelin village or from a nearby parking lot on Bunglas.
From the parking lot, look for the rectangular signal tower, part of a long series of watchtowers built in the early nineteenth century on Ireland’s coast to protect the shores from possible invasion by Napoleon. Each tower was carefully placed to have a direct line of sight to its two neighbors in the sequence, allowing the caretakers to relay warnings along the line quickly. In the far distance, above the horizon, look for the sharp point of Benbulbin, a large, flat rock formation in County Sligo associated with a number of Irish myths and legends.
Walk along the path to the viewpoint and take in the steep sides of the Slieve League cliffs dropping into the sea. Note the loose stones on the upper faces of the still-eroding mountainsides and the sea caves carved by the crashing waves below. Above the viewpoint, a steep trail for experienced, well-equipped hikers follows the peak of the cliffs all the way to Malin Beg—near Rathlin O’Birne Island, visible in the distance from Bunglas.
Climbing to the summit of Slieve League, you’ll be squishing over the hilltop bogs that cover much of rural Ireland. The peat harvested from these bogs has been an important source of home heating fuel for people in Ireland and Scotland for generations; look for the ridges cut into the ground and stacks of black peat drying nearby.
Find a trail diversion, marked with yellow blazes, following the “Pilgrim’s Path” through the important religious heritage sights of the peninsula. Explore the ruined chapel of Ade mc Bric, an early Christian monastic site built around a holy well, also still visible and marked with a flat standing stone. To make a loop back to Bunglas from the chapel, take the marked, well-maintained trail down into the valley and back to the village of Teelin, winding back uphill to the parking lot.
Near the summit, the trail crosses “One-Man’s Pass,” a narrow track with dangerous drops—and more fantastic views of the sea, the cliffs, and the lakes and valleys of southwest Donegal. From here, day-hikers can continue on the Slieve League trail to the spectacular beach at Malin Beg; long-distance hikers can continue on an uninterrupted waymarked trail all the way across Ireland on the International Appalachian Trail.
After your Slieve League walking adventure, relax with some traditional Irish food, drink, and music in one of the village pubs in Carrick or Teelin, and plan your next walk through the ancient monuments and early Christian settlements of nearby Glencolumbkille.