Errigal - or in Irish Aireagal
, meaning 'oratory' or 'small church' - is located in the remote and barren northern part of Ireland. This beautiful mountain has captured the imagination of those living near it since Celtic times, and there are many reasons why.
Its majestic appearance belies its relatively modest height (751m), even though it is the highest mountain in County Donegal. It is to many the most aesthetic mountain in Ireland, and it is certainly among the most climbed despite its remote location from any sizable population center.
Made of quartzite, the mountain plays tricks with the sunlight, and can throw off a range of colors - most commonly white, black, red and various shades of blue.
Adding to the almost mystic feeling of this mountain is the fact that it looks like a completely different peak when viewed from different directions. From the east it resembles a shark fin ripping through the boggy terrain,
while from the south it resembles a commonplace hill. Views from the west show a massive mountain with a striking red couloir near the summit, and finally northern views provide a view of a lake bordered by scree-covered slopes.
This mountain can be climbed by anyone - the Tourist Route is a class 1 trail beaten into the ground - but there is enjoyable scrambling available up the north and west faces, provided you don't mind a little scree. The surrounding mountains also offer enough hillwalking to fill a week's agenda. Although not a trans-Atlantic destination peak, Errigal is not to be missed if you happen to be in the area.
The OSI Discovery series Map 1 is indispensable if trying to reach Errigal by the north or west side. This is for driving - the windy roads are very confusing and require the detailed map for finding the starting points.
As stated above, Errigal is remote. It's a 2 hour drive from Belfast, a 3.5 hour jaunt from Galway or Dublin, and a full 6 hours from Cork.
Follow the N56 from Letterkenny or Donegal town and turn onto R255 or R251 towards Errigal. Parking for the tourist route is visible on R251 just south or Errigal.
You pretty much need a car to get around Donegal. Other transportation options (except infrequent buses) are lean at best.
None. If approaching from the much less-trodden north, be sure that when parking in a lay-by that you don't block farm machinery. The land north of Errigal is owned by farmers.
When To Climb
Errigal is certainly climbable year-round, and as with most of Ireland it's certainly possible to sample a whole year's weather in one day, so come prepared! A light fleece is necessary no matter when you climb. Bundle up a bit in the winter...the northern winds can be quite cold.
This route doesn't warrant a separate page. You will see a lay-by on the south side of Errigal, and unfortunately you can see the trail from the road. It leads to the col between Errigal and Mackoigt, and heads up the ridge. This is a simple Class 1 (YDS) hike, and is used by 90-99% of all Errigal summiteers.
I visited this peak on a bank holiday, and saw about 50 others ascending Errigal. EVERYONE else went up this route, which is probably the reason this route is so boggy; it's definitely overused and the quality of the path will only deteriorate without steps towards rerouting foot traffic or shoring up the path.
For more solitude, take the North Ridge Route or scramble up the west side. You also get the satisfaction of the incredulous looks from those who watch you come up the more challenging and enjoyable route.
Most of Errigal lies on private property. Camping isn't explicitly forbidden, but a better option is probably the nearby Errigal Youth Hostel
(Phone +353-74-9531180). Located on R521, it's walkable from Errigal. Beds range from 12 to 15 euro, but you can only check in between 9-12am and 5-10pm unless prior arrangements are made, so plan accordingly.
Weather in coastal Ireland can be unpredictable. A weather site that is rather accurate for the mountain is located here
, but it only offers forecasts 48 hours in advance.
At 555m, this is Errigal's little sister just to the east. The Tourist Route includes the Errigal-Mackoigt col, so it's an easy slog to the top. You are rewarded with an excellent close-up view of Errigal. Certainly worth doing.
Incidentally, the col is the site of a monument to a noted area hillwalker killed in one of the IRA's 'mistakes.' Worth a view.