We’ve been watching the weather and timing our progress because we want to visit what most travel sites consider the #1 destination in County Donegal: Slieve League (Sliabh Liag), a nearly 2000’ (600m) mountain that forms some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, much higher than the more visited Cliffs of Moher.
There are two approaches to the cliffs, a rough and rocky hike that sometimes traverses knife-edge ridges, and a less challenging but still steep walk after a nail biter drive up the other side of the mountain. Either one ends in a dramatic view of the sea cliffs, so there’s little point in going if the weather promises wind and rain. For you armchair thrillseekers, search for “Slieve League Pilgrim’s Path” on Google Maps and choose Street View and you can virtually hike the trail. Hats off to the energetic person who wore the 360° street view camera rig so less adventurous folks can share the experience.
The day after next looked like the best we can hope for, some sunshine but still a little too windy to feel comfortable doing the longer cliffside hike. We settled on an early assault to the mid-mountain car park, then the hike up the rest of the way before the weather turns foul again. I found us an abandoned harbour parkup nearby where we can spend the night and be within a few miles of the mountain.
We turned off the usual 1-1/2 lane road onto a narrower single lane leading down towards the water. As we approached our turnoff we could see that the entrance to the harbor was completely blocked by an enormous piece of road equipment. Closer still we saw the entire intersection blocked by a paver, a compactor, and a couple of dump trucks. My heart sank. I wanted so much to spend the night on the old wharf and I had no plan B.
The machines were idle but as we approached — there was nowhere to turn around — a couple of road workers appeared and I jumped out of the van to meet them. They told me they were resurfacing that bit of road and would be done in a few hours. I told them we wanted to get down to the concrete wharf to spend the night. In unison they all turned to look down at the abandoned harbour.
“You want to spend the night there?” one of them asked, incredulous.
“Sure,” I said. “Why? Isn’t it safe?” I was wondering if they knew something about the tidal range or upcoming weather.
“I don’t know,” our informant said skeptically. “There was a murder here last night.”
I chuckled nervously, thinking they were pulling my leg, or more likely, that I had misunderstood the strong accent.
“No really!” he said, and they all pitched in. Apparently someone died at Slieve League, but to be honest, I couldn’t be sure if it was a murder or if someone had jumped or fallen off the cliffs. Eventually they all agreed that we would be perfectly safe down on the wharf overnight and they guided Jack into a small space next to their gravel pile while they maneuvered the giant paving machine away from the entrance to the old harbour so we could squeeze by. They warned us we’d be boxed in until they finished their work but that was ok with us. We got settled and by dinner time we were alone in this quiet corner of Donegal with a view of our goal tomorrow.
I spent a few minutes online trying to find the story the road crew shared and found a brief mention on a news radio website, and a press release from the police asking the public to report if they’d seen anything suspicious. Apparently the authorities didn’t know if they were dealing with a murder or just a missing person. There was no body.
It was windy and rainy overnight but we were mostly sheltered by the steep hill beside us, and our only concern was whether the rising tide would sweep over the rocks in front of us. It didn’t and the next morning brought a little sunshine and blue skies, as we’d hoped.
We always seek out these old harbours and would love to have stayed longer but we want to take advantage of the good weather and knock Slieve League off the list. We topped up our water tank with a tap on the dock and headed toward the mountain.
Just as we turned onto the mountain road we were stopped by this sign. There was no roadblock, no police standing guard. Just the sign. We pulled over to reassess and I popped online for answers. As I looked for local news sources we watched a half dozen or so vehicles skirt the sign and continue up the road only to return a few minutes later, presumably turned back by the Garda.
Online news sources were limited to a few sentences, most just copying the initial press release from the Garda. I figured the police didn’t want to alarm the public so I resorted to social media where I found all kinds of info about suspects arrested then released, a house in a nearby town searched, a blood spattered car, an anonymous phone tip, and the ongoing hunt for a body.
While this kind of news barely breaks the surface in America, it’s completely unheard of here and most of the lurid details I found on social media weren’t reported in the news. This is an area largely dependent on tourism and nobody wants to frighten away the visitors.
Until they either find the missing person or a body, the mountain will remain closed. We figure it’ll be a day, maybe two, so we rejiggered our tentative route, and plan to circle back when the dust has settled. We are nothing if not flexible. And we hope for a good outcome to the search.