Exploring Sliabh Liag
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
Sliabh Liag (commonly referred to as Slieve Liag or Slieve League) is one of the most commonly-visited walking and hiking spots on the island of Ireland. Located on the jagged cliffs of Donegal’s Atlantic Coast, the mountain’s peaks reach three times higher than that of the famous Cliffs of Moher.
A gathering place of sacred Christian pilgrimage and a hotbed of local heritage and culture, the Wild Atlantic Way’s signature point is built along a spectacular coastal precipice which reaches nearly 2000 meters high at its steepest northern points. Traversing this dramatic scene is the “One Man’s Path”, a remarkable walking route long-travelled by tourists and hikers. Looping onto the famous Pilgrim’s Path, the One Man’s Path leads to the summit of Sliabh Liag, offering majestic, panoramic views across Donegal Bay and the Atlantic ocean for those experienced walkers who are not faint-hearted.
Based at the heart of the county’s Gaeltacht (Irish language) region, Sliabh Liag’s cliffs are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, plunging into the coomb surrounding Little Lough Agh. Notably, this area is also home to the majority of the mountain’s alpine plants, and home to the largest variety of alpine plants in the county. Walkers can access the popular viewpoint of Bunglass via a winding and narrow road that begins in the village of Teelin. Here, excellent photographs can be captured of the sprawling, wild landscape.
Sliabh Liag’s natural biodiversity extends well beyond its huge family of alpine plants. The mountain also hosts large varieties of marine flora and fauna, creating a sprawling vegetational masterpiece across the breathtaking land and seascape. Nature lovers with a keen eye can observe the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean, where seals, dolphins and basking sharks can regularly be spotted in the warmer summer months. For an alternative view of the cliffs, visitors can join narrated boat tours on the famous Nuala Star, departing daily from Teelin Pier.
Over recent years, much has been done to improve the accessibility of Sliabh Liag. Whilst the mountain’s summit may have only been accessible to experienced hikers many years ago, it is now possible to access the top by driving to the carpark and viewing platform, where benches and picnic tables are available for all to enjoy. Many visitors note the accessibility of these cliffs: they are, after all, the fifth highest in Europe after Cape Enniberg (The Faroe Islands), Croaghun (Achill Island), Vixia Herbeira (Spain) and Preikestolen (Norway).
The road to Sliabh Liag’s summit is certainly not for the faint of heart. The vehicle path is one that is shared with climbers and walkers. The narrow road, including a number of lay-byes is extremely close to the cliff edge. Local authorities recommend driving slowly and with extreme care, giving walkers and cyclists priority and urging visitors to respect the needs of local farmers, using lay-byes for passing and not for parking vehicles. The Information Board has also appealed to walkers in recent months to use the Pilgrim’s Path as repair and restoration works on the traditional path continues (dogs and children are not permitted on this route).
The viewing platform on the summit of Sliabh Liag offers views across a number of geographical and historical points of significance. Notably, one of twelve Napoleonic Towers once dotted across the coast can be spotted. Built in the early 19th century by Ireland’s then-ruling British forces as watchtowers against French Napoleonic forces, these towers were operated by a force of naval soldiers called the Sea Fencibles. From each tower, these guards would have been able to see the two towers nearest two them, effectively connecting them for communication with each other. Visitors who look towards Rathlin Island can spot another tower at Malinbeg and another at St. John’s Point where a lighthouse now stands.
Standing at the same viewing point also offers majestic views of the many caves and waterfalls which line the faces of the cliffs towards the sea below. Whilst these are more noticeable during periods of heavy rain, they are still spottable during drier weather in the spring and summer months. As well as this, walkers can look out from the cliffs towards the famous Rathlin O’Birne island, which was used to house a monastery in the fifth century. St. Asicus, the first Bishop of Elphin became a hermit and lived on this island for seven years. In more recent years the island has been used to house a lighthouse (built in 1856) which, during its nuclear-powered days in the mid-seventies, was one of the most powerful lighthouse structures in the world (it is now solar-powered).
Attracting in excess of 160,000 visitors each year, the mountain and its surrounding areas have seen a considerable capital investment of €4.95 million as part of the Sliabh Liag Strategic Development Project. This project has included the construction of the Transportation Hub and Visitor’s Centre, as well as a ranger station and a carpark with toilet facilities. Most importantly, the project has seen extensive development of the mountain's walkways, with 2.5km of new path recently installed. The Visitor’s Centre contains a café and seating area, with interpretation panels depicting beautifully crafted stories about the mountain and its folklore.
Sliabh Liag is one of many majestic sites that can be enjoyed when visiting Killybegs and the wider Donegal area. To find out more about things to do in Killybegs, check out our activities page.