Posted on 28 Comments

Maghery and Crohy Head, Donegal

Blog Cover Maghery

We are all told to stay local in Wales, until July anyway. I am still recovering from the operation to pin my broken leg so all of my journeys are very short, and very slow, anyway. I have been taking more adventurous journeys of the mind to Donegal, and to the little village of Maghery in particular.

It lies just a stone’s throw (4 miles or about a 10-minute drive) down the road from Dungloe (I regard Dungloe as the center of my universe when I am in Donegal because it has supermarkets like Lidls, Aldis, Supervalu, and The Cope).  The Irish name for Maghery Glebe is An Machaire. We know that people lived here over 5000 years ago because they built stone circles, left tombs, a Crannóg, and a stone fort.

Maghery Beach with Arranmore in the distance
Maghery Beach with Arranmore in the distance

We have only ever been to Maghery twice. On both occasions, it was to visit Crohy sea arch. We failed to find the arch, but we did see some very fine sea stacks called Na Bristí on our second visit. We also found found two beautiful beaches, a Napoleonic signal tower, and Second World War look out post and my favouite, and an Éire Sign.

I would like to visit again, but instead, I can only visit online and “in paint”. The drive through the village has inspired my latest series of three paintings. (The first two paintings have gone to collectors in France and the USA). I was drawn to paint the pink and mauve old houses in particular, mixed in with the white stone cottages.

Driving into Maghery
Driving into Maghery SOLD
Pink House Maghery
Pink House Maghery – SOLD
Painting od Donegal Village
Through Maghery, Donegal Ireland

Its only now that I realise the mauve house in my 3rd painting is a very similar colour to the early morning sand on the pristine beach nearby.


Maghery Beach, with Maghery village and  Napoleonic signal tower

People have been looking out at the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding land from the hills near Maghery for hundreds of years. They haven’t always been admiring the view, either. During the Napoleonic Wars, a signal tower was built on the headland in the years 1804-6.

Signal Tower at Maghery

This was one of a series of 12 towers built along the Donegal coastline, to watch out for invasion from French forces. We dont have these in Wales, although Wales invaded by a French force in 1797. That’s beacuse it was not built to protect the Irish population from the French, but because the British did not trust the Irish not to welcome the French with open arms. A few years earlier Irishman, Wolfe Tone, had attempted but failed to land a French force near Lough Swilly. The plan had been to throw the British out of Ireland. His landing failed but there was a successful landing of French forces further down the coast in Mayo. A brief declaration of an Irish Republic followed, but the Irish Rebellion ultimately failed, after a series of battles in Wexford culminating, in defeat at Vinegar Hill.

The signal tower is thus a symbol of deep mistrust by the British. This particular tower is well preserved and surrounded by walled farmer’s fields. The men who were garrioned here communicated with neighbouring signal towers by raising and lowering a large rectangular flag, a smaller blue pendant and four black balls in various combinations along a system centred on a tall wooden mast. This must have been very difficult if not impossible in poor weather conditions.

About 200 meters down the road is the Second World War Eire sign. I am not sure why but I was more excited to see this than the tower. Perhaps, because it was tucked away, designed only to be seen from the air. Perhaps also beacuse it is cut into the grass like a prehistoric chalk horse.

Eire 74 sign at Maghery
Eire 74 sign at Maghery


The letters spell the word Éire, which means “Ireland” in the Irish language. Over 80 of these numbered Éire signs were dotted around the coast of the Republic during the Second World War. I originally thought this was to warn German bombers that they were flying over a neutral country. This was important as neighbouring Northern Ireland, being part of the United Kingdom, was not neutral. I was wrong, the main purpose of these numbered signs was as a navigational aids for the Allied planes. 

Although the Republic were offically neutral they were indirectly involved in the war. In the Spring of 1939, expecting another European War, the British Government had asked the Irish Government to set up a Coastguard Service. The Irish Government agreed to build a series of small concrete huts, known as Look Out Posts (or LOPs) along the coast. There is this one at Crohy and there was another on Arranmore Island near by. The letters Eire (without the accent on the “E”) were written in stone nearby to give aircraft an idea of where they were. The stones were painted white. The numbers (74 in the case of Crohy) were added in 1942 after the Americans entered the war in December of 1941. (Thank you to Séan Bonner for this information).

These huts were pre-built in parts and assembled on site by the army (as the Coastguard Service was under the control of the army). The Irish Government agreed to build the huts and set up the service but on condition that they only would supply radios to the huts in the event of a war. Coast watchers worked around the clock in pairs, reporting every activity observed at sea or in the air by telephone.

As the aircraft would have seen it (Photo Credit:Conor Corbet)

Allied aircraft were allowed to fly over the Republic through the “Donegal Corridor” to airbases in County Fermanagh. These airbases were crucial to provide “cover” for the shipping convoys that came across the Atlantic bringing industrial raw materials and food to Britian. Without fear of air attack, German U-boats would operate as ‘wolf packs’, picking off the ships one by one. All flights were meant to take place at “a good height”. If any aircraft crashed, as at least six did, if they could claim they were on a non-combative mission, they would be repatriated. While it was easy for Allied pilots to make that claim, it was not realistic for Luftwaffe pilots to do so, they tended to be interned. Ireland also helped Britain in secret by setting up an armed air/sea rescue trawler called the Robert Hastie at Killybegs, Donegal, to help any shipping casualties and to supply planes that had run out of fuel.

I didn’t realise it at the time but this is just an updated version of the Napoleonic tower. The ruins above the Eire sign is that of a coast watch station. Coast watchers worked around the clock in pairs, reporting every activity observed at sea or in the air by telephone.

Further along the road is Crohy Head. I think techically is Crohy Head, South. Although there is space to park and a sign announcing its presence, you can sense that the local authority are not all wildly keen to promote this attraction in case people fall down the steep field/cliff face trying to get a good look at it.

The Sign for Na Bristí

I am sitting here with my pinned leg resting on a chair, and it’s twitching unhappily at the sight of these photos now. My leg does not like to think about rough terrains right now. I can just about manage a slow walk around my local park these days (it’s going to be a long slow build up to full recovery). We must have been mad! I thought so at the time too. Still, my husband Séamas who climbed down to the beach to take some photos whilst I sat on the hill holding onto some yapping dogs. To my shame, there was an artist with his easel painting en plein air at the top of the field. I wonder if he could hearing me hushing the dogs and telling Seamas to hurry up.

Sadly, the light was, in my opinion, in the “wrong direction” and early morning would be a better time of day to catch the sea stacks. The sea arch, was just out of sight around the corner. I think that I will save up and buy a drone to take photographs from higher up without imperilling any of my (or my husbands’) limbs! Or a boat. Things to dream about from my chair.

Here is a marvelous drone photo of Crohy Head.

Crohy Head
Sea Stacks and Sea Arch at Crohy Head (Photo: Gareth Wray)


As with all of Ireland, you scratch the surface and discover an ocean of history. These are some of the sites I used for research:-

Information & photos – this is an excellent site

Local walks

28 thoughts on “Maghery and Crohy Head, Donegal

  1. ah Emma, as always I like to look at your work. And to the pictures. Good of you to be able to walk the park already. my max on good days is about 20 mtrs now. So I also dream about a drone. But I know it willl stay a dream because one is not allowed to fly drones above houses overhere and my house is in a village, so… I also would like to have that drone for seeing where my cat goes, because often when he comes back in his fur is full with dust and spider-webs.., and little twigs 🙂

    1. Yes, we cannot fly drones near houses too that’s why Donegal is great for drones as there is so much space and so few people. The short walk around the park usually requires a nap afterwards. I am sorry to hear that you cannot walk more than 20 metres, that must be very frustrating. Your cat sounds like quite an adventurer!

  2. i love your use of colors

    1. Thank you so much Beth

  3. They say that once a broken leg is healed, it will be stronger than before. Maybe something for you to look forward to?

    1. Oh, I really hope so. It’s got metal in there too, so I hope it makes me bionic, lol!

  4. Fascinating history of the area. It would be fun to own a drone. wouldn’t it? I have a friend in Oregon who uses her’s to get views like this from the coast there. It is good to have dreams, and we artists get to travel by brush when circumstances hold us captive. I love it that the house matches the sand! It is clear you have found a place that speaks to you and your response is so eloquent.

    1. Yes, I think the coast is the safest and most useful place to have a drone. You’ll laugh at me – I had to look at Oregon on a map because I thought it was a land-locked state (something to do with wagon trainsin Western films, maybe?) and it turns out not to be where I thought is was at all and to have lots of coast. Learning all the time, eh?

      1. Chuckle, I confess to having to consult the map for your locations as well. :} One day I’d really love to visit the places I see in your paintings. I haven’t done more than drive through Oregon.

      2. Well, unless you have been somewhere they don’t really stick in your head, I love looking at maps!

      3. So true and oh, yes, maps are magical, aren’t they?

  5. The Eire in the chalk is very interesting and something I never knew about. What a beautiful countryside and seascapes. I think we all need journeys of the mind at the moment. As always I love your paintings of the villages.

    1. Thank you for the compliment. The Éire signs have not all survived but many do. There were 83 of them. Droughts/fires have revealed them and local communities have restored and maintained them.

  6. An enjoyable post with great info and images. Never knew that much about the lookout towers and the story behind them.

    1. I don’t think they were used for that long as it was expensive to keep men there! They are distinctive landsmarks along the coast.

  7. Probably I’ve not been paying attention, but this is the first time I’ve read about the EIRE signs. Fascinating to come across one. The area looks so serene at present. Who’d think of such strife as they’ve known? Love the stacks too. One day you’ll get there, Emma, with your determination. 🙂 🙂

    1. Thank you Jo. Well the Eire signs are dotted around the Irish coast, but mostly along the western side – there are a lot in Donegal.

  8. Not being able to visit Donegal for a while must be so frustrating for you Emma, but I did enjoy your armchair visit. Like Jo I was fascinated by the Eire signs, which, when you understand the reason, make perfect sense. It is good to know that you can get out, even if it to walk around the park. Keep up the good rehab work. 😊

    1. Thanks Anne -yes between coronavirus and my “slow” leg I can feel 2020 slipping away from me, I guess it;s that way for a lot of people!

  9. So many new things to learn! That’s what happens when I realize I know next to zero about England, Ireland, and Wales. Let alone how they all related to one another throughout history. Lovely paintings and intriguing photographs!

    1. I think we are all pretty ignornant about 98% of the world – unless we have visited it!

  10. they say each artist’s work can be classified into different periods. A “Blue” period for instance. Your going through a Blue period because of your leg.I wonder if it reflects in your style? Have you noticed any change?

    1. That’s a good question. I kept painting, but in watercolours instead of oil and I struggled with them because the paint works in a totally different way. I got better at doing watercolour skies after a LOT of trial and error. I learnt a lot about composition too. It has encouraged me to be less literal and change things in my paintings much more. I think my skies improved too. I don’t think we will get to see the full impact until I get out and about more, I am still very limited by my slow ankle!

      1. your a true artist Emma,your learning even when your injured!

  11. I was one day in the National Archives in Dublin and I was waiting for a file. I saw a folder on the coastguard service in the public area and had a look at it while I was waiting. In the spring of 1939 the British Government in anticipation of a major war asked the Irish Government to set up a Coastguard Service. The Irish Government agreed to build small concrete hut along the coast. There is one at Crohy and there was another at Arranmore. The letters Éire were written in stone nearby to give aircraft an idea of where they were. The stones were painted white. The numbers (74 in the case of Crohy) were added in 1942 after the Americans entered the war in December of 1941. These huts were pre built in parts and assembled on site by the Army. The Coastguard Service was under the control of the Army. The Irish Government agreed to build the huts and set up the service but on condition that they only would supply radios to the huts in the event of a war. What did surprise me in reading these papers was the fact that the British and Irish Civil Servants who were dealing with this matter seemed to accept that there was going to be a war in the Spring of 1939. I suppose they though it was only a matter of time before Hitler invaded somewhere else. The hut in Crohy is a ruin but is still roofed. The words Coastguard Service were rarely used. The men were working in the LOP for the Look Out Posts.

    1. This is very interesting Sean (there’s nothing like the thrill of reading primary documents in the archives) – Yes, I think that by spring 1939 everyone knew that Hitler was going to keep invading parts of Europe that weren’t German speaking (which had been his earlier excuse, I think) and that would lead to a wider European War (because Britian and France said they would guarantee Poland against Germany’s aggression in the Spring of 1939). But I didn’t realise that the British government had asked the Irish government to set up the Coastguard Service. I like that they became know as LOP (look Out Posts) because that’s what people called them!

  12. Maghery is pure magic, and this evening I have been overwhelmed to discover that you seem to have miraculously captured much of that magic, Emma.

    I had the most extraordinary privilege of working as a vet in that area 1990-2009 and find that your art now inspires me to try my best to create faithful portraits of the famers of that region.

    I dearly wish someone with your skills and insights might paint portraits of some of the faces of West Donegal…

    Undying gratitude.

    Tom Kelly, Escondido, California.

    1. Lovely to hear from you Tom. Yes Maghery is sublime. I wish you were still a vet in Maghery as we have had to take sick (and distressed) animals on very long bumpy journeys to from Burtonport to the vet Milford. It has been very stressful. My husband is a talented portrait artist who works in soft pastels but he’s shy about asking to take people’s photos. I look forward to seeing your portraits. Emma

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