To learn more about the beautiful country I was visiting, I headed to the Cnoc Suain Heritage Center to be immersed in Irish Culture. Originally farmland, founders Charlie Troy and Dearbhaill Standún restored the 17th century cottages and created the cultural center to celebrate their Irish heritage. I got a personal lesson from one of the world’s best tin whistle players, Mary Bergin, and though it’s harder than it looks, I had a lot of fun learning the basics of how to play this traditional Irish instrument.

Next they taught me a classic Irish dance called Stack the Barley. A simple but energetic two-person dance, this will have you and your partner happily hopping to the spirited tune of the tin whistle. Not only was the dance fun, but learning the steps got me to connect to my own Irish heritage, and that’s something I can really appreciate. Cnoc Suain offers a variety of cultural immersion programs, from a classic experience of storytelling and the opportunity to explore the nearby fishing village, to an adventure into the surrounding boglands. Each option is a great way to celebrate your heritage or to learn something entirely new, and either way it makes for an incredible addition to your family trip.

Our quest to learn about Ireland took us next to the historic Donegal Castle, built in the 15th century by the O’Donnell chieftain, though later additions were made in the 17th century. The O’Donnells were one of the most powerful Gaelic families in Ireland, and built a hundred castles and strongholds similar to this one. Despite this, Donegal Castle is the only one left standing today, making it that much more impressive to behold. The ancient castle is an awesome look back into history, to a time of knights and sword fighting. We were able to get a history lesson and medieval weapons demonstration from a storyteller of the castle, even getting to try on a helmet made in the style of that era. The castle also offers hourly tours so you can be sure to see the full castle in all of its glory.

Helpful Tips and Facts:
Due to limited capacity and the nature of the bogland surrounding it, Cnoc Suain is not open to walk-ins. Arrange for your visit ahead of time so you can arrive via a coach from Galway City.
The O’Donnell name is derived from another Irish name, Domhnall, meaning “ruler of the world”. As they were a very powerful family, it only makes sense they would have a name like that!

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