A NEW Irish language lifestyle series follows the marked routes around the Donegal Gaeltacht with its presenter, well-known in West Donegal, meeting those who live and work there.
Ar Bealach na Gaeltachta is presented by County Down native Frainc Mac Cionnaith who is a regular visitor to the Rosses and Gaoth Dobhair. The programme’s title is the general name for the four circular long-distance trails in the Gaeltacht areas of Donegal: Slí an Earagail, Slí na Rosann, Slí na Finne and Slí Cholmcille.
In this four-part series, the young Gaeilgeoir walks each of the trails, and on his journey he captures the scale, atmosphere and beauty of this ruggedly beautiful county. Ar Bhealach na Gaeltachta encapsulates the spirit of Donegal through its people, culture, music and history in one of the most unspoilt scenic landscapes in Ireland.
As well as the physical trials of each journey, Frainc, who is also talented trad guitarist, takes the opportunity to express the essence of his travels through his own artistic interpretation.
The series producer Sheila Friel is a Donegal native herself. “For me, this has been one of the most enjoyable productions I have developed and produced in recent years.
“All the necessary elements were there at my own back door to make a fascinating series – the natural beauty of the county as a backdrop, the openness and warmth of the characters we feature and their generosity of spirit in sharing their stories and their knowledge – making the whole production process a joy and a privilege.
“One of the biggest challenges we faced was not what to include but what to leave out! I feel there will be lots new for our audience in this series; new voices with a richness of language providing insights to a county steeped in hidden history.”
Programme one starts with the most northerly of the four trails, Slí an Earagail, where Frainc begins his journey in the picturesque village of Dunlewey.
In this episode he hears about local myths and legends; he learns about the impact of emigration from Gweedore woman Máire Rua Gallagher and islander Eddie Joe Mac Aoidh. Frainc finds out about the flourishing creativity around Gortahork and Falcarragh before reaching the climax of the programme at the top of Errigal with a Donegal man who scaled Everest.
Slí na Rosann is the second episode in the series which concentrates on the Rosses area of West Donegal. On this journey Frainc meets two young entrepreneurial brothers from Loughanure who are carving out a name for themselves locally and globally. He will find out about the now defunct railway That Old Sinner in Burtonport, as well as meeting an All-Ireland champion currach racer and spending some time with Donegal’s golden boy Daniel O’Donnell.
Episode three follows the Slí na Finne trail, looping from Fintown to Comeen, on through Cloughan and finishing near Fintown again.
This is one of the lesser known parts of the Donegal Gaeltacht, tucked away below the Blue Stack Mountains and a haven for wildlife.
Frainc meets Joe Brennan who is part of a grouse conservation programme, Dónal Seán Ó Cuireáin who runs a donkey sanctuary and a couple of husky-sledding enthusiasts who race around the forestries of the North West.
Frainc also learns about the association with Irish nationalism in Donegal in the 19th Century as he stops in Cloughan at the Isaac Butt Heritage Centre.
In the final episode of the Ar Bhealach na Gaeltachta series, Frainc walks Slí Cholmcille, along the southern coast of county Donegal.
Frainc starts off in Ardara and meets Eithne Ní Ghallchobhair who shows him how local children contributed to the National Folklore Collection, before continuing through to Glencolmcille where he speaks to Brian Lacey about the saint after whom the area is named.
The stunning landscape around Slieve League features as Frainc chats to Eoghan Ó Curraighín about the decline in fishing in the area and he also finds out how the sea provides a vital resource for a new business in the area.
Ar Bhealach na Gaeltachta is an Imagine Media production for BBC Northern Ireland, with support from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund and begins on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Monday, 26 May, at 10pm.