Gola Island (Gabhla) is a mid-size island 2km from the mainland of Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) in N.West Donegal. Uninhabited since the 1960’s its peak population of approx. 169 people lived on the island in 1911-1926. Gola’s lost way of life and heritage remains in the form of stone cottages with original examples of Gabhla longhouses (the island’s vernacular cottage architecture). Although some buildings are derelict they are rich in history and people are starting to return to the island and renovate houses as holiday homes with the aid of recently installed mains electricity. During the summer months the population can swell up to 35 people or more and visitors can relax with refreshments from the cabin shop and admire the views.
With its tranquil beauty Gola is starting to attract many visitors from walkers, cliff climbers, artists, photographers, birdwatchers and those interested in ecology. A short paddle over by kayak or boat ride on the the regular ferry ‘The Cricket’ which leaves from Magheragallan (Machaire Gathlan), Gweedore will take you to the island from Easter and throughout the summer months. Gola, one of the more accessible islands boosts many natural features including pebble/sandy beaches offshore islands, sea stacks and caves.
Highlights include a big sea arch ‘Scoilt Ui Dhugain’ at the North side of the island along with a memorial to islanders lost at sea. At the southern end near ‘Port na Crin’ there is a harbour and the old school, this area attracts many different varieties of seabirds. On the western side of the island there are fine examples of sea cliffs, sea stacks and caves. The popular ‘Twin Cave’ Buttress is about 20 metres (66ft) high of granite rock facing the Atlantic. The highest point on Gola is Knockacullen at 690 metres. Another highlight facing due west onto the Atlantic is the beautiful sandy beach – Traigh Mhachaire na nGall. Gola has spectacular views of other nearby islands and of the mainland including ‘Errigal Mountain’ in the distance. The best time to visit the island is when there’s some movement on the sea as this makes the the island seem more alive and is well worth exploring.
There are many approach routes to Gola Island from any suitable get in location (slipway or beach) between Bunbeg harbour and Bun an Inbhir harbour. A one way trip from any of those two points gives a great opportunity to take in all the islands in the Gweedore group in one memorable trip. A more simple trip can be had from leaving Magheragallan and then a straight forward paddle across to the harbour on the east facing side of Gola Island. This eliminates any tidal planning and tides at this point are fairly weak. Magheragallan is subject to swell and the rocky beach and the slipway at Maghergallan can encounter some dumping surf, and obviously beware of strong offshore winds when planning a return trip from Gola island.
If you are a proficient and well equipped paddler doing the round of the island you would need fairly settled conditions as the south, west and north sides of the island are swell magnets and the back of Gola is subject to lots of movement so careful planning of the prevailing conditions is a must.
Paddling highlights include.
The paddle around Gola is quite contrasting from pristine sandy beaches to rocky shallows on the eastern side, then cliffs, caves, sea stacks as you go around the Island and great views back to the mainland and the other Donegal Islands.
There is a shelf of rocks between the offshore Torglass Island and Gola on the south side of Traigh Mhachaire na nGall bay ( Magheranagnll on os map and chart ) which gives a splendid inside passage into this beautiful bay with its west facing sandy beach which is a possible landing place on the western side of the island. On the northern side of the bay there is a sea tunnel well worth exploring if conditions allow which has a tight corner so day light is not visible through to the opposite side.
On the northern side of the island tucked into a small cove and not easily found from seaward is the impressive Scoilt Ui Dhugain sea arch and it’s possible to paddle through it if the swell will allow. The arch can dry out around low water.
Enjoy your visit whichever way you travel to Gola Island. We will be reviewing our next Donegal Island soon and hope you will come along with us.
James and Angela.