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For many people around the world, the very word Donegal is synonymous with yarn: the uniquely speckled, colorful stuff known as Donegal tweed. I still remember my first Donegal tweed sweater. Received as a gift when I was in junior high school, it was a deep shade of fuchsia, strewn with confetti-like flecks of turquoise, lime and peach. The sweater was toothsome in texture, with bits of dried vegetation caught in the fibers, and it absolutely fascinated me. As a girl living in coastal New England, I can remember standing on the beach near my parents’ house and trying to look out across the water to where I imagined Ireland to be. What kind of a mad, magical place produced such a garment?

Twenty years later, fate determined that I should find out.

Now in my fifth year living—and knitting—here, I would like to share what my stunning adoptive home has to offer to knitters and lovers of fiber.

Donegal 101

Dramatic of landscape and epic of weather, Donegal is Ireland’s north-westernmost county. (See map at the end of this article.) It is coastal, boggy, sparsely populated, and isolated, severed from neighboring lands by a string of mountain ranges.

Donegal is also quite vast and sprawled-out. So grab your waterproofs and sunscreen (the phrase “four seasons in a day” is on point), and be sure to make your Knitter’s Weekend a long weekend or, better yet, a full week.

First Things First: Yarn

To begin, let’s head straight for the main attraction: the tweed!

Amazingly, all Donegal tweed yarn that is sold around the world, under various labels, is produced in one tiny village. Located on southern Donegal’s Muckross Head Peninsula, the village of Kilcar is basically a crossroads. There is a pub, a couple of shops. And, of course, the spinning mills.

There are two tweed mills in Kilcar. The Donegal Wool Spinning Company (DWS) is a substantially sized factory that handles large-scale yarn production. Directly beside them, Studio Donegal is set up for smaller-scale runs. The latter also contains weaving facilities, a tailoring workshop, and a showroom displaying both mills’ products.

The Studio Donegal showroom has regular opening hours, and you can visit it without an appointment. There, you can buy everything from tweed garments and accessories, to traditional knitwear and locally made soaps.

But of course the main thing is the knitting yarn. There are walls and walls of it, stacked floor to ceiling. You can buy small amounts, or make wholesale purchases. The selection is dizzying, so prepare to spend hours on the premises, and bring a suitcase!

I should mention that Donegal tweed yarn does not imply a specific breed of sheep. The mills produce a variety of blends for yarn merchants around the world, made to client specifications, with fiber content that might include merino, silk, cashmere, even mohair.

The yarns they sell under their own labels fall mainly into one of two categories. The standard yarn is made of mixed mountain fleece and is reasonably soft, but with an undeniably rustic feel. The yarn labeled Soft Donegal is merino,  so quite a bit sleeker and less lanolin-rich.

The Studio Donegal showroom sells yarn in 50g and 100g aran-weight skeins. In the larger DWS factory, the yarn can be purchased on 1kg cones, available in fingering weight only, and unscoured.

The spinning and dyeing facilities at both mills are captivating, and can be visited by appointment. Make arrangements in advance, and you will be given a terrific tour by the charismatic staff, complete with history lessons on Donegal’s tweed industry.

My favorite part? Seeing how the yarns get their famous colorful flecks, and learning the secret of how this practice began. (I wouldn’t want to ruin the magic by telling you about it here, so you’ll just have to visit yourself to find out.)

Time for Some (Really) Fresh Air

After hours spent at the mills (don’t think you’ll get out of there sooner), you’ll be needing some fresh air. So procure snacks from the village shop and head to the stunning Slieve League.

Whether you hike (carefully) along the ridge, or simply sit and stare in awe with a flask of hot tea, this majestic cliff formation will leave you teary-eyed, and with a visceral understanding of the landscape that inspires the color and hardiness of Donegal tweed yarns.

Overwhelmed with fatigue and hunger, you will at this point require food, drink, and rest. The best place for all three is the lively village of Ardara, 15 miles down the road. Head straight into Nancy’s pub for some excellent food, proper Guinness, live music, and the sort of memorable encounters you’ll be telling people about for years.

At the end of the night, make your way uphill (with advance bookings) to the inimitable Green Gate. If the proprietress offers you a night cap, accept. Then collapse upon a tweed-covered straw mattress in this otherworldly bed-and-breakfast. You’ll enjoy the panoramic views in the morning.

The Weaving Tour

For those interested in weaving, a longer stay in southern Donegal is a must, for this is the weaving heartland of Ireland.

Stroll through the main street of Ardara and visit the workshops of Eddy Doherty, Molloy & Sons, and Triona. There were once many more, but alas, times are changing. These remaining iconic weavers have decades of experience and are happy to share insights into the local textile history. You can also buy cloth by the meter, as well as finished garments and accessories, from their shops.

If you are up for venturing further afield, visit also the New Guard of hand weavers.

On the scenic St. John’s Point peninsula, Cyndi Graham creates intricate floral motifs in her seaside thatched cottage.

Clare O’Presco at the Craft Village outside of Donegal Town is known for her bold, geometric designs.

While in Donegal Town, stop in with Mr. McGinty at the cozy and cavernous Wool’n Things Yarn Shop.

Then nip into one of the town’s excellent coffee shops for refreshments, before checking out the Magee factory store, one of the best known names in ready-to-wear Donegal tweed. If you dream of a gorgeously tailored tweed coat straight from Donegal, this is the place.

Now that you are outfitted in tweed, where else would you lay down your head for the night but at Lough Eske Castle?

This intriguing 17th century structure has had a storied past. In its latest incarnation, the castle is a popular and lovely hotel. The architecture (and glorious fish fountain) alone are worth a visit, as are the walking and cycling trails around the lake. There is also an excellent tea room open to the public.

History and Beauty (and More Tweed)

The next day,  head northwest to the picturesque village of Dunlewy. There, the Heritage Centre runs an excellent educational program on the cottage industry aspects of Donegal’s spinning, knitting, and weaving history.

(To see more details, and learn the story of the Wool and Sheep Quilt pictured above, see the author’s post here.)

The in-depth presentation delves into local political history, including the Famine and the Donegal Sheep War.

While you are in the area, a visit to Glenveagh National Park is a must.

Lose yourself in the surrounding beauty as you walk through this mossy, heavily forested wonderland, hidden in plain sight amidst boglands. Then enjoy lunch and tea at the Glenveagh Castle and Gardens in the heart of the park. Don’t shy away from their delicious pastries either. That walk is exhausting and you will need nourishment for the way back!

If you still have reserves of energy, be sure to stop at the Glebe Gallery,  down the road in Church Hill.

There, a surprising collection of modern art and original William Morris upholstery awaits. The staff delights at welcoming fiber enthusiasts, and will be happy to give you a private tour of this unique establishment, with all the historical details you can handle. (Did I mention William Morris? They allowed me to touch one of the chairs!)

Hugging the scenic coastline, head north through the village of Downings, with a stop at McNutt’s, makers of the softest Donegal blankets and scarves available. Then enjoy an unforgettable overnight at the Fanad Lighthouse. 

Of Course There Are Spinning Wheels

Continuing further north,  aim for the town of Carndonagh on the Inishowen peninsula and visit master builder of spinning wheels, Johny Shiels.

A third generation wheel builder, Johny is famous throughout Ireland and beyond. He is as happy to build bespoke wheels, drop spindles and carding combs, as he is to teach spinning to individuals and groups. Tour his workshop, watch him at work, or spin together, while enjoying stories of Inishowen’s fiber history. His yarn, handspun from local fleeces and naturally dyed, is available for sale.

At Last: Knitting

Finally, route your return trip through the town of Ballybofey and stop by the studio of Edel MacBride.

Donegal’s star knitwear designer, Edel MacBride has also recently launched Knitfield, a project aiming to “get Ireland knitting again.”

It’s an admirable goal, and perhaps an apt note on which to end this photo essay. Because for all its rich fiber history, you will not see many signs of knitting in Donegal these days. As elsewhere, the craft declined steadily through several decades. Unlike elsewhere, however, the pendulum has not quite begun to swing back just yet. But here is hoping.

As I knit my own Donegal tweed garments today, I can’t help but recall that fuchsia sweater of my teenage years and the way it ignited my imagination. Donegal is truly a magical place. I hope that some day you might journey here, and be as inspired as I have been.


A Note About A Knitter’s Weekend

Each piece in our series A Knitter’s Weekend is written by a knitter with local knowledge and a personal point of view. If you have additional places or information you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it—please leave a comment. And if you have plans to visit Donegal, be sure to save this article in your MDK account


About The Author

Ailbíona McLochlainn is a knitter, writer, and recovering academic.

Taught to knit at a young age in the improvised manner of Eastern European folk tradition, she considered herself for some time an “illiterate knitter,” never having learned any knitterly terminology. It was not until 2016. when she was asked to lead a knitting workshop, that she finally taught herself how to read patterns, mostly so that she could communicate with her students and write patterns of her own. Shortly thereafter, LB Handknits was born. See her designs at Ravelry here.


  • What a wonderful article. I feel whisked away to a rugged landscape with fresh clean air and to top it all off yarn in all its forms. Thank you for sharing.

  • It was a lovely story. Will you be adding some of this fascinating yarn to your shop?

    • Stay tuned….

  • Beautiful and inspiring!

  • What A lovely trip this would be!

  • We actually live in Ardara! Where are you based? Fab article! We never appreciate where we live really.

    • What a small world. Lucky you, getting to pop into Nancy’s whenever!

    • Oh hello! We are in Falcarragh : )

      • Hello there neighbour

  • What a treat to read this. I needto back later and follow every single link!

  • Thank you for sharing this. It sounds and looks lovely and inspirational. I have a stash of Kaffe’s Donegal lambs wool tweed. Ireland is on our list. I’ve been but not my DH. I have to add Donegal to the itinerary.

  • Makes me think I should renew my passport!

  • Truly droolworthy! Between this and the soon-to-be-released fingering weight tweed from Kate Davies, I’m in an absolute tizzy.

    • I so enjoyed reading about Kate Davies’s visit to the mill!

    • I so agree@

      • Too excited to type ! instead of @ . . . . 😉

  • OH! I want to do every bit of this! Thank you so much! xoA

  • thank you. thank you. thank you.

  • I soooooo want to go there…….. a great article.

  • Oh my, how I wish I had this information before we stayed in Donegal! We missed so much. We did visit with Mr. McGinty in his lovely little shop. And we ate and had a pint at The Olde Castle Bar. Ireland’s wool shops have increased since our very first visit 20 years ago, when the closest thing I got to getting wool was picking it up off the ground. This last time I found a number of wonderful yarn/wool shops. Ireland is truly magical and needs to be a must visit for everyone!

    • In Ulster, and Northwestern Ulster especially, the interesting bits are mainly under the radar. It took me years of word-of-mouth and accidental discovery to stumble upon most of the things mentioned in this article! …For instance, I met the wheel builder Johny Shiels riding my bike through Carndonagh. He was sitting and spinning on the main street, and I was so tired from having just cycled over a mountain pass that at first I thought I was hallucinating. Gingerly I turned to my husband, pointed at the man spinning, and said ‘Is this real?’ It was hilarious.

      The knitting shop scenes in Dublin and Cork are amazing. Donegal, not so much … yet!

  • thank you Albina, i am super-inspired !

  • As an avid knitter….I’m adding your location to my bucket list.

  • Thanks for a really enjoyable post.

  • Thanks Albina@LBHandknits for mentioning me in the nice article you wrote about spinning, weaving and knitting run by local family businesses in Donegal and Inishowen.

    • My pleasure Johny!

  • Lovely article, thank you. Perhaps there could be a Donegal Wool Week sometime in the future?

    • I would love to get involved in organising something like that and hope to look into it in the coming year.

  • Thank you so much. Not only have you mentioned so many of my fav places and rarely mentioned hero’s of this Donegal wool world but you noticed our ‘why’, #keepingirelandknitting. I totally appreciate and love where I’m from but often it’s heritage is best appreciated by those from afar. Thank you all. Now the image of you stretching to see across the sea to Ireland will stay with me as will that childhood sweater you should recreate …I want one! My favourite colour is Turquoise. Edel … MacBride & Knitfield Donegal & Derry.

    • Thank you for that lovely reply, Edel! I find it fascinating how there are certain sweaters from our childhood or teenage years, that stay vividly in our mind’s eye, for the rest of our lives. And yes, I would love to recreate that Donegal tweed sweater… though perhaps not in c.1993 fuchsia!

  • Best travel article yet (and they have all been amazing)! I got teary-eyed at every point during this article. I can only imagine what being there would be like.

  • What a treat to read – thank you MDK and Albina for sharing. Albina, I’ve been following you for quite a few years over on Lovely Bicycle, so I knew that you’d started LB Handknits, but it was a pleasant surprise to see you’d written this article. I’m fortunate to have been gifted a lovely selection of Donegal yarns by an older Irish gentleman I used to work with. He’s originally from Donegal and brought bag a huge shopping bag for me after his last visit – and then refused to accept any payment. Ann & Kay I hope you’ll carry some of it, I’ll buy for sure!

    • Oh wow, a Lovely Bicycle reader : ) Indeed the cycling and knitting worlds overall quite a bit!

  • Hello there everyone and thank you for all the beautiful comments.

    In case anyone is reading who plans to use this as a travel guide in the near future, I wanted to add one thing: Some of the makers are a bit tricky to find – especially as there are no street addresses as such in most of Donegal, and not everyone has a web presence with contact info. If you have difficulty locating any of the persons or places mentioned, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me (through or @lbhandknits on instagram) and I’ll send directions!

  • I really enjoyed reading this and it has inspired me to try harder to visit Donegal. I’ve only recently discovered (my father was adopted ) that my ancestors came to NZ from Donegal in the 1860s. I have knitted a Donegal tweed coat to honour them and I’m always getting compliments about it. Too warm to wear at the moment as we head into summer!

  • Thank you for your wonderful trip through the wooly heart of Donegal. My mother and her sisters were home knitters of “jumpers” for export. A great way to spend a long winter on Owey. In later years we could not leave Ireland without Irish wool to take back to the states.

  • Traveling and knitting two of my passions.

  • Donegal is my absolute favorite part of Ireland and I’m so excited that I will be back there again in early February. I can’t wait and look forward to visiting the places that you included in your wonderful article.

  • Thank you so much for this article! When our friends announced they were getting married near Ballyshannon, I said “We’re going!” We barely scratched the surface of things to do, but we did stay at the Fanad Lighthouse, and it was the highlight of the whole trip. We absolutely loved it! Thanks again!

  • After reading your article, a fiend and I have decided we need to visit. June of 2020, Donegal, here we come!

  • Is this tour being offered in the Fall of 2019 or Spring of 2020?

  • What a gem of an article!! Thank you for writing it. I am headed to Donegal (my second home) in a few months for my 60th birthday and to visit my father’s grave in Ballyshannon. (I’m first gen American). I have acquired many Donegal sweaters over the years from my relatives there, and have recently learned to knit myself. I am very much looking forward to checking some of these places out, as now that I knit and have learned to appreciate yarn, I realize that all these years I have taken Donegal wools for granted. Great tip about the extra suitcase!!! Thank you again.

  • Loved Edel’s shop in Donnegal! Designer Maggie Jackson (also from Ireland) introduced me to her as we were on our knitters tour of Northern Ireland early June 2019. I would love to go back to see the rest of Ireland and meet more of the people. I love their heritage and they were so welcoming! Monica from Alabama

  • I too have discovered and love Donegal……been to Kilcar and Studio Donegal but it seems you have missed my favorite place..Glencolumnkille just up the road from Kilcar and Slieve League. ..I call it the place of my heart…I go their to continue to learn Irish at Oideas Gael But the Glen Folk Village there is known internationally and their Fold Village Gift Shop has local hand knit items and local items of Donegal tweed..I recommend a visit there ..a drink or so at Roarty’s and the tour of Glen Folk Village, lunch in the Tea Room there( Is maith liom aran donn, anraith glasrai agus cupan tae!) and a visit to Oideas Gael..classes in Irish language are ongoing from June to August…their Bookstore is amazing ..many classics and other books and help in Irish , but also books on the Glen and Donegal, Irish folklore, Irish music..wonderful CDs etc..Geraldine is the saleswoman extraordinaire in the Bookstore..a delight to meet and very helpful !! A handknitting shop was in the Village , across from the Grocery store with just wonderful sweaters , scarves, and gifts ..It was called the GlenHead and I bought sweaters there, scarves and several gifts..but last summer 2019 it had closed ..what a shame …I see I got carried away..I’m not sure I will be able to go to Glencolumnkille this summer d/t restrictions r/t covid19 virus …but my heart has been going there these last few weeks

  • Just as a footnote to this great article for any future travellers to Donegal, I went to Studio Donegal in Kilcar in 2018 and bought a couple of blankets and a couple of jumpers (aka sweaters in American). I chose to ship it all direct from SD to my home in WA, USA to save me the heartache of lugging it all on the rest of my travels and back thru the airport(s) etc. AND because the shipping cost me less than I would have paid in VAT on my purchases!!! Also, although we didn’t get to Nancy’s in Ardara, we did get to the Rusty Mackerel, Teelin and enjoyed the music and food so much we went back the following night as well. I notice on their current website that, since 2018, they’ve become a specialty hotel with lots more bedrooms on site so next time we go, guess where we’ll try to stay :-).

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