While writing Clean Breaks, the travel book I wrote with Richard Hammond, founder of greentraveller, last year, I visited some amazing people and places across Asia and Africa that were totally committed to helping their local communities. Places that proved to me that, done right, tourism really can be beneficial for the places we visit. But I’d never thought I’d find somewhere that had that same ethos as I’d discovered in developing countries from Zambia to Vietnam right here in my own backyard. Which is why the remarkable Creevy Cottages near Ballyshannon, County Donegal was such a revelation to me.
The story starts with a tragedy. A few years ago three of this small community’s fishermen were lost at sea. The tragic event came as the final straw for a people who had seen their village’s fishing fortunes decline over recent decades. Determined to help their community rebuild itself, they gathered together to form a co-operative committed to developing their community the way it wanted to go.
Four derelict stone fisherman’s cottages have since been restored and converted to self-catering green accommodation sleeping between four and six – thus enabling tourists to visit this remote spot on Ireland’s northwest coast but without having to alter its atmosphere through building new, purpose built structures. Simply but comfortably furnished, these buildings breathe their past – old stone walls and floors, a heavy fireplace, and a view that stretches as far off across majestic Donegal Bay into the Atlantic as your eye can see, with nothing but a few cows munching the meadow in front of you to stand in your way. Added to which, there are some touches that epitomise the love and care that has gone into the project. Your fireplace is stocked with wood and peat whatever the season. A welcome package of local produce means your fridge is full when you arrive. And in the garden of each cottage is a trough brimming with fresh lettuces and herbs… perfect to eat with some freshly caught fish.
Of course Creevy wouldn’t be truly Creevy without connecting its visitors to the world of the fishermen that are the inspiration for its birth. Visitors can arrange to go out on the boat , An Duanai Mara, with Brian McGilloway, a fishermen who left home aged 14 to work on trawlers in the North Sea, and now takes land lubbers like myself out from either Killybegs or Creevy Pier to discover what sea fishing is all about. I was convinced I was a natural as mackerel seemed to just hurl themselves onto the hooks. The pollock were a little more hesitant, but I still ended up with more than enough fish to last the rest of my stay.
And what could beat heading back home to watch the sun set over the waves rolling in from America, while grilling my catch on the barbecue, with a few leaves of freshly picked salad to soak up the juices, some local spuds, and maybe a pint or two of the black stuff to wash it all down…