Rossnowlagh (Irish: Ros Neamhlach, meaning "heavenly headland") is a seaside village in south County Donegal, Ireland. It is about 8.5 km north of Ballyshannon and 16.0 km southwest of Donegal Town. The area's 3 km long beach is popular with families and is frequented by walkers, surfers, wind-surfers, kite-surfers and swimmers.
Rossnowlagh is one of Ireland's and Europe's best Blue Flag surfing beaches. As the slowly rising beach faces westward into the Atlantic Ocean, and the fact that Donegal Bay has a funnel-like shape, it can increase the size of the waves, especially in winter when some huge rollers are generated and it has been known to have waves up to 7 metres (20 ft) high. Rossnowlagh has good safe facilities and has excellent water quality.
Rossnowlagh has many visitors during the summer months and is very popular as most of the beach is accessible by car which is suitable for young and old alike. Drivers are cautioned however to be aware of soft sand areas where cars can get stuck and to be aware of incoming tides which can move in rapidly and cover most/all of the beach. There may be a Beach Warden on duty and information about full and low tides may be displayed. Drivers on the beach are required to drive very slowly at 15 km/h and to be on the lookout for children and other users of the beach.
A soil erosion study of the beach at Rossnowlagh, known officially as Belalt Strand, has been made. The area consists mainly of sandy beach, but also rocky shore platform, sand dunes, grassland, boulder clay cliffs and rock cliffs. Over the last 60 years it has been determined that the central section of the dune front has been eroding at rates up to 0.6 metres (2 ft) per year, with the highest erosion rate between 1951 and 1977. Starting in 1972, short lengths of rock armour were constructed at first in front of the Sandhouse Hotel and with further additions along the shore-line; this stopped the erosion in protected parts but the dune front has a ragged appearance with up to 35 metres (115 ft) of erosion where half of the sandy shoreline has no protection.
Public transport access
The Seirbhís Iompair Tuaithe Teoranta (SITT) Rural Transport Ballintra to Ballyshannon route serves Rossnowlagh on Fridays only. Onward connections are available at Ballyshannon such as Ulsterbus for example. The nearest railway station is Sligo railway station. Bus Éireann services from Ballyshannon serve Sligo bus station which is located beside the railway station.
The main amenity is the extensive beach which is very popular with families. It is frequented by walkers, joggers, sunbathers, surfers, wind-surfers, kite-surfers and swimmers, and is accessible by car via 3 ramps. There is about 3 km of a good quality wide sandy beach although it is possible to walk several more kilometres further along the shore and all the way to Murvagh Beach.
The Sandhouse Hotel is located adjacent to the beach, with a Surfers Bar attached. Overlooking the beach and on the cliff is the Smuggler's Creek Inn restaurant and bar, and there are several shops in the area, along with a Post-Office and Shop near the Franciscan Friary as well as The Thatch Tea House nearby.
The Franciscan Friary is located up from the southern end of the beach. The Friary has a Visitor Centre and contains the Donegal Historical Society Museum which houses a small collection including stone age flints and old Irish musical instruments. The Friary also has beautiful gardens which are open to visitors.
To the south-west further along the cliffs in the distance stands the ruined Kilbarron Castle which is accessible via Creevy.
- Rossnowlagh Surf Club hosts several surfing events, some with dozens of young surfers competing. For example, competitions are held for U12, U14 and U16 age groups.
- The annual Orange Order parade for the County Donegal Orange Lodge is held each year in Rossnowlagh, usually on the Saturday before 12 July. The number of participants and marching bands varies each year with most marchers coming from Order lodges based in Northern Ireland but some come from other areas in Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan. There is no lodge in Rossnowlagh. The participants begin near St John's Church and march for approximately 2 km into the centre of Rossnowlagh, where they congregate for some time. The marchers march back to St John's church area in the late afternoon.
- The Irish National Junior Surfing Championships have been hosted in Rossnowlagh, such as in 2007 where 113 young surfers competed for titles in U12, U14, U16 and U18 levels, including events for bodyboard and longboard. Rossnowlagh Surf Club members have been successful in these and other surfing competitions.
- An annual Feis (Irish Gaelic: pronounced fesh) is held each summer in July or August at the Franciscan Friary in Rossnowlagh. The feis is officially called the Feis of the Four Masters or Feis na gCeithre Maistir in Irish. One of the Four Masters, Michael O'Cleirigh, comes from the nearby locality.
- The Inter-Counties Surfing contest is Ireland's longest-running surfing contest and has been held every year since 1969. As it is normally the last surfing event of the year in Ireland, held in September or October, it is widely viewed as a social event of the surfing calendar, and the actual surfing often takes second place to the craic and social enjoyment. In the last decade the contest has turned into a battle between the two dominant counties in Irish Surfing, hailing from opposite ends of the country — Donegal and Waterford.
- The World Rally Championship came to the Rossnowlagh area in 2007 and again in 2009. Rally Ireland organised both events. The rally which drew a large number of spectators was held in the townland of Cashel on the northern edge of Rossnowlagh and was labelled the Donegal Bay stage. This special stage was 14 km long on narrow single-lane tarmac back roads. In 2007 it was won by Jari-Matti Latvala and in 2009 by Mikko Hirvonen. Sébastien Loeb was the overall winner of both rallies.
There had been 500 years of Franciscan history in Donegal when the link was broken in the mid-19th century. However, the Franciscan order re-established themselves in County Donegal when new friary buildings were built in Rossnowlagh in the early 1950s. The land for the Friary was donated by Charles Williamson to his brother and Franciscan, Brother Paschal Williamson.
- Rossnowlagh railway station opened in 1905 but closed on 1 January 1960. It was part of the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee network with the train running towards Ballyshannon (where a walk across the town to the other station in Ballyshannon run by the Great Northern Railway of Ireland, would be required for Bundoran or Enniskillen) to the south and north to Donegal Town, Stranorlar, Strabane (where passengers could change onto the Great Northern Railway of Ireland, to reach Omagh) and Derry. During the 55 years of its operation, Rossnowlagh, with its 2 miles of golden beach, became a popular venue for excursionists, and it was particularly favoured by families, daytrippers and for groups on their annual outings.
The surfer Easkey Britton lives here.