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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
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Trip to Sligo

Photo courtesy Markree Castle

by Suzanne Barrett

Sligo, along with the counties of Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, and Leitrim, form the province of Connacht. However, when people speak of Ireland's "West," they generally mean the westernmost counties of Galway, Mayo, and Sligo.

Sligo is one of Ireland's smaller counties, guarding the the northwest passage between Connacht and Ulster. Its seafront stretches from the seaside villages of Mullagmore in the north, where once Lord Mountbatten owned a holiday home, to Enniscrone in the west, a resort town with six miles of pristine beaches and long celebrated for its seaweed baths.

The landscape varies from tide-washed strands to rock-faced cliffs, from grassy dunes to caves carved out of the Atlantic. Then there are the mountains: Ben Bulben, a part of the King Mountains, is a great limestone mass facing the sea, ridged in shape like a ship's prow. Its ancient name is Beann Gulban. One of the famous myths from the Ulster cycle called "The Death of Diarmuid in the Boar Hunt" took place here. Knocknarea, a fabled mountain on which Queen Maeve is said to be buried, offers a spectacular view of Sligo Bay and five counties.

Sligo is rich in history with many areas of neolithic remains. The Fairy hill near Cloonacool rises to 900 feet. To the east and near Ballymote, Keshcorran stands at 1100 feet. Diarmuid and Gráinne were said to have taken refuge from the vengeful Fionn mac Cumhail in one of the seventeen caves on its west side. At the foot of Knocknarea is the Carrowmore cemetery of chamber tombs. An information center for tourists is located nearby.

Other county sights worth noting include Lissadell, the neo-classic "big house" of the Gore-Booth family and the home where Eva and Constance, later Countess Markievicz, grew up. The mansion, under much reduced circumstances, overlooks Drumcliff Bay and is still the home of the Gore-Booth family. In nearby Drumcliff churchyard, one of Ireland's most famous writers, William Butler Yeats, lies buried.

Heading south we come to a small spit of land and Rosses Point which hosts the West of Ireland Championship Golf Course and a safe beach. Here the Garavogue River flows from Lough Gill to Sligo Town and enters the sea between Deadman's Point and Coney Island. Here also stands the Metal Man, much loved by the painter Jack Yeats whose works may be found in the Sligo Municipal Art Gallery in Sligo Town. One of four originally cast by Thomas Kirke in 1819, the statue stands atop a 15 foot limestone base. Dressed in the garb of a Royal navy Petty Officer, He is an impressive sight with right arm outstretched, pointing to the safe deep channel.

Another safe beach lies near Dunmoran. Backed by sand dunes, it provides a scenic contrast to the sheer cliffs of Augris Head. The 18th-century Irish writer, Lady Morgan spent much of her youth at nearby Longford House in Belta.

Near Dromore West stands Carrowmably martello tower with an exceptional view across Donegal Bay.

Atlantic sunsets are a feature of Sligo. During her imprisonment for taking part in the failed Easter Rising, Countess Markievicz said of them: "The sight is sufficiently dramatic over Killala Bay to inspire Enniscrone to call itself 'Enniscrone of the sunsets'."

There is more than burial mounds and beaches, sea and plain. The Ox Mountains cut a swath across the land from northeast to southwest, and from them to the sea the land lies in a gently undulating pattern. Wildflowers dot the meadows in summertime; dog-daisies, purple harebells, and ferns grow in profusion along the roadsides. Inland at Glencar there's an enchanting waterfall, immortalized in verse; horse riding at Grange; boating at Lough Gill, and fishing at Loughs Gara, Arrow, and Templehouse in the south. All these and more make Sligo a perfect spot for adventure, after which you can relax over a pint in one of Sligo's charming pubs.

Pubs and traditional music go hand in hand, and "Sligo Style" traditional fiddle playing, made famous by Michael Coleman, is the ambition of many a young player.

When it comes to shopping, there's no slighting the visitor. Sligo Town boasts some of Ireland's finest foods, gift items, crafts, and gourmet food available. Whatever your taste, sausages, cheeses, taste-tempting breads, fresh from the oven--they're all here in this enchanting market town.

Our tour wouldn't be complete without mentioning the annual W. B. Yeats International Summer School. Since 1960, when the first students gathered at Sligo, the Yeats Summer School has become the most prestigious in Western Europe. A total enrollment of 125 includes people with varied interests and backgrounds. You may write for enrollment and other information for the year 2011 season, the school's fifty-second consecutive year.

Although Yeats restored and lived in a 16th century Galway tower house he named Thoor Ballylee and elsewhere, he is inextricably linked with County Sligo. From Lissadell House to Rosses Point, from Sligo Town to Glencar, the scenic beauty of his birthplace provided inspiration for several of his poems.

Sligo will inspire you as well. Whether your accommodations include one of the county's fine bed and breakfast establishments or a baronial manor such as the Markree Castle which has been turned into an elegant hotel, your visit to the West of Ireland will not be soon forgotten.

Do you have a question about Ireland? The Ireland for Visitors Forum is available with many helpful members.

Until next time.

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donegal bay

Donegal Bay - photo courtesy of Jean-Renaud Leborgne

More of Jean-Renaud Leborgne's magnificent photography can be found here.

Benbulben - photo courtesy Discover Ireland

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