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Destination Spotlight: 10 Things you Didn’t Know About Sligo

Posted on May 11, 2018 by Dawn Rainbolt

Located in northwest Ireland, this little-visited county is one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s best gems. Learn more about this quiet corner of Ireland.

1. Ireland’s national poet WB Yeats (as well as his brother and artist, Jack Yeats) is from Sligo, and most of WB Yeats’ poetry is about the Sligo region.

Sligo - Lough Gill - WB Yeats

Admiring the view over Lough Gill, romanticised forever by WB Yeats.

William Butler Yeats and his brother Jack were both born in Sligo, and the windswept landscapes, lush forests and quiet lakes had profound effect on Yeats’ work. As a romantic poet, much of Sligo has been immortalised by the famous WB Yeats – such as the well-known “Lake Isle of Inishfree” – a poem based on an island in Lough Gill.

2. Overshadowing Sligo town is the massive Ben Bulben, Ireland’s iconic table mountain…. and not faraway is the cave of Ireland’s tragic mythological lovers, Diarmuid & Grainne.

Ben Bulben Sligo

Craggy Ben Bulben is Sligo’s most iconic landmark.

Sligo’s iconic landmark is a natural element – which says a lot about Sligo. This compact county is full of outdoors lovers as well as amazing landscapes to explore. Whether you opt for the challenging Ben Bulben hike, or you prefer a more gentle coastal ramble at Mullaghmore or perhaps forested walk in Union Wood, Sligo is a place to get outdoors. Not far away is the famous Cave of Diarmuid & Grainne, Ireland’s doomed-to-be-tragic lovers a la Romeo and Juliet. After falling in love and eloping, the lovers are pursued by jilted fiancé Fionn MacCool the giant of the Giant’s Causeway. View their cave  – one of many were legend claims they hid together – nearby in the Gleniff Horseshoe.

3. Sligo’s name in Irish Gaelic, Sligeach, means “shelly place” – and you’ll still find remnants of this important industry here.

Sligo Lissadell mussels

Lissadell mussels are a traditional dish in Sligo.

From megalithic times, the people of Sligo have sustained themselves largely on shellfish. In fact, you can still spot megalithic middens here – piles of shells cast away after consumption. Today, the Lissadell Mussels (and oysters) are famous both in Sligo and beyond. They were once much sought-after by high-end London chefs and are still consider a delicacy, though you can find them in most Sligo eateries. Learn more about traditional Irish food here.

4. The beaches at Strandhill and Easkey has some of the best waves for surfing in all of Europe.

Surfing in Easkey Sligo

Sligo’s waves are perfect for surfing!

Because of the way the coast is faced, both the beaches of Strandhill and Easkey get some of the best wind and therefore some of the best waves on the Wild Atlantic Way – and people come from all over Ireland and even Europe to get a taste of local surfing, nicknamed Ireland’s Surf Coast! Another good place to check out if you’re in to surfing is Donegal, an even more remote and rugged corner of northwest Ireland.

5. Sligo town is a place caught between land and sea – to the west is Lough Gill, to the east, the Atlantic Ocean, and in between is the Garavogue River, one of the shortest rivers in Ireland.

Sligo town on the Garavogue river

Lake to river to sea, Sligo town straddles all three.

So, the Garavogue may or may not be the shortest river in Ireland (that honour debatably goes to the 6km long River Corrib in Connemara), but it’s still quite short. Starting on the magical shores of Lough Gill, the river winds its way through town, under bridges and past charming parks to the bay and estuary and finally the Atlantic. This proximity makes Sligo perhaps one of the best places to experience fresh, salt and brackish water within a small radius.

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6. Sligo is a hotspot of ancient megalithic sites older than the pyramids – such as Knocknarea, Carrowkeel and Carrowmore.

Carrowkeel megalithic tombs Sligo

Two dozen ancient tombs dot the hills at Sligo’s Carrowkeel.

There have been people inhabiting the Coolera Peninsula and area around the Garavogue River since megalithic times, meaning more than five thousands years ago. They created monuments, tombs, cairns and other sites that are still scattered around the Sligo countryside that actually pre-date the pyramids!

7. Local folklore claims that the monastic island of Inishmurray successfully resisted a Viking raid – a rare occurrence!

Inishmurray Island Sligo

One of the dry stone huts remaining from the monastic days on Inishmurray.

Though at the moment the island is closed to visitors, Inishmurray is a historically fascinating place. Once home to a small but thriving monastery, it was invaded by Viking raiders looking for gold and other precious goods in the 9th century. While this was a pretty normal instance at the time, what was unusual is that legend states that Sligo mainlanders, who rallied behind the monks, together successfully managed to barricade the island from the invaders and and stave off the second Viking raid. Legend also states that the Vikings didn’t return after that…

8. The massive cairn that tops Knocknarea hill is legendary burial site of quasi-mythic warrior Queen Maeve.

Knocknarea Hill Sligo

The massive cairn – and legendary burial site of Queen Maeve – at the top of Knocknarea Hill.

Another legend – Sligo seems to be full of them! – refers to the supposed burial site of Queen Maeve, a formidable warrior of the region Connaught, a nemesis of mythical giant Cuchalainn credited with shaping the Giant’s Causeway. A giant cairn on the top of Knocknarea hill, the cairn is actually a megalithic tomb re-associated with Queen Maeve. To follow the legend, you’ll have to bring up a stone from the bottom of the hill to add to the massive cairn.

9. Home to the Sligo Food Trail, the region is an up-and-coming foodie destination as part of Ireland’s contemporary culinary culture.

Sligo Food Trail food

Brunch at Shell’s Cafe in Strandhill is just one of the amazing eateries on the Sligo Food Trail.

Though most people think of potatoes and stews and chowders when they think of Irish cuisine, Ireland actually is a significant up-and-coming foodie destination. The Sligo Food Trail plays a role in Ireland’s newfound and growing culinary reputation as a collection of eateries that work together to focus on using fresh, local products to create intriguing, healthy dishes.

10. The coastal region of Sligo is renowned for its seaweed baths at Enniscrone and Strandhill.

Seaweed baths in Strandhill

Enjoying the benefits of a seaweed bath in Strandhill and Enniscrone.

Taking a bath laced with seaweed is actually a lot more refreshing than it might sound! The mineral elements and vitamins released by seaweed in water hold many health benefits – containing moisturising and natural anti-aging properties, it contributes to smoother skin, as well as helping the thyroid regulate metabolism, reduce eczema and repair damaged skin cells.

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Visit the magical region of Sligo on our guided biking and yoga escape. Cycling at a gentle pace, the trip is perfect for beginners and for those who simply want to relax as you slowly explore the rich environs of Sligo!

Or, visit Sligo by water – try a hiking and kayaking combination to see Sligo from every angle!

About the author

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Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

Read more articles by Dawn | View Dawn's Profile


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