William Butler Yeats and his brother Jack both spent many happy childhood years in Sligo, and the windswept landscapes, lush forests and quiet lakes had profound effect on Yeats’ work, with Sligo and Leitrim appearing in many of Yeats’ poems. 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, Hazelwood Park, Dooney Rock, and more.
County 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.
Learn more about Ireland’s tragic lovers, Diarmuid and Grainne, in our series about Irish myths & legends.
“Sligeach” means “shelly place” in Irish (Gaelic) and you’ll still see evidence of that today. 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.
Because of the way the coast is faced, the beaches of Strandhill, Streegah 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! Mullaghmore is home to some of the biggest waves, attracting big wave surfers in winter storm season – Mullaghmore even held the record for biggest wave surfed until quite recently! Another good place to check out if you’re into surfing is Donegal, an even more remote and rugged corner of northwest Ireland. Of all the things to do in Sligo, this is perhaps one of the most exhilarating.
Where is Sligo? 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. 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.
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!
Some examples of such monuments are the giant cairn atop Knocknarea Hill, the megolithic tombs at Carrowkeel and Carrowmore, as well as the other tombs dotting the landscape like the impressive court tombs of Creevykeel and Deerpark, and the hard-to-reach but very visible cairn atop Keashcorran Hill.
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…
Please note that, due to problems with the landing pier, the island is currently closed to visitors. We hope that this will change soon!
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.
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 as part of Ireland’s contemporary culinary culture. 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.
Some of the standouts include the oceanfront Shell’s Cafe in Strandhill (yummy all the time but a standout brunch spot), Eithna’s by the Sea in Mullaghmore (a menu of just-caught seafood), Sweetbeat Cafe (innovative vegan cuisine), gastro pubs like Hargadon’s or Coach Lane/Donaghy’s in Sligo town – or simply great pubs like traditional Shoot the Crows or craft beer haven, Swagman’s – Knox for brunch or even Irish tapas, or the wee Pudding Row cafe in Easkey for cosy home cooking. For such a small place, Sligo has a lot of great places to eat!
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.
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!