Bucolic, rural County Sligo is blessed with an extraordinary concentration of ancient burial grounds and pre-Christian sites, most of them in easy reach of the county capital, Sligo Town. It’s more than just the well-known sites like the Stone Age cemeteries at Carrowmore and Carrowkeel—driving down the country lanes, you can’t help spotting a dolmen (ancient stone table) in some pasture or other, with sheep or ponies grazing casually around it. Thanks to the impressive energy of the County Sligo tourism offices, however, this countryside has above all else been labeled “Yeats Country.” Although he was born in Dublin, the great Irish poet W. B. Yeats spent so much time in County Sligo that it became a part of him, and he a part of it—literally, as he is buried here. As you’ll quickly discover, every hill, cottage, vale, and lake around here seems to bear a plaque indicating its relation to the poet or his works.
Don't miss the atmospheric hilltop cairn grave of Knocknarea. Some lesser sites are also open to the public, but most are not. The Irish are passionate about property rights, so don’t go clambering over a fence for a better photo without getting permission first.
At the foot of Knocknarea is the delightful resort area of Strandhill, 8km (5 miles) from Sligo Town. Stretching into Sligo Bay, Strandhill has a sand dune beach and a patch of land nearby called Coney Island, which is usually credited as the namesake of New York’s amusement park. Across the bay is another resort, Rosses Point.
Northwest of Sligo Bay, 6km (3 3/4 miles) offshore, lies the uninhabited island of Inishmurray, which contains the haunting ruins of a very early monastic settlement. Founded in the 6th century and destroyed by the Vikings in 807, the monastery of St. Molaise contains in its circular walls the remains of several churches, beehive cells, altars, and an assemblage of "cursing stones" once used to bring ruin on those who presumably deserved it. Boat trips to the island are operated by Inishmurray Island Trips (www.inishmurrayislandtrips.com; 087/254-0190) and Ewing’s Sea Angling & Boat Charters (www.sligoboatcharters.com; 086/891-3618). Expect to pay around €45 adults, €40 children, and you may need a minimum group size of four. Ferries leave from Mulllaghmore or Rosses Point. Call or visit the websites for details and sailing times. Aside from this ancient history and waterfront beauty, most of the rest of Sligo's attractions are associated in some way with the poet William Butler Yeats, as you'll note below.
A Poetic Soul
One of Ireland’s greatest and most beloved writers, William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) had Sligo in his soul.
The first of Ireland’s four Nobel laureates, Yeats (pronounced “Yates”) was a poet, playwright, and politician. He was at the forefront of the Celtic Revival, which celebrated and championed native Irish culture and heritage. Drawing heavily upon the traditional folklore of Ireland, his work was steeped in myth and imagination.
Yeats grew up amid Sligo’s verdant hills and dales, now known (by the tourist board at least) as “Yeats Country.” In fact, parts of the county’s tourism industry seem to focus on little else. You can cruise Lough Gill while listening to a live recital of Yeats’s poetry; follow Yeats trails and buy a hundred items of Yeats memorabilia; and visit dozens of his purported haunts—some reputedly still spooked by his ghost, and some of which have only tenuous connections with the man.
Yeats died in Menton, on the French Riviera, in 1939. Knowing he was ill, he stated, “If I die here, bury me up there on the mountain, and then after a year or so, dig me up and bring me privately to Sligo.” True to his wishes, in 1948 his body was moved to Sligo and reinterred at Drumcliffe Church.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.