An essential stop on Yeats Country pilgrimages is this beautiful lake, which figured prominently in the writings of W. B. Yeats. A well-signposted drive-yourself tour around the lake’s perimeter covers 42km (26 miles) and takes less than an hour.
To start, head 1.6km (1 mile) south of Sligo Town and follow the signs for Lough Gill. Within 3.2km (2 miles) you’ll be on the lower edge of the shoreline. Among the sites are Parke’s Castle; Dooney Rock, with its own nature trail and lakeside walk (inspiration for the poem “Fiddler of Dooney”); the Lake Isle of Innisfree, made famous in poetry and song; and the Hazelwood Sculpture Trail, a unique forest walk along the shores of Lough Gill, with 13 wood sculptures. At the lake’s east end, you can branch off to visit Dromahair, a delightful village on the River Bonet.
The road along Lough Gill’s upper shore brings you back to the northern end of Sligo Town. Continue north on the main road (N15), and you’ll see the graceful profile of Ben Bulben (519m/1,702 ft.), one of the Dartry Mountains, rising off to your right. One of Yeats’ last poems, “Under Ben Bulben,” alludes to this majestic rock formation as a silent sentinel looming over Irish history.
If you prefer to see all this beautiful scenery from the water itself, Lough Gill Cruises take you around Lough Gill and the Garavogue River aboard the 72-passenger Wild Rose waterbus as you listen to the poetry of Yeats. The boat departs from Parke’s Castle (see above) daily at 12:30pm; tours last around an hour. During summer only there are also 3-hour trips daily from Doorly Park in Sligo at 2:30pm. Tickets for the hour-long tour are €15 adults, €13 seniors and students, €7.50 children; for the 3-hour version it’s €18 adults, €15 seniors and students, €9 children. Trips to Innisfree, sunset cruises, and dinner cruises are also scheduled. Visit www.roseofinnisfree.com or call 071/916-4266 for details and booking.