History of Sligo

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Sligo

Sligo guards the north-west passage between Connacht and Ulster. Where Benbulben falls short of the sea, battles have been won and lost from time immemorial. None was more remarkable that that fought in the 6th century at Cuildrevne between Saints Columcille and Finian for possession of a copy of the Psalter which Columcille had secretly made while a guest in the house of Finian.

Stretching between the seaside village of Mullaghmore in the north to Enniscrone in the west, the coast of Sligo ranges from forbidding rock-faced cliffs to tide-washed strands, from bent-grassed dunes to caves carved out the turbulent Atlantic.

Classiebawn Castle at Mullaghmore, once the holiday home of Lord Mountbatten, looks out like a fairy castle from its cliff-top perch to the windswept Inishmurray Island. The island’s fame is its stone-walled remains of an 8th century monastery of Saint Molaise which are in a remarkable state of preservation.

At Streedagh Point is the rock called Carrick-na-Spania where in 1588 three galleons of the Spanish Armada were wrecked with the loss of 1,200 lives. Further south the poetess, Eva Gore-Booth, saw the great waves of the Atlantic become’ the little waves of Breffny’. Sheltering behind Knocknane Hill is the Yellow Strand, named by Yeats as ‘Sinbad’s Yellow Shore’.

Looking from its shelter-belt over Drumcliffe Bay, its ‘great windows open to the south’, Lissadell is the big house where Countess Markievicz grew up.  Nearby is Drumcliffe churchyard where Yeats is buried. Rosses Point boasts a yacht club, the West of Ireland Championship golf course and a safe beach making it a popular resort. Here the Garavogue River, flowing form Lough Gill through Sligo town, enters the sea between Deadman’s Point and Coney Island. The Metal Man, beloved by Jack Yeats, stands on the Perch Rock from where, since 1821, he has pointed the safest way for shipping.

On the southern side of the river Strandhill Village nestles under the beetling cliffs where ‘the wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea’. Over 1,000 feet high, at its summit rests a mighty cairn, the tomb of Maeve, Queen of Connacht. On a clear day the view takes in five counties, a God-made map it has been called.

Ballisodare Bay penetrates inland for three miles to the village of that name. It figured much in the young life of W.B. Yeats. Pollexfens’ flour mills, owned by his grandfather, still straddle the Ballisodare River. From this village the coast of Sligo turns west.

At Dunmoran there is another safe beach backed by sand dunes. With its sheer cliffs Aughris Head presents a scenic contrast. Lady Morgan, the 18th century Irish writer, spent much of her youth at nearby Longford House in Beltra. Written there, her novel, ‘The Wild Irish Girl’ made her the toast of Europe.

Carrowmably Martello tower near Dromore West stands high above the sea. The view is exceptionally fine extending over a great part of the Barony of Tireragh from the Ox Mountains on the right through the distant Knocknarea and Benbulben to the heights of Slieve League across Donegal Bay.

Apart from its salmon fishing, the ocean swell at Easkey has made it a surfing centre. The Atlantic sunsets are a feature of the Sligo coast. The County Sligo hinterland is bisected by the Ox Mountains trending north-east to south-west, and forming a divide between the lowland on either side. Between this range and the sea a gently undulating countryside stretches from Ballisodare to Ballina.

South Sligo excels in traditional Irish music. To achieve Michael Coleman’s ‘Sligo Style’ of traditional fiddle playing is the ambition of young musicians. Born at Killavil, near Ballymote, in 1891, on emigrating to the USA in 1912, Coleman’s recordings were sent home in thousands. They provided a stimulus for Irish Fiddlers.

Two hills rise dramatically from the South Sligo plain. Crowned with Neolithic remains, Knocknashee, the Fairy Hill, near Cloonacool, rises to 900feet. Further east, near Ballymote, Keshcorran affords fine views from 1,100 feet. In one of the seventeen caves on its west side the legendary Diarmuid and Grainne took refuge from the vengeful Fionn Mac Cumhail.

Sligo is rich in prehistoric remains. The Carrowkeel passage-grave cemetery is at the summit of the Bricklieve Mountains near Ballinafad. At the foot of Knocknarea, five miles from Sligo, is the Carrowmore Cemetery of chamber tombs.

There are golf courses at Rosses Point, Strandhill, Enniscrone, Ballymote, Tubbercurry and Ballygawley, and the lakes and rivers of County Sligo make it a fisherman’s paradise.