5 Sligo Walks that inspired WB Yeats

As we celebrate Yeats Day – June 13th, the great poet’s birthday, we check out some of the places in Sligo that inspired him so much that he wrote about them in some of his most celebrated poems.

So, we all know that Ireland’s most famous poet was from Sligo. Well, ok, maybe that’s not strictly true, but although he never actually lived here for a prolonged period of time, WB Yeats did spend so much time here on visits, he’s become more associated with Sligo than probably anywhere else. Plus, he’s buried in Drumcliffe Graveyard, in the shadow of Benbulben, one of the most picturesque places anywhere to seek your eternal reward.

Yeats wrote extensively of Sligo in his poetry, and here we outline 5 places you can visit that will enable you to walk in the footsteps of the great man.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Ok, so it’s an island, and even Yeats himself, despite being the ‘walk on water’ poet, couldn’t quite manage that one. Oh, and the nearest vantage point is in County Leitrim. But, however, it makes our list, because the tour around Lough Gill is so full of beautiful scenery that it is well worth doing by car, on a bike, or even on foot. Set out from Sligo, and we recommend you take in other Yeats locations like Slish Wood on the way (see below). These are also on the lakeshore, therefore, circumnavigate Lough Gill in an anti-clockwise direction for the best experience.

Top Tip: Visit nearby Creevylea Abbey, the ruins of which date from the late 16th century and which is a place of peace and tranquillity.

The Sligo Way
The Lake Isle of Innisfree – photo SligoWalks.ie

As Yeats wrote in ‘Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland’

The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.

And the Maeve he mentions is, of course, Queen Maeve, Sligo’s resident Warrior Queen, who is reputedly buried underneath a large stone cairn on the summit. The recently extended Queen Maeve Trail is an absolute must for anyone visiting Sligo, located as it is between Sligo Town and Strandhill, it’s accessible, a little challenging, fully way marked, and offers amazing views over the Wild Atlantic Way. Visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/qmt/ for more.

Top Tip: You can extend your walk on the Queen Maeve Trail by continuing along the connected Killaspugbrone Coastal Loop. This will extend your walk from 8km to 15km, and you’ll deserve some of the famed Strandhill hospitality after that!

Distant views of Knocknarea from Culleenamore Beach – photo SligoWalks.ie

Dooney Rock
When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;

Dooney Rock is located on the shores of Lough Gill, just a stones throw from another Yeats location at Slish Wood. Taking the R287 to Dromohair from the eastern side of Sligo, the entrance is located on your left. From here, a very pleasant 1.2km looped walk will take you to the lakeshore, and wonderful views can be taken in from the top of Dooney Rock itself. Visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/dooney-rock/ for details.

Top Tip: Visit the nearby Holy Well, one of many in the area (but probably none as elaborate). Here, a moment of reflection as we think of those closest to us as well as perhaps those who have passed on.

Dooney Rock
Dooney Rock, Sligo – photo SligoWalks.ie

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Yeats wrote these lines for Eva and Constance Gore Booth of Lissadell House. The house remains open to visitors, and there is a beautiful beach alongside which cann be accessed any time of year. A lovely pathway leads you through a tree-lined road before the full expanse of the beach opens up before you. At Drumcliffe village, take the exit from the N15 for Carney, and turn left there whereupon you’ll come to the entrance to the beach at the first gate lodge of Lissadell estate. Visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/lissadell/ for more.

Top Tip: Coming back into Sligo Town, stop at Drumcliffe Cemetery, where the grave of WB Yeats is located just outside the main door of the church.

Lissadell House and beach – photo SligoTourism.ie

Slish Wood
As Yeats describes in his beautiful poem ‘The Stolen Child’

Where dips the rocky highland
of Sleuth Wood in the lake;

‘Sleuth’ is Slish Wood, and is a wonderful lakeside walk which takes in a forest path and a timber boardwalk which skirts the shore of Lough Gill for several kilometres. Taking the same directions for Dooney Rock (above), continue along this road a little further before the car park appears on your left. Visit https://sligowalks.ie/walks/slish-wood/ for more.

Top Tip: The Sligo Camino takes place in July every year, and takes in Slish Wood as part of a 32km walk which starts in Dromohair and ends in the south Sligo village of Coolaney.

The boardwalk at Slish Wood – photo Deirdre Kennedy