Of all of the many wonderful walks in Sligo, few – if any – are as easily accessible and visually appealing as the newly revamped Ballymote Heritage Trail. Developed as a looped urban trail, it takes in many of the archaeological and historical features and buildings in one of Sligo’s most historically important towns.
In this short 3.5km walk, you’ll take in notable features such as the ruins of Ballymote Abbey, the magnificent Ballymote Castle, as well as the striking Emlaghfad Church, which was located along a main regional access route during the Middle Ages and features on some of the earliest maps of Ireland.
I walked the loop on a very pleasant Winter’s day with Ray O’Grady of Sligo County Council, who is a member of the team responsible for creating many of the walks in the county. He filled us in on interesting aspects to this walk, explaining how communities are becoming more and more proactive in relation to developing walks amenities in their areas in partnership with the Council.
“Often times, the community either purchases land or maybe just gets permission through a permissive access agreement to actually develop the trails,” he says. “Rather than Sligo County Council coming along and saying that we want access, it’s better if these things are brokered through the community for community benefit.”
The latest section of this walk is a good example. Although the community park has been in place for a number of years, a new section adds both length and visual interest. Incorporating the existing walk through the community park and on past Ballymote Castle via an underpass, this new 500 metre section includes a path which passes in front of the Corn Mill and on to a section along the road which leads to Emlaghfad Church, the furthest point from the start.
Once the agreements had been put in place between the community and the landowner to develop the new section of the walk, Sligo County Council was able to secure funding from the Town and Village Renewal Fund and the works were then put in place, supervised and promoted by the local stakeholders.
“Communities place huge value on these types of facilities,” he says of the importance of walking amenities around Sligo. This particular walk is an urban walk, within that context it’s lit, it’s open 365 (days of the year), it’s there in the evenings for people to walk on in the Winter. So we feel that it’s very important for communities to be involved, and we feel it’s very worthwhile for communities to be involved.”
And in this way, the community can drive initiatives which can then be backed up by Sligo County Council and other agencies. But the key aspect is that because it’s driven by local people, that sense of ownership and local co-operation is central to its success: “The bottom line is that this trail and this park would not exist but for the community involvement that actually created it in the first place. For a community group to have actually developed this themselves is testament to the community.”
One of the only disappointing aspects of the walk is that for a number of years, Ballymote Castle has remained closed to the public due to safety fears and certain structural defects. But Sligo County Council would welcome a chance to engage with the Office of Public Works to have at least parts of the castle repaired and then reopened.
“Unfortunately, you don’t have access into it,”, Ray says of Ballymote Castle, adding that he would like to see an agreement whereby local access and tours could be arranged. “At the moment there really isn’t access internally, but it’s in really good shape as you can see, so it has real potential in terms of being a visitor attraction for the whole of County Sligo in my view.”
Time will tell whether the castle can once again be opened to the public, but for now its visible outer walls remain one of the most impressive features of the Ballymote Heritage Trail. A video on the Sligo Walks Facebook page includes dramatic aerial footage of the castle, as well as the other main attractions along the route.
The walk itself is also quite diverse in that alongside the older elements such as the Abbey and the Castle – which dates back to Norman times – a more modern flavour of the town’s history is also tastefully commemorated. In front of the train station is a statue of Brother Walfrid, founder of Celtic FC in Scotland, and who was born as Andrew Kerins just a short distance from the town. And another of Ballymote’s famous sons, traditional fiddle player Paddy Killoran, is also commemorated along the walk.
“Ballymote has major associations with Irish music and sport in general, and has a wonderful history and background in those areas, so the parks that have been developed reflect that,” Ray adds.
The final stop along the walk is Emlaghfad Church, which overlooks the ancient route of Bóthar an Chorráin, which provided an important access route into Ballymote from the Curlew Pass, again a main thoroughfare in the Middle Ages. Upon reaching this point it’s time to turn for home, having completed a most enjoyable and relaxing ramble along one of Sligo’s most scenic walks.
Park the car at the entrance to Ballymote Community Park on the entrance to the town from the Sligo town side (the R293). The walk through the park is clearly outlined, though the Abbey is hidden behind some trees less than 100 metres from the start. Then pass the statue of Brother Walfrid and the train station. Take the underpass to Ballymote Castle, on past the Corn Mill and the open road to Emlaghfad. The road then loops around back onto another section of the main road. You can either retrace your steps back through the park, or take a slightly different route along the main roads in town, turning left onto Teeling St and back to the starting point. Allow 45 minutes to walk, and perhaps an hour to do so at a more leisurely pace and to take in the sites.
More detailed information on this and over 50 other walks in Sligo are available at SligoWalks.ie.