If you have a couple of hours to spare this Summer, we highly recommend you join the Sligo Walking Trail, which provides tours every day that are both informative and free to the public.
The Sligo Walking Trail brings walkers on a whistle stop tour of the town, unveiling interesting and often unknown bits and bobs about the places in town many of us pass by in blissful ignorance every day.
For example, did you know that you could ‘buy’ your way into heaven by helping rebuild Sligo Abbey after it was burned down in the 15th century? Or that people were buried alive during the cholera epidemic in the 19th century?
Along the way, as we stop to look at places like the Courthouse, St. John’s Cathedral, the Genealogy Centre and elsewhere, Meg provides some background information on each site, and answers the many questions, often with a burst of humour thrown in to keep things interesting. As we walk from place to place, you get the sense that this is both an informative tour and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Starting out at the Discover Ireland Centre at the top of O’Connell Street, this drop in, drop out tour sets out at 11am each morning and by the time a couple of hours have whizzed by, you’ll be ready for lunch with plenty of discussion material gathered in the company of the expert local guides, which includes Meg, who alternates with Dave Lawless and Conor Finn.
Thankfully (or maybe not!) most of the stories aren’t quite as grisly as these ones, told by walking guide Meg Byrne who regaled walkers with tales from Sligo’s history as well as anecdotes about the town. Sligo Walks dropped in last week to find out a little more about the tour and to gauge the responses of those taking part.
“They are invaluable, because you get people interested in the town, there’s more to it than meets the eye,” says Meg of her reason for getting involved as a tour guide. “I love Sligo, I’m from Sligo and I just think that there’s an embarrassment of riches here. Two and a half hours flies, you just don’t notice it, there’s so much to see and do.”
Dutch native Kees Barcema and his wife Eileen, a Dublin native, are here with their nephew Daragh. They have visited in Sligo for the past 25 years, and this tour offers them an insight into one of their favourite holiday destinations. “Absolutely fantastic,” says Eileen of the tour. “We are thoroughly enjoying it.” “When we get visitors, we always bring them to Sligo,” adds Kees. “Sligo Town, and then we go on to Benbulben, Knocknarea, Strandhill. But we always say to people – don’t tell anybody,” referring to the peace and quiet you can experience around the county.
Keith Hopper has returned to live in his native Sligo after spending many years in the UK. A lecturer at ATU, he and his family are avid fans of the walk. “I grew up here so I have a potted history of Sligo. I’m seeing the place in a completely different light. I think Sligo has transformed, it’s great, it’s a fantastic place,” he says, adding that he is surprised that more Sligo people aren’t going on the walk. He, along with his wife Niamh and daughter Katie are on the walk along Sam Browne, a first time visitor to Sligo from the UK.
“I heard a lot about Sligo before coming over here, so it’s really nice to come and find out the history of the place after hearing stories about it.” He says that for first time visitors, this kind of tour is really useful. “There’s a lot to cover, so it’s a good idea to get as much in as possible so that people can look into the bits they want to explore afterwards,” and Katie adds that “if you are going to be here for a few days and someone gives you a tour, even point out nice places to go, it’s a nice introduction to get to know the lay of the land.”
Patrick and Jo Fisher are here from Nottinghamshire. Patrick’s roots are in Gurteen, so they are regular visitors, but the tour is also new to them. “Fantastic. I’ve been coming here since I was a baby. I know Sligo like the back of my hand but I don’t know any of the history, so it’s been very informative.”
One of the participants today, Niamh Moriarty, gives perhaps the best endorsement of this tour. ” I actually have two people visiting me from England later today, and having never done a walking tour of Sligo, I’m going to do another one tomorrow, I’m going to bring them around, and they have to meet Meg. I had a kind of piecemeal idea of what Sligo is about, but this is a great overview.”
The Sligo Walking Tour is supported by the Sligo Tourist Development Association (incorporating Rosses Point Caravan Park and Strandhill Caravan Park) and covers places of a historical, cultural, musical and sporting interest. The tour starts at the Discover Ireland Centre, where you can also pick up brochures and leaflets on walking and places of interest in Sligo. Currently there is one tour per day, and no pre-registration is required. The tours themselves will continue daily throughout the Summer and will run until the end of September.