The rich beauty of the countryside around Ballymote was obviously appreciated by our ancestors. The whole area is an archaeologist’s dream with monuments dating from the stone, bronze and iron ages as well as remains of buildings from the last two thousand years.
A Land Carved in Ice
About 200,000 years ago, glaciers ground their way through southern Sligo on their way to the sea, carving the countryside through which they moved. When the ice receded 10,000 years ago, one of Connaught’s most beautiful and unspoilt places – the area around Ballymote – was revealed, sculptured with valleys and shimmering lakes. Benbulben Mountain is a main focal point along Sligo’s country side as the mountain has a very distinctive and impressive shape, the ideal area for enjoying the beauty of Yeats County with its stone walls, and the ancient archelogical sites in Sligo at Carrowmore, Creevykeel and the Holy Well at Tobernalt in Sligo.
Sligo: Poets, Peaks and Faeries
Sligo has a wide range of adventure activities to suit everyone – whether you want to surf the wild waves, cycle through lush countryside, cast your rod or follow in the footsteps of WB Yeats. There are also gorgeous drives and stunning scenery waiting to be explored.
Ireland’s most distinctive and unusual mountain, Benbulbin was formed during the ice age by massive glaciers and is home to Arctic alpine plants, wild hares, foxes and choughs. Boasting many walking and hiking trails of varying difficulty, there are secluded forest areas that open out to close up views of Benbulbin head, as well as panoramic views of Donegal Bay. The poet, William Butler Yeats, is buried at Drumcliffe churchyard, 6km away.
The limestone mountain of Knocknarea, located on the Coolera peninsula, dominates the skyline of Sligo. Formed from limestone over 300 million years ago, the summit is crowned by the great cairn of Queen Maeve and has been considered an important place of ritual since Neolithic times.
Sligo Walking breaks:
Trails are located all over the county of Sligo and range from way-marked mountain hikes to coastal paths and woodland strolls. The Sligo Way is a long distance walking route (3-4 days) for seasoned hikers, with lots of archaeological features to discover along its varied terrain; starting at Lough Talt on the Sligo/Mayo border, the way continues for 80km along the Ox Mountains, to Dromahair in County Leitrim. It can be walked in its entirety or in sections. Alternatively, for a more gentle exploration of the countryside, take a scenic walk around the shores of picturesque Lough Talt, or peaceful Lough Easkey surrounded by forest plantations, or the small coastal Bunduff lake. Local tip: there’s a dedicated walking site that the locals use – www.sligowalks.ie.
Actually a city, despite its name, visit the Sligo County Museum for Sligo's rich stone-age history – including a large firkin of 100-year-old bog butter – as well as paintings by Irish artists George Russell, Sean Keating and Jack. B. Yeats; literature fans should seek out the special Yeats Room full of memorabilia linked to the poet. Sligo Abbey, the burial place of Kings and Princes, is the town’s only surviving medieval building (1252) and Sligo’s most distinguished architectural treasure, while City Hall, with its Renaissance-style architecture, and the restored 19th century Courthouse are equally stunning. Sligo cathedral is beautiful for a visit or worship, and to get away from the bustle, try the Garavogue River Walk: start opposite the Embassy Rooms on Kennedy Parade, follow the path along the riverside into Doorly Park, follow the nature trail through the park and loop back onto the Crozen Promenade and walk back to Kennedy Parade. Insider tip: A looped 4.5km heritage walk around Sligo Town will bring you to all of the major attractions.
W.B. Yeats Country (Sligo):
There are many ways to follow in the footsteps of William Butler Yeats and learn more about his life; you can walk the Yeats trail and visit a bronze statue of him on Hyde Bridge. At the Sligo County Museum (Sligo) The Yeats Room is filled with original memorabilia associated with the poet, including manuscripts, photographs, letters and newspaper cuttings as well as a complete collection of his poems from 1889 to 1936. The red brick Yeats Building on Hyde bridge houses a permanent exhibition and is home to the Yeats Society Sligo which promotes the poet’s heritage through a range of events including the Yeats Summer and Winter Schools for budding writers. Further afield, try the Yeats self-drive tour, a scenic loop starting in Sligo, that heads west via Carrowmore prehistoric cemetery and Knocknarea ancient cairn ad continues to Strandhill seaside resort, and Rosses Point, a place of great inspiration to the poet. Also visit Drumcliffe, where W.B. Yeats is buried, then on to Carney, Grange, Cliffony and Mullaghmore before returning to Sligo via the glen of Glencar, Lough Gill, Hazelwood Forest Park and Dooney Rock.
Only 5km outside Sligo Town, the Hazelwood Demesne is located at Half Moon Bay on the shores of Lough Gill, with lovely short walks offering views over Church Island, Cottage Island and Goat Island. This is an absolutely gorgeous drive to do if you are in/around Sligo. There are lots of rest stops, with plenty of picnic facilities and good eateries, and stunning views of Lough Gill; the famous Lake Isle of Innisfree immortalised by Yeats. Local tip: this area is particularly beautiful in autumn, especially the drive from the main road down to the waters edge close to the Isle of Innisfree.
Previously a summer destination for W.B. & Jacks Yeats and inspiration for their work, Rosses Point blue flag beach and enjoy an easy, flat walk for all ages; start at the Church of Ireland and walk along the promenade where the Garavogue meets Sligo Bay. You will also see the ruins of Elsinore House, Sligo Bay Lifeboat Station and shop, the Metal Man sculpture standing in the water and the Old Watch House (1810). The Yeats Country Hotel up the hill is worth a visit for some refreshments.
Accessible by boat from Rosses Point or by driving or walking over the causeway (follow the 14 pillars) at low tide, the 400-acre Coney Island is named after its huge number of resident rabbits. Only one family lives on the island, but it is well worth a look; there’s a pub, faerie ring and star shaped forts, secluded Carty’s strand at the rear of the island – safe for swimming – and many famine remains. Local folklore tells of faeries, mermaids and spirits; see if you can find St Patricks wishing chair, St Patricks well, and the remains of a washed up whale. Great fun for all ages – especially if you walk in one direction and return by boat.
Sligo Folk Park is located in the beautiful village of Riverstown, providing a true to life experience of rural life and Irish heritage at the turn of the late 19th century. Set in the grounds of restored Millview House, you can walk around the park and then enjoy one of Ireland's finest collections of rural history and agricultural artefacts. Make sure you visit the Village Street: it’s a recreated street consisting of a creamery store, grocery shop and pub!
Take a guided tour of Woodville Farm and visit woodlands, green fields, and historic farm buildings as well as a variety of farm animals. The 200-year-old thatched Dolly's Cottage with its original features is the only one of its kind in the area and open to visitors the summer months for a real taste of the past.
Knocknashee, Hill of the Fairies (Nr Tubbercurry):
Visit these beautiful botanical gardens and spiritual faerie land on one of the seven sacred hills in Ireland. There’s a stone tunnel entrance, dolmen and amphitheatre, as well as miniature model villages, enchanted glades and streams, a wildlife pond and aquatic cave. Walk alone or with a guide, and visit the Pet Village before relaxing in the Rainbow Tea Rooms for some tasty tea and cake.