County Sligo (from the Irish Sligeach, meaning "a shelly place") has a long history. First that can be recalled is the existence of middens along the coastline by Balisodare Bay (noted as the place that inspired William Butler Yeats's poem 'Down by the Sally Gardens' where he heard an old woman sing the opening lines).
The Culleenamore Middens are part of the earliest kitchens found in existence, approximately 9,000-year-old heaps of discarded shells and bones from the earliest settlers along Ireland’s shores -– these settlers ate what they found on the shore front, not knowing about farming techniques, living life close to the sea as the interior was heavily covered with forest and travelling inland a dangerous and difficult ordeal ... and to the modern traveller -– middens are merely sand dunes by the sea shore.
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Not far from Cullenamore is Carrowmore Megalithic cemetery -- the largest collection of Stone Age megalithic tombs yet found within Ireland. To visit that place strikes a chord with ancient man and their attempts at creating some meaningful way to honor their dead according to ways and beliefs long since passed into history. Look there, watch and listen and feel connected in no uncertain way to ancient man stretching back through time.
Then visit Queen Maebh, buried under a heap of stones atop of Knocknarea. The Iron Age Queen of Connacht is responsible for the greatest cattle raid (a popular pastime) in Ireland between Ulster and Connacht, which included heroic feats of strength and courage by many a warrior, none better than Cúchulainn, finely retold in Táin Bó Cúailnge (‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’). Knocknarea commands striking views across Sligo town and sets the opening scene in Yeats’s poem ‘ The Hosting of the Sidhe’ -- the Sidhe being women fairy folk that were driven underground by the Milesians around this time.
Slish Wood to the Lake Isle of Innisfree
Sligo also has the beautiful Lough Gill -- a freshwater lake that holds many a wild trout and salmon -- a walk there brings you to the lake isle of Innisfree, a famous poem by Yeats when he though of living on that small island as a boy in the late 1880’s. The walk starts at Slish (Sleuth) Wood, mentioned in the opening lines of ‘The Stolen Child’, beautifully renditioned in The Waterboys song of the same name and across the lake one can make out Dooney’s Rock and Hazelwood, both places of inspiration for the great poet.
Finally out to visit Saint Patrick’s Holy Well, past the beautiful stretches of Dunmoran Strand and Aughris Head (whereThe Beach Bar can provide food and drink to slake a thirst either before or after your journey). Here the wild wind comes in fresh off the sea, with the views looking across to Donegal and the sea cliffs of Glencolmcille as you make your way past a medieval ringfort (where a local farmer and his family would have lived and worked) to a lonely spot where, alone with your thoughts, you can take in Ireland’s history from ancient to modern in one fair scene.
“The place that has influenced my life most is Sligo“ – William Butler Yeats, Poet Laureate
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