Wonderful Weekend in Sligo/ Leitrim June 2007
The recent collapse of Stobart Air (which had taken over Aer Arann a few years back) reminded me of how much I loved Aer Arann back in the day. I had the good fortune to fly into and out of some of Ireland’s tiny regional airports with Aer Arann and remember well the wonderful service they gave. There was something magical about checking in for those little turbo-prop planes, checking in your luggage and seeing it being brought across the tarmac to the cargo hold of the plane on a trailer, having only one air steward who welcomed you on-board with a smile, did the
safety demo, closed the door, handed you a newspaper, then refreshments, prepared for landing and waved you off the plane at your final destination still with a smile. I can honestly say that no other airline has ever come close for service in my books.
One of the first times that I flew with them, myself and Charlie popped down to Sligo for the wedding of our friends, Teresa and Conor, in June 2007. We decided to make a weekend of it so flew from Dublin to Sligo Airport; the latter flight sadly now no longer available since 2011. I remember well how gloriously green the Irish countryside was as we flew from East to West across the country in next to no time on that sunny Thursday evening.
On arrival at Sligo Airport to the west of Sligo town, we picked up our hire car for the few days, a red Renault Grand Scenic, which was ideal for sightseeing.
We made our way on the short trip to where we were staying for the next three nights; the beautiful four star Sligo Park Hotel. As the wedding reception was to be held here the following day, staying here for the weekend made sense. We were checked in with no delay and then went down to the hotel’s Hazelwood Restaurant where we devoured a tasty dinner. This is a little YouTube video giving a flavour of the hotel:
This hotel rightfully prides itself on being located on The Wild Atlantic Way and is just on the edge of Sligo Town. If you’re into poetry and love W. B. Yeats, well this is in the Heart of Yeats’ Country. It’s set in quiet parkland and is surrounded by some of the most scenic countryside in Ireland, ranging from the majestic flat-topped mountain of Ben Bulben to nearby Glencar Waterfall in neighbouring Co. Leitrim. Sligo and the north-western part of Ireland is one of those lesser-known, hidden gem destinations in Ireland. Its rugged landscape is full of natural wonders from mountains to seaside views.
The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 km coastal route along the west coast of Ireland. It is broken up into 6 regions including the Northern Headlands, The Bay Coast, The Cliff Coast, The Haven Coast, Southern Peninsulas and The Surf Coast. We decided that after the wedding we would explore a small section of the Surf Coast, looking at the Sligo Wild Atlantic way route. The area was breath-taking enough to inspire artists like the poet, W.B. Yeats. Rain or shine, you can’t help but be awe-inspired by the dramatic views and fresh ocean breeze.
So here are Eight Things We Saw in Sligo/ Leitrim
1. Grange & Streedagh Beach
The following day we made our way to The Church of Mary Immaculate in Grange, Co. Sligo for the wedding of our friends, Teresa and Conor. Grange is a pretty village about 20 km north of Sligo itself on the road to Donegal. The wedding ceremony was really memorable and Teresa was a stunning bride.
Everything went off so well. The sun shone and everyone was in great form. Everyone looked great. It was lovely to catch up with friends and shoot the breeze.
Heading back to the Sligo Park for the reception, Charlie and I took a short detour to Streedagh. This is a beautiful award winning 3km stretch of strand with historical links to the Spanish Armada. The beach is very popular for walking, horse riding and kite surfing all year round and is the perfect spot for swimming during the summer months when lifeguards are on duty.
The Spanish Armada was a Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed in August 1588 with the purpose of invading England. The strategic aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England and the Tudor establishment of Protestantism in England. The Armada was scattered firstly by an English fire ship attack and in the ensuing Battle of Gravelines was damaged but managed to regroup and withdrew north, with the English fleet harrying it up the east coast of England.
The commander ordered a return to Spain, but the Armada was disrupted during severe storms in the North Atlantic and a large portion of the vessels were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Of the initial 130 ships over a third failed to return. Driven into Donegal Bay by the storms of September 21st 1588 three ships of the Spanish Armada, La Lavia, La Juliana and the Santa Maria de Vision, anchored off Streedagh Strand, Co. Sligo.
During a further heavy storm on September 25th all three ships were driven ashore and wrecked. Up to 1,100 aboard these ships died cruelly on Streedagh beach. One survivor Capt. Francisco de Cuellar wrote an account of his adventures in Sligo, his journey to MacClancy’s Castle in Leitrim and his eventual departure from the Causeway Coast of North Antrim.
You can find out more information by visiting the Grange & Armada Development Association.
2. Ben Bulben
On the road back to Sligo town, we had a great view of Ben Bulben on the left hand side. Also sometimes known as “Table Mountain,” Ben Bulben is the most photographed and recognised viewpoint in Sligo. Another place that inspired the works of Yeats and a place that gathers outdoor enthusiasts year round.
With hiking and running trails around the mountain, there are safe walking trails up Ben Bulben on the south side of the mountain, or horseback riding with that epic backdrop. Yeats even wrote a poem entirely dedicated to Ben Bulben titled, “Under Ben Bulben.”
Besides being stunning, a place for people to get fresh air, and inspiration for literature Ben Bulben is also a place with its very own legends including fairy doors. It is said that this is the only place in the country where mortals can see fairies with their naked eye as well as other legends.
But we had an Irish wedding to attend…..so climbing the mountain wasn’t on the agenda. After a great night of lovely food and drink, craic agus ceoil (music, dancing and general devilment) we hit our beds in the wee hours.
3. Sligo Town
So the following day, feeling a bit delicate, we had breakfast delivered to the room and it was delicious. When we felt rested we decided to head off for some sight-seeing. A trip to Sligo isn’t complete without checking out the town/city. While it’s not the largest urban centre in the west of Ireland and you don’t need much time to explore it, it’s still a smashing quaint town worth taking a lap around for some shopping. Well worth walking the streets of small Irish towns with their old shopfronts and pub lined streets and Sligo is no exception.
The raging River Garavogue runs through the centre of the town connecting Lough Gill to Sligo Bay. While the water is a force not to be reckoned with, one look at the raging rapids and you’ll understand why it does help set the scene in town.
4. Glencar Waterfall and Glencar Lough
After browsing around Sligo town, we decided to head out to the beautiful Glencar Waterfall. Ok so this is not in Sligo but Leitrim. The 50ft waterfall is located at Glencar Lough and was the subject of W.B Yeats poem “The Stolen Child”. Visiting is free and there is quite a bit of parking around too. There is also a cafe and tourist information point if you wish to visit.
It was a glorious day the day we visited and we really enjoyed seeing the waterfall. We also saw a little family of swans swimming in the nearby Glencar Lough which was beautiful to see.
5. W.B. Yeats’ Grave
We then decided to head north to see W.B. Yeats’ Grave. Yeats’ remains are buried in Drumcliffe Cemetery under the watchful eye of the Ben Bulben Mountains. He died in France in 1939 and had asked to be buried in a temporary grave before being repatriated back to Sligo. The repatriation however did not take place until 1948 due to the outbreak of World War 2. Some claim his remains were mixed up with someone else’s on his return to Ireland. Either way though the grave is a symbolic show of his love of the place that inspired him.
As well as the poet's final resting place, the graveyard has the remains of a round tower and an 11th-Century High Cross. We stopped off in Drumcliffe Tea House for some tea and scones.
Our next stop further north was Mullaghmore; the small fishing village set around a walled harbour. It is very picturesque and there are a few restaurants and pubs serving fresh seafood.
If you venture out a bit further you can walk along the cliffs which provide an excellent view of the waves crashing against the rocks. Like everywhere in Sligo it is scenic and not inundated with tourists. Having the whole place to yourself makes it feel that much more special.
As we departed, we caught a glimpse of Classiebawn Castle. The castle was frequented by Lord Mountbatten, a British Royal Navy officer and statesmen. His relations include members of the current British royal family; being a maternal uncle of the late Prince Philip and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1979 he was killed leaving Mullaghmore Harbour in his fishing boat by a bomb planted by the IRA.
Despite its history, the castle is beautiful especially when viewed with Ben Bulben in the background. Tired but happy after a lovely day of sightseeing, we headed back to the hotel.
7. Rosses Point
The following morning, we had our Sunday breakfast delivered to the room. As Sligo is renowned for its beaches we decided to visit a couple before our flight back to Dublin in the late afternoon. First was Rosses Point.
The award-winning beach at Rosses Point, 8km from Sligo, offers visitors a long stretch of clean, fine sand backed by low grassy dunes. Set on the “Wild Atlantic Way” there are lovely views of Knocknarea to the south and Ben Bulben to the north. Views extend out to Coney Island, Oyster Island and the wild Atlantic Ocean beyond. If you are wanting to take a dip in the water than Rosses Point is the best place to go. The beach has lifeguards on duty during the summer months. It does get busy on nice days where you will find families building sandcastles and eating ice cream. We had a lovely walk on the beautiful sandy beach here.
Largely undeveloped this area is a haven for wildlife. There is a colony of grey seals in Sligo Bay and dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks and even whales are occasionally spotted. The bay is popular with windsurfers and other water-sports enthusiasts, and in summer the beach is an excellent choice for family excursions.
There are some interesting monuments to see here in Rosses Point too. Offshore, the Metal Man, a 3.7 metre guardian statue built in 1821 points out a safe course for seafarers into the harbour. Waiting on the Shore is a highly evocative statue of a woman with her arms outstretched to sea. It was created by sculptor Niall Bruton and pays tribute to the men who sailed the seas off the west coast of Ireland, and to the women who waited at home and prayed for their safe return.
For centuries, successive generations of Sligo families had an uneasy relationship with the sea. On the one hand it provided them with a living with men going off to be fishermen, merchant seamen and sailors. On the other it was fraught with danger and took lives with frightening regularity. It meant that women could never be at peace while their husbands, sons, brothers and fathers were out at sea.
It was also left to women to run the family and the home while their men were away. And in those tragic cases when men were lost at sea, their wives would have to struggle on and raise the children alone. Hers is the plight of women throughout the ages along Ireland coastline and beyond. The plaque on the base of that statue reads:
Lost at sea, lost at sea,
Or in the evening tide
We loved you, we miss you
May God with you abide.
The three metre high bronze statue looks out across Sligo Bay and fittingly, is close to the base of the local lifeboat rescue service. It was unveiled on 10 August, 2002 in a ceremony involving local dignitaries.
8. Strandhill Beach
Renowned for its surf school, Strandhill is a must see on any visit to Sligo. We stopped a while here on the way back to Sligo Airport. As you park your car and get out, the sea breeze instantly hits your face. You can hear the waves crashing as you peer below at the Atlantic Ocean. It really is beautiful. Swimming is not advised as the waves can be pretty rough, but it is an excellent place for surfing. In fact for many, it is one of the best places to surf in Ireland.
Mammy Johnston's is well known here; an amazing ice cream parlour, with huge selections of treats including crepes, sorbets and mouth-watering ice creams. I have no doubt that many Irish families cannot go near Strandhill without a visit. And sure we had to sample an ice-cream for the road…or in our case for the sky….as we were heading back to the nearby airport to fly back to Dublin:
As always, the problem with a short Irish weekend break is that there is never enough time.
We'll definitely be back to Sligo…
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than he can understand.
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 55
Number 16 - Nature & Wildlife - Waterfalls
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever visited these places? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!