County Sligo

Strandhill Beach
Strandhill Beach

Cape Town has Table Mountain; Sligo has its Ben Bulben, the flagship feature of a county and coastline famous the world over as Yeats Country...

What would poet and playwright William Butler (or WB to most) Yeats have made of big-wave surfing? What kind of poetry might the Nobel Prize winner have written had he pitched up in Mullaghmore, finding a troupe of surfers barreling down some of the biggest waves in western Europe?

Casting “a cold eye” wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

Naturally, much has changed since Sligo inspired some of Yeats’s greatest work. But much remains as he left it, too. Fancy a sightseeing boat trip around the Lake Isle of Inishfree? Done. Want to picnic in a wild wonderland at Dooney Rock Forest Park? No problem. What about a walkabout in Hazelwood? It’s as if Wandering Aengus (the hero from Yeats’s poem The Song of Wandering Aengus describing the quest for his lover) was there only yesterday.

And then, of course, there is Ben Bulben – as mind-blowing a backdrop to Sligo as Table Mountain is to Cape Town. Beneath this extraordinary mountain, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, lies the poet himself in Drumcliff cemetery. “Under bare Ben Bulben’s head,” as he predicted. 

On the town…

Yeats is also a presence in Sligo town. Stop by the Yeats Memorial Building, home to an international summer school, and Rowan Gillespie’s sculpture of the poet outside Sligo’s Ulster Bank, for example. Nor was William alone. His brother Jack was one of Ireland’s greatest painters, and he said he rarely painted a picture “without a bit of Sligo in it”.

Talented family, that. You can see Sligo’s influence on Jack B Yeats for yourself at the Model Gallery’s brilliant Niland Collection. Afterwards, the shops, restaurants, pubs and nightlife of Sligo town may prompt you to eat, buy or create some art of your own.

Out of town

Sligo, as you may gather from those surfers in Mullaghmore (check out the big wave prowlers, if you don’t believe us), also has quite a coastline. There are coastal villages like Rosses Point and Easkey. In summer, boats travel to the offshore island of Inishmurray, where St Molaise founded a monastery in the sixth century. You can even take a seaweed bath in a Victorian tub in Enniscrone.

Whether you are kicking back with a cool pint or hot chocolate, harbor views, idling fishing boats, Ben Bulben or the distant cliffs of Slieve League... you don’t need a tow-in – or, indeed a poet – to enjoy that.