By Nicola Hoey, an avid wanderer of the Wild Atlantic Way, sharing her experiences at wildatlanticwanderings.com
The Irish are renowned for their ability to travel the world round, exploring new lands and making new friends, but we always tend to overlook what’s right on our own doorstep. I, myself, am guilty of such.
During the recent Fleadh Ceoil Festival I decided to reacquaint myself with Sligo Town. So I decided to take on Sligo as I do any new town or city I visit. For cities, I jump on the tourist band-wagon and buy the Big Red Bus Tour tickets; a great way to get your bearings and capture the main attractions in a short period of time. Otherwise I jump in the saddle for bike tours or take to the pavement for walking tours. Sligo Town’s answer to the Big Red Bus tour is its very own guided walking tour. It sets out from the Sligo Tourist Office on O’Connell Street at 11:00 each day throughout the summer.
Let me introduce you to Sligo Town
John Ryan, our native tour guide reintroduced me to Sligo Town’s History. Kitted out like Indiana Jones, this larger than life character breathed life back into the history of Sligo Town with his ability to spin a yarn. So rather than spoiling the highlights of the walking tour I’ll tease you with some snippets to entice you to take on the tour yourself.
- What is Spike Milligan’s connection with Sligo?
- Who was the ruthless merchant that stole stone from the Sligo Abbey to build his own street?
- Why is it that Sligo Cathedral is one of the very few Cathedrals (if not the only) across Ireland where its entrance faces away from Sligo Town?
- How did a Sligo man become the viceroy (similar to the status of a president!) of Peru, Chile?
- Was the idea behind the infamous Bram Stroker’s fable of Dracula actually sparked by tales of Sligo’s cholera epidemic?
- Which building did WB Yeats compare Sligo’s Ulster Bank to when receiving the Nobel Prize of Literature from the King of Sweden?
The tour was free and took two and a half hours to complete. It is approximately 4.5km in length and provides access to the city’s most significant sites, such as:
- Douglas Hyde Bridge and the Garavogue River
- The Ulster Bank and the Statue of WB Yeats
- Holborn Street and Stable Lane
- The Sligo Abbey
- High Street and the Statue of Erin and
- St John’s Church and Graveyard
- The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
- The City Hall
We actually spent more time standing, listening intently to interesting stories than actually walking. If you miss out on the guided walking tour you can pick up a copy of ’A Signposted Walking Tour of Sligo City’ from the Tourist Office.
Join the Culture Club
Strongly rooted in the Arts with scenery set to inspire the greats such as WB Yeats, Jack B Yeats, Dermot Healy, Annie West, Dervish, and many more it’s not surprising that Sligo has a vibrant arts scene. We booked tickets to see a once off production by Téada at the Hawkswell Theatre, ‘Where Benbulben Sets the Scene’, in honour of WB Yeats 150th Anniversary. We found ourselves immersed in the extraordinary work of Yeats through a combination of spoken word from leading actors Macdara Ó Fátharta and Marcus Lamb, song by Séamus Begley, traditional music of Sligo performed by Téada, sean-nós and contemporary dance from Samantha Harvey and Sibéal Davitt, and evocative landscape photography by Damien Stenson. This is an example of one of many different types of shows and exhibitions that the Hawkswell Theatre hosts. Check out their upcoming events here.
Another arts group to keep an eye out for is the Blue Raincoat Theatre. They are renowned for taking theatre to the great outdoors, using the backdrop of Benbulben and the Wild Atlantic for their performances as part of their summer programme ‘A Country Under Wave’. This ambitious group have delivered 26 plays this summer alone, in various venues taking advantage of Sligo’s landscape which features strongly through Yeat’s poetry and plays.
Magnetism at Hazelwood is another exhibition that caught my eye after reading an article about it in one of the national papers. Firstly, it’s housed in an old abandoned factory on the outskirts of the town. Walking up towards it we started thinking that maybe we were in the wrong place. The building is monstrously industrial and ugly where it used to house a nylon company followed by a magnetic tape producing company. Elements of this major contemporary art exhibition echoes fragments of the factory’s past. Curated by Vaari Claffey the show brings large-scale sculptural works by a group of Irish and international artists together making used of the extraordinary scale of the space. It costs only a couple of euros and is well worth a visit to see the weird, wonderful and whacky works of art.
Other galleries based in Sligo Town worth checking out include The Model, the Hyde Bridge Gallery and the Hamilton Gallery.
Rest and Reflect
After taking in all that history and culture there’s nothing better than finding a little café to sit back, relax and reflect upon your new discoveries of Sligo Town. The Model has its very own Gallery Café set in a lovely, bright atrium. You also have Lily’s & Lolly’s Café at the Yeats Memorial Building where you can sit outside and enjoy the rushing waters of the Garavogue River (weather permitting). Lyons Café is a long established venue, opened its doors way back in 1926, based upstairs at Henry Lyon’s department store.
Kate’s Kitchen not only boasts a café but also a food hall and bath and body collection giving you more to indulge on than just lunch. The healthiest joint in town has to be The Sweet Beat Café where they pride themselves on making plant-based cuisine more accessible through delicious raw foods, hot dishes, superfood salads, energising smoothies and tasty treats. Osta Café has now opened Osta to Go along the Garavogue River so if you just can’t sit still, grab some treats here and get going. The above is just to tickle your tastebuds but there are many more cafés and restaurants worth trying along the way.
Swing by the Shops
If you really want a piece of Sligo to bring home I highly recommend the Sligo Craft Trail designed by the ‘Made in Sligo’ initiative. Made in Sligo is a network of 15 gifted and quality assessed craft workers who have come together to promote the very best quality of Sligo design and craft products. You can download their free Craft Trail from their website.
And they’re off…at the Sligo Races
Hosting several race meetings throughout the summer, the County Sligo Races is always a great way to spend an afternoon or evening. Unlike the maddening crowds at the Galway Races the atmosphere here is far more relaxed. It’s no Royal Ascot but that didn’t deter Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall from having a flutter on their recent Royal Visit. A range of events are organised to cater for the masses including Family Day, GAA Black and White Evening, Student Day and of course, Ladies Day. If your luck is in and you’re up a few bob, Kennedy’s Bar tends to be a busy spot for the After the Races session.
Fancy a Pint?
Sligo Town has some great pubs. It doesn’t take much of a crowd to fill Furey’s, Shoot the Crows and McLaughlin’s; they may be small in size but they are big on character. Old-world Hargadon’s, Kennedy’s and Thomas Connolly’s are full of nooks, crannies and snugs to hide away in. Lillies is the best spot to order cocktails at but where patience is required however you’ll be well rewarded when you receive your delicious concoction. McHugh’s is long established and a good base to start your Saturday night from. The Bourbon is new on the scene with its retro, hipster vibe. If you are looking to get your gig on, giddy on to McGarrigle’s, The Garavogue and 5th on Teeling.
Lost in thought along the Garavogue
To clear the cobwebs (or hangovers) follow the Garavogue upstream to Doorly Park. It’s a pleasant ten minute walk from the town centre along the banks of the Garavogue. Grab a picnic from one of the cafés above and wander out onto the nature trail leaving the town behind you. Looped walking paths bring you in and around the wetlands and woodlands. Picnic benches offer respite and if you are feeling generous you can share your crumbs with the resident ducks and swans down by the riverside.
And after all that, if you have any ounce of energy left, just a bit further out from Doorly Park is Lough Gill where you can take to the lake with Sligo Kayak Tours or try the new SUP craze with SUP for all. You’ll soon find out why WB Yeats had such a fascination with this lake!
Still hungry for more of County Sligo?
If you fancy venturing further afield and exploring more of what County Sligo has to offer check our previous blog for things to do in the Adventure Capital of Ireland.
Check out the latest deals for hotels in Sligo today.