Sligo is the county town of, well, Sligo. Its most famous claim to fame is being the hometown of Westlife an Irish pop band that has sold more than 50 million records around the globe. But that’s only recently. What most people don’t know is that far more important people were part of Sligo far more. We’ll find out who they are as we move on.
Sligo in Irish is Sligeach which means shelly place. There is an abundance of shellfish in Garavogue River (pictured above, found in the center of town) and its estuary, and from the extensive shell middens in the area. That same river was originally also called the Sligeach.
The town itself is not so different from any other, but the area in and around it is considered one of the best locations to spend a tourist vacation. With prehistoric monuments and spectacular landscapes, visitors uninformed about the famous people of Sligo will still enjoy staying there. For the purposes of our exploration, we shall refer to Sligo as the entire county, as most of the attraction they have are beyond the town proper.
Ballymote is a market town in the southern part of the county. Ballymote is Baile an Mhóta in Irish, which means town of the mound. It lies on the R293, R295 and R296 (in case you’re not familiar, these codes are for the regional roads of Ireland they have a national route network that connects their different counties). You can reach the town through the main Dublin to Sligo railway line. The town has its own railway station so you won’t miss it.
Also considered a historic landmark, the town boasts of its very own Ballymote Castle. This castle was built in 1300 by Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, more famously known as the Red Earl one of the most powerful Irish nobles of the late 13th and early 14th centuries and ranking first among all the Earls of Ireland. The castle is now mostly in ruins, due to the numerous wars it has undergone; but the Irish Office of Public Works has recently pursued renovation and maybe soon we might see a more complete structure. Nonetheless the castle is still available for visiting. It is found on the R296, Ballymote to Tubbercurry road, just opposite the railway station, and past the Roman Catholic church. You can get the keys from the Enterprise Centre on Grattan Street. You can contact this office at (0) 71 9183 992.
This is also the birthplace of Brother Walfrid, the Irish Marist Brother who founded the Celtic Football Club. The club is based in Glasgow and currently plays in the Scottish Premier League. He has his own commemorative sculpture in the Brother Walfrid Memorial Park.
On August 22, 2006, then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled Irelands national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote. This was to commemorate its former Brigadier Michael Corcoran, who was born in the town. The Fighting 69th, or the 69th Infantry Regiment, is a military unit of the New York Army National Guard. Its roots date back to the United States Irish Brigade which was composed mostly of Irish-American soldiers. The monument (pictured below) is a bronze column with embossed scenes of the former Brigadier Corcoran’s life. Inside the stone base is a small chamber containing a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. The piece was donated by the parents of firefighter Michael Lynch, who died in the September 11 terrorist attack.
An excerpt from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech during the ceremony:
“Brigadier General Michael Corcoran became one of the Civil War’s most revered heroes. When he returned to New York City after months of captivity in the South, enormous crowds thronged him in a parade up Broadway to New York’s City Hall. When he died, his body lay in state in our City Hall – just down the corridor from my desk – and people came from far and wide to pay their last respects.
And although the 69th suffered terrible casualties in the Civil War, its tradition of valor – and its connection to Ireland – lived on. When the Fighting 69th was re-activated for World War I, about 95% of the men who joined the regiment were Irish. Their chaplain, Father Francis Duffy, said the rest of the men were “Irish by adoption, Irish by association, or Irish by conviction. Today, the 69th is as diverse as New York City itself – but Father Duffy’s words still hold true.”
Carrowmore Megalitic Cemetery
Carrowmore is one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland. Carrowmore is Ceathrú Mór in Irish, which means Great Quarter.
This prehistoric ritual site is famous for its more than 30 megalithic tombs. These are the only remaining tombs, but around the area you can see more formations suggesting that even more tombs were in place before (evidence suggest that there were more than 120 tombs all in all). The tombs (at least in their original state) appeared as dolmen circles. A dolmen (like the one pictured below) consists of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone called table; to make a circle, smaller boulders surround the dolmen.
These tombs are distributed around the largest monument of Carrowmore a cairn called Listoghil (the huge formation in the background of the picture above). All the dolmen circles’ entrances usually face the Listoghil. A cairn is usually just a pile of stones, but Listoghil is different – it’s like a mountain of rocks (some even say it used to be 60 meters high). The cairn was constructed in and around 3640 and 3380 BC. The human bones found inside were a mix of both cremated and un-cremated bones – with the older dolmen tombs surrounding it mostly containing burnt bones. There is much evidence that burning took place on the area of the site even way before the tombs were erected there.
Because of the formation of the material found within the tombs its clustering and layout, Carrowmore is classified as part of the Irish Passage Tomb Tradition. Evidences are still being gathered as to why there are different tomb types found in Sligo and how this amazing occurrence should be interpreted.
Drumcliff is a county village located 8 kilometers north of Sligo town, between Ben Bulben mountain and the sea.
The place is famous as the final resting place of the poet William Butler Yeats (pictured above). Yeats was an Irish poet and dramatist. He is one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature and was looked upon by both the Irish and English literary establishments. He co-founded the Abbey Theatre (The National Theatre of Ireland, found in Dublin) and was behind the Irish Literary Revival. In 1923, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation the first Irishman to be given the honor.
After a successful Steinach operation in 1934, he found a new love for life; which became evident in both his poetry and his passionate relationships with younger women. At the age of 69, Yeats got involved in a number of affairs – some of the more publicized ones being with the poet and actress Margot Ruddock and novelist / sexual radicalist Ethel Mannin. Rekindling his vigor from his younger days, Yeats found creative energy in erotic adventure and remained a prolific writer until 1939, when all his illnesses finally caught up on him. He died at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour in Menton, France and was later buried at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
According to his wife George: His actual words were: If I die bury me up there (in Roquebrune) and then in a years time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo. In 1948, his remains were brought home to Ireland by the Irish Naval Service.
The village is also famous for the 11th century Irish High Cross which stands in the grounds of the Drumcliff Cemetery. Across the road is the lesser known Round Tower.
Knocknarea is a mountain that dominates the landscape to the west of the town of Sligo. Knoacknarea is Cnoc na Riabh in Irish, whose meaning is still under debate until now. Some of the agued meanings are: Hill of the Queen, Hill of the Moon, Hill of Executioners and Hill of the Flat Top. The mountain serves as the background for the Carrowmore tomb in the picture above.
Because of its flat top, the 327 meter high limestone mountain is extremely beautiful to look at. That small elevated part in the picture is actually another cairn made of limestone. One of the other meanings of the mountain (Hill of the Queen) was derived from that formation – the Miosgán Medbha, which means Maeve’s Lump of Butter. Maeve was the warrior Queen of Connacht in Celtic mythology.
Queen Maeves cairn measures about 10 meters high and 55 meters across. It is one of the largest passage tombs in Ireland – with the limestones weighing around 40,000 metric tons all in all. A large gap in the back of the mountain is said to be the quarry from which all the cairn limestones were taken.
The story of Queen Maeve involved weapons and animals of the Iron Age, but there is no concrete evidence proving that she really existed; nor is there anything that disproves her existence. The brave Queen is said to be entombed in the cairn in a standing position and in full battle regalia facing to the north where her Ulster enemies are. Some argue that since passage tombs were only made in the Neolithic era, there is no way that the cairn is actually a resting place for an Iron Age queen. But there is evidence that suggests that such tombs were brought back into use during the Iron Ages – making strong the argument that Queen Maeve is inside Miosgán Medbh.
The enormous Lissadell House was completed in 1833 – designed in a Neo-Classical Greek Revival style, the house is made of local cut grey limestone. Standing at the foot of the magnificent Ben Bulben, the house overlooks beautiful Sligo Bay.
Lissadell is well-known for being the childhood home of Constance Georgine Markievicz. Countess Markiewicz, as she was more popularly known, was a revolutionary nationalist and was one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. She also was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons (though she chose not to take her seat).
William Butler Yeats was a close childhood friend of the countess. He stayed at Lissadell in 1893 to 1894 – where he was inspired by the beautiful landscape and horticulture.
A nephew of the countess sold the house in 2003 for 3 million Euros to Mr. Edward Walsh and his wife Constance – who restored the entire estate to its original beautiful state after years of neglect. Not only is the house rich in history, but it boasts of great horticulture. The Lissadell Gardens is world famous for its Daffodils.