Ireland's County Sligo: Poetry and Wild Beauty

Yeats Country Is Quintessential Ireland

Sligo - Benbulben
••• Sligo - Benbulben. © 2006 Bernd Biege licensed to About.com, Inc.

Ireland is famous as a land of poetry, legend, lush countryside, and spectacular views, and nowhere is that more in evidence than in County Sligo, in the northwest of the Republic of Ireland about 40 miles from the border with Northern Ireland. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by mountains leads to the city's claim as one of the most gorgeous places in all of Ireland. It's a small city, with a population of about 20,000.

It's below the travel radar of most visitors, who instead go to Galway, Killarney, and Wicklow. Sligo is just 135 miles from Dublin and easy to include on any trip to Ireland's storied capital city.

Things to Do

If you're a fan of the Irish/English poet William Butler Yeats, you'll find special meaning on a visit to this wild country where Yeats spent vacations in his childhood and remembered it for the rest of his life. His famous poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" testifies to that connection. Yeats is buried in Sligo, at Drumcliffe Graveyard.

You can see the Lake Isle of Innisfree yourself. It's just off the coast of Lough Gill, where you can board a boat to take you to this storied isle.

If you like hiking in the countryside, follow the Sligo Way, a 46-mile trail that goes from Lough Talt to the village of Dromahair, passing through Collooney and along the shore of Lough Gill.

Ballindoon Abbey, on the eastern shore of Lough Arrow in Ballymote, is a 14th-century Gothic Dominican abbey.

Here, you'll see ruins of the church, tower, and transept.

The remains of Ballymote Castle, an Anglo-Norman structure dating to 1300, are another historic point of interest. It was the strongest fortification in the area in its day. It has a large gate building and towers that evoke the time of knights and jousts.

The Atlantic Coast of Sligo is known the world over for its spectacular surf. Dunmoran Strand has good surf no matter the time of day or the status of the tide. Enniscrone Beach is where to go if you want to wade in the Atlantic and lie on the sand. Its beautiful beach is about three miles long and also boasts good surfing. Culleenamore Beach in Strandhill hosts beach horse races annually in June, and the scene of horses running on the beach against an Atlantic backdrop is quintessential Ireland.

Where to Eat

In recent years the dining scene has taken off in Sligo, and you'll find a wide variety of choices. Check out Shells Seaside Bakery & Cafe in Strandhill; the award-winning Belfry Pub, which has four bars and two heated patio areas; and the trendy Embassy Steakhouse and wine bar. These are just a handful of the many offerings in and around Sligo.

Where to Stay

Sligo and the surrounding area offer many lodging options. Some standouts are the Great Southern Hotel Sligo, Sligo City Hotel, Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, The Glasshouse, Castle Dargan, and Markree Castle Hotel.