In my younger days living in Ireland four decades ago, the northwestern coastal town of Sligo was considered a ‘backwater’ offering little in the way of tourism.
That image has changed dramatically in recent years mainly due to relevant civic organisations working closely together to create a vibrant and diverse menu of attractions.
Here are some highlights that have made Sligo a bright star of Irish tourism.
No mention of Sligo would be complete without mention of W.B.Yeats, Ireland’s Nobel winning poet who considered the area his spiritual home.
As such, he is much lauded hereabouts. In fact, within a two-minute walk of my hotel I passed three references to him on the street – a bronze statue, a coffee house named after him and a museum devoted to his life.
The 19th century, red-brick Yeats Building on Hyde Bridge is home to the Yeats Society Sligo which supports local arts and promotes the Yeats Heritage through special events including international summer and winter schools. It also houses a permanent exhibition including video material of the national poet and has a fine library.
A visit to the graveyard beside Drumcliffe Church at the foot of Benbulben mountain where Yeats was buried is encouraged, if only to read the iconic inscription on his tomb. An ancient monastery was founded here by Saint Columcille and I was lucky to attend a dramatic performance celebrating the 1,500 anniversary of the saint’s birth. Credit to the Atlantic Orchestra Project, an international mix of classical and traditional musicians, singers, a film maker and a storyteller.
The Model was built as a non-denominational school, this Italian-Romanesque style building close to the town center, and is now a contemporary arts center, launched originally by Nora Niland, former county librarian and Sligo Museum Curator.
Exhibitions now include works by Jack Butler Yeats entitled ‘Salt Water Ballads.’ Brother of Nobel prize winning poet, W.B, Jack was fond of the sea and together with acclaimed poet, John Masefield, built a collection of model boats made from cardboard boxes, tin cans, stones, wood and paper. Visitors can also see 21 of Jack’s sea-themed watercolors. Other events at The Model include music concerts, classes and temporary exhibitions.
The Coleman Music Centre in Gurteen, a short drive from Sligo town along winding country roads, highlights the best in Irish tradition.
Built on an old creamery and managed by John McGettrick, the centre – dedicated to Michael Coleman, a legendary fiddle player who emigrated to the US – includes an audio-visual presentation on the history of traditional Irish music and an exhibition with interactive touch-screens featuring musicians old and new on various instruments.
Its gift shop has an extensive selection of CDs, music books and instruments. Lessons and concerts are hosted at the centre, which is also a regional resource centre for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a national organisation promoting traditional Irish music and culture around the world.
Food and Drink
For a taste of Sligo, there’s probably no better restaurant to visit than centrally-located, award-winning Hooked , an easy stroll from many of the town’s highlights including The Model and the Yeats Building.
Located opposite the riverbank, I spent a memorable lunch here with musician-composer, Shaun Purcell, a man well-known for his wonderful productions, many having been featured at the town’s Hawk’s Well Theatre.
Restaurant owner, Anthony Gray, friendly and enthusiastic, even popped over for a quick chat offering his insights into Sligo’s development and plans for the future.
Such is Anthony’s devotion to food, he also operates a fine-dining restaurant Eala Bhan close by; launched the ‘Taste of Sligo Food Tours,’ comprising afternoon visits to seven of the town’s finest venues; and is on the board of the Sligo Food Trail. He’s also past President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland.
Anthony has inherited the ‘foodie’ gene, his late father, Joe, having been a well-respected butcher in town for many years, the name ‘hooked’ for his latest restaurant coming from the old meat hooks used in his shop.
The eclectic interior of ‘Hooked’ includes the old butchers block from Joe’s shop incorporated into the bar, the traditional weighing scales and ‘meat memorabilia,’ as well as a full-size wooden boat suspended from the ceiling.
A bistro-style setting, the emphasis is on local produce. Beef is sourced locally from grass fed cattle from Sherlock’s of Tubbercurry, a short drive away, and other suppliers include the L.E.T.S. Organic Centre, in nearby Cleveragh; ice-cream comes from Mammy Johnston’s in Strandhill; free-range eggs from Ballisodare; and breads and pastries from Le Fournil French Bakery.
The lunch menu menu is a wide-ranging one featuring popular dishes such crispy fish and chips, Greek gyros, creamy sweet chilli chicken pasta and signature cheeseburgers to Irish classics such as salmon fish cakes. As for dessert, it’ll be hard to leave without one, especially upon reading the sinful description of the raspberry and white chocolate mousse topped with pistachio crumb.
Gazing out on the frothy Garavogue River from my third-floor junior suite at The Glasshouse hotel with the twinkling lights of Sligo town below me and a cup of herbal tea in hand was a perfect way for me to relax.
Especially after escaping one of the worst storms to hit Ireland as it barrelled its way with winds of 130 kilometers an hour along the coast from Kerry and Cork to Galway, Sligo and Donegal.
My room, 327, was brightly decorated, orange being the color of choice, of the curtains, armchairs, carpet and walls. Cushy robes, slippers, a hot bath, aromatic toiletries by Original Botanicals and soft linens made a cosy evening easy to achieve in face of Nature’s wrath.
Friendly service from receptionists, Kirsty from South Africa and Tanya from Northern Ireland as well as George from Portugal in the restaurant made my short stay a most enjoyable one.