Ballymote (Baile an Mhóta) is a town in County Sligo in the northwest of Ireland. The town's population in 2016 was 1,549. It has a castle dating from 1300 but its main attractions are the prehistoric sites dotted around the surrounding countryside, the best known being Carrowkeel.
People born in Ballymote include two Field Marshals of the Holy Roman Empire, the brigadier general of a US Unionist regiment, and Father Wilfrid, the priest who founded Glasgow Celtic Football Club.
Trains from Dublin Connolly take approximately 3 hours to Ballymote via Drumcondra, Maynooth, Mullingar, Longford, Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon and Boyle, and continue to Sligo. There are 7 M-F, 6 Sa and 5 Sunday. A walk-up single from Dublin is €20, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets. 1 Ballymote station is 200 m west of main street: the ticket office is staffed M-F 07:00-15:30 and there are ticket machines and toilets.
Intercity buses fly past on the main road and don't serve Ballymote. Bus 977 runs twice M-Sa between Sligo, Collooney, Ballymote, Gorteen and Ballaghaderreen.
By road from Dublin follow M4 / N4 past Boyle to Castlebaldwin then branch west onto the lane.
You need wheels, the places of interest are scattered across the countryside with no public transport.
- 1 Ballymote Castle, Tubbercurry Rd (opposite railway station), ☏ . Ivy-clad shell of an enclosure or "keepless" castle built circa 1300, probably by Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, "The Red Earl". It was smashed up several times and already in a poor way by 1600, and it was definitively wrecked in 1690 at the end of the Williamite Wars. The ruin is imposing but not safe to enter.
- The Book of Ballymote was probably written at the castle in the 14th century - it's a compendium of early Irish legend and learning. The original is now held by the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin: it's not normally on display but there's an online exhibition. 200 copies have been created and there may be a display copy in a library near you.
- The Fighting 69th Monument is on Sligo Road R294 north of the railway station, at the entrance to town park. After the failed Young Irelander rebellion of 1848, several leaders escaped to the USA. From New York they campaigned for Irish independence, and organised Irish militia units which became adopted into the US Army, the bulk of them as the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) in 1849. This regiment was heavily involved in the US Civil War and remains active, with over 250 years of battle honours. One notable general was Michael Corcoran, born in 1827 at Carrowkeel near Ballymote. In 1860 he faced court-martial for refusing to parade the regiment for the Prince of Wales' visit to New York. Charges were dropped because of his success in recruiting Irishmen to the Union cause, and he distinguished himself at the Battle of Bull Run and elsewhere. He was killed when thrown from his runaway horse in 1863, aged 36. The regiment's 1917 campaign in France was made into a film The Fighting 69th in 1940: the misfit hero Jerry Plunkett (played by James Cagney) is fictional but many other characters are real. In World War II the 69th served in the Pacific, culminating with Okinawa. In 2001 they were among the first responders to the 9/11 attack on Manhattan, and firefighter Michael Lynch who perished that day was from Ballymote. The Ballymote monument, unveiled in 2006 by NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, depicts scenes from Corcoran's life. At its base is a small chamber containing a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
- 2 Eagles Flying (Irish Raptor Research Centre), Camross Rd F56 P089 (4 km northwest of town), ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:30-12:30 and 14:30-16:30. Large sanctuary for raptors, with many different species of eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, owls. Flying demos start 30 min after doors open and last an hour. Adult €16, child €9.
- 3 Keshcorran Caves are in the side of a limestone outcrop off R295 and have yielded human and animal remains from the last Ice Age. You're free to explore them. They soon end blind but one folk-tale describes a woman being dragged by a stubborn calf into a cave in Roscommon, to emerge here. The 18th C artist Gabriel Beranger heard this tale and shrugged: "We believed it rather than try it".
- 4 Sligo Folk Park, Millview House, Riverstown F52 TX06, ☏ . M-F 10:00-17:00. Museum and theme park aimed at younger children, centred round a Victorian farmer's house. Adult or child €5.
- 5 Carrowkeel Passage Tombs are among the finest examples in Ireland, dating to 3000 BC; their human remains show ancestry from Anatolia and the East Med. The main group are 14 tombs above Lough Arrow on the slopes of the Bricklieve Mountains: you can wriggle into some, but don't disturb anything there. The passageways are aligned with Carrowmore and Knocknarea near Sligo. There are several other major tombs in the vicinity.
- 6 Heapstown Cairn is the largest of the associated sites. There's probably a similar passage tomb below but it's not been explored. Legend goes that there was a healing well, which the supernatural (and generally wicked) Fomorians piled with stones to prevent their enemies benefiting from the waters. In modern times much of the stone was taken for road-building, which the Fomorians had failed to anticipate.
- 7 Ballindoon Friary was a Dominican monastery founded in 1507 and abandoned in 1585. It's just a shell but in a pleasant lakeside setting.
- Ridge of Moytura east of Lough Arrow has a series of megaliths, such as the Labby Stone, a dolmen with a colossal capstone, and Shee Lugh the cairn at the summit. In legend this was the scene of the Second Battle of Moytura (the first being at Cong, Mayo), with much supernatural melodrama. The largest stone, the vast Eglone, is supposedly a battle memorial, but it's natural, a glacial erratic.
- 8 Ballinafad is a tiny village at the south end of the lough. There's a castle, built 1600, but the ruin is unsafe to enter. There's no accommodation or other facilities nearby, and a better base for exploring this area is Boyle further south in County Roscommon. Ambrose Bernard O'Higgins (1720-1801) was born near Ballinafad: he became Viceroy of Peru, and his son Bernardo O'Higgins founded independent Chile.
- Ballymote Golf Club has closed down.
- Ballymote Heritage Weekend is held over the August public holiday, with the next on 30 July - 1 Aug 2022.
- James Morrison Festival is a traditional music weekend in Riverstown on the August public holiday, but for 2022 is tbc.
- The village store is Kane's SuperValu on Lord Edward St, open daily 08:00-22:00.
- Super Bites Takeaway - For fast food such as Fish and Chips, Pizza etc.
- The Fox's Den - Irish bar food
- The Picnic Basket - Traditional Irish Cafe including Irish Breakfast
- Doddy's Pub, O'Connell St, Ballymote, ☏ . Good pub, friendly staff, big screen for sporting occasions. Busiest on Friday and Saturday nights, but often empties later as crowds go elsewhere to clubs.
- Hayden's, Lord Edward St, ☏ . Good old-fashioned looking pub, great Guinness. Regular traditional music, singing and story-telling sessions.
- Others are Rock Bar and Gormleys.
- White Hag Brewery is on the industrial park west side of the railway station. They produce ale, beer, stout, IPA and lager. They don't offer tours.
- Coach House Hotel, Grattan St, Ballymote, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Friendly comfy small hotel with good food. B&B double €80.
- Millhouse B & B, Ballymote F56 PW42 (south end of main street), ☏ , email@example.com. Closed until April 2021. Clean comfy B&B.
- 1 Temple House, Temple House Demesne, Ballinacarrow F56 NN50 (4 km northwest of town), ☏ . Closed until April 2021 (and normally closed Nov-March). Splendid Georgian mansion redesigned in 1864, so expect much Victoriana. It's in a 1000 acre estate looking onto a 13th century lakeside castle of the Knights Templar.
- 2 Coopershill, Riverstown F52 EC52, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Sumptuous Georgian country house hotel with first-rate dining. Open Apr-Oct. No dogs. B&B double from €240.
- 3 Gyreum: many Irish landowners have converted old castles into mansions and hotels, but here's a prehistoric ring-fort made over into an eco-retreat and yoga centre, aligned with the solar this-and-that atop a rain-lashed hill 5 km east of Castlebaldwin. "The Hotel Inspector" Alex Polizzi has visited to try to sort the place out (first broadcast on UK's Channel 5 on 29 June 2016, Episode 105, fifth of Series 12). There are dorms of 6, 5 and 4 beds, 2 doubles and 9 cubicles, so it sleeps 28, tel +353 87 328 0789. Great views when the clouds lift, and it beats shlepping to Nepal for enlightenment, maybe.
As of Sept 2020, Ballymote has a good mobile and 4G signal from Eir, but Three and Vodafone are patchy. 5G has not yet reached this area.
- Sligo town is the obvious base for the north of the county. It's near prehistoric Carrowmore, louring Benbulbin, and Lough Gill which contains the Lake Isle of Innisfree.
- Boyle in County Roscommon is an alternate base for the south end of County Sligo.