Sligo (Sligeach in Irish, meaning shelly place) is the principal town in County Sligo in Northwest Ireland & Lakelands. It's the largest urban area in this region, and the second largest in the province of Connacht (after Galway).
Sligo in Irish is Sligeach (say "SHLEE-gok"), meaning the place of shells, from the abundant shellfish in its tidal river and bay. The bay's entrance is blocked by three islands, Maguins and Coney near the south shore, and Oyster Island in the main channel by the north shore. So the tides are funnelled, twice a day rising and twice ebbing, as all the water in the bay rushes past these obstructions. That's hazardous for swimming but great for shellfish, which catch their food from the current.
Shellfish were a staple human foodstuff from the Stone Ages up to the early modern era. Great mounds of discarded shells have been found at the many prehistoric settlements of the area, all within a few hours hike from the bay with a dripping creel on your back. The oyster beds also stabilised the sand banks, and acted as food and a habitat for other marine life eg juvenile cod. In acid peaty soils, empty shells could be crushed to counter the acidity and act as a fertiliser. The shellfish harvest was sustainable until the 19th century, but then the population grew, and mechanical methods hugely increased the take - a steam-powered dredger could in a few hours clear out and destroy a shellfish bed that had been stable for centuries. Shellfish were no longer for subsistence but became a cash-crop; the price rose, and oysters especially became a sought-after luxury, which further boosted the financial incentive. (The "pearls" from edible oysters however are worthless, resembling gallstones.) Once the railway reached Sligo in 1862, its perishable shellfish could be quickly transported elsewhere, for instance to Dublin which had polluted and exhausted its own local beds. In 1864 the bay was raided by a fleet of "oyster pirates", and there was a grand set-to with the police, who had deployed in force against them. The pirates were rebuffed that day but over the following years the natural beds were worn out. Nowadays shellfish have been re-established in Sligo Bay but in farmed enclosures, using non-native species such as the Pacific oyster.
- "I know that I shall meet my fate / somewhere among the clouds above" - an Irish Airman foresees the 2011 collapse of Sligo Airport, perhaps.
You could also fly into Belfast or Derry and hire a car. Knock Airport is closer, 55 km south in County Mayo, but has few flights.
Trains from Dublin Connolly take 3 hr 20 min to Sligo via Drumcondra, Maynooth, Mullingar, Longford, Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle and Ballymote. There are 7 M-F, 6 Sa and 5 Sunday. See Irish Rail for fare deals.
1 Sligo Railway and Bus Station are on Knappagh Rd just west of town centre. The railway station is called MacDiarmada, for Seán MacDiarmada (1883-1916), a leading member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood executed for his part in the Easter Rising.
Expressway Bus 23 runs six times a day from Dublin Busáras, taking four hours to Sligo via Dublin Airport, Lucan, Maynooth, Mullingar, Longford, Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon.
Bus Éireann 458 runs every couple of hours daily from Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland to Belcoo, Glenfarne, Manorhamilton, Glencar, Sligo, then west along the coast to Enniscrone and Ballina in County Mayo.
From Dublin take M4 / N4 northwest via Mullingar, Longford and Carrick-on-Shannon, 210 km, 2½ hr.
From Galway take N83 onto N17 north via Tuam and Knock, 145 km, 2-2½ hr.
From Belfast take M1 west onto A4, which becomes N16 at the border at Belcoo, 200 km, 3-3½ hours.
- Horseman, pass by! - Yeats wrote his own epitaph.
- Sligo is small enough to walk round, but you need wheels for the out-of-town sights.
- Bus S1 runs across town from Cartron in the north via Institute of Technology, the hospital and town centre to Cairns Rd south. It runs every 30 min M-Sa, hourly on Sundays and public holidays.
- Bus S2 follows the coast from Rosses Point in the north via Ballincar (Radisson Hotel), Institute of Technology, the hospital, town centre, the bus and railway station and Mannionstown to Strandhill south of the estuary. It runs hourly, daily.
- The fare within town (as of Apr 2020) by cash is €2 adult and €1.20 child, or by Leap Card is €1.40 adult and 84c child. It's only slightly more to ride all the way to Strandhill or Rosses Point.
- Bus 982 potters along the coast north from Sligo to Drumcliffe, Grange, Mullaghmore, Tullaghan, Bundoran and Ballyshannon, which has buses to Donegal. It's every 2 hours M-Sa with only 3 on Sunday.
- Other infrequent out-of-town services are Bus 475 to Ballisodare and Collooney, Bus 572 to Ballygawley, Riverstown and Keadue, and Bus 977 to Collooney, Ballymote and Ballaghadereen.
- For route maps, including stop locations, enter the route number into the TFI route mapper.
- 1 Sligo Abbey (Dominican Friary), Abbey St F91 K796, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-18:00. The abbey was founded in 1253, destroyed by fire in 1414, rebuilt but sacked in 1642. In the 19th century the last friars left to nearby Holy Cross, but the building was restored, and the choir, carved altar and cloisters are impressive. Yeats set two short stories here. Adult €5, conc €4, child €3.
- 2 Abbeyquarter Passage Tomb: even dreary Stonehenge looks mystical compared to this sad heap of stones. Yet it's a 5000-year old neolithic tomb, now looking like a vandalised garden feature set amidst a town roundabout. Still, if it whets your appetite for the prehistoric sites out of town . . .
- 3 Holy Cross Friary: the Dominican Friars are still in town, and you can join their services at this church on High St. It's modern, opened in 1973 to replace a building of 1848.
- 4 Sligo Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), Temple St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 07:00-22:00. Romanesque RC cathedral completed in 1874.
- 5 St John the Baptist Cathedral (Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist), John St, ✉ email@example.com. This was the C of I parish church from the 1730s. The diocese was based in Elphin in Roscommon until 1961, but that building was far from its congregation and was damaged by storms in 1957, so the Sligo church became the cathedral.
- 6 Yeats Memorial Building, Hyde Bridge F91 DVY4, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Sa 11:00-16:00. This houses a permanent display on WB Yeats, and changing exhibitions in the Hyde Bridge Gallery (successor to the town art gallery, which folded in 2014). They also organise cultural events such as the annual summer school.
- 7 The Model (Model Niland Gallery), The Mall F91 TP20, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Th-Sa 12:00-16:00. Contemporary art gallery named for the "model school" in this building 1862-1970s. The permanent exhibition is the Niland Collection, which majors on the paintings of Jack B Yeats, brother of the poet WB Yeats. Plus other temporary exhibitions of visual art, plus music. Free.
- 8 Famine Memorial is a sculpture in Quay St car park, rather hidden by the parked cars. It commemorates the victims of an Gorta Mór, the Great Famine 1845–1849, when over 30,000 people emigrated through the port of Sligo. The plaque quotes a desperate letter from one who stayed to his son in America; but that son himself had died.
- 9 Famine Graveyard is on Clarion Rd north of St John's Hospital. Some 2000 famine victims lie here.
- 10 Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, Carrowmore F91 E368 (4 km southeast of town). Mar-Nov daily 10:00-18:00. Remarkable ritual landscape with some 30 tombs dating to 3700-3000 BC; they're passage tombs but with atypical features.
- 11 Knocknarea is a flat-topped mountain 5 km west of town, a 327 m / 1073 ft slab of limestone. At its summit is a large cairn that's believed to date from 3000 BC and to contain a Neolithic passage tomb, but please don't climb or otherwise disturb the cairn. (It goes by various names, such as Queen Maeve's Grave.) There are several smaller passage graves and other remains nearby, aligned with Carrowmore, so this was obviously an important ritual site. The easiest footpath is from Primrose Grange to the southeast.
- 12 Drumcliffe is a small village on N15, five km north of Sligo. It once had a large monastery, but all that remains is a High Cross and the stump of a Round Tower, both 11th century. St Columba's C of I church is an 1809 neo-Gothic " First Fruits" church best known for the grave of WB Yeats (1865-1939). He died and was initially buried on the French Riviera but then was re-interred here "under bare Ben Bulben's head" as his self-written epitaph wished.
- 13 Lissadell House is a neo-classical mansion built for the Gore-Booth family in the 1830s. Constance Gore-Booth (1868-1927), better known as Countess Markievicz, grew up here. Yeats visited and gawped at the sisters "both beautiful, one a gazelle" meaning Eva. (So what did that make Constance, a gnu? Irish Times have published many wicked parodies of Yeats, and their roast of this verse was on 22 Dec 2015.) The house and gardens fell into a poor state but have been restored; they're closed to visits in 2020.
- 14 Benbulbin or Ben Bulben is a dramatic table mountain of 526 m / 1726 ft, 15 km north of Sligo. Like Knocknarea it's a limestone plateau but at an angle, so depending on your viewpoint it looks like a mesa, the prow of an onrushing battleship, or Conan Doyle's Lost World. (A bit chilly up there for dinosaurs, but surely a few mammoths and spear-wielding tribesmen.) Most visitors are content to view from below but it's possible to hike up, without scaling the cliffs. Start from Luke's Bridge on the lane to its northeast, follow a boggy trail across peat cuttings on the flank, then ascend a gully where a stream hurtles down from the plateau. A longer trail approaches from Glencar to the south. There's no public access across the farmland to the west, which in any case would fetch you up against the cliffs.
- 15 Glencar Lough is a scenic lake straddling the border with County Leitrim. A couple of crannogs indicate its prehistoric importance, and a trail leads up Benbulbin. The main sight is Glencar waterfall feeding its northeast end: in pools among the rushes / that scarce could bathe a star . . - here Yeats describes a child being stolen away into the spirit-world. He was a bit away with the fairies himself, but in these lines was not entirely fanciful in evoking the terminal dwam of a starved child, leaving a world more full of weeping / than he can understand.
- 16 Magheraghanrush is a court tomb dating from 3000 BC. It's 30 m long, and from above is in the shape of a man. It's off R278 towards Manorhamilton.
- Lough Gill is the freshwater lake east of town, 8 km long by 2 km wide. The River Garavogue drains from its west end for 3 km to become tidal at Sligo. The River Bonet is the main flow into its east end, which lies in County Leitrim.
- 17 Parke's Castle, Fivemilebourne F91 FP71 (R286 north shore of Lough Gill). Apr-Sept daily 10:00-18:00. This is just across the boundary into County Leitrim, but easiest to reach from Sligo - boat trips of the lough call here. It's a 17th C fortified manor house built over the 15th C O'Rourke's Castle. It fell derelict but was well restored by OPW in the 20th C. Adult €5, child €3, conc €4.
- 18 Creevelea Abbey (R287 two km south of the lough). Substantial ruin of a Franciscan Friary established in 1508. In spite of formal dissolution of the Order and ousting by Cromwell's forces, the friars retained a presence until 1837.
- 19 Innisfree is a real place: this is the lake isle in the poem of 1888. Boat trips call, but it's just a wooded uninhabited hummock and you only come for the associations. An early London-based reviewer seems to have been unimpressed: the accommodation was just a cabin of clay and wattles, the catering involved growing your own beans, and the glade was noisy what with all the bees.
- Church Island is the largest lake island, forested and uninhabited. There is indeed a ruined church.
- 20 Cottage Island near the river outflow has a ruined church, associated with Trinity Abbey on Lough Key, Roscommon. It's better known as Beezie's Island as it was the home of Elizabeth Gallagher, née Clerkin. In the early 20th C Beezie served food to visiting boaters, and into her seventies she'd row a boat to town to collect her pension and shopping. She barely survived the big freeze of 1947 but perished along with her home in a fire of 1951, and the island has been uninhabited since.
- 21 Streedagh Beach 15 km north of town is a 3 km spit of sand on the Atlantic coast, popular for surfing or just strolling. In Sept 1588 three vessels of the Spanish Armada were driven ashore and wrecked by a storm - 1000 may have perished. Their remnants lie in 3-6 m depth but may only be scuba-dived under permit. A fourth wreck visible at low tide, the "butter boat", is 18th century. There's a museum and annual commemoration in the village of Grange. The next event is online only, 18-20 Sept 2020.
- Sheepdogs at work: the farm along the lane from Grange (on N15) to Streedagh puts on demos of sheepdog technique.
- 22 Mullaghmore is a scenic headland on Donegal Bay. Good beaches for walking and waves for surfing. Creevykeel on the main road may date to 3000 BC: it's termed a "court tomb" because the cairn encloses a little court, with burial chambers around. Classiebawn Castle is a baronial pile built for Lord Palmerston; in the 20th century it passed to Lord Louis Mountbatten, last Viceroy of India. In 1979 he was assassinated when the IRA planted a bomb on his fishing boat nearby. The castle is privately owned and you can't visit.
- 23 Inishmurray is an uninhabited island 7 km off the coast with the substantial remains of a monastery. Boat trips used to visit but since 2018 are banned, as the landing area has been declared unsafe.
- What's on? - for local events check The Sligo Champion, published Weds and online, or Sligo Weekender published Thurs.
- Hawk's Well Theatre on Temple St has drama, dance, comedy and music. Box Office is +353 71 9161518.
- Omniplex Cinema is on Wine St.
- 1 Sligo Rovers FC, The Showgrounds, Church Hill, ☏ . Rovers play soccer in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland, the republic's top tier. The season is March to Nov. The stadium, capacity 5500, is 200 m west of the bus station. Adults €15.
- 2 Markievicz Park, capacity 15,558, is the home ground of Sligo County GAA teams for Gaelic football and hurling.
- County Sligo Heritage and Genealogy Centre, Áras Reddan, Temple St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 09:00-13:00, 14:00-17:00. Look up your Sligo ancestors - US Vice President Mike Pence, the founder of Chile and a noble Goon all have roots here - but do your homework first with online resources. All Ireland's births, marriages and deaths are online from 1864, see Ireland#Do for other resources you might search. The Centre offers assistance but you pay for their time, reckon €30 an hour, and you'll need to book a slot.
- 3 Sligo Races, 16 Cleveragh Rd F91 T2VC (1 km southeast of centre), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Stages both National Hunt and flat racing, with 8 meetings May-Oct. It's a right-hand course with a one mile circuit. Adult €15, under 14 free.
- 4 Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat, Mullagh, Dromahair, ☏ . Eco and yoga retreat in the hills at the head of Lough Gill. Cabin €200.
- Boat trips on Lough Gill: one operator is Rose of Innisfree, who may pick up from town, and tour sights such as Parkes Castle and Innisfree (described above). Sailings in 2020 are cancelled, the next season is from April 2021.
- The Wild Atlantic Way is the motoring route that hugs the coast - see County Sligo for more, but the way is self-evident.
- Yeats International Summer School is a series of cultural events at various venues. The next event is 28 July - 6 Aug 2021.
- The downtown retail strip is along O'Connell Street, Wine Street and Grattan Street. Shopping malls here are Johnston Court and The Quayside.
- The Cat and The Moon, 4 Castle St F91 P863, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 09:00-18:00. They stock a wide range of hand-made gold and silver jewellery from their own workshop, plus other local crafts and giftware.
- All the hotels listed in the Sleep section below have restaurants, and many have carvery bar lunches.
- Osta is on the north river bank overlooking Garavogue Weir. They serve light meals M-Sa 09:00-17:00.
- Kate's Kitchen, 3 Castle St, ☏ . Tu-Sa 08:00-16:00. Deli and gourmet cafe. They also sell kitchenware and toiletries.
- Poppadom, 34 O'Connell St, ☏ . Daily 17:00-00:00. A few Thai / Indonesian dishes but mostly classic Indian. Gets very mixed reviews for food and service.
- Fiddler's Creek, Rockwood Parade, ☏ . Daily 12:00-00:00. Steaks, chicken, pasta dishes. Speedy friendly service, busy at weekends. Also does bar food.
- Bistro Bianconi, Tobergal Lane (off O'Connell St), ☏ . M-Th 16:00-20:30, F-Su 15:00-21:30. Cheerful pizzeria and Italian restaurant. Bianconi himself (1786-1875), based in Clonmel Tipperary, set up regular stagecoach routes across Ireland.
- Coach Lane (Donaghy's Bar), 1-2 Lord Edward St F91 K6EV (100 m east of railway station by N4 bridge), ☏ . Restaurant W-Su 17:30-22:00. Donaghy's Bar is at street level, does bar meals daily to 22:00. Coach Lane restaurant is upstairs, offers European classics majoring on steak. Vegetarians have little choice but omnivores post great reviews for food and service.
Lola Montez, Gräfin von Landsfeld
"Huh, and remember when she was just plain Eliza Gilbert!" Born in Grange near Sligo in 1821, Eliza had a wayward youth and in 1844 set up as a dancer in Paris under the name of Lola Montez. Liszt and Dumas were among her paramours and she earned rave dance reviews by taking up with the drama critic of a leading newspaper. He got shot in a duel so she moved to Munich and became mistress to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who conferred her fancy title. The pair were ousted in the revolution of 1848 and Lola rattled around Europe before moving to the USA. She re-launched her dancing career, with come-back shows there and in Australia characterised by much success, zero knickers, and a trail of dead men. In 1861 she died of syphilis, aged 39, and is buried in Brooklyn NY under her original name.
- Fiddler's Creek: see Eat. The bar has live music most nights, TV sports, and bar food.
- Furey's on Bridge St is open M-F 17:00-23:30, Sa 13:30-00:00, Su 13:00-23:00.
- Shoot The Crows, 1 Castle St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Grand pub founded 1876 in the days when a bounty was paid for shooting crows, on production of the bodies. Times were hard so the understanding publican accepted shot crows as payment, which he could exchange himself for cash or whatever. There's trad music three nights a week and an eclectic collection of other music. No you're not drunk, the place really is built at those peculiar angles.
- Swagman Bar, 4 Wine St, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-01:00, Su 12:00-23:00. Good beer, food and atmosphere.
- McLynn's, 6 Old Market St, ☏ . A traditional Irish bar with music and an old-style setting, a family business since 1889. Roaring open fire in winter and beer garden in summer.
- Lola Montez Nightclub, JFK Parade, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Closed in 2020. Nightclub named for the 19th C courtesan from County Sligo. They're closed in 2020 as they realise that crowded disco floors are gone for the foreseeable future. They hope to re-open with a new offering.
- Lough Gill Brewery is on Cleveragh industrial park 1 km east of town; they don't offer tours. They produce a range of beers, plus mead.
- Athru is the only distillery in the county, producing Irish malt whiskey. It's by Hazelwood House near the outflow of Lough Gill east of town. Opened in 2019, they don't offer tours but plan a second building to accommodate visits from 2021.
- No camping or caravan sites in town, but see Strandhill and Rosses Point for nearby options.
- Sligo's hostels are not open in 2020 because of the impracticality of social distancing, but groups might be able to book them for exclusive use.
- Harbour House (Sligo International Tourist Hostel), Finisklin Rd, ☏ , , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. In the old Harbour master's house, built in 1840s, advance booking advised, especially in summer season. Budget; from €18 (dormitory) to €40 (single).
- White House Hostel, Markievicz Rd, ☏ , fax: . Open from 01 Mar to 31 Oct. Budget; €14 (dormitory).
- Railway Hostel, 1 Union Pl F91 V297 (just north of bus station), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Well-run clean hostel open all year. There is no cooker, only microwave ovens. Dorm €18 ppn, double room €45.
- Bed and Breakfast places are mostly along the old Dublin road (Pearse Road, R287), Cairns Hill (head out the R287, turn left at the traffic lights just at the Gaelic Football Pitch, Markievicz Park) and the Bundoran road (N16).
- Pearse Lodge, Pearse Rd, ☏ . Smart welcoming B&B. B&B double €100.
- 1 Clayton Hotel (formerly Clarion), Clarion Rd F91 N8EF (1 km north of centre), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. This great barn of a place was a psychiatric hospital to 1992. It's now a mid-range place with 76 bedrooms, 91 suites. Gets great customer reviews. B&B double €100.
- 2 The Glasshouse, Swan Point, Hyde Bridge F91 NCA4, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Funky design, resembling the prow of a ship, on the river bank. Most guests have a clean comfy stay but not consistently. B&B double €100.
- 3 Radisson Blu Hotel, Ballincar, Rosses Point Rd (On R291 four km northwest of city), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Decent edge-of-town mid-range place with Wellness Centre. B&B double €160.
- Philmar House B and B, Rosses Point Rd, Ballincar F91 WE06 (on R291 opposite Radisson Blu, 4 km from town), ☏ . Clean friendly place on bus route to town. B&B double €85.
- 4 Sligo City Hotel, Quay St F91 V08N (next to City Hall), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Good mid-range place, very central but sometimes noisy. B&B double €90.
- 5 Sligo Park Hotel, Pearse Rd F91 Y762, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Good mid-range place with leisure club and pool. B&B double €115.
- Sligo Southern Hotel, Strandhill Rd F91 EW24 (by train & bus station), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Great location, gets very mixed reviews for room quality. Has leisure centre and free parking. Double (room only) €80.
- Self-catering: Albanne manage a portfolio of properties in and around town. These are normally let out as student accommodation, but are available for short rentals during the summer holidays.
- Markree Castle, 15 km south of Sligo near Collooney, was built in 1802, replacing a 14th century castle. It's open April-Sept primarily as an events venue, but may have B&B availability for independent travellers.
- As of Aug 2020, there is a good 4G and mobile signal from all Irish carriers, but 5G only from Eir.
- Sligo Central Library, Stephen St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tu-Sa 09:30-17:00. Library with internet facilities, but you must be a member of Irish Libraries. Anyone may join online (it's instant and they'll issue a temporary access code), but you need to provide the address where you'll be staying while using the library. Printing is available for a charge. There are branch libraries in Ballymote, Enniscrone and Tubbercurry. Free.
Crime is low by European standards. Take usual precautions with valuables and avoid late night drunks.
- Rosses Point is a pretty little village with a beautiful golden sandy beach, perfect for families. The Atlantic Ocean is cold for swimming, but perfectly safe here. Sea boat trips are available from here.
- Strandhill is a nearby village on the coast, with a great beach for walking, though it's not safe to swim.
- Coney Island is a tidal island just off Strandhill. You can walk or drive across, but think about the tides and the getting back.
- County Donegal is scenic and little developed.
- Achill Island in County Mayo has great beaches making it a family holiday favourite.
- Galway is a bustling, historic city.
- The Burren south of Galway is what County Sligo might look like if limestone outcrops like Knocknarea and Benbulbin covered the whole area. It's a wild haunting place with many prehistoric sites.