Ireland, Sligo – The Town and the Poet

Sligo Postcard

“In a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.” – W.B. Yeats

I confess to being disappointed when we first arrived in Sligo.  It appeared rather austere and grey and subdued and dull compared with the colour and vibrancy and the vivaciously energetic Westport that we had left behind. There were no gaily painted houses and no effervescent floral displays, no pavement tables outside the pubs and no evidence of any bubbling street entertainment.

But, I have said before that it is wrong to be too hasty and make a premature judgment about a place and this proved to be the case in Sligo because a walk into the town centre revealed its hidden charms. Now and again you have to scratch the surface a little to find what you are looking for.  Sometimes you need a crowbar but in Sligo we only needed a toothpick.

There is a strong association in the town with the poet W. B. Yeats (William Butler) and although he wasn’t born there he lived there for a while as a youth and according to his wishes is buried in a church yard nearby.  The town has connections with Goon Show star and writer Spike Milligan whose father was from Sligo and the boy band Westlife was formed there in 1998.

W B Yeats Sligo Statue

There is a statue of Yeats (not very flattering, in my opinion) but not of Spike Milligan or of Westlife, well, not that I could find anyway.  Down by the river quayside there was another famine statue, one of a family comforting each other at a spot where thirty-thousand people emigrated between 1847 and 1851.  I am beginning to understand that no Irish city or town is complete with a Famine Memorial.  As it happens there are also quite a lot in USA and Canada and one or two in Australia as well.

Sligo Irish Famine Statue

Although the streets were rather sombre in their appearance there were some interesting places in the town centre and it was nice to see individual traditional shops rather than modern chains. There was a pleasant walk along the banks of the river where people were enjoying the unusually high temperatures by standing in the doorways of the pubs and cafés and at the far end of the town was Sligo Abbey, long ago abandoned and ruined of course but still worth the entrance fee for a poke around inside the walls.

Interestingly it features in two short stories by W. B. Yeats – The Crucifixion of the Outcast, set in the Medieval times and The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows describing its destruction in 1641. I made a note to look them up when I returned home.  Sligo Abbey was sacked and destroyed by the English and this is a recurring story in Ireland.  You need a thick skin to visit Ireland if you are English but at least the Irish people seem to have a forgiving nature even if they might not forget.


After the walk around the town we took the advice now of the hotel staff and drove five miles west to the coastal village of Strandhill to a wonderful beach and a raging sea. I liked Strandhill straight away because there was free parking all along the front. I always compare this with my local seaside resort at Cleethorpes where the Council charges exorbitant fees to park up even in the Winter and Cleethorpes doesn’t get anywhere near comparison with Strandhill I can tell you!

When it comes to parking the priciest resort in England is Brighton, which charges £30 a day making it one of Europe’s most expensive destinations for leaving a car on a small strip of tarmac.  Next is Bournemouth at £18 – still more than millionaires’ playgrounds Monaco and Sorrento charging £15 and just under £18 respectively.

There was a good walk to be had along the pebble littered sand and we strolled along past the beach people and the brave surfers but there were no swimmers because everywhere there are warning signs saying that swimming is forbidden because although it looks inviting the sea is especially treacherous here.  It looked relatively safe and benign to me so I enquired of local people what the problem was. Apparently the way the tides and the currents enter the bay produce savage hidden rip-tides which make this place especially hazardous.

As we looked out over the Ocean and admired its natural beauty it was hard to imagine that it could be so dangerous.

Strandhill Beach Sligo Ireland

After an hour or so we left and as we drove away I was certain that Strandhill could easily force itself into a list of my top ten favourite Ireland beaches.

We returned to Sligo now because our plan now was to head north towards Donegal, the most northerly of the Southern Irish counties but we found time to stop on the way in the village of Drumcliff, just about five miles out of Sligo because in the cemetery there is the grave of W. B. Yeats with a headstone inscribed with the poet’s famous self-penned epitaph:

“Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by.”

Yeates Grave Sligi Ireland

45 responses to “Ireland, Sligo – The Town and the Poet

  1. I would love to do a road trip in Ireland, sounds like you are finding some very interesting places to explore there? Is it as busy as England now in the high season? I laughed at the car parking charges for Bournemouth, it is rather steep isn’t it? My daughter lives in Brighton, so I often leave the car parked at her house and I take the bus into the center to avoid the exorbitant parking charges.


    • Ireland has its busy places but generally no where near as busy and congested as England. After you retire I recommend a road trip in the Emerald Isle, I guarantee that you will enjoy it!


  2. I agree with you. One of the best things about Ireland is the lack of chain stores. Every town and city in England is the same but Ireland had lots of variation.


  3. I am enjoying your Irish posts….hope to visit again sometime soonish….


  4. The statue of Yeats may not be flattering, but it is fun.


  5. It must be nigh on 20 years since we’ve been in Sligo (on a wet day), I wasn’t overly impressed but reading your post I think we may need to give it another chance!


  6. I’m confused! I thought you were in France🙃


  7. I love places with ‘proper’ shops, Andrew. That was one of Church Stretton’s charms. 🙂 🙂 The potato famine cast a huge shadow over Ireland for a lot of years , so I suppose it’s not surprising to find it everywhere.


  8. I enjoyed reading your blog. There is a wall plaque for Spike Milligan and a mural for Westlife.
    As a Brit living in Sligo there isn’t as much stigma as there was when we moved here 26 years ago.


  9. Thanks for the info about the Irish Famine memorials. I just looked some up and found that I’d been in the vicinity of several of them in the States and never noticed. I’ll make a point of looking for them in the future.


  10. I admit to not having heard of Sligo Andrew. Makes me realize we are just going to get a wee taste of Ireland and so many more places to visit. Grateful for that at any rate.
    As per the comments it sounds like you are on quite the country hopping spree. Good for you!


  11. It has been a busy year Sue, Poland, Spain, Ireland, France and next week we go to Portugal, When we get back we move house and then take the grandchildren to Malta again.

    As for Ireland, as I said before don’t be too ambitious. From where you are basing yourself my advice is stick to the mid west coast, driving too far north or south would be a chore. You can always go back!


  12. Pingback: A to Z of Statues – Y is for W B Yeats | Have Bag, Will Travel

  13. As epithets go . . . I don’t get it. But then, poetry was never my favorite.

    And, yes, someone could (and probably will) explain it to me . . . but don’t.


    • From his poem “Under Ben Bulben”, the mountain nearby.

      Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
      In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
      An ancestor was rector there
      Long years ago; a church stands near,
      By the road an ancient Cross.
      No marble, no conventional phrase,
      On limestone quarried near the spot
      By his command these words are cut:

      Cast a cold eye
      On life, on death.
      Horseman, pass by!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Ireland is high on my list to visit. That is an unflattering statue of Yeats but still good to be acknowledged. It looks like he planned his own funeral, epitaph etc. Thanks for mentioning the entire poem as it then makes sense.


  15. I think that the statue of W. B. Yeats must be in his crime fighting superhero guise. “This is a job for Silly Trousers Man !!!”


  16. I was full of anticipation in 2017 when my husband and I were traveling by bus from Derry to Sligo, but I became delighted as the mountains entered into view. My great-grandparents emigrated from County Sligo in the late 1800s. They were from a beautiful beach community called Templeboy, just south of Strandhill. I loved Sligo: lovely historical town, nice restaurants, beautiful scenery. We went to the community market (on Saturday or Sunday) and on Monday to the historical society, where they were able trace my ancestors (it took a few months). I can’t wait to go back. On the bus you can tell the locals from the tourists, as the locals speak only Gaelic. Thank you for highlighting an amazing place off the beaten path. I am proud to call Sligo my ancestral home!


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