Ireland of Dreams: Sligo Surprise


Back on the mainland the next day, the rain began lashing us in earnest as we drove through what the pictures in my guidebook assured me was one of Ireland's prettiest corners, the Connemara National Park. All we could see was a rain and fog that cut visibility off at 30 feet.

We stopped at E.J. King's, the corner pub in Clifden, and discussed our options over Irish stew, fish-n-chips, and pints of russet Smithwicks ale. We decided to assume the rain wouldn't let up (it didn't), and therefore to ditch Connemara.

Best decision we made all trip.

We ended up spending two unintentional and wonderful days in a place I had never even considered, Country Sligo.

In the town of Boyle we wandered the wild grass growing in the tumbledown cloisters of Boyle Abbey—romantically roofless since the seventeenth century thanks to Cromwell's rabidly anti-Catholic troops—and enjoyed hearty sandwiches and huge slabs of pie at the Stone House Café, our chairs pressed against a picture window that overhung a slow-moving little river.

The staff at the official Irish Heritage Site of Carrowmore, a collection of miniature ancient dolmens (stone burial cairns), hinted we would do well to cross the road and step over the fence of an accommodating farmer. They were right. Frankly, the admission-charging half of this ancient site got the short end of the archaeological stick. The dolmens on the farmer's property were much larger and more intact, plus had the scenic benefit of horses grazing inside the ancient rings of stone.

South of Carrowmore, we followed signs for Carrowkeel down a bone-jarring, muddy track that even the sheep who watched us pass clearly thought we were crazy to tackle. At the end of the road awaited a long trudge up a steep hillside covered in squelchy mosses, prickly heather, and sheep patties. But the view from the mountaintop took our breath away, sweeping across the very same rolling hills, farmland, glens, and lochs that once inspired Yeats to commit poetry.

The ridgeline was picked out by burial cairns, neglected piles of pale stone with a narrow, dark opening near the base of each. I struggled out of my jacket, whipped out my flashlight, and spent a happy half-hour crawling down the passageways of ancient burial tombs.

The only problem with having decided on Sligo as a new destination in the mid-afternoon was securing a place to stay. On the third phone call, I found a room at Rathnashee, which was a plain modern cottage, and though our hosts, the Haugheys, were kind, it seemed nothing special.

That is until shy Mr. Haughey warmed to me as we discussed the books lining the house's endless shelves. He pulled down a giant leather tome of Aesop's Fables and proudly handed it to me to peruse. It was lovely, illustrated with engraved plates, and clearly quite old. I was leafing through it gingerly when my host announced quietly that it had been printed in 1692. I had only ever seen books that old behind glass in museums and historical libraries. Now I was casually holding one in my lap.

The next morning, Tess Haughey, who relishes her B&B role of playing Favorite Irish Auntie, served a positively magnificent breakfast spread in a dining room that had a view of the region's iconic mountain, Benbulben, a dramatic shelf of land thrust straight up out of the ground like a giant green Poptart.

» On to: North of the Border: County Antrim

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in September 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.