Sligo – Reflections

After multiple posts about my plans in and around Sligo, I feel it’s only fitting to dedicate a post to reflect on that part of our trip.

We arrived in Sligo around lunch time after a lengthy drive from our B&B in Galway.  Once again, our GPS favored a meandering route once we left the motorway, but I didn’t mind this time, heart and mind too caught up in soaking up every detail as we hugged Knocknarea’s base.  The rest of Sligo town sprawled below us, Benbulben looming in the distance.  We’d made it to Yeats Country at last.


Looking out the car window at Sligo town and Belbulben in the distance.

Before setting off to see all that the town had to offer, we made our way to Strandhill per the suggestion of a local we’d met during our tour of the Gap of Dunloe a few days earlier.  She’d assured us the promenade was the best in town and the perfect place for a Yeats lover to begin their journey.


We stopped in at The Strand Bar for some Guinness Irish Stew and were simply blown away by both the flavor and the portion size – one order would have been enough for both of us!  The meat was cooked exactly the way it should be, tender while still retaining texture, and the vegetables were too rich to want to waste a single bite.  I can certainly see why the bar boasts their stew’s famous – I know if I’m ever in Sligo again, I’ll definitely seek it out a second time.

Afterwards we walked the short distance to the promenade and ventured down to the beach along the Wild Atlantic Way.


We couldn’t walk on the beach itself easily as there was little sand, only large water-rounded stones, but we did pick our way down worn paths through the grassy hills for a time.  Knocknarea dominated our view on the right, even more impressive from a distance.

From Strandhill we headed back inland to see Carrowmore, the large megalithic complex I had imagined would be one of the trip’s highlights.  However, I must admit, I was a bit disappointed, especially now with Loughcrew for comparison.

We arrived shortly before a tour group did and were invited to wait for them and tag along on their guided walkthrough.  Unaware that the group was rather large, we’d decided to take the guide up on the offer but quickly regretted our decision.  We’d become used to walking at our own pace and avoiding large crowds for the most part (a definite advantage when taking photos), but with the group, we had little choice but to maintain the pace or risk missing what the guide had to say.

I’d still recommend visiting the site, especially if in the area, and do acknowledge I might have enjoyed seeing it more had we not gone with the tour group.  Even going on a cooler day might have helped – Ireland was in the midst of a heat wave, and I had been badly sunburned the previous day in the Gap of Dunloe.  But as it was, it had a very developed feel to it, especially inside Listoghil, where the rebuilt cairn’s stones were held in place by wire mesh.


Listoghil at Carrowmore, with Queen Maeve’s Cairn on Knocknarea visible in the background.

After getting turned around once again, we decided to check in at our bed and breakfast before time got away from us.  Mary at St. Martin de Porres made us feel welcome the moment we stepped out of the car.  Originally we’d planned to merely drop in long enough to introduce ourselves and get our room keys, but Mary had tea and cookies ready and invited us to unwind a while.  It was a nice, surprising bit of calm in what sometimes felt like a constant race to do all we’d set out to accomplish, and something I’m quite thankful for.

From there, we followed the edge of Lough Gill to Slish Wood, experiencing some more GPS troubles along the way.  (A hint:  When the GPS says to drive through a barbwire fence into the lake to reach Slish Wood, don’t listen – it’s really the next left.)  But the trouble along the way was worth it, merely for the quiet beauty that awaited us.

Walking through Slish Wood reminded me of walking through the woods back home in some ways, just without the risk of my mom catching poison ivy.  But at the same time, the forest’s age is clearly evident.  Thick moss blankets most of the older trees, and barely any sunlight reached the trail.  What did filtered in through the trees nearest the lake, not through the canopy above.


One thing puts me ill at ease about Slish Wood’s future, and feel even stronger about encouraging anyone who wishes to see it to go when they can -we found wild rhododendron bushes growing near the trail’s mouth.

It might sound strange to worry about a seemingly harmless plant like the rhododendron, but in our travels we quickly learned they crowd out native plants.  No matter where we went, if there was a rhododendron, someone was complaining about them, simply due to their invasive nature.  Ireland unfortunately provides optimal growing conditions for the plants, and due to their prolific seed production, once you have one rhododendron, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have nothing but rhododendrons.

Slish Wood in particular, with its acidic soil due to its ancient oaks, is the perfect environment for rhododendrons to thrive.  Hopefully the plants at the trailhead won’t spread, but if they do, I believe it unlikely the woods will ever look the same again.


With the evening quickly slipping away, we left Slish Wood behind and sought out Rosses Point.  As the woman we’d met in the Gap had said, the Point wasn’t as interesting to explore as Strandhill, but we found another wonderful restaurant to eat at for dinner.

Harry’s Bar and Gastro Pub looks right out on the bay and serves local seafood, as would be expected.  But it also handles other dishes well, as my mom learned when she tried their ribs.  Still very stuffed from lunch, I opted for an appetizer only and tried their seafood chowder.  The portion size was on the large side, filling me quite easily, all while giving a peak at what creatures lived in Sligo’s waters.


Looking out from Rosses Point

The next morning, we made one final Yeats stop before starting our journey to the North. Skirting the other side of the peninsula, we headed to the Sligo-Letrim border, where the Glencar Waterfall straddles the two counties.  It was just as beautiful as I’d imagined it would be, the waterfall’s spray keeping the air cool and the ferns moist even with the ongoing heatwave.


Our short walk there and back certainly became the highlight of our day, as we’d soon become so hopelessly lost we’d give up on seeing any other sights, ready to simply eat and fall into bed.

For more information about Carrowmore and following Yeats’ Stolen Child, please see my previous blog posts and their additional links here and here.  Also, many more pictures from my Sligo adventures are available on my dA account here.

Sligo – Following Yeats’ Poems, 127 Years Later

For my upcoming trip to Ireland, Sligo is higher on my “must visit” list than Dublin, and for one semi-nerdy reason:  I love Yeats’ poem The Stolen Child.

I first heard the poem in high school after stumbling upon Loreena McKennitt’s work.  Several months passed before I realized the words were actually penned by Yeats in 1886, and that each stanza references real sights in an around Sligo.


Sligo Coastline.  Image Credit:  Wikipedia.

From that moment on, I was entranced.  I chose The Stolen Child for a classroom poetry analysis exercise, and I’d later find inspiration from its refrain for a short story that evolved into my first novel.

When I went to Ireland with my family in 2011, our tour group didn’t stop in Sligo.  It came as a disappointment, but I’d already decided at that point I’d find a way back to Ireland and explore Sligo at my own pace, letting my favorite poem lead me.

Where dips the rocky highland / Of Sleuth Wood in the lake…


Slish Wood Trail.  Image Credit:  Wikipedia.

Though Yeats called it Sleuth Wood in his poem, the hilly forest along Lough Gill is actually named Slish Wood.  Once entirely an oak forest, the area was cleared during World War II.  Some pockets of 250 year old oaks remain, and the region is regarded as a biodiversity site and is included in Lough Gill Natural Heritage Area.  A strenuous walking trail allows visitors to follow the lake shore and take in the local wildlife, with two paths available.  The shortest loops back to the car park at the trail head and spans 1.86 miles (3 km).

Far off by furthest Rosses / We foot it all the night…

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View at Rosses Point.  Image Credit:  Wikipedia.

Rosses Point is one of Sligo’s two beaches, lining Sligo harbor.  Yeats and his brother spent their summers here, and with views of mountains Benbulben and Knocknarea, it’s no wonder the Point made it into The Stolen Child.  As with Slish Wood, there’s a walking trail that winds around the Point.  This one’s slightly shorter – only 1.8 miles (2.9 km).

 “Where the wandering water gushes / From the hills above Glen-Car…”


Glencar Waterfall.  Image Credit:  Wikipedia.

Glencar Lough straddles counties Sligo and Leitrim, and is actually home to several waterfalls, most of which are visible from the road.  But the largest, and the one featured in the poem, requires a bit more walking – around half a mile (less than 1 km) on a paved trail.  This main waterfall descends 50 feet to a pool below, sending white spray into the air as it strikes against rocky earth on the way down.

There’s certainly more I want to see while in Sligo than these three nature trails.  Carrowmore, a megalithic cemetery that rivals Newgrange in size, is one such place – expect more information in Thursday’s blog post!

Additional Links & Resources:

Leitrim Tourism: Glencar Waterfall

Sligo, Ireland homepage

Sligo Walks homepage

Yeats Country Photographs

“Come away, O human child!” – Changeling Tales

“Come away, O human child!” – Changeling Tales

“Away with us he’s going, / The solemn-eyed: / He’ll hear no more the lowing / Of the calves on the warm hillside…”

From Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, changelings are everywhere.  Even Supernatural has an episode revolving around these fae, and there are countless other examples out there if you take the time to look.  These stories span both centuries and cultures, but all boil down to the same central theme – a human, usually a child, is abducted by an otherworldly being and replaced with a surrogate.


Image Credit:  Theodore Kittelsen.

Changelings are most easily spotted by their mannerisms.  Temperamental and fussy, they have a ravenous hunger and will eat anything in sight, even the family’s luck and good fortune.  But despite constant gorging, the child never gains weight and remains sickly.  Many are said to look inhuman, with bony arms and legs, and eyes that hint the “child” is much older than it appears.

Iron placed around a baby’s crib was one way to prevent the switch from occurring, taking advantage of fae’s well known aversion to the metal.  Laying a piece of the father’s clothing across a sleeping child also offered protection.  Baptism sometimes served as the ultimate ward against the fae, stripping them of any power they may have held over an individual.


Image Credit:  PJ Lynch.

Various methods claimed to return the abducted; boiling water in eggshells to force the changeling to expose itself is perhaps the most harmless of these.  The worst involved torture – physical beatings, poisoning with foxglove, leaving them outside overnight, and throwing them in a lit fire or hot oven were all considered appropriate ways to deal with changelings.

Tragically, it’s believed that children born with developmental disorders were often labeled as changelings.  Folk belief and superstition were often the only tools available to explain why some children are born with handicaps, and unfortunately, commonly led to infanticide.


Image Credit: John Bauer.

It would be far more comforting to believe these tales are found only in the distant past and fictitious works, but unfortunately that’s not the case.  In 1895, Irishman Michael Cleary was found guilty of manslaughter after brutally torturing and eventually murdering his wife, Bridget Cleary.  He claimed that it was not his wife he burned alive, but a faerie changeling, left in her place.

Bridget was 26 years old when she fell ill with mild bronchitis.  Described as both beautiful and thrifty, her one “flaw” was that she hadn’t given Michael any children.  But she was a loyal wife – no one believed her to have cheated – and, presumably, a caring daughter, as her father lived with the couple.  Multiple warning signs were visible in the days leading up to Bridget’s death, but no actions were taken to prevent the inevitable.


Bridget Cleary and her husband, Michael.  Image Credit: Irish Central.

She endured torture for at least three days, ranging from being placed over a hot fire grate to beatings, having urine thrown on her and being force fed slices of dry bread without drink, all with witnesses present.  Even as neighbors reportedly pleaded with Michael to stop, he insisted the woman before them was not his wife, but a faerie.  Three days after a doctor gave him herbs to treat bronchitis, something Michael “had no faith in,” Bridget was burned alive and buried over a mile from their home in Tipperary.  Her body wasn’t discovered for six days, and the original charge of murder brought against Michael was reduced to manslaughter.

Bridget Cleary’s case shows us the dangerous superstitious beliefs fairy tales and folklore can give rise to.  Today, we widely accept that what happened to her and countless others accused of being changelings or in league with the devil are acts of barbarism, though these crimes were once viewed as appropriate responses to unexplainable circumstances.  It makes one wonder though – what practices common today will gain similar reactions from future generations?

Additional links & Resources:

A Collection of Changeling Legends from the British Isles

An Essay on Changelings

Excerpt on Bridget Cleary from Five Years in Ireland

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, page 47

Ireland Legends & Folklore, pages 106-9