The Getaway: Yeats Country
A poetic sojourn in Sligo
Frank Coughlan visits Sligo on the 150th anniversary of Yeats's birth, and finds a landscape just as inspiring today.
Set the mood
I don't do directions. If you were looking for Tuesday, I'd probably send you to Thursday, and if there were two pubs in a tiny village, the odds are I'd end up in the wrong one.
It's genetic, or something. That's how, even with the help of a mouthy and enthusiastic satnav, I still ended up at the tradesmen's entrance to Temple House outside Ballymote, Co. Sligo.
The other guests swished up the long, elegant drive to this most lovely old manor, while I cagily traversed a rutted lane wondering where I'd end up. I needn't have worried. This is a very special corner of Yeats Country. And today, June 13, marks a very special anniversary.
Yeats Country, Sligo
WB Yeats was born 150 years ago, and quite aside from the Yeats 2015 celebrations (yeats2015.com), there's plenty of poetic places to explore in his Land of Heart's Desire.
Seatrails (seatrails.ie) offers a highly informative Yeats Trail to Rosses Point, for example. And for the less learned, and more energetic, it has kayaking and horse riding excursions too. The Rose of Innisfree boat tour of Lough Gill (roseofinnisfree.com) gets to parts of the WB experience that foot-slogging can't reach, including the isle itself. The real treat though is Captain McGoldrick, who brings the words of the great man alive in a way few teachers could. All in all, the tour amounted to €15 well-invested.
Temple House (templehouse.ie) describes itself as a luxury guest house and boutique hotel, but the word 'hotel' is really a misnomer. It, thankfully, doesn't have flatscreens or even phones in the bedroom. If you want to fetch reception, you can't. There is none. This is a more intimate establishment with seven guest rooms and a history that speaks personally to you without the intervention of a visionary interior designer called Fiachra. The Percevals have lived here, bar one minor hiccup, since the 17th century, when Elizabeth I bequeathed the estate to the family. Its 1,000-acre parkland setting is breathtaking too.
In a house where the word authentic can be taken literally, we shared the one dining table with the other guests - a retired Italian cop from Long Island and honeymooners from Queens, amongst others - and enjoyed delicious loin of pork and some quirky conversation. Back in our beautifully proportioned room, we slept the sleep of the just. One night B&B ranges from €80-95 pps. Dinner is €47.
Sligo town, from the Garavogue River
We eventually roused ourselves and headed for Sligo town, a vibrant, unfussy place with its share of vacant lots and traffic angst. We had a lovely relaxed lunch in the buzzy A Casa Mia (facebook.com/acasamiasligo) by the quays, emerging after a hearty repast with change out of a twenty. Afterwards, we drove to Strandhill to watch the surfers, and couldn't resist refuelling with a coffee at the famous Shells Cafe (shellscafe.com). If only the whiff of that salty sea air, mingled with the open kitchen, could be patented.
Get me there
Sligo is a 2.5 hour drive from Dublin, and also served by train (irishrail.ie) and bus (buseireann.ie). My visit was supported by the Border Uplands Project, which is developing geo-tourism sites in Sligo under the EU INTERREG IVA programme. For more, see sligotourism.ie.
You can't do Sligo without straying close to the Wild Atlantic Way, and bike hire from North Western Adventure Tours (northwestadventuretours.com; from €15 per day, or €30 for a 2-3 hour guided tour) is among the best ways of experiencing it. May the wind be at your back...
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