The Wild Atlantic Craic: Things to do in Sligo if the Fleadh isn't your thing
Maybe surfing and food is more your thing? Even if the Fleadh doesn't suit, Sligo is the perfect destination for an adventure holiday, says Nicola Brady
A busy bypass is hardly the most auspicious introduction to a town. But in Sligo, at what would otherwise be a junction thronged with traffic and impatience, is a mural of WB Yeats. The poet peers through his spectacles at the passing cars, from his post on the side of a once derelict building.
Sligo Tidy Towns was responsible for the murals, painted by Nik Purdy, which you can find throughout the town - you'll also find Yeats's muse Maud Gonne, accompanied by the poem When You Are Old.
It serves as a good symbol of Sligo. This is a town that, like many in Ireland, could have crumbled during the recession, as many abandoned buildings did. Instead, it has picked itself up, given itself a lick of paint and rediscovered its heritage.
There's a buzz about the town these days. This can be attributed to many things - the 150th birthday of Yeats, the huge success of the Wild Atlantic Way, and, of course, Fleadh Cheoil na héireann.
As an estimated 350,000 people burst into Sligo, temporary cafés and bars popped up around them, encouraging more to open permanently. This means that Sligo is now, more than ever, home to a vibrant foodie scene.
One of the newest kids on the culinary block is Knox (knoxsligo.ie) on O'Connell Street, which serves up creative, home-style dishes in a funky, arty space. The health-conscious are kept happy in the Sweet Beat Café (sweetbeat.ie), a vegan-friendly joint dishing up plant-based food and juices, alongside excellent coffee.
Whether the Fleadh is in town or not, you can always find great music in and around Sligo. Head to Shoot the Crows on Grattan Street, a tiny pub filled with gothic sculptures and hidden alcoves, and you'll likely stumble upon a session.
In recent months, Sligo has marketed itself as the #AdventureCapital of Ireland (it will also host the Surf Summit in November). It's true that there is no limit to the amount of activities you can do in the area - you can surf the big waves on the coast, take to the lakes on a kayak or learn how to stand-up paddleboard (find providers at adventuresligo.ie).
For a slightly less adrenaline-filled trek, make your way up one of the striking mountains that encircle the town. Nothing says Sligo like the sight of Ben Bulben, the tabletop mountain that looms over the town and bay. Though an imposing sight, the mountain is easily tackled from the more gently sloping south face.
The newest addition to the walking scene is the trail up Knocknarea. What was once a slightly boggy ascent is now made a breeze with wooden pathways and steps carved into the mountainside. At the summit, you're met with a killer view of Strandhill and the coast, as the rocky cairn of Queen Maeve stands behind you.
Strandhill itself has earned its stripes as one of the coolest spots in the country. Visitors flock to the seaside village to watch the surfers, walk the sands and fill their bellies. The Draft House (thedrafthouse.ie) opened in May and was an instant hit, with funky outdoor seating and a wide variety of craft beers.
Accommodation-wise, the town is served by a number of large hotels, the most central of which is The Glasshouse (theglasshouse.ie), whose full-length windows overlook the Garavogue river. For a countryside break, you can't beat historic Coopershill (coopershill.com), a country house filled with antiques and where deer roam the grounds.
It's rural spots like this where Sligo really comes into its own. Whether you're standing among ancient megaliths, dipping a toe in the surf or walking deep in the forest, you're in the land that Yeats loved. It'll make poets of us all yet.
See more at sligotourism.ie
The Fleadh Bucket List five Things you must Do in sligo
Market and Beach
Pick up some fresh local produce at Beltra Country Market (Sat, 10am-12pm) and then pop over to the nearby beauty that is Dunmoran Strand for a bracing dip. Heaven!
Luxurious and it's a must for any visitor to Sligo - choose from a visit to Voya (voyaseaweedbaths.com) in Strandhill or the traditional Kilcullens in Enniscrone.
After reopening to the public this year, Lissadell House (lissadellhouse.com) is now back in business, offering house tours and regular family events.
Do you want to know more about Sligo? Join one of the free walking tours of the town held daily at 11am, starting from the Tourist Office (Mon-Sat).
Queen Maeve, that is. Climb Knocknarea for the majestic views. A newly opened route close to Strandhill means it is even easier to get up. See sligotourism.ie