The Lady Erin Monument, dating from 1899, proudly stands in the centre of town. This area is popularly known as the "Market Cross" and has defined the main shopping area since the 1500s. Market Street extends north and south of the monument with a good variety of businesses; old and new styles mix well here. While McLynn's public house offers lively traditional and folk music with a good pint of Guinness, Bar Bazaar Coffee Shop and Bookshop has an exotic, modern ambience and serves various herbal concoctions, as well as caffeine-rich choices. Shee Lugh has a good selection of interesting crafts and gifts. Out and About caters for the outdoor enthusiast, with nearby Flanagan Cycles providing bike hire and service. If you are in the mood for a picnic, both Kate's Kitchen and the nineteenth-century style Cosgrove's have an astonishing choice of tasty treats.
Castle Street branches off Market Street towards the East. This is another busy business district. The Cat and The Moon offers high-quality Irish art and crafts with particularly attractive jewellery and pottery. Next door, the Cottage Café will keep hunger pangs at bay with its bistro menu during the day and stylish game-based entrees at night. Browsers are made very welcome at the Castle Gallery where unique local art is displayed and sold. If you would like to quench your thirst in an usual atmosphere, Shoot the Crows may be just the place. Mysterious murals and grinning skulls surround the bar. The historic Sligo Courthouse on Teeling Street is also in this area. Its High Victorian Gothic exterior is quite impressive. The remains of Sligo Abbey display a much simpler architectural style and make for very interesting exploration.
West of the Market Cross the concentration of businesses increases, making this the busiest area of town. Grattan Street leads away from Lady Erin and features some of Sligo's most interesting shops. Health foods and wholesome baked goods can be found at Tir Na Nog and the expert staff can give well-informed advice too. Octavious Fine Wines offers a superlative selection of vintages from around the world. It is the perfect place to find that special gift for a wine connoisseur or to indulge your own whims. For something more eternal, exquisite Irish theme jewellery can be found at Armin Lowe Jewellers. Continuing west, Grattan Street changes its name to John Street. The pretty, Anglican Church of St John the Baptist soon comes into view. Just beyond is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built on a much grander scale. Near the churches, on Temple Street, is the Hawk's Well Theatre, which provides a range of entertainment throughout the year. The Sligo Tourist Office is located beneath the theatre. Fascinating pottery pieces can be found in this area at Michael Kennedy Ceramics on Church Street.
Back at Grattan Street, O'Connell Street branches off to the northwest. This is the real hub of the town where innumerable shops, restaurants, and pubs vie for attention. Mullaney Brothers is a Sligo institution offering Irish fashions and crafts in a traditional atmosphere. Carraig Donn also offers high-quality Irish goods, with an upbeat style. Bistro Bianconi helps fill those empty spaces, while Kate's Beauty and Body Clinic can put the lustre back into your countenance. Web surfers hit the Cygo Internet Café where light snacks and caffeine keep you going while you surf. If you want a break from the hustle and bustle, head into Hargadon's pub. Snugs and small nooks provide a welcome oasis of peace in an old style setting. Wine Street lies above O'Connell Street. Here Michael Quinn Wood Carver has his studio. Once a butcher, he now focuses solely on his beautifully carved figures. Quay Street is in this area as well. Here, the large Factory Theatre is home to the Blue Raincoats Theatre Group.
The northern area of town has an almost Parisian feel with a maze of interesting alleys and beautiful views of the Garavogue River. On Rockwood Parade a host of pleasant shops and restaurants enjoy river views, including the diminutive Book Nest and the stylish Fiddler's Creek. In fine weather, outdoor café tables and decorative benches may entice to while away an hour or two. Across the river at Douglas Hyde Bridge, the Winding Stair Bookshop is well stocked with new and antiquarian reading material. Barton Smith's has almost everything for the sporting enthusiast. For a special gift, Sligo Crystal and Giftware offers a beautiful range of sparkling pieces. An unusual sculpture of W.B. Yeats stands on Stephen Street, while the Sligo Art Gallery, Sligo County Museum, and Library are grouped together close by. Just a little further on is one of Sligo's prettiest buildings, The Model Arts Centre. This nineteenth-century, honey-coloured stone building commands a lovely view and adds a little bit of grandeur to the town.
Numerous attractions lie outside of town with the scenic beauty of Lough Gill, Knocknarea, Benbulben, and Glencar Waterfall just ten miles (18km) away. Life throughout the ages can be seen at the Carrowmore Megalithic Tombs, monastic ruins at Drumcliff Visitor's Centre, and period Lissadell House. There are many sights particularly associated with W. B. Yeats too. A visit to Dooney Rock Forest Park or Dead Man's Point can offer scenic delight, while the Isle of Innishfree Cruise may inspire. Children will particularly enjoy a trip to Woodville Farm or Waterpoint. Whatever your interest, Sligo is truly the "land of heart's desire."
History of SligoTHE SLIGO OF PREHISTORY
The earliest people of Sligo were a group of hunter-gatherers who lived around the shores of Lough Gara and the first farming communities were established in the same area around 4,000 BC. According to legend the first settlers were the Firbolg who were defeated in a great battle by the Da Dannan 2000 years before Christianity and seven hundred years before Troy. The last resting place of these warriors can be seen in the famous megalithic cemetery of Carrowmore with its stone circles, cairns and sepulchre chambers. Sligo has the largest group of megalithic remains in Ireland.
Carrowmore stands in the shadow of Knocknarae the mountain, which is reputedly the last resting place of Queen Maeve. Maeve, the star of the Irish sagas, attained the status of Celtic goddess in the first century AD. Sligo is rich in interesting archaeological remains, and since Ireland was the only country in Western Europe not colonised by Rome, the ancient infrastructures remain intact, uninfluenced by Roman towns, roads and systems of organisation.
St Patrick made two visits to Sligo, spending around seven years in the area. He walked over the mountains and around the lakes blessing wells and establishing Christian communities. The earliest churches founded by St Patrick were at Killnamanagh and Killala. Sligo was not immune from Viking raids, being easily accessible by the ancient sea routes. Many of the early Christian churches and communities were destroyed in 807 when 5,000 Vikings landed in northeast Sligo. They were a constant source of unrest until Brian Boru finally defeated them in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf.
The town of Sligo has its beginnings in the Anglo/Norman occupation of Ireland when Maurice Fitzgerald built the castle of Sligo in 1239 and the Dominican Abbey was founded in 1252. The area also figures prominently in the golden age of monastic Ireland symbolised by the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice and the Book of Kells. Some of the great source books of Irish history and genealogy were compiled in the county of Sligo. Poets were established as the aristocrats of early Irish society and many, including the O'Dalys, the O'Rourkes and the O'Higgins originated in the Sligo area.
The submission of the Irish chieftains to the English throne in 1500 marked the beginning of a downward slide in the fortunes of Sligo. Insurrection and ruin marked the countryside. Sligo town - including the Dominican Abbey - was burned in 1642 by Sir Frederick Hamilton and 300 people were killed by rampaging soldiers. In the Cromwellian destruction woman and children were the main targets of genocide. Irish Catholics were forbidden to own land, the dispossessed were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves to the West Indian sugar plantations, and 63,000 acres of Sligo land were handed over to Cromwellian soldiers.
The French Revolution of 1789 fired the imagination of both Irish intellectuals and peasants. Poverty and exclusion created perfect conditions for a similar event in Ireland and this found its expression in the rise of the United Irishmen in 1798. The French, eager to export their particular brand of revolution, looked to Ireland to provide the opportunity to harass the ancient mutual English enemy. A French expeditionary force landed in Killala Bay in 1798 under the command of Major General Humbert. The subsequent events of the defeat of the British at the battle of Carrickmagat and the terrifying aftermath of the British revenge on the Irish peasantry is retold in the novel 'The Year of the French' by Thomas Keneally. A monument of Captain Teely (the Irish soldier who was aide-de-camp to Major General Humbert and who was executed by the English) overlooks the battlefield.
The Act of Union in 1800 consolidated British rule in Ireland and while poverty was widespread, the density of the population also ensured the growth of towns like Sligo. The new merchant and landlord class established the industries of brewing and distilling and the rope, linen and leather trades ensured the growth of the town's infrastructure. The port of Sligo developed rapidly and a railway arrived in the town in 1860.
Disaster struck again with cholera epidemic in 1832 causing more deaths in Sligo than anywhere else in Ireland. People were left dead in the streets and whole families were wiped out. Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula) had his macabre imagination fired by his mother, a Sligo woman, who told stories of coffin makers knocking on doors in the night looking for corpses and of victims being buried alive.
The Famine of 1847 exacerbated this situation when the potato crop failed and no other alternatives crops were made available to the starving peasantry. Again bodies lay in the streets and the emigration ships filled as the countryside emptied. Sligo became a haunted land with no children in the schools and fields that lay bare for years. A journalist at the time coined the phrase 'Sligo is no more'.
THE NEW RESURGENCE ' MODERN SLIGO
Despite these ominous predictions Sligo did make it into the twentieth century. The new resurgence in Irish nationalism and self-confidence began in 1916 with the Easter Rebellion and the rise of Sinn Fein. This found its reflection in Sligo in the persona of Countess Markievicz who, as a native of Sligo, was granted the freedom of the city in 1917. Sinn Fein, meanwhile, polled 82% of the vote in south Sligo in the 1918 General Election.
However the most famous name associated with the resurgent romantic nationalism is that of William Butler Yeats. Although he was born in Dublin it is with Sligo that Yeats is most associated. He spent his school holidays in Sligo with his grandmother and listened to her many stories of the ancient Ireland of myth and legend. Following in the Sligo tradition that preceded him, his poetry and storytelling breathed life into the stone monuments and the legendary figures of Irish mythology. He rescued Sligo from oblivion and immortalised its place names in his poetry as the Land of Heart's Desire. Names already intrinsically beautiful gained extra sparkle in the setting of a Yeats poem ' Lissadel, Glencar, Knocknarae, Ballisadare and Innisfree somehow evoke the magical essence of the place. In winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 Yeats inspired thousands of people to seek out that long hidden Ireland and popularised Sligo as a place of romance and rhyme.
Today Sligo is a prosperous town, which is sharing in the new economic growth of twenty first century Ireland. This prosperity demonstrates how an area that was once so devastated can rejuvenate and renew itself. Many are choosing to locate themselves in the area, drawn by its natural beauty and emerging opportunities. Without losing its charm or forfeiting its romantic past, Sligo is positioned to grow and develop both culturally and economically as the gateway to the north-west of Ireland.
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