From Humming Sea to Lake Water Lapping. What could Yeats’ expect to discover on a contemporary journey through his favourite Sligo haunts? Join us for Route 1 of our Yeats County Tour with Sligo-based writer Kate Winter to uncover the best places to stop and the best things to do along the route, taking you from the sea side at Strandhill around Lough Gill and into Sligo town.
This is the first in a series of stories which were commissioned by the WDC for Yeats2015. See Route 2 here.
Strandhill Peninsula has become the Mecca of surfers and scene-sters alike of late, busy and bustling all year round. Beautiful Knocknarea rises behind the village, Maedhbh’s cairn a fine example of “where hill is heaped upon hill” and a perfect backdrop for a long evening walk on glistening wet sand, round the looping beach trails which take in every kind of ocean mood. In his poem, The White Birds, Yeats describes a longing to become “white birds on the foam of the sea” with his beloved… One can’t help but wonder if he would have seen the surfers of today, silhouetted by a grey-pink sky, dancing upon the white crests of the Atlantic waves, and found himself a step closer to that fantasy?
Heading inland, Dooney Rock, where Yeats immortalised a blind fiddler in the lines “When I play on my fiddle in Dooney, Folk dance like a wave of the sea” is a lovely stop along the shores of Lough Gill. Scrambling up the mossy sides of the rock, one comes to the spectacular viewing point, looking out towards Inisfree and Beezies Islands across the glassy grey waters of Yeats’ favourite lake.
The Lake Isle Of Inisfree, arguably one of the most famous Yeats poems, describes an island where
“…peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.”
And now more than ever there are a myriad of ways to explore this heaven on earth. On any given day one may take a boat trip, or join a kayak tour, or even walk on water with a tribe of Stand Up Paddleboard enthusiasts. But of course, one must tread softly… “because you tread on my dreams”.
Slish Wood is another magical place, certainly one that put Yeats in mind of all kinds of mischievous revelry amongst his beloved fairy folk. And likely still today, the deep and rambling woods play host to festive frolics in a few of the more secluded glades. Rumours abound amongst locals that laughter and music are sometimes to be heard drifting across the lake in “the long dew-dropping hours of the night” and the remains of many’s a fairy-friendly bonfire lingers as evidence that this might be the case. One has to listen hard, however, and in the right places, for such insider information.
Before heading back towards the hustle and bustle of Sligo City, a hop-skip-and-a-jump along the Lough Gill circuit will bring you to the pretty town of Dromahair in County Leitrim. Not officially in Yeats County anymore, but certainly one of his frequented spots, where he was often to be found visiting the parish priest, Peter Gilligan, who featured in his poetry. This idyllic little town is nestled between mountains and lake, on the banks of the River Bonet, and can’t but have been another source of inspiration to the poet on his many visits.
A ramble through the streets of Yeats’ Sligo will prove most fruitful for fans; scarcely two steps can be taken without coming across a monument or a memorial of our favourite poet. See him standing, bold in brass, while perhaps a young couple pause for a kiss at his feet. See him gazing down from a giant mural, while round the corner an old man smokes an illicit cigarette and reads the lines etched on the wall opposite:
“Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won”
There you’ll find him in the names of so many local buildings and businesses: Heart’s Desire, The Cat And The Moon, The Hawkswell, The Yeats Building, Pollexfen House, WB’s… Or perhaps you’ll stop in to Hargadons for lunch, where every day at 1pm a Yeats poem is read aloud. While of an evening in any one of the many lively bars in the town, per chance you may find the truth in his words, “Wine comes in at the mouth, And love comes in at the eye”.
Raise a glass, and sigh!
About the Writer: Kate Winter is a novelist and journalist from Strandhill, Sligo. She blogs creatively at winterwritings.wordpress.com and reviews local events at sceneinsligo.wordpress.com. Follow her @KatiCut
 From Into The Twilight
 From The Fiddler Of Dooney
 From He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
 From A Fairy Song
 From To A Child Dancing In The Wind
 From A Drinking Song
Image Credits: Colin Gillen at Framelight Studio
More Info: See the route on Google Maps at goo.gl/maps/zt28M.
Wild Atlantic Way: The Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s first long-distance touring route, stretching along the Atlantic coast from Donegal to West Cork. Many of the places listed in this article also feature on the Wild Atlantic Way. See Wild Atlantic Way Interest Points in Sligo on the Wild Atlantic Way website here.