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Yeats Country Guide - Day One Knocknarea to Ballisadare to Lough Gill

Welcome to Day One of the Yeats Country Guide. If you have brought your hiking boots and togs to Ireland then you are well set up for your trip out towards Knocknarea. The hike up to Queen Maeve’s cairn is a relatively easy 20 minute ascent with great rewards for the intrepid. Our accompanying video may have not aged well but it gives you an idea of what you can expect to see from the top. 

Today has us visiting some key locations in the Yeats canon – Queen Maeve’s cairn, the sally gardens, Dooney rock and yes, the Lake Isle of Inishfree. We’ve ensured the poems can be accessed on this tour and include the great man give us a warm up and then a recital to that last poem. For all our knowledge of the man’s work, it can be disconcerting hearing his voice for the first time – you have been warned! If you manage to get in everything we have suggested, you will be doing very well.

Map of Day One Point of Interest (POI) locations

Click on each POI for more information

Day One - starting point

Sligo Tourist Office

Old Bank Building, O’Connell Street, Sligo

GPS Location: 54.272091, -8.47533

Narrators: Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon

The office is the nominal Sligo Town base from which you’ll commence your two-day Yeats Country guide. The helpful staff will be able to provide you with a free map of Sligo and environs – best to get your bearings before embarking on the tour. Please review the various places featured on this guide and note the directions where indicated.

Outside of the tourism office, you will see that the neighbouring building on the right is the headquarters for the Yeats Society, which is the epicentre of all things Yeats during the annual Summer school. Across the river with the backdrop of the sandstone-coloured Ulster Bank, you will see Yeats himself, well his famous statue at least. All of the town sites associated with Yeats can be found in our Sligo Town tour.

A prevailing feature of Yeats Country and Yeats inspiration from this area comes from the Sídhe or faery folk. In our first piece, our wonderful narrators Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon tell us more about them: –

The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, ‘Away, come away;

Directions

The first place you will be visiting on the guide is Queen Maeve’s cairn on Knocknarea overlooking Yeats Country. Click here to be taken to it on Google Maps.

Queen Maeve’s Cairn, Knocknarea

GPS Location: 54.272091, -8.47533

Narrators: Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon

325 metres high overlooking Yeats country is this imposing megalithic tomb to the legendary Maeve, Queen of Connacht. The great mound of stones on top of Knocknarea’s flat-topped summit is known as Miosgan Meadhbha or Maeve’s Grave. The adventurous may wish to walk the Queen Maeve Trail. Maeve is one of the primary characters in The Taín, one of Ireland’s most famous legends which concerns Cuchulainn, who defends Ulster against Maeve’s attack. 

There are many indications that Maeve was in fact a goddess of sovereignty, one of the group of Irish female deities of war, territory and sexuality. The legend of her death is quite bizarre, as an 11th century text explains that she was killed by a sling-shot consisting of a lump of hard cheese, by her nephew on the shores of Lough Ree!

Listen to the Yeats poem ‘Red Hanrahan’s song about Ireland’ which references Knocknarea and Maeve’s cairn. Yeats also penned the following poem about Maeve: The Old Age of Queen Maeve (from In the Seven Woods, Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age, 1903)

Non Yeats Point of Interest (POI) – Carrowmore

Location: 54.250931, -8.51908

This is the largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland and amongst the oldest and most important in Europe. The monuments form an oval shaped cluster around a centrally placed cairn covered monument, ‘Listoghill’ (Tomb 51). The centre is run by the Office of Public Works – full details as regards access and facilities can be seen on their website below. Swedish archaeological teams, led by Burenhult, have been working here since 1977 and have come up with very early construction dates for some of the excavated tombs (4840-4370 BC).  

Directions

After here, you’ll be returning back up the road and taking the first left at the crossroads. you’ll be continuing on the main road and heading towards Ballysadare. 

Ballysadare Bridge

GPS Location: 54.209507, -8.509383
Narrators: Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon

Ballysadare village, 7 miles south of Sligo is where the Pollexfen Company had extensive milling interests. You should be on the bridge where the Ballysadare river is. Facing north, you are now best placed to recall one of Yeats’s better known poems, ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’. 

The poet often stayed at nearby Avena House, just off the main street down from the bridge which remains a private dwelling. Salley rods were grown here, for basket making etc, and Yeats once heard a tinker woman sing the ballad he later reworded so delicately: ‘Down by the sally gardens my love and I did meet; She passed the sally gardens with little snow-white feet. She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears’.

Directions

After Ballysadare, you’ll be driving to Lough Gill and Dromahair by going under the N4 road onto the R290 traveling 3kms and turning right onto the R287. Click here to be brought to the brow showing spectacular Lough Gill.

Lough Gill scenic brow

GPS Location: 54.250261, -8.45164
Narrators: Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon

Your first view of it is a spectacular panorama well worth stopping off to take some pictures. Park on the left just before the brow descends. By the end of today’s tour, you’ll have a complete anti-clockwise tour of the lough, and maybe even an excursion onto it via the waterbus by Parke’s Castle if you time it well! Speaking of wells, our next stop will bew turning right for Tobernalt Holy Well which is signposted. 

Non Yeats POI – Tobernalt Holy Well

GPS Location: 54.244666, -8.445053
Narrator: Sean McMahon
Non Yeats Point of Interest

Tobernalt Holy Well is a place of reflection and nurturing serenity. It predates the advent of Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. Its importance as a meeting place and a sustainer of life predates our Celtic ancestors. Somewhat tenuously, there is a holy well in County Sligo with a Yeats connection called Hawk’s Well – it is on Tullaghan hill near Coolaney 10kms south west of Ballysadare for those who really want to get all Yeats locations in the northwest!

At the Hawk’s Well is a one act play by William Butler Yeats, first performed in 1916 and published in 1917. It is one of five plays by Yeats which are loosely based on the stories of Cuchulain, the mythological hero of ancient Ulster. It was the first play written in English that utilised many of the features of the Japanese Noh Theatre. The Hawk’s Well, also called Tubber Scanavin, can be found on top of Tullaghan Hill near Coolaney. Like all wells in Ireland, it is attributed to St Patrick, and even though the Ox Mountains stretch between the well and the sea, its water level rises and falls with the tide. There is also a Hawk’s Well theatre in Sligo Town, more of which can be found on our sister guide, the Sligo Town Guide.

Directions

After the holy well, you will be continuing about 100m further on the Holy Well road before taking a sharp left to get you to Dooney Rock – as long as you have the lough close on your left, you are on course to find it. Better still, click here to be brought by Google Maps.

Dooney Rock

GPS Location: 54.239091, -8.42733
Narrators: Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon

You are now at Dooney Rock, a huge rock covered in foliage and trees. This was a favourite spot for dancing and romancing and Yeats would have seen a blind fiddler who regularly played here on Sundays. “When I play on my fiddle in Dooney, Folk dance like a wave of the sea.” The panoramic views from the top of Dooney are well worth the stiff flight of steps, and show the magnificent brow of Benbulben in the straight distance, and to the left, Knocknarea. The more adventurous might fancy the nearby Slish Wood for a walk – see the sligowalks video for more!

Directions

Next up, you’ll be making your way to the famed Lake Isle of Inishfree. Well, by the banks of Lough Gill and in full view of it at least! Be warned, it is at the end of a windy 4 kilometre narrow road, so don’t do this in a Winnebago! There is parking on the right just before the slipway that is the closest vantage point of this hallowed spot. Click here to get to the car park. 

The banks of Lough Gill by Inishfree

GPS Location: 54.215204, -8.350232
Narrator: W.B. Yeats (no kidding!)

Listen to the voice of the great man himself, recorded by the BBC in 1932 reciting The Lake Isle of Inishfree.  The road down to this Point of Interest is signposted, but is about 4 kilometres along a windy road – there is parking once you get to the end of it. Don’t attempt it in a large vehicle! After here, you’ll be turning left – it’s up to you to go to Dromahair or Parke’s Castle and the waterbus, or indeed all three.

Non Yeats POI – Dromahair

Location: 54.220799, -8.297467 

Dromahair lies in the hilly north west of Leitrim amid some stunning unspoiled natural landscapes. The “Sleeping Giant” mountain formation (comprising Keelogyboy, Leean and Benbo) is visible on approaches to the village, as is Lough Gill below the Slieve Dae?ne and Killerry mountain.

The village itself is also idyllic, located on the banks of the River Bonet, which flows into Lough Gill. Much of Dromahair was modelled on a village in Somerset by the Earl of Leitrim, and the central streetscape still follows the pattern set down by him.

Looking for a good lunch before getting the waterbus in the afternoon? Try the The Riverbank Restaurant. Stay on the R287 by taking a right coming into Dromahair – the restaurant is on the left and is marked on the map. It has a full licence and is open from Friday to Sunday. Evening meals are from 6.30 pm to 10 pm and Sunday Lunch from 12.30 to 3.00 pm.Bar Food is Served, daily from 12.30 to 9pm

Directions

Follow the signs for Parkes Castle which is on the shores of Lough Gill.

Non Yeats POI: Parkes Castle

Location: 54.264611, -8.33396

A restored plantation castle of the early 17th century, picturesquely situated on the shores of Lough Gill, once the home of Robert Parke and his family. The Courtyard grounds contain evidence of an earlier 16th century Tower House structure once owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke who subsequently was executed at Tyburn, London in 1591. The Castle has been restored using Irish oak and traditional craftsmanship. Access for visitors with disabilities to ground floor.

Opening Hours: 9th April – 30th Sept: Daily 10.00 – 18.00 Last admission 45 minutes before tour. Length of Visit: 1 Hour

Next to the castle is the Wild Rose waterbus which takes you out on Lough Gill. George McGolderick is your affable host on this one hour trip. It sails daily at 12.30, 3.30, 4.30 and 6.30, but check in advance lest there be a change of plan – Mobile:+353872598869

Directions

This is the last set piece stop off on Day One of the tour. If heading back in to Sligo, take a left after the car park. We have however one last stop off with audio referring to a hazel wood. Hazelwood Forest is a short distance up to R286 and will be signposted on the left if you are doing well on time and fancy a pleasant walk.

Viewing Point – The Song of Wandering Aengus

Location: 54.263881, -8.35031

This viewing point offers a great time to hear actor Neil O’Shea reciting The Song of Wandering Aengus. This is one of the pieces from his full length show, The Irish Writers Entertain which mixes verse, poetry, comedy with some fine anecdotes about Ireland’s literary elite.

This much loved poem first appeared in 1897. In an 1899 letter to fellow poet Dora Sigerson, Yeats called “The Song of Wandering Aengus” “the kind of poem I like best myself—a ballad that gradually lifts … from circumstantial to purely lyrical writing.”

 

Directions

This viewing point is the last proper stop off on Day One of the tour. Simply carry on along the R286 to get back in to Sligo Town. We hope you’ve enjoyed yourself today and are ready for more tomorrow!

 

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