Beezie was one tough lady. She lived in sweet isolation on Cottage Island, a former leper colony, in the middle of a lake near the town of Sligo, Ireland. She rowed herself ashore to swap her potent home brew for produce at the market right up until she passed away. There was a joke that the fish stall would be empty the next day; the trawlers would not set sail as the fishermen would all be suffering a dreadful hangover. As we gently paddled past her former home I admired her tenacity and grew envious of her tranquil residence.

Canoes by the side of the lough

When the sun shines in Ireland it is necessary to take full advantage of outdoor activities. We wanted to get out on the water and a kayak on Lough Gill seemed a great idea. Barry from Sligo Kayak Tours guided us on a relaxed tour of the waters, recanting stories, such as Beezie’s, and pointing out areas of interest. He also had a nice chat with each member of our group. He gave an extensive safety overview as well as some tips on keeping afloat and dry, which put everyone at ease.

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We glided over the glossy lake; on reaching the far end Barry showed us a little patch where we could park up and have some tea. As we headed back we paddled past a grandad teaching his grandson how to fish. Apart from these two and the small cruising boat over the very far side, we virtually had the lough to ourselves. If only the weather was like this every day. Apparently, during one particularly harsh winter, Beezie had to be rescued after the lake froze over and she wasn’t able to get off her island. After hearing this we were extra appreciative of the conveniently clement climate.

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Back on terra firma, we headed into Sligo to appreciate some local arts. We visited The Model, a contemporary exhibition space that features both local and international visual artists. We chanced upon a contemporary show and a special collection featuring one of Sligo’s own, Jack B. Yeats. Of the infamously artistic family, Jack was the Olympic medal-winning illustrator, sketcher, and oil painter. His father was John, the famous portraitist and his brother was W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Prize winning poet. Jack’s works were mainly observations of the countryside around West Ireland and characters residing in and around Sligo. They included funerals, horse racing, and circuses. The periodicals he illustrated featured fun poems that gave an insight to the popular magazine scene in Sligo a hundred years ago.

There was also a really good selection of affordable-ish art made by Irish artists, some of which I was really tempted to take home. The works included intriguing concept pieces where the phrase money for old rope came to mind. On the other end of the scale were the mesmerisingly atmospheric works by Daniel Chester. He uses oils on an aluminium ‘canvas’, which is my favourite medium. It was great to spend some quality moments with these fascinating creations.  

Whilst we were kayaking we caught sight of a nearby mountain named Benbulbin. It is the star of many poems written by Sligo’s most famous resident, William.B. Yeats. We visited the Yeats Memorial Building Centre and found some photographs of the family but nothing more. It seemed to be mostly a cafe and a space to recite poetry, provide study facilities and host guest art shows.

(Luckily there was an excellent exhibition of Yeats’ loves, quirks, and legacies at the National Library in Dublin. Sligo should really steal it!)

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Our disappointment was quickly annulled when we popped into a ‘wooderful’ carving shop, owned by the legendary Michael Quirke. We met him as he was trying to drink a coffee someone had bought him before it got cold. This was an unrealistic goal given his unstoppable commitment to sharing the old Irish stories that inspire his works. We were told all about the symbolism of the eagle, the salmon, and the wolf, which appear on his statues and wedding plaques.

Michael gleefully told us that as there is no copyright on the fables, he can interpret them as he pleases. We were introduced to curious characters such as John Scotus Eriugena. According to Michael, John was a witty philosopher and drunkard who upset the Pope and as a result, was murdered.

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I could have listened to Michael for hours. Coming from southern Ireland I suspected that Michael had kissed the Blarney stone more than once.  He was the perfect example of the old Irish tradition of storytelling. He gave the well-versed yarns life through his sculptures and his passionate raconteuring. He’s kind of a living museum. As we left he made sure to give me his business card and chose a nice one for me. His title was ‘Woodcarver and Wordweaver Extraordinaire of Wine Street, Sligo’. Perfect.

I couldn’t leave Sligo without hearing some traditional Irish music. So with a tip from our accommodation hosts, we snagged the comfy sofa in the corner of Tricky McGarrigles. We were in for a treat, with an instrumental band that performed some popular jigs. They went down well with the mixed crowd of locals and tourists:

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My experience of Sligo was sophisticated, sanguine and full of stories. I had met so many ‘characters’, real and fictional, to understand that the town was built of legendary stuff.

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If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

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