Things to See and Do
The draw of Mayo, Sligo, and Roscommon is the astounding number of activities to keep any type of traveler occupied. Tourists seeking open spaces dotted with loughs, stunning coastlines, and quaint towns will be enticed by Mayo. Travelers attempting to uncover the rural poetic muse of Yeats will be drawn to Sligo, while the ever-popular Lough Key Forest Park, for example, in Roscommon would appeal to an outdoorsy type of family.
Croagh Patrick and Coffin Ship Sculpture,County Mayo
Near Westport, Croagh Patrick (
Doo Lough Valley, County Mayo
Better experienced than described, the Doo Lough Valley is akin to Glendalough (County Wicklow) for its absolute splendor. Spreading out from the R335 between Westport and Leenane and east of the Mweelrea Mountains, the Doo Lough (Black Lake) Pass has its own sorrowful tale. Known as the “Famine Walk,” over 200 souls perished on the roundtrip journey between Loisburgh and Delphi after being denied food from their landlord. The picturesque valley is most assuredly worth a slow drive, as is staying in Delphi (County Galway) a day or two to salmon fish and explore the lake's environs.
Cast completely in bronze, the Coffin Ship National Famine Memorial sculpture on site is a replica of the ramshackle ships used to transport Irish emigrants during the Great Famine. Common on board was the spread of the deadly “Famine Fever,” a type of typhus spread through lice. The ghostlike skeletons that appear to be floating eerily around the ship leave a lasting imprint on the mind.
Mayo's Islands: Achill, Clare, and Inishturk
With its broad west side overlooking the Atlantic, County Mayo has three superb islands beckoning exploration. The first, Achill Island (An Caol,
Clare Island (
Ferries depart Roonagh Quay, west of Louisbourgh, and take about fifteen minutes one way. For daily departures visit the Clare Island Ferry Company (086 851 5003,
Art and activity amalgamate on the 90km (56-mile) North Mayo Sculpture Trail (Tír Sáile; 098 45 107,firstname.lastname@example.org) that starts on the R314 from Ballina and ends in Blacksod Point. A descriptive book of the same name is available at the local tourist office.
Inishturk Island (
C éide Fields, County Mayo
The collection of unearthed 5,000-year-old stone walls of C éide Fields are an archaeological dream. Discovered by Patrick Caulfield and later examined by his archaeologist son Seamus, the place has become one of the world's foremost preserved Stone Age discoveries (all thanks to the bog). On site are megalithic tombs, houses, and various remnants that open a window into ancient days. To get the most out of a visit, take a guided tour from the well-designed Visitor Centre (096 43 325). Located off the R314 west of Ballycastle. Open daily: mid-March–May and November–October, 10
W. B. Yeats dedicated a poem about the tiny island of Innisfree in his 1893 The Rose collection. Inspired by the island's beautiful solitude, he forever endeared the place as a peaceful escape from urban life. In true irony, the Rose of Innisfree Tour Boat (071 9164557,
Driving Yeats Country, County Sligo
With Lough Gill at its center, a drive, bike, or walk around Yeats Country will bring you close to the poet's pastoral muse. With hiking trails circumnavigating the entire lake and grounds, packing a picnic lunch and heading out for a few hours makes a splendid outing.
From the N4, turn right onto the R287 until arriving at Don-ney Rock. Park the car and take the somewhat vertiginous trail down to the Dooney Rock lookout to enjoy the beautiful and awe-inspiring panoramas of the lake. Trails also extend out from this point.
Rounding pass Innisfree and onto the R288, Parke's Castle (071 916 4149, open daily, mid-March–October, 10
The R288 becomes the R286, which takes you up the N16 and continues up to beautiful Lough Glencar with its waterfall, accessible from a path. The small road continues around Glencar's northern edge to the N15.
A vicariously nostalgic treat is a visit to the peninsula of Rosses Point. The young Yeats brothers spent much of their summers at their uncle's Elsinore House, a small estate originally built by pirate John “Black” Jack. The picture-perfect locale inspired many of Jack's paintings, including The Metal Man, White Shower, and The Graveyard Wall.
Overlooking Drumcliff Bay is the former home of the Gore-Booth family, the Lissadell House and Gardens (071 916 3150,
Farther along is W. B. Yeats's grave in the Drumcliff churchyard off of the N15 toward Donegal, which includes a notable high cross and monastic ruins. A pint (and a good meal) in honor of the great poet can be had at the Yeats Tavern (071 916 3117) on Bridge Street.
Rambling up Knocknarea and Ben Bulben
For climbers, the 328 meter (1,074-foot) Knocknarea (Cnoc na Rí) to the west of Sligo Town awaits the fit for a one-hour workout. The pinnacle affords views of Ben Bulben and Rosses Point. Continuing north on the N15, the mighty 526-meter (1,726-foot) Ben Bulben (Binn Ghulbain) is a large glacier-etched rock formation jutting abruptly into the sky. A view from its upper vantage point (on a clear day) is in all likelihood the best-kept vista in Ireland.
For those turning Yeats Country into “adventure country,” a ramble up Ben Bulben is quite a feat. Only experienced climbers should go up the north side slope, which is not only steep, but gets hit with nasty winds and storms from the Atlantic. A much safer climb is up the south side of the slope, which is smoother and has better paths.
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery,County Sligo
The timeless allure of cemeteries, cairns, dolmens, and tombs come to life with a visit to the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery (071 916 1534). The site is Ireland's largest Stone Age cemetery and Europe's second biggest. While some of the ruins date back nearly 5,000 years, the stone rings and passage tombs once numbered in the hundreds. A discovery at the end of the 1990s unearthed a grave that was later carbon tested at over 7,000 years old. All of this and more is handsomely presented and detailed in the visitor center. Guided tours available. Located outside Carrow-more toward Church Hill. Open daily, 9:30
The Suck Valley Way (090 666 3602.
Eagles Flying Irish Raptor ResearchCenter, County Sligo
A cool activity for any type of traveler, the Eagles Flying Irish Raptor Research Centre (071 918 9310,
Arigna Mining Experience,County Roscommon
Fun for the entire family, the Arigna Mining Experience (071 964 6466,
Lough Key Forest Park, County Roscommon
Just near Lough Key and its thirty-two islands is the Lough Key Forest Park (071 966 2363,