The first thing I read about the county of Sligo, Ireland, is that there is a wonderfully enigmatic local expression: "Sligo is surprising." Why?
Well, the county is known to have an abundance of scenic landscapes and diverse cultures. As you might imagine, I was completely intrigued by this catch phrase. And so began my quest to find an answer to the question of the day: is Sligo really that surprising?
After a lovely stay in the curious county, I realized that Sligo is indeed a bucket of surprises. It is a region full of character, and I encourage all seekers of unique experiences to venture to this remote part of Ireland. Here are the top five experiences that surprised me most about Sligo.
1 | Staying in a former hospital for the mentally ill
The Clarion Hotel, a majestic resort, was formerly used as a hospital for the mentally ill. It is a very surprising (and somewhat unsettling) place to spend the night. No doubt about it. If you can handle the concept, then it's well worth it. The hotel contains two churches, a spectacular view overlooking the Benbulben mountain, and a Elizabethan façade.
2 | Exploring the site where the Spanish Armada met its demise
Why would there be a Spanish flag on the northwestern coast of Ireland? Well, in 1588 a fleet of 151 Spanish warships set out to invade England. But, things didn't exactly go as planned. The fleet was seriously damaged during the battle of Gravelines by the English. The Armada tried to escape by sailing around England and Ireland. During a heavy storm, part of the fleet shipwrecked along the northwestern Irish coast.
Maritime archaeologist Auriel Robinson from Seatrails organizes walking tours around the beaches where the ships were grounded. I highly recommend this walk. The story is quite intriguing and Auriel's knowledge of the underwater archaeology combined with the stunning scenery makes for a remarkable experience.
3) Discovering Yeats' final resting place
The landscapes around Sligo have been an inspiration for many of the poems written by the famous poet W.B.Yeats. The most scenic part of the county is named after him: Yeats County. Long after his death in 1939, his remains were brought to the small village of Drumcliff. He was buried in the graveyard of St. Columba's Church of Ireland. A small statue has been erected in his honor.
4) Surfing in Ireland? Yes, Surfing in Ireland.
When I think of standard surfing locales, the places that come to mind are Hawaii, Australia, and Portugal. Hence, I was surprised to meet Paul, the owner of a local surf school in Strand Hill. This Kiwi (a.k.a. citizen of New Zealand) visited the area over a decade ago, and was so impressed by the excellent surf conditions that he never left. The fact that he chose to live in a cold and rainy climate over 10,000 miles from home convinces me that the waves must indeed be quite extraordinary.
5) Eating delicious seafood
I've never been a huge seafood lover, but two restaurants around Sligo have definitely helped me appreciate the flavors of the ocean. First, there is Shells Cafe in Strand Hill. Their fish & chips is the best I've ever had.
Another winner-restaurant: Eithna's by the Sea, The Harbour, Mullaghmore. Owner Eithna works with local farmers and fishermen, ensuring all ingredients are fresh and seasonal. She is famous for her lobster, crab, shellfish, and seaweed dishes. Her Seaweed Pesto is to die for!
My verdict on the question: "Is Sligo really that surprising?" An emphatic "Yes!" Very surprising in fact. I really enjoyed my visit and I think Sligo should be considered by anyone visiting Ireland!
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