The third largest of Connacht’s five counties, Roscommon is three-quarters bounded by water and contains the longest stretch of the River Shannon of all the ten counties through which the river passes. Some popular stops on a route through Roscommon are Boyle Abbey, still regarded as the finest of the Cistercian churches to survive in Ireland; Ballintober, which contains the remains of a stone castle first mentioned in writing in 1311; and Tulsk, the village between Strokestown and Bellanagare which houses the interpretive center exploring Cruachan, one of the best preserved Celtic royal sites and an Irish Age royal palace. Strokestown, historically known as Bellanamully, houses a museum commemorating the Great Famine of 1845 as well as the County Roscommon Heritage Centre, for those hoping to uncover their ancestors’ pasts in their foray through Roscommon.
County Sligo, meaning “shelly place,” is allegedly named for the abundance of shellfish found in the river and its estuary. It is the second largest urban area in Connacht. One must-see stop in an exploration of County Sligo is Knocknarea, the mountain dominating the landscape to the west of Sligo town. The 1014-foot-high limestone mountain is monolithic in appearance, capped by a cairn of limestone rocks. The mythological significance of Knocknarea is Queen Maeve’s Tomb, the largest in Ireland outside the Boyne Valley. Queen Maeve, or Medb, was the Warrior Queen of Connacht in Celtic legend, and the famous Táin saga records the story of her reign.
For literary travelers, Sligo has much to offer. Dubbed ‘Yeats Country’ for its heavy presence in William Butler Yeats’ works, Sligo includes the stately Lissadell House, former home of the Gore-Booths, whose two daughters had a lifelong effect on the poet. A drive along the length of the coastline in Ireland’s northwest offers stunning views of mountains, sea and cliffs, sometimes moody, sometimes glowing with sunlight, but always spellbinding. The Lake Isle of Innisfree, featured in one of Yeats’ most evocative works, sits in Sligo, one of some twenty tiny islands in the majestic Lough Gill.