Back on the western trail Cormac MacConnell recounts his trip from Sligo to Donegal
Now that a degree of normality has returned to our lives and we begin to look forward again rather than backwards, let us resume our gentle meander along the Wild Atlantic Way of my dear west coastline of Ireland.
Hereabouts the surf washes the toes of the kinda mythical counties that are simultaneously our richest and poorest across the scales of life; the ones that, because of those realities, contributed the most red blood and purpose and power to this modern reality termed the diaspora. Ye know more about the width and depth of that than I do.
However, since I see it as a weakness of so many novice tourists to our shores to rigidly adhere to a punishing schedule, this meander is totally without anything like that. We will dart hither and thither on a whim, stay for several days in spots that entrap our spirits and joys, relish slowing down and taking things easy for the duration of our Irish holiday.
Accordingly we begin today in Sligo, the homeland of WB Yeats and his brother the artist Jack Yeats, and I fancy most of ye will be happier than I to spend a weekend there.
You see, for many years as a hack reporter I had to cover the internationally famed Yeats Summer School which draws so many of you over here for the experience. After a decade or so of dogged reportage I nowadays shudder at the mere mention of the great poet’s name and fame.
It happened because I heard so many learned scholars from all over the globe delivering long lectures about the real meanings behind Yeats’ works. The common thread was that none of them agreed with each other! Enough to cause a common hack to cast a cold eye on life and strive to pass by.
Sligo used to be a town but nowadays claims city status and is deserving of such. It is illuminated by the silvery Garavogue River, which normally yields Ireland’s first legally caught salmon of the new season, and by a calm courtesy towards visitors which might not be as warmly effusive as nearby village welcomes, but is nonetheless genuine.
Ye will have enjoyed several earthy evenings in Mayo before reaching Sligo too so will welcome the chance to chill out. Already, of course, your schedule is shot to hell, you realize that no way will you be able to “do” Ireland in four days from Cork to Donegal via Belfast, and you are much better off in body and mind in consequence. Relax hereabouts under the great baldy brow of Benbulben.
There is nothing to stop you venturing out to lovely little resorts like Strandhill with its magnificent strand. All the way along Sligo is dramatic indeed, and the locals have volumes of oralized folklore in their heads and minds.
Much of that has to do with the historic reality of centuries ago when the great galleons of the beaten Spanish Armada foundered in such numbers off areas like Streedagh a few miles below Sligo away down to aptly named Spanish Point in Clare. It is a social fact, too, that many of those surviving Spaniards integrated into the native Celtic communities along the coast.
That reality is beautifully illustrated to this day in my west where the Spanish element of the genetic cargo is often reflected in lush dark curls, sparkling eyes that are brown rather than Celtic blue, a subtly nuanced difference from the majority you recognize on sight.
We will finish our haphazard meander along the Wild Atlantic Way for now by gently driving out of Sligo into the magical seaside resort of Bundoran in south Donegal. The great local balladeer Birdie Gallagher immortalized her hometown many years ago with the mighty ballad “Beautiful Bundoran,”...the Queen of Donegal.
You will probably stay for at least one night in Bundoran and, if so, you will hear that ballad lustily sung at its best in one of the many good inns of a resort nowadays known for its top-quality surfing amenities. Bundoran was the seaside resort favored by my Fermanagh family living just across the border. My parents met and romanced there back in the day.
It is, accordingly, a town close to the cockles of my heart and ye will forgive me, please, if our meander ends here for this week, if I enjoy a hot toddy within sight of the ocean, and promise to resume our journey later.
Here's some beautiful aerial shots of the area: