Sligo Town Walking Tour

Although Sligo is a city, having a charter and two cathedrals, it is locally, and affectionately, known as Sligo Town. The name Sligo is thought to mean ‘shelly place’, although some say that it might derive from ‘Sli’ meaning route, as from earliest times Sligo was strategically placed. This was always an area abounding in shellfish of all kinds, and bucket-loads of shells were removed when foundations for the town’s buildings were laid. Equally, from earliest times, Sligo was a strategic point in the North West, and remains so today, so either root would be valid.

Glass House & Hyde Bridge

Our tour begins at the Glasshouse Hotel which is Sligo’s most avant garde building and which lies adjacent to Hyde Bridge. It stands on the site of mills dating back to pre-1558 which were at one point owned by the grandfather of William Butler Yeats, William Pollexfen. It is certainly a unique and modern structure that you can’t miss. Hyde Bridge is named after the first president of Ireland, Protestant, Douglas Hyde and was formerly known as Victoria Bridge. Across the road stands The Yeats Building.

Yeats Building

A red-bricked building with a timbered upper storey stands opposite, on the corner of the bridge. Once the Royal Bank, it was presented to the Yeats Society by the AIB in 1973. Today it is the headquarters of the Yeats International Summer School and houses the Yeats Society Library, The Sligo Art Gallery and a photographic collection of Yeats and his family. Across the river from the Yeats Building is Barton Smith’s, originally founded in 1788 and still selling everything for the ‘hunting, shooting, fishing’ enthusiast. Continue on and R just before the red brick Post Office, into Fish Quay. This used to be Fish Corner, home to Sligo’s fishmongers even before the 1885 Fish Market was built but the name disappeared after the Post Office was built in 1901. Follow the lane round to the car park in Quay Street, beside the river.

Quay Street & Wine Street

The Garavogue River, once known as the Sligo River, is always full of swans, often with their young in tow, still wearing their juvenile fawn plumage. In this riverside car park stands a memorial commemorating those who died during the famine, and those who emigrated to escape. Sligo was devastated first by cholera and then the Great Famine of 1845. Many left from these Quays, including one ill-fated ship which sank just outside Sligo Bay with the loss of all lives. Conditions were so bad on board these ‘coffin ships’ that many didn’t survive the journey to a new life.
Quay Street: Up Quay St past the entrance to Quayside Shopping Mall, opposite which is The City Hall. Described by many as Italian Renaissance in style, the foundation stone was laid by Sligo’s Mayor, William Abbott Woods in 1865 before a large crowd and with the band of the Sligo Rifles playing. It stands on the site of the old Castle of Sligo, later the Stone Fort built in Cromwellian times. During the English conflicts of 1689 Patrick Sarsfied incorporated this and other areas of the town into the Green Fort, captured for the deposed King James II, making it so strong that it was the last western garrison to surrender when William and Mary finally defeated the Jacobites in 1690. The Assembly Rooms in the City Hall were once the theatre in which the Yeats brothers would have seen plays performed. Also in City Hall is the register of those on whom Sligo has conferred its greatest honour – the Freedom of the City. Amongst others it includes cardinals, bishops, professors, and also Countess Markievicz, honoured in 1917. At the top of Quay St is Henry Lyons department store dating from 1845, one of the best traditional Irish shop fronts in Sligo.

Wine Street: R into Wine St (named for the wine vaults once maintained close to this corner) with its shops and Gaiety cinema complex. Opposite this is the Methodist Church built c1830, replacing the earlier Wesleyan Chapel on Bridge St dating from 1775 (around which time John Wesley himself visited Sligo regularly). At the end of Wine St, where doctors, dentists and lawyers have their practices in what were once elegant town houses, on the corner with Adelaide St stands a large house, premises of McCanny & Co Solicitors. This was the headquarters of Sligo’s largest shipping enterprise in the late 1800’s, where Yeats’ Grandfather Pollexfen trained his telescope on his ships entering and leaving Sligo Harbour from the glassed-in crow’s nest atop the building.

Two Cathedrals

Left into Adelaide St, L into Dunnes Car Park, through to the main car park and R into the alley leading down beside Johnston’s Court Shopping Mall to John St. Opposite is the Church of Ireland Cathedral of St John the Baptist, designed in 1730 by the German architect Cassels who also designed Leinster House. It was refurbished in 1812 and 1883. Here Yeats’s mother married John Yeats, a young barrister, in September 1863. The Cathedral has other literary associations, notably with Bram Stoker whose mother, born Charlotte Townley in Sligo Town, witnessed the horrors of the terrible cholera epidemic in 1832 - perhaps the tales in her memoirs sparked her son’s imagination and led to the birth of ‘Dracula’! Ireland suffered more during this pandemic than even England, losing 25,000 people to the disease. Sligo was the worst hit town, an estimated 700-1500 people dying, including several doctors and William Middleton, Yeats’s other grandfather. The town almost came to a standstill, and it was said some, carried away on cholera carts, were buried still barely alive. Next to St John’s is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1874 when Laurence Gillooley was Bishop. Sligo is part of the Diocese of Elphin whose first Bishop, Saint Asicus, was consecrated by St Patrick himself, and the Cathedral has a replica of the Saint discovered in a London brica- brac shop! Officially Renaissance Romanesque, Sean O’Faolain humorously described it as ‘Hiberno-Romanesque’ - its particular style being typical of so many churches built in the years following Catholic Emancipation. Over the road from the RC Cathedral is the Gillooley Memorial Hall which has a stage, a gallery and a large auditorium. On the hill opposite is the splendid former Bishop’s Palace.

Hawk's Well Theatre & Tourist Office

L out of the RC Cathedral onto Temple St, to the Hawkswell Theatre, which is open all year offering all kinds of cultural entertainment. The Theatre was named after a play by Yeats, the name coming originally from Tubber Scanavin, the Hawk’s Well near Coolaney. Beside the theatre is the North West Tourist Office. The Genealogy & Heritage Centre, where you can trace your family roots, is also based here.
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Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

Presbyterian Church & Friary

Presbyterian Church,The Friary: L down The Lungy and R into Church St. Here is the Presbyterian Church, built in 1828.At the junction with Harmony Hill pause for a moment to admire the view down to O’Connell St and Benbulben beyond. R into Dominic St, at the top of which stands a small courtyard on the left containing the apse and stained glass of the old Holy Cross Dominican Church. Walk through here to the new church known locally as The Friary, and the High St. R then L into Old Market St. where lived Peter O’Connor who advertised ships sailing from Sligo to America in 1846, the start of the Big Exodus. On into Teeling St, named for the 24 year old hero of Carricknagat Battle at Collooney in 1798. Aide-de-camp to General Humbert, after the French surrender, Bartholomew Teeling was handed over to the English during an exchange of officers, after which he was court-martialled and publicly hanged like a criminal outside Arbour Hill Prison, wearing his French uniform.
Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

The Courthouse

The Courthouse: Designed by Rawson Carroll who also built Classiebawn Castle at Mullaghmore, this striking building was erected in 1878, and has been recently renovated. Opposite is the brass plaque of ‘Argue and Phibbs’, a remarkably named firm of lawyers who once practiced there!
Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

Sligo Abbey

Carry on down this street then R into Abbey St. The Dominican Abbey, the only medieval building left standing in Sligo, was founded by the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Maurice Fitzgerald in 1253, who already had a castle in Castle St., no trace of which remains. Accidentally destroyed by fire in 1414, it was rebuilt in its present form. When Sir Frederick Hamilton’s soldiers sacked Sligo in 1642, killing, pillaging and burning, the Abbey was also torched and everything valuable in it destroyed, including ornaments, vestments and items which the townspeople had brought to the friars for safekeeping.
(5 of his cavalry, on their way back to Manorhamilton after this raid, galloped to their deaths over the cliffs above Glencar.) Stonework from the buildings started being removed in the 1700’s and in 1760 the community of friars moved elsewhere. Still intact amongst the ruins of the Abbey are the High Altar, and the pulpit projecting from one of the cloister walls. Take time to visit the Abbey, and see the remains of this beautiful building in detail.
Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

Castle Street-Rockwood Parade-JFK Parade

Castle Street: O’Connell Street: Returning along Abbey St, cross into Castle St (once the site of Sligo Castle) towards the heart of the town. Here on the left is Mary’s of Sligo, once home of Edward Doherty, who led the chase after John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin. Almost next door is a Centra supermarket, which was formally ‘Carlton Café’, birth place of Shane Filan from the band Westlife. Further on Lady Erin, the memorial to the Uprisings of 1798, stands in the middle of the road at Market Cross where formerly stood the Bishop’s Stone erected in 1570 at the site of this once busy market place. Straight along Grattan St past EJ’s on the R where in 1914 Angelo Di Lucia and his lover murdered his wife while she slept. The building was redesigned by Ralph Byrne in1918 as the Bank of Ireland. At the end, R into O’Connell St, once called Knox St. On the left, Hargadon’s pub interior was once used as the model for a set at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as the archetypal Irish pub. Beyond, also on the left, with another beautiful traditional shop front is Mullaney’s Drapers, which started as shipping agents and became one of the first travel agents in Ireland. R into Tobergal Lane opposite Mullaney’s and continue to end of the lane.

Rockwood Parade: R onto this river-side walk with its shops and cafés, where the swans drift on the river. Either cross the footbridge to Stephen Street car park where there is a monument to a former Governor of Chile and Viceroy of Peru, Ambrose O’Higgins, a native of Sligo (which also commemorates his son Bernardo, the first President of Chile), and rejoin the commentary at the County Museum and Library on Stephen Street, or for a fuller tour, continue to the end of Rockwood Parade.

JFK Parade: Cross over onto a second riverside street, renamed after the assassination of President John Kennedy. Originally Linenhall Street and then Corcoran’s Mall, named for the developer Thomas Corcoran who, around 1800, built extensively here and in Thomas St, demolishing the north and west sides of Sligo Abbey to utilize the stone – a scandalous concept today. His relative, General Corcoran, a hero of the American Civil War, and another free thinker, was court-martialled for refusing to parade his troops before the Prince of Wales. At the end of the Parade the Riverside Hotel was the site of the former Martin Distillery, once managed by Andrew Jameson, son of the famous Dublin distilling family. Sligo Distillery’s ‘water of life’ was a favourite with many, but most notably King George III.
Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

The Mall

The Mall: Cross The Garavogue River on the loop footbridge by the hotel. On the far bank lies the lovely old Georgian Rectory of Calry Church and to the right, Sligo Grammar School, a leading school (now co-educational) which has occupied these grounds since 1752, although the establishment itself is much older, and the current buildings much newer. Up onto The Mall and L beside Calry Anglican Church, which serves the School as well as its own Parish. In 1885 a hydraulic engine replaced manual labour to work the organ! Opposite is the old Masonic Lodge, and next door The Model Arts & Niland Gallery. Built in 1859 as a ‘model school’ and dynamically reworked in 2000, the gallery houses works by Jack Yeats (who professed that he never painted a picture without ‘putting a thought of Sligo in it’), and 70 other Irish painters, alongside exhibitions by contemporary artists. It is well worth a visit and a coffee. At the end of The Mall, cross into Stephen St.
Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

The Library

The County Museum and Library: The banks and business quarter, Stephen St is also home to the Museum and Library, housed in the old Congregational Church and its Manse, built in 1851. The Yeats Memorial Museum, containing different editions of the poet’s works and other letters and written material concerning him, opened here in 1958, its inspiration coming from Nora Niland, Librarian at the time. The Lending Library is also here, with the reference library on nearby Bridge St.
Hawk's Well Theatre Yeats Summsrschool

Yeats Statue

Outside the Ulster Bank stands a memorial to poet, WB Yeats. This building was ‘bombed to ruins’ during the Civil War but was rebuilt. When receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature from the King of Sweden in 1924, Yeats commented that the Stockholm Royal Palace reminded him of the Ulster Bank in Sligo. In 1989, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death, the townspeople erected this statue, by artist Rowan Gillespie, of the poet ‘wrapt in his words’, in this, the obvious place. On the far side of the Ulster Bank is Holborn St which was once home to Spike Milligan. R Down Markievicz Road is Connolly’s Pub, a pub which feels as if time has passed it by, a drop of old Ireland.