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Sligo, Connacht, Ireland

Yeats Country Drive - Day One

Up to Queen Maeve's Cairn for epic views of Yeats Country, down to the Sally Gardens then to the Lake Isle of Inishfree.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 50 miles / 80 km
Duration: Full day
Overview: A stellar cast including Yeats himself are included on this GPS-navigated tour around Yeats Country. On Day One, we go from Sligo Town out to the Coolera peninsula down to Ballysadare, around Lough Gill and through Dromahair. This two day tour covers all of the essential spots that inspired a young Yeats to write some of his most memorable work. We have also included some interesting sites that aren't connected to Yeats, such as Carrowmore megalithic cemetery, Parkes castle and Tobernalt holy well and we have marked each of them as a Non Yeats POI (place of interest) if all you want is Yeats. Please familiarize yourself with the route in advance and ensure you read the directions given in the notes where applicable.

Tips: N.B: Do not use this guide while driving. We suggest you let your front seat passenger do the guiding with this tour. Please familiarize yourself with the route in advance and ensure you read the directions given in the notes where applicable.

NOTE: please read Supported Devices for compatibility and note that the tour is subject to acceptance of our Licence, available to read in the right hand column.

Points of Interest


1. Sligo Tourism Office

This is our nominal Sligo Town base from which you'll commence your two day Yeats Country guide. The helpful staff will be able to provide you with a free map of Sligo and environs - best to get your bearings before embarking on the tour. Please review the various places featured on this guide and note the directions where indicated.

Outside of the tourism office, you will see that the neighbouring building on the right is the headquarters for the Yeats Society, which is the epicentre of all things Yeats during the annual Summer school. Across the river with the backdrop of the sandstone-coloured Ulster Bank, you will see Yeats himself, well his famous statue at least. All of the town sites of Yeats are in Day Two of this tour.

A prevailing feature of Yeats Country and Yeats inspiration from this area comes from the Sidhe or faery folk. In our first piece, our wonderful narrators Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon tell us more about them. The first place you will be visiting on the guide is Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea overlooking Yeats Country.

The Hosting of the Sidhe

The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, 'Away, come away;
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are a-gleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart,
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.'
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day;
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, 'Away, come away.'

Telephone: 353719171905

Please install flash to listen to the audio
1.YC Sidhe

Queen Maeve's Cairn, Knocknarea

325 metres high overlooking Yeats country is this imposing megalithic tomb to the legendary Maeve, Queen of Connacht. The great mound of stones on top of Knocknarea's flat-topped summit is known as Miosgan Meadhbha or Maeve's Grave. Maeve is one of the primary characters in the Tain, one of Ireland's most famous legends which concerns Cuchulainn, who defends Ulster against Maeve's attack.

There are many indications that Maeve was in fact a goddess of sovereignty, one of the group of Irish female deities of war, territory and sexuality. The legend of her death is quite bizarre, as an 11th century text explains that she was killed by a sling shot consisting of a lump of hard cheese, by her nephew on the shores of Lough Ree!

The Yeats poem on the audio piece is 'Red Hanrahan's song about Ireland' which references Knocknarea and Maeve's cairn. Yeats also penned the following poem about Maeve: -

The Old Age of Queen Maeve (from In the Seven Woods, Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age, 1903)

Maeve the great queen was pacing to and fro,
Between the walls covered with beaten bronze,
In her high house at Cruachan; the long hearth,
Flickering with ash and hazel, but half showed
Where the tired horse-boys lay upon the rushes,
Or on the benches underneath the walls,
In comfortable sleep; all living slept
But that great queen, who more than half the night
Had paced from door to fire and fire to door.
Though now in her old age, in her young age
She had been beautiful in that old way
That's all but gone; for the proud heart is gone,
And the fool heart of the counting-house fears all
But Soft beauty and indolent desire.
She could have called over the rim of the world
Whatever woman's lover had hit her fancy,
And yet had been great-bodied and great-limbed,
Fashioned to be the mother of strong children;
And she'd had lucky eyes and high heart,
And wisdom that caught fire like the dried flax,
At need, and made her beautiful and fierce,
Sudden and laughing.
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2 YC Maeve cairn

Carrowmore megalithic cemetery

Non Yeats P.O.I. This is the largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland and amongst the oldest and most important in Europe. The monuments form an oval shaped cluster around a centrally placed cairn covered monument, 'Listoghill' (Tomb 51).

The centre is run by the Office of Public Works - full details as regards access and facilities can be seen on their website below.

Swedish archaeological teams, led by Burenhult, have been working here since 1977 and have come up with very early construction dates for some of the excavated tombs (4840-4370 BC).

Our audio piece is Yeats's The Scholars: -

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love's despair
To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.
All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbour knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

Another of Yeats's poem associated with the area is The Ballad of Father O'Hart (or The Priest of Colooney)

Good Father John O'Hart
In penal days rode out
To a Shoneen who had free lands
And his own snipe and trout.
In trust took he John's lands;
Sleiveens were all his race;
And he gave them as dowers to his daughters.
And they married beyond their place.

But Father John went up,
And Father John went down;
And he wore small holes in his Shoes,
And he wore large holes in his gown.

All loved him, only the shoneen,
Whom the devils have by the hair,
From the wives, and the cats, and the children,
To the birds in the white of the air.

The birds, for he opened their cages
As he went up and down;
And he said with a smile, 'Have peace now';
And he went his way with a frown.

But if when anyone died
Came keeners hoarser than rooks,
He bade them give over their keening;
For he was a man of books.

And these were the works of John,
When, weeping score by score,
People came into Colooney;
For he'd died at ninety-four.

There was no human keening;
The birds from Knocknarea
And the world round Knocknashee
Came keening in that day.

The young birds and old birds
Came flying, heavy and sad;
Keening in from Tiraragh,
Keening from Ballinafad;

Keening from Inishmurray.
Nor stayed for bite or sup;
This way were all reproved
Who dig old customs up.

DIRECTIONS: After here, you'll be returning back up the road and taking the first left at the crossroads. you'll be continuing on the main road and heading towards Ballysadare. (
Carrowmore, County Sligo.
Phone: +353719161534


Ballysadare village, 7 miles south of Sligo is where the Pollexfen Company had extensive milling interests and the poet often stayed at Avena House, off the main street and pictured above. Please note it is now a private dwelling. Salley rods were grown here, for basket making etc, and Yeats once heard a tinker woman sing the ballad he later reworded so delicately.

Ballysadare Bridge

Make your way to the bridge where the Ballysadare river is. Facing north, you are now best placed to recall one of Yeats's better known poems, 'Down by the Sally Gardens'.

Down by the sally gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the sally gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

After Ballysadare, you'll be driving to Lough Gill and Dromahair by going under the N4 road onto the R290 traveling 3kms and turning right onto the R287.
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YC 4 Ballysadare

Lough Gill panorama

Your first view of it is a spectacular panorama well worth stopping off to take some pictures. Park on the left just before the brow descends.

Lough Gill is about 8 km or 5 miles long and 2 km or 1 mile wide, and drains into the River Garavogue near Sligo Town. The picturesque lake is surrounded by wooded hills and is popular with birdwatchers. It is overlooked by Parke's Castle. Slish Wood, Dooney Rock, and Hazelwood also contain popular nature trails and viewing points along the lake, and the wooded highlands of Slieve Killery and Slieve Daean loom over the south shore.

The lake contains about 20 small islands, including the Isle of Innisfree, made famous by W. B. Yeats, which we come closer to along the way. Church Island, and Beezie's Island, which was inhabited until 1951.

In the early historic era (5th-8th centuries), it was home to a branch of the Cálraighe. The present castle was built in the 17th century by Captain Robert Parke on the site of the former stronghold of the Uí Ruairc clann. The Uí Ruairc clan ruled the area from about the 7th century up to the time of Oliver Cromwell.

The two largest islands on Lough Gill, namely, Church Island or Inis Mor, and Cottage Island, each contain ecclesiastical remains. An early Christian ruin lies on Church Island and belonged to the O' Rourkes, chieftains of Breifnet. In 1416, according to the Annals, 'the church of Inis Mor was burned, and Screaptra O Curnin and the Leabhar Gearr of the O' Curneens, as well as many other precious objects, were burned.' The church is said to have been founded by St Loman. The building is oblong, has loophole windows and a recess at one end. Near the door there is a cavity in a rock, known as 'Lady's Bed', which was a frequent place of pilgrimage for pregnant women. St Loman, whose feast day is on 4 February, is mentioned in the Martyrology of Tallaght. The ruin on Cottage or Gallagher's Island belonged to the church of Kilross, in Riverstown parish, which in turn belonged to the Premonstratensians of Trinity Island on Loch Ce.

The lake is home to the Lough Gill 10 km Swim for NW Hospice, Sligo. This annual fundraiser began in 2011 raising over €34,000 to date for the Hospice also winning the coveted Irish Long Distance Swimming Association swim of the year in both 2011 and 2012. It is run by a committee made up of local swimmers and friends of the family of Neill McGarry, for whom the event trophy is dedicated. 57 swimmers completed the 2012 swim.

The first man to successfully swim the English Channel, Captain Matthew Webb, used the lake as part of his training for the feat. He was a friend of W.B. Yeats's grandfather, who lived in the area.

Source: Wikipedia

Address: Carns, outside of Sligo.
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6 YC Gill brow

Tobernalt Holy Well

Non Yeats P.O.I.

Tobernalt Holy Well is a place of reflection and nurturing serenity. It predates the advent of Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. Its importance as a meeting place and a sustainer of life predates our Celtic ancestors.

Somewhat tenuously, there is a holy well in County Sligo with a Yeats connection called Hawk's Well - it is on Tullaghan hill near Coolaney 10kms south west of Ballysadare for those who really want to get all Yeats locations in the northwest! At the Hawk's Well is a one act play by William Butler Yeats, first performed in 1916 and published in 1917. It is one of five plays by Yeats which are loosely based on the stories of Cuchulain, the mythological hero of ancient Ulster. It was the first play written in English that utilised many of the features of the Japanese Noh Theatre.

The Hawk's Well, also called Tubber Scanavin, can be found on top of Tullaghan Hill near Coolaney. Like all wells in Ireland, it is attributed to St Patrick, and even though the Ox Mountains stretch between the well and the sea, its water level rises and falls with the tide. There is also a Hawk's Well theatre in Sligo Town, more of which can be found on our sister guide, the Sligo Town Guide.

Synopsis of the Play: The play is set by a dried up well on a desolate mountainside which is guarded by a hawk-like woman. An old man has kept camp there for fifty years, waiting to drink the miraculous waters from the well which occasionally rise up. Cuchulain arrives at the spot, having heard a story that the waters bring immortality. The Old Man urges Cuchulain to leave the well, telling of his wasted lifetime there and how, even when the waters did rise up, he was thwarted by a sudden urge to sleep. But Cuchulain is determined to stay and convinced that he shall soon drink the waters. While they speak of a hawk which had attacked Cuchulain earlier in the day, and which the old man claims is a supernatural being which carries a curse of discontent and violence, the Guardian of the Well seems to fall into a trance, arises, and begins to dance with hawk-like motions. She then leaves the stage as the well waters bubble up. Cuchulain pursues her, but unable to find her he returns to the well to be informed by the Old Man he has missed the waters. Oblivious, he rushes out again to face the warrior women the Guardian of the Well has called out to battle, ignoring the Old Man's pleas to stay with him. (Source: Wikipedia)

DIRECTIONS: After the holy well, you will be continuing about 100m further on the Holy Well road before taking a sharp right to get you to Dooney Rock - as long as you have the lough close on your left, you are on course to find it. (less)

Holywell road, outside of Sligo.
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7 YC holy well

Dooney Rock

You are now at Dooney Rock, a hugh rock covered in foliage and trees. This was a favourite spot for dancing and romancing and Yeats would have seen a blind fiddler who regularly played here on Sundays. "When I play on my fiddle in Dooney, Folk dance like a wave of the sea." The panoramic views from the top of Dooney are well worth the stiff flight of steps, and show the magnificent brow of Benbulben in the straight distance, and to the left, Knocknarea.

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.
I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!'
And dance like a wave of the sea. (less)

Off the R287 by Lough Gill.
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8 YC Dooney

The Song of Wandering Aengus

Actor Neil O'Shea recites The Song of Wandering Aengus, one of the pieces from his full length show, The Irish Writers Entertain which mixes verse, poetry, comedy with some fine anecdotes about Ireland's literary elite. You can contact Neil O'Shea at for bookings.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Address:R287 by Lough Gill.
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9 YC Wandering

The Lake Isle of Inishfree

The road down to this POI is signposted, but is about 4 miles along a windy road - there is parking once you get to the end of it. Listen to the voice of the great man himself, recorded by the BBC in 1932 reciting The Lake Isle of Inishfree.

DIRECTIONS: After your time here, make you way back to the main road and follow the signposting for Drumahair.
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10 YC Inishfree


Non Yeats P.O.I.

Dromahair lies in the hilly north west of Leitrim amid some stunning unspoiled natural landscapes. The "Sleeping Giant" mountain formation (comprising Keelogyboy, Leean and Benbo) is visible on approaches to the village, as is Lough Gill below the Slieve Dae?ne and Killerry mountain.

The village itself is also idyllic, located on the banks of the River Bonet, which flows into Lough Gill. Much of Dromahair was modelled on a village in Somerset by the Earl of Leitrim, and the central streetscape still follows the pattern set down by him.

Looking for a good lunch before getting the waterbus in the afternoon? Try the The Riverbank Restaurant. Stay on the R287 by taking a right coming into Dromahair - the restaurant is on the left and is marked on the map. It has a full licence and is open from Friday to Sunday. Evening meals are from 6.30 pm to 10 pm and Sunday Lunch from 12.30 to 3.00 pm.Bar Food is Served, daily from 12.30 to 9pm
The Clubhouse Bar
Dromahair, Co. Leitrim
(071) 916 4934‎

DIRECTIONS: Follow the signs for Parkes castle which is on the shores of Lough Gill. (less)


Dromahair, County Leitrim.
Phone: +353719620170


Lough Gill view #1

Another opportunity to pull over safely and admire the view of Lough Gill.

Our audio piece is Yeats's poem, Paudeen: -

Indignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;
Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind
A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought
That on the lonely height where all are in God's eye,
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.

Address: Off R286 by Lough Gill.


Parkes Castle & the Wild Rose waterbus

Non Yeats POI: A restored plantation castle of the early 17th century, picturesquely situated on the shores of Lough Gill, once the home of Robert Parke and his family. The Courtyard grounds contain evidence of an earlier 16th century Tower House structure once owned by Sir Brian O'Rourke who subsequently was executed at Tyburn, London in 1591. The Castle has been restored using Irish oak and traditional craftsmenship. Access for visitors with disabilities to ground floor.

Next to the castle is the Wild Rose waterbus which takes you out on Lough Gill. George McGolderick is your affable host on this one hour trip. It sails daily at 12.30, 3.30, 4.30 and 6.30, but check in advance lest there be a change of plan - Mobile:+353872598869

Opening Hours:
9th April - 30th Sept: Daily 10.00 - 18.00
Last admission 45 minutes before closing
Average Length of Visit: 1 Hour

DIRECTIONS: This is the last proper stop off on Day One of the tour. If heading back in to Sligo, take a left after the car park and we'll have some poetry for you along the way.

Lough Gill, near Dromahair.
Phone: +353719164149

Lough Gill viewing point #2

Following on from your visit to Parkes Castle & the waterbus, this is another opportunity to pull over and admire the view.

Our audio piece is one of Yeat's most famous poems, The Circus Animals' Desertion:


I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

Address: Off the R288 by Lough Gill.

Yeats poems

You have now completed Day One of the tour. Let's see out your journey back to Sligo town with some of the poet's best work. The Yeats poems that are read out here are: -

The Fisherman,
Coming of Wisdom of Time,
No Second Troy &
The fascination of what is difficult.

The Fisherman

Although I can see him still—
The freckled man who goes
To a gray place on a hill
In gray Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies—
It's long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.
All day I'd looked in the face
What I had hoped it would be
To write for my own race
And the reality:
The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved,
The craven man in his seat,
The insolent unreproved—
And no knave brought to book
Who has won a drunken cheer—
The witty man and his joke
Aimed at the commonest ear,
The clever man who cries
The catch cries of the clown,
The beating down of the wise
And great Art beaten down.

Maybe a twelve-month since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face
And gray Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark with froth,
And the down turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream—
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, "Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn."

The Coming Of Wisdom With Time

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.

No Second Troy

WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great.
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

The Fascination of What's Difficult

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There's something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt. (less)

Address: R286 back to Sligo.
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15 YC Poems
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