COUNTY Sligo’s small airport is more akin to a windswept, coastal working men’s club than an international air terminal.
In a welcome change from the tedious luggage carousel vigil, cases are portered personally to passengers just moments after setting foot in the building with a laid back efficiency that sets the pace for the rest of the trip.
On checking in to Sligo’s impressive SAS Radisson, it’s time to beat the midday hunger with a side of locally-bred ham served with the old Irish favourite of cabbage and bacon steeped in a delicious double cream. The accompanying mashed carrot and swede come spiced with just enough ginger to ward off the cold Atlantic wind.
Such fare is typical of the region. Whether eating in Sligo city’s Glass House or the award-winning Clevery Mill in nearby Castlebaldwin, hearty traditional dishes are often served with a modern twist and, of course, an obligatory pint of Guinness.
A short ride from the Radisson, in the cemetery of St Columbia’s Parish Church at Drumcliffe, is the grave of one of Ireland’s four Nobel Literature Prize winners.
The poet W.B Yeats spent much of his life in County Sligo and was eventually buried there according to the wishes set out in his poem Under Benbulben. It’s possible to follow even further in the footsteps of this literary giant with a boat trip to the eponymous Lake Isle of Innisfree.
The presence of the Yeats family looms almost as large as the shadow of the great Benbulben mountain itself.
The haunting expressionist artwork of his brother, Jack B Yeats, is displayed permanently in the city’s Model Arts and Niland Gallery. While this is an impressive exhibition in itself, visitors are just as likely to find contemporary work by Patti Smith and Andy Warhol in the gallery’s trendy minimalist space, as well as an impressive wealth of local talent.
Live bands often play at the SAS Radisson, and many of the locals see the hotel as very much part of the Sligo city’s vibrant nightlife. Revellers are spoiled for choice on venues offering perfectly poured Guinness, raucous live music and traditional céilidhs.
One such haunt, Shoot the Crows, is billed as ‘the biggest little pub in the country’. It’s one of many bars and pubs to hear great bands while sloshing down copious amounts of the black stuff.
In the morning, the Radisson’s Espa facilities stop heads from pounding like a chorus of bodhrans. The adventurous may brave dipping into a hot, gelatinous bath of freshly harvested Atlantic kelp that leaves hair silken, skin fresh, and hungover souls ready to face the day ahead.
If it’s leprechaun hats and four-leafed clovers you’re after, forget it. Sligo is forging its own identity as a cosmopolitan county that’s far from Dublin’s increasingly clichéd fiddle-de-deeism.
All the elements are still there of course: Cold Guinness, great music, hearty food. But this wild corner of Ireland’s Northwest is untouched by tourism and hordes of drunken stag parties.
Only very occasionally do we stumble on such wild, unvisited corners of the world. It’s difficult to keep such places a secret.
County Sligo is just that sort of destination. So go, and enjoy. Just don’t let the word spread too far!