The sun gave way to the clouds and a gray dusk settled in as we finally we reached the road that runs along Copes Mountain towards Sligo. The scene is dramatic. The road gives way to steep cliffs and lying in the ravine is Glencar Lough (lake). And somewhere betwixt the clifftop and the water floor is the Glencar Waterfall.

Connacht Province Ireland Coastline
Driving through Ireland’s Connacht Province

To arrive in Sligo is to quickly descend to sea level. The Atlantic pushes the clouds inward off the coast and floating billows conceal and unveil the landscape in a dance. In Ireland, it seemed never to be completely cloudy nor an empty blue sky.

At the feet of mountain ranges and positioned between Garavogue River and an estuary leading to Sligo Bay, Sligo’s natural beauty lures writers, hikers, and wave riders who surf on Sligo’s coast, some 16-minute drive west of Sligo’s center village.

Glasshouse Hotel over the Garavogue River

In Sligo, we checked into The Glasshouse Hotel — a very modern, and as you guessed it, glass hotel built over the Garavogue. There were great views to be had, and though our room didn’t include one, we did enjoy the fun pop art décor.

Sligo is the second largest city on the west coast after Galway. Its main streets are quaint and cobblestone, filled with inviting shops and pubs, and notably shops that were also open at nighttime. Perhaps it’s the norm or a benefit for last minute gift hunters as we’d arrived Dec. 23rd — one day before Christmas Eve. Note: While much of Europe carries the tradition of opening presents Christmas Eve, in Ireland, as in the United States, presents from Santa Claus are opened on the morning of Christmas Day.

Strolling the banks of the Garavogue

One such lovely and inviting establishment was Liber Bookstore. It’s become a bit of a tradition for Andrew and me to scout out cookbooks from our travels—particularly if they’re produced by a local restaurant. We picked up the beautiful Lyons Café Cookbook Two featuring traditional west coast Irish fare from Lyons Café, located in the heart of town serving up breakfast and lunch. As I’ve by now fallen in the love with the simple soups and brown bread, not to mention ample fish, I’m looking forward to bringing this back home. Living on the East End of Long Island—a fishing town, beach town, and surf destination with strong Irish-American roots—our culture is influenced by those who settled here… so now, who wants to get in on building a local Irish-style smokehouse?!

north of sligo ireland
The road north, out of Sligo

Among the literary greats drawn to Sligo’s unique terrain was Nobel Laureate, W.B. Yeats. The Anglo-Irish poet, credited with driving the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th century, spent childhood holidays in County Sligo.

Interestingly, the literary revival is also associated with Irish nationalism, renewed interest in its Gaelic heritage after centuries of invasion, and at the dawn of a serious quest for Independence from the United Kingdom. Raised a Protestant, but an Irish Nationalist, Yeats came of age as nationalist momentum in Ireland shifted power to Catholics and so, exploring his own Irish identity would become an influence on his work, particularly as he eventually took on a role as Senator when the Irish Free State was established in 1922. *Disclaimer: I’ve done my best to share a brief history here, but I’m not terribly studied on this subject. I suggest digging deeper on your own (as I plan to, too) for a full picture of Ireland’s modern history.

At the heart of Sligo’s main streets is an area dubbed the Italian quarter — boasting several Italian restaurants. I would love to know more about this section if anyone has insights into how it came to be.

Surrounded by the city’s medieval sites, we finished an evening stroll in Sligo along its river banks. After a pint by the fireplace at Tricky’s Mc Garrigles, we returned to our ship-in-dock-shaped hotel straddling the Garavogue River.

Come morning, the morning of Christmas Eve, Christmas music spilled onto the streets as we headed for a delicious brunch at the beautiful Knox café. Tables filled up quickly with what we imagined to be incoming family as the bright holiday settled in and we dined on a delightful meal of poached eggs with locally smoked salmon.