Sligo, Ireland is a thriving city of with a culture of adventure, food and the arts. Disclaimer – my family lives in Sligo, which has changed so much in the years since we first moved there in 1995 – I remember my first impression of Sligo as a grey town, nearly 20 years ago now. Sligo has changed its tune however to become a vibrant hub of creative community, young creative people with vision are choosing to base themselves there. Let’s find out why:

A Weekend in Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe

Music culture and Craft Beers

Our first stop in Sligo is a warm welcome at the Vinyl Culture night in Furey’s pub. Furey’s specialises in craft beers, live music and great djs. Vinyl Culture is a special night set up by two enterprising young men, Simon Hunt and Mark Willis, who wanted to start something which is a ‘celebration of music on vinyl’. Much excellent vinyl gets played at Vinyl Culture, with a nice rota of guest djs to keep things interesting. Craft beer is the beverage of choice in Ireland at the moment, with microbreweries popping up all over (White Hag is the local Sligo beer). These days you’ll find every beermat is occupied with a local beer, and so it should be. It wouldn’t be a night out in Ireland without a bit of a pub crawl, so we pop in to the Swagman bar for more live music and craft beers. Two excellent pubs for your next visit to Sligo.

Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Shells Little Shop Slainte

The real Coney Island

The next morning, to shake off the cobwebs, we ride our bikes out to Coney Island. Not that Coney Island! (Apparently the New York Coney Island is named after the Irish one, so ha!). This Coney Island lies in Sligo Bay and, just to make things interesting, is only reachable at certain times of the day when the tide is out. I asked around for good advice: at the low tide time, you generally have two hours for each side of the low tide to get out and back. This is a handy site to reference if you’re making the trip out to Coney: Sligo Tides. With this in mind we cycled out, it’s not far – about 5 kilometres, and it was breathtaking (literally, the wind whipped the air out of our lungs). Coney at one time in the late 1800s had a population of around 120. These days there is one family resident on the island, and there is of course one pub (McGowan’s – you can call ahead to let them know you’re coming!); stretches of beaches, old ruins, traditional Irish stone walls – a great place to spend a day wandering.

A Weekend in Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Coney Island seaweed

Blaa bread and modern art

Sligo is home to some excellent eateries, guided by hunger pangs the next stop is at Kate’s Kitchen in Sligo town. Run by three local Sligo sisters Kate, Beth and Jane, this little haven is well stocked with fancy pantry goods, loads of Irish artisan products and local, seasonal, organic produce, “the best of everything” as they say themselves. A big mug of tea and a blaa sausage-sandwich hit the spot. No not a typo, the blaa is a special type of bread made in Waterford (in South East of Ireland) it’s kind of like the champagne of Irish breads – it has the ‘protected designation of origin’ status from the European Union. Only bread made this way, made in Waterford, can be called a ‘blaa’.

In the mood for some culture, the Model Gallery, also in Sligo town, is a wonderful art space which always has interesting exhibitions, offers free wifi, tasty food and a music and cinema program. The current exhibition is great, who doesn’t love art that involves stepping behind a velvet curtain to a room where a pile of crystals is rotating on a pedestal. There’s also the current display of the Niland collection to take in.

Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - SUPforall boards

SUP at Lake Isle of Innisfree

Up early on Sunday morning, our Sligo adventure continues with a SUPforall session on Lough Gill, at the spot of the Lake Isle of Innisfree. SUP is stand-up-paddling, and SUPforall is a non profit organisation based in Sligo, passionate about getting everyone out ‘walking on water’, no matter what your age, physical abilities or fear may be. It’s winter, it’s Ireland: We’re offered wetsuits but actually you can just go out in your own clothes, once we’re zipped up into our floaty-jackets, and are given excellent instructions on how to paddle (there is a knack), our instructors carefully nudge us out onto the lake and we’re off. Once the impulse to keep your eyes down wears off and you master the wobble, lifting your head and taking in the epic scenery of the Lake Isle of Innisfree, a feeling of serenity replaces the feeling of I-hope-I-don’t-fall-in, you’re away, you’re walking on water, you’re supping! Aside from being great recreational fun, SUPforall are doing great work taking people out paddling who deal with chronic pain, as well as wheelchair users.

Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Supforall gear

The People’s Market

Sundays in Sligo are now famous for the Strandhill People’s Market, a brilliant new market which takes place along the beachfront during the summer, and inside the airport hangar nearby during Winter. The People’s Market is a great reflection of what producers in the North West of Ireland have to offer – farmhouse cheeses, breads and baked goods, organic coffee, healthy juices, wholefood salads and raw treats, paella, hot pots, organic veg, sushi – not to mention local artists, craft goods and kids activities.

Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Lissadell oysters 3 Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Strandhill Peoples Market baked goods

Lissadell House

Luckily while we’re in Sligo, Lissadell House is open for its Harvest Home. Lissadell is a historical house dating back to 1830, where the Gore-Booth family once lived: Henry Gore-Booth their father, was a notable Arctic explorer, Countess Markievicz, his daughter, a “politician, revolutionary, tireless worker with the poor and dispossessed, was a remarkable woman. Born into great wealth and privilege in Lissadell, Sligo, Ireland, she is most famous for her leadership role in the Irish Easter Rebellion of 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary struggle for freedom in Ireland, for which she risked her life.” Eva Gore-Booth, sister to Constance (the Countess) was a “suffragist, artist and poet, steadfastly devoted to her elder sister Constance Markievicz all her life, although she spent many years in Manchester working to alleviate the condition of working women.” If walls could talk! Lissadell House is stunning and on the day of our visit was full of life with stallholders and visitors soaking up the feast day. Heading back to Sligo from Lissadell, you can stop by to visit Yeats’ grave in Drumcliff, a literary hero of the area, and Ireland.

Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Lissadell House Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Sligo Yeats Graveyard

Sleeping at the Glasshouse

For the last night in Sligo I check in to the Glasshouse, Sligo’s only 4 star hotel right in the city with great views of the surrounding town and river, and the most incredible beds! Zzzzzzeriously, I have the most comfortable sleep I’ve had in a long time, and that hearty Irish breakfast (couldn’t show you around without one) was the only thing that could have got me away from it! I need to fuel up for a visit to Queen Maeve, buried at the top of Knocknarea hill. Queen Maeve is a figure from Irish mythology, and is allegedly buried at the top of Knocknarea, standing upright facing her enemies to the North. Maeve’s grave is a cairn,10 metres high and believed to be over 3,000 years old. Climbing Knocknarea should be on your must-do list for Sligo, it takes about 20 minutes to get up, you might get out of breath at some of the steeper points but in general it’s an easy climb and the views are totally worth it!

A Weekend in Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe

Relax at Voya Seaweed

To recover from all the action of the past few days, Voya Seaweed baths is calling in Strandhill. At Voya you can book yourself in to a private room with a Victorian style claw-foot bath full of piping hot water and freshly picked seaweed. Yep seaweed! Seaweed has numerous benefits, from balancing your metabolism (thanks to the iodine) to anti-aging, moisturising, and antioxidant properties and treatment for skin conditions. It is one of the most relaxing things you can do, you’ll feel like a new person afterwards. Rooms are also equipped with a steam shower, to open your pores before you immerse yourself in the bath. The Voya team hand-harvest wild seaweed under special license and bring all used seaweed to organic farms to be further put to use.

Irish delight at Shells

For my last supper in Sligo, Shells must be the place, a gorgeous beach front cafe in Strandhill, one of Sligo’s surfing spots. At Shells you can enjoy freshly baked goods, a delightful seasonal menu reflecting local ingredients and craft beers, and their recently opened ‘Little Shop’ next door where you can find curated gifts, Shell’s own range of products, as well as other artisan goodies and local organic produce.

A Weekend in Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe: Shells Cafe - Lunch Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Shells Apple Pie

Speaking of Shells, that is actually the meaning behind the name ‘Sligo’. The pronunciation of Sligo may sound funny to some ears, but the name we call it today in English derives from the Irish name, Sligeach (pronounced like ‘Shligock’)- which means abundant in shells, or shelly place – how cute is that! Who wouldn’t want to live in a shelly place? The reason for the abundance of shells? Loads of coastline – beaches galore. Surfing beaches such as Strandhill and Enniscrone, big wave surfing at at Mullaghmore, bathing at Culleenamore strand, unfurl your fishing rod at Rosses Point – you have loads of options.

Unfortunately due to bad weather we couldn’t go surfing on this trip, but we’ll definitely be back to share the lowdown on the Sligo surf, as it is one of the best locations for it in Ireland, and internationally.

Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Strandhill surfing Sligo, Ireland - Elizabeth Rushe - Strandhill

Thanks to who Shells CafeLissadell House and the Glasshouse and SUPforall who provided complementary services. All opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Photos and text by Elizabeth Rushe, who is a regular guest contributor for Travelettes (one, two, three). Currently she’s training in organic horticulture in the wild North West of Ireland after an 8 year stint in Berlin. Follow her instagrams here and check out more of her photography here.