Why did celebrated poet, author, playwright, and Irish politician William Butler Yeats end his famed poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” with the line, “I hear it in the deep heart’s core”? Because that’s where the breathtaking County Sligo region becomes embedded once you’ve explored this legendary land. The memories of this rustic, mystical place will resonate in your heartstrings for years, decades…perhaps a lifetime.
For those wishing to experience first-hand what inspired cultural icons like Yeats to write such literary classics, the Wild West of Ireland surpasses the tourist-trodden east. Affectionately known as the “Land of Heart’s Desire,” you’ll easily see and feel why Lady Gregory nurtured the Irish Literary Renaissance at the turn of the 20th Century. Greatness is borne of places like this.
Travel Back to Days of Yore in the Wild West
The childhood summers spent in Sligo stayed with Yeats throughout his creative years. Even the success of being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and moving among the urban socialites of London could not quell his heartsick yearning to return to the Wild Atlantic Coastline. Listen closely and you’ll hear the faeries whisper of epic battles, Gaelic queens, and soul-soothing waterfalls all at once.
Only a few road trips around Ireland can compete with the area’s natural beauty blended with a rich history dating back to the Bronze Age. Rolling jade green hills laced with low stone walls surround the quaint, quiet town of Sligo, where the scenic Ox Mountains sing a siren song to hikers and those with an adventurous foot.
Under Ben Bulben and Beyond
The fascinating Ben Bulben rock formation attracts climbers and poets alike. Yeats wrote of this mossy monolith in his classic poem, “Under Ben Bulben,” summoning his artistic peers to celebrate all things Irish. The caverns and caves of Ben Bulben hold the echoes of eras gone by, while the fingers of shale that caress the mountainside make it seem more like a sculpture than a mountain.
Sligo pays homage to its favorite literary tourist with the Yeats Building, which houses the Yeats Society. This literary hub celebrates the man, his life, and his works both literary and cultural. Located in Abbeyquarter North of Sligo, the Yeats Society holds events, lectures, and classes year-round.
While in Sligo, any Yeats fan must stop to see the whimsical statue that graces the front of the Ulster Bank building at the corner of Stephen Street and Markievicz Road. Cloaked in excerpts of his prose and poetry, the marvelous likeness emanates the charm, wit, and sophistication that made the man a legend. Even the placement of the statue is tongue-in-cheek, as it is in reference to Yeats’ quip he made when receiving the Nobel Prize, that the Royal Palace of Stockholm reminded him of the Ulster Bank in Sligo.
Of course, it’s not possible to follow in the footsteps of Yeats in County Sligo without a leisurely boat trip to the famed Lake Isle of Innisfree. This small, uninhabited island in Lough Gill, remains a peaceful retreat sure to bring out your own inner poet.
Though times have changed since the days of Yeats, the beauty, spirituality, and history remain. From country roads, wild rivers, and enchanting shores of lakes and sea, our Heart of Ireland’s Wild West Tour will give you a glimpse into the passion for this enchanting land that propelled Yeats to create the literary classics that are still treasured to this day.