People tend to forget about Sligo and that’s a real shame. The county that’s tucked up beyond the most touristy parts of the Wild Atlantic Way, can seem somewhat out of reach to those doing a whirlwind trip of Ireland.
But after experiencing the flavour of this great county, we’re dying to come back already.
With thanks to Sligo Food Trail, Sligo Tourism and Fáilte Ireland, Mom and I were invited as guests to experience the county like never before (and this also coincidently coincided with our Wild Atlantic Way journey, which you can read about here).
To kick things off, the press group started in Dublin where they were greeted by pianist Kieran Quinn in Connolly station with a grand piano, much to the amusement of passers-by. Mom and I weren’t in Dublin at the time because we were weaving up Ireland’s coast, but you can see what happened in fellow blogger, Val Robus’ tweets below:
One for the foodies: Sligo Food Trail
While we didn’t experience a Food Trail in a traditional sense, we did get a fantastic overview of a variety of trails that Sligo has (the lucky ducks on the train – see above- got a fabulous welcome of food and my friend Val kindly saved some for me. The beetroot burgers from Beltra Country Market were amazing).
The Sligo’s Food Trail isn’t simply a one-off, but rather a selection of experiences that you can choose to head to. From Farm to Fork dinners, to eating seafood by the shore and going on a craft beer tour, their tagline “the secret’s in the mix” certainly seems appropriate.
But let me get back to where I was. It was in Sligo train station that we joined our group and met with our fellow adventurers. Here’s what happened:
One for the nostalgia: The Sandbars
How many people can say that they were greeted off the train to the sounds of a barbershop quartet and glasses of bubbly? Mom and I were at the station when we noticed four gentlemen in red, preparing their vocal cords with gusto. Based in Strandhill, The Sandbars can certainly hold a tune and we loved the old-worldly energy they brought to the station. Iarnród Eireann staff, if you are all reading this, entertainment like the Sandbars would be most welcome in train stations across Ireland.
One for the historians: Lissadell House
Waving “goodbye” to our singing friends, the next stop was Lissadell House, a neo-classical Greek revivalist style country house that was built between 1830 and 1835. We were met by its owner, Constance Cassidy, a formidable woman with a presence that fits in well at Lissadell. We also got to eat delicious oysters in the courtyard shucked by Glenn Hunter from Wild Atlantic Oysters.
The grounds are simply laden with history and the collection of historic artefacts they house are captivating. What we personally loved were the Alpine Gardens, just a short stroll away from the main building.
The two-acre Alpine Garden was created in 1740 as a pleasure garden and was restored in 2004, having been neglected when nature was allowed to run its course. Today it’s a place of reflection with an ideal view of the sea.
As a treat, we got to eat in Lissadell House, with a meal prepared by the Eala Bhán Restaurant chefs and it was superb:
One for the adventurous: Prannie Rhatigan’s Seaweed Walks
Mom and I are foraging addicts and when we heard that the brilliant Prannie Rhatigan would be bringing us out for a mini-seaweed adventure, we were very excited.
Showcasing just some of the many seaweeds that Ireland has in abundance, Prannie gave us all a taste of what’s on our shoreline as well as stressing the importance of sustainable harvesting. We have her book on seaweed and it’s perfect for any budding forager.
You can really tell that seaweed is at the heart of everything that Prannie does. See her website for updates on events.
One for real food lovers: Eala Bhán Restaurant
Owned by Anthony Gray, President of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Eala Bhán (white swan) in Sligo town is on the quays. With a tasting menu of six courses, we were treated to an absolute feast. Service was done with a smile and the décor and indeed the food is top-notch. See more on their website here.
Each one of our courses was teamed with craft beers from the White Hag Brewery, and we got everything from rich, chocolatey stouts to light and fruity ales with natural ingredients taking over our taste buds with the flavoursome brews. In truth: it was all heavenly.
One for the craic-seekers: Thomas Connolly’s
Topping the night off, we headed along to Connolly’s a place that captures the true meaning of craic in Ireland.
It’s the best spot to top off your evening. Connolly’s was first given licence in 1861 and is said to be Ireland’s oldest pub in the North-west. We were greeted by musicians and the drinks flowed for the night. There’s something definitely special about hearing Anthony Gray belting out he Fields of Athenry in both French(ish) and English. Quelle surprise!
One for the walkers: Seatrails
The next day we were given the option to choose a seaweed bath with Voya or head on a coastal walk. As much as we LOVE seaweed, after a long day of eating and drinking, a walk seemed like a better option. Run by archaeologist Auriel Robinson a Wild Atlantic Way ambassador for Sligo, Seatrails is perfect for those looking to hunt out something different. With a wealth of knowledge, Auriel is well-informed but is also willing to part with information on her heritage trails.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous she can even organise a shellfish experience where you can dine “al fresco” at a midden site. (Special shoutout to Auriel’s dog Zara too).
One for the kids: Mammy Johnston’s
Based in Strandhill, this is run by a pair who are passionate about real gelato and icecream. And it’s not only the Irish who love it, but Mammy Johnston’s also won the title of the best honeycomb at the Sigep Rimini trade show in Italy. Even the Italians approve. I fell in love with their mango flavour.
Where to stay? Strandhill Lodge and Suites
Our media entourage was staying in a few different places, but we got to stay in Strandhill.
This 4* accommodation overlooks Strandhill Bay and we stayed in a beautiful twin room with access to a patio.
Everything was comfortable and clean and we couldn’t hear a thing in the corridors or outside. Brownie points as well for having the plugs by the beds. Businesspeople would definitely approve of this retreat.
In the morning, I was surprised that they didn’t offer a cooked breakfast and just continental (there were hard-boiled eggs though) but in one way it was a nice change because I tend to overload on a fry when I’m staying somewhere fancy.
A few things worth mentioning:
- A day isn’t enough for Sligo, between the food trails, walks, dinner and nights out, you could easily spend a few days experiencing new things (we’d highly recommend you drive).
- Book Eala Bhán in advance if you plan on eating there. It’s a very popular restaurant and worth heading to.
- Bring the right clothing when you’re heading along on a Seatrail. The sunshine can be very deceptive in Ireland; a windproof jacket can do wonders.
We’re truly grateful for the hospitality that Anthony Gray showed us throughout the entire day, but also very thankful to Marie Brouder, who contacted me to organise us joining the Sligo Food Trail experience. Everything we experienced over the day and a half was completely complimentary for us, but no money exchanged hands.