The Knocknarea Tour
Coney Island → Carrowmore Tombs → Knocknarea → The Glen → Strandhill → Ballysadare → Beltra the Ox Mountains → Left at Dromard up Ladies Brea → Lough Acree → Aughris Head.
Our first port of call (in a manner of speaking) is Coney Island. At its peak 200 people lived on Coney Island, but after the Famine the population was decimated and now the island is home to just one remaining family. A trip to Coney Island can prove to be eventful. Boats from the mainland regularly call in, or you can brave the causeway, guided by 14 pillars built in 1845. It’s only accessible at low tide but once on dry land you can take the edge off the day in the local pub, which was first licensed as far back as 1856. The island has several beautiful deserted beaches, the main one being Carty’s Strand. En route you can take the weight off your feet by sitting on St Patrick’s Wishing Chair, reputed to have been placed there by the saint himself. From Coney we head to Carrowmore Tombs.
Carrowmore is the largest Megalithic cemetery in Ireland and is one of the oldest and most important in Europe. It covers an area of about a half of a square kilometre in the shadow of Knocknarea to the west. The area is now protected and 30 monuments in varying degrees of preservation can be visited. The monuments are dated from circa 4840 to 4370 BC. There is a Visitor Centre near the car park open daily from May to Sept. Garavogue Villas in Abbeyquarter, near Saint Anne’s Church in Sligo has a similar monument to those at Carrowmore. We leave here and take the short journey to the car park for Knocknarea Mountain. From the car-park it’s about a 40 minute walk to the summit. Maeve’s Cairn which is situated on the peak of Knocknarea overlooks Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery and is visible for miles around. Your walk is rewarded with spectacular views when you reach the summit. It is un-excavated but like Heapstown Cairn it may cover a passage tomb, possibly dating back to 3000 BC. The name of the monument along with folklore suggests that it may be the burial place of Maeve, the iron age Queen of Connaught. As we drive down the road from Knocknarea we look for a small Well on our right, “The Glen” is straight across the road.
The Glen, in the summer, this is where you go down the rabbit hole and follow the muddy trail that brings you into The Glen. There are no signposts and no explanations for this natural wonder. It’s in a place where Knocknarea falls out of the sky and heads towards the Sea. A natural event, perhaps an earthquake, has gouged a deep grassy channel out of the rock, and over the past centuries huge trees have grown tall in the centre. When you walk into the gorge the sound drops away and everything becomes still and hushed. Water trickles down its walls and the green cathedral like space gives a feeling of being cut off from any sense of time. This is a little piece of magic in the Sligo hinterland, and all the better for being that little bit somewhat difficult to find.
Next we travel the scenic route to Strandhill which is a very picturesque village situated 8 kilometres west of Sligo town between the Atlantic Ocean and the towering slopes of Knocknarea Mountain. There are miles of golden sandy beaches and some gigantic sand dunes to explore. You may be lucky enough to experience the unforgettable views of Atlantic sunsets. High Atlantic surges provide the best surfing in Europe and it is an International Surfing Championship Venue. In the centre of Strandhill you will find the Seaweed Baths and on the outskirts there is an 18-hole golf course which is playable all year round. Molly’s Cottage is a 200 year old Traditional Irish Thatched cottage open to the public.
Next we head to Ballysadare or (Baile Easa Dara ) meaning settlement of the oak by the Waterfall is 7 kilometres from Sligo on the N59 Ballina road. There was massive economic growth during what was referred to as “The Celtic Tiger” boom years. Many new housing developments were built, several of which now lay empty, creating phantom estates. The town boasts a beautiful River and a small Waterfall and the river is a haven for Salmon and Trout anglers.
From Ballysadare we travel out the N59 to Aughris, Easkey and Inishcrone. Passing the villages of Beltra and Dromard we take the next left up to Lake Achree (from the Gaelic for “The Heart Lake”). When you are ready we head up to Lady’s Bray and see the Panoramic views of Sligo and the surrounding areas. Back on the N59 again we take the next right for Aughris. Aughris Head provides breathtaking views of Benbulben and Knocknarea. The natural beauty and coastline here offer pure tranquility and it is another walker’s paradise with beach walks and hill walks Aughris Beach Bar suitable for all the family. In the evening you can retire to the Beach Bar which is a Traditional Irish Thatched Pub and Restaurant.