Rosses Point (Co. Sligo)
Rosses Point and Oyster Island, overlooked by Benbulben
Rosses Point (An Ros) (pop. 900), a Victorian era seaside resort on the eponymous peninsula north of Sligo Harbour, dominated by the brooding mass of Benbulben, has three beautiful sandy Blue Flag beaches, popular with locals and visitors, yet rarely crowded even on sunny days. Famed for spectacular Atlantic sunsets, this dune-fringed shoreline is a great place for a walk at any time of year.
The natives of Rosses Point traditionally made a maritime living from fishing, petty piracy and smuggling. As late as 1880 a Sligo public enquiry investigated the activities of well equipped secret oath-bound gangs in the area, where confrontations with the authorities had led to armed clashes. The chief contraband appears to have been tobacco.
Dead Man’s Point, the headland which juts out towards Coney Island, is said to be named for a foreign seaman who died as his ship was entering the port and who was interred here by the crew, anxious not to miss the tide. As they were not sure if he was really dead, they buried a loaf of bread with his body – or so the story goes. The point, with its secluded landing spot in front of Elsinore Lodge, was a favourite haunt of smugglers.
Elsinore House / Lodge, now in a dilapidated condition, was built by the smuggler John Black / Black Jack, who set several cannons outside of it, as thought to command the channel. It was said to be still haunted by the ghosts of smugglers tapping on the windows at night in the late C19th, when it was the summer home of landlord William Middleton, (who bought Rosses Point from the Cooper family in 1867 for under 8000 pounds as land speculation), a relative and business partner of William and Jack Butler Yeats’ maternal grandfather William Pollexfen, who also owned an adjacent villa; their steamship company ran popular excursion boats to the resort from Sligo town. The talented brothers’ idyllic childhood summers here with their cousins famously inspired several poems, stories and paintings.
The Pilot House at Deadman’s Point, built in 1810 as a residence for the estuary pilot, is said to have been taken over by smugglers, who doubtless used the two round windows to keep a watchful eye on Sligo Bay. The cottage, now derelict, famously features in WB Yeats’ short story The Old Men of the Twilight. (See photo here)
St Columba’s church (EC) appears to be an early C19th edifice.
Rosses Point church (CoI) was founded in 1854 to cater for the growing number of tourists. The interior is beautifully simple without plaques. Visiting clergy taking the services in the summer months are accommodated in a small holiday cottage. (Great photo here)
Waiting on Shore, a monument appropriately situated near the RNLI lifeboat station, bears a plaque which reads: “This sculpture reflects the age-old anguish of a seafaring people who watched and waited for the safe return of loved ones. The men and women of Rosses Point Parish have a proud history of courage and survival of loss and grief that should not be forgotten by future generations. It is to honour the memory of these brave people who once lived, sailed, or were lost at sea, that this woman, cast in bronze, stands today on our headland. Lost at sea, lost at sea / Or in the evening tide / We loved you, we miss you / May God with you abide“. (Photo by Daniel Owen)
Martin Joseph Moffat, born in Sligo in 1882, won the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy while serving in the Connaught Rangers during WWI. On 14th October 1918 near Ledeghem, Belgium, his party came under heavy rifle fire at close range from a strongly held house. Rushing towards the house through a hail of bullets, Private Moffat threw bombs and then, working to the back of the house, rushed the door, killing two and capturing 30 of the enemy.He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Military Decoration by Belgium. He drowned off Rosses Point on 5th January 1946.
The RNLI Sligo Bay Lifeboat Station began life in a portacabin at Sligo Yacht Club in 1998 and moved into its purpose-built station situated at Rosses Point pier in 2002. It houses a D Class lifeboat named Elsinore and has 22 volunteer crew members along with a fundraising team and a lifeboat shop.
Rosses Point Pier harbours a number of fishing vessels and pleasure craft. Plans for a Marina have been shelved due to the current financial crisis.
Ewing’s Sea Angling & Boat Charters operate a variety of services including deep sea angling, reef fishing, shark fishing (August–October), island services to Coney Island and Inishmurray, and ecotourism cruises.
The Metal Man guarding the entrance to Sligo Harbour is a 3.7 metre / 13 ft tall, 7.5 ton statue dressed in the uniform of an early C19th petty naval officer, placed on the offshore Perch Rock by local seafarers in 1822 and maintained by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The side his arm points to signals the safe side of navigation, and when his light is lined up with the light on Oyster Island lighthouse this is called the “leading lights” or safe deepwater channel for shipping using Sligo port.
Oyster Island, 180m offshore, is the site of lighthouse erected in 1837. In 1841, the population was 28, mostly lighthouse employees and their families, but this figure had dropped to 19 by 1861 and by 1986 ws down to one solitary inhabitant. The island was named for its famous oyster fishery, with beds covering an area of 70 acres, spectacularly raided in 1864 by eight boatloads of men who took 25,000 oysters.
Shrunamile, the channel of a thousand currents, separating Oyster Island from the larger Coney Island, is known separated for its multitude of eddies, producing an unusual whispering sound which changes with the ebb and flow of the tide.
The Sligo Yacht Club, established in 1821, has been based at its present HQ near Deadman’s Point since 1973.
The County Sligo Golf Club, founded next to a former military training ground at Bomore in 1894, hosts the prestigious annual West of Ireland Championship on its highly rated and exceptionally scenic course.
The Yeats Country Hotel, founded in the late C19th as the Thomas Ewing Hotel, was very pleasant when this writer stayed there in 1968 and 1976!
Rosses Point has a few friendly Guesthouses and a Caravan & Camping Park with full facilities. There are a couple of restaurants & several friendly pubs, most with live entertainment in Summer months.
Rosses Point is
Blackrock Lighthouse, just off Rosses Point. was originally a navigation beacon built in 1819, was converted to a lighthouse in 1834 and was automated in 1934.
Drumcliff Bay is entered from the east by the Drumcliffe River, which forms a muddy estuary bordered by a long sand spit at the seaward end. Long famed for its oyster beds, and recently designated by the EU as a SAC (Special Area of Conservation), the shore here is very popular with birdwatchers.
Drumcliff (Co. Sligo)
Drumcliff / Drumcliffe (Droim Chliabh – “ridge of the baskets”) is a small rural community in a broad green valley between Benbulben and the sea. Locals point out that this is the location of the mysterious Magnata / Nagnata shown on Claudius Ptolemy’s 140 AD map of Ireland.
Drumcliff Abbey, founded c. 575 AD by Saint Columba / Colmcille , is mentioned in the Annals as subject to the usual plunderings in the C12th, C13th and C14th. The monastic site, now partially covered by a graveyard, is best known for two fine High Crosses.
This High Cross, thought to date from the C11th, is 3.83m tall and has animals carved in high relief on both sides, including an unusual camel. The subjects on the west face are the Presentation in the Temple and the Crucifixion, while the east face bears Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Daniel in the Lions’ Den. The head may depict Christ in Glory. The south side of the shaft features the only icon of the Virgin and Child on an Irish High Cross. (Photo – Sligo Scenes)
Drumcliff’s Round Tower, dating from the C10th / C11th, is the only structure of its kind in County Sligo. Said to have been struck by lightning in 1396, a large part of the tower was used in the late C18th to build a nearby bridge, and what remains is now a photogenic 3.7m stump beside the road bisecting the former monastic site. Local legend says the tower will fall down when the wisest man in the world passes under it.
St Columba’s church
St Columba’s church (CoI) was built in 1809, allegedly using stones from the old monastery. The warm pine interior, dotted with memorials, welcomes a small but active congregation every Sunday.
WB Yeats (1865–1939) is officially buried in the churchyard. The poet died in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in the south of France nine months before the outbreak of WWII, and the Irish Naval Service was commissioned to bring his remains home to Ireland in 1948; some believe they were given the skeleton of a French dentist. These bones was solemnly re-interred in 1948 before a large crowd of locals and dignitaries, with the Government represented by the Minister for External Affairs, Seán MacBride. The grave is marked with a simple headstone bearing his self-penned epitaph, the last three lines of his final poem, Under Benbulben:
Under Bare Benbulben’s head
In Drumcliffe Churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago.
A church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no convential phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut;
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman pass by!
The poet’s English wife Georgie (née Bertha Hyde-Lees) (1892 – 1968) is buried beside him. They married when she was 25 and he was 52, and they had two children, Anne and Michael.
The nearby Yeats Memorial monument comprises a bronze sculpture of lightly clad man (who some say looks more like Pablo Picasso than the Sligonian poet) contemplating one of his most beautiful works, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. (Photo by Horslips)
William and Jack’s great grandfather, Rev John Yeats, had been the rector at Drumcliff 1811-46. Their father John Butler Yeats recalled in a letter in 1913: “In his time there were forty houses between the rectory gate and the round tower, now there is only one. In my grandfather’s time he & the parish priest were friends. Maynooth did not exist, and the priest was educated in the liberal atmosphere of a French College, and possibly both of them read Voltaire and Gibbon. One of the peasants told me he remembered the priest getting up a bonfire to celebrate my grandfather’s return to the parish from a protracted sojourn in Dublin“.
An attractive Tea House & Craft Shop caters for the hundreds of tourists who arrive daily with an extensive range of snacks, local ceramics, gifts and books (including some 26 different collections of WB Yeats poetry). The homemade Guinness cake is very highly recommended!
Cloonmull House is the registered address of Mac Aviation, a company charged in 2009 by the US Justice Department with illegally exporting aircraft parts and engines to Iran.
Cooldrumman was the site of the bizarre Battle of the Book in 561 AD, arising from Saint Columba / Colmcille‘s refused to hand over a psalm book he had copied from an original belonging to Saint Finian of Moville. The dispute was referred to the High King Diarmuid, who famously ruled: “To every cow its calf, and to every book its copy“. St Columba would not accept this judgment and took to arms in defence of his copy – and the two monks’ supporters clashed in a bloody battle in which over 2000 men were killed. Although Saint Columba’s side won, he was so consumed with guilt that he fled to the remote northern isle of Iona to live a spartan life devoted to the conversion of pagans, only returning to Ireland to found new monasteries.
Carney, a photogenic little village, is unusual in having no church.
Lissadell was the estate of the Gore Booth family for many generations.
Lissadell House, supposedly designed in a neo-classical Greek revivalist style by London architect Francis Goodwin, is in fact a somewhat grim barracks-like edifice with a wonderful interior, built in the 1830s for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, 4th Bart, MP, and left in 1876 to his son, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, 5th Bart. Both are shown to have been “good” resident landlords in an article that can be read here.
Lissadell was the childhood home of siblings Constance (who later became famous as the Irish Republican revolutionary Countess Markievicz), Eva (who became well known as a poet and suffragist), Mabel, Mordaunt and Josslyn (who inherited the estate). A frequent holiday visitor was the young William Butler Yeats, who later made the house famous with the opening lines of his poem In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
Lissadell House is special for its magnificent views of Ben Bulben, Knocknarea and Sligo Bay, and for its splendidly ornate interior, full of light and beautiful period furnishings, paintings and books accumulated over the years. The Bow Room, and a small suite of rooms behind, served as the main living and sleeping rooms for the family in the 1960s and 70s, when the remainder of the house was unlived in.
Lissadell was put on the market for €3 million in 2003 by Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth, 9th Bart (a grand-nephew of Constance’s brother). Although many hoped it would be purchased by the State, the property was eventually sold to a couple of high-flying barristers, Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, who spent a fortune restoring the house and gardens and kept the premises open to visitors until a dispute with Sligo County Council about public rights of way across the estate led them to close the gates. The owners instituted legal proceedings, and in December 2010 the High Court ruled in favour of the Council. An appeal to the Supreme Court is due to be decided soon.
Lissadell has been the venue for a number of art exhibitions and open-air concerts, notably one by the wildly popular local boy band Westlife on 30th July 2010 followed by Leonard Cohen on 31st July and 1st August 2010.
The Lissadell Oyster Beds were the subject of unusual maritime confrontations in November 1864, pitting their owner Sir Robert Gore-Booth, together with his fellow local landlords, many of their tenants and the massed regional constabulary against a fleet of “pirates hailing from Coney Island, Rosses Point, Ballisodare, and the adjoining lines of coast”. An interesting account quoting the amusing contemporary Sligo Chronicle report can be read here.
Lissadell parish church (CoI), a fine Gothic style building built by the Gore-Booth family in 1858, is famous for its stunning stained glass windows by William Warrington. The church grounds contain the Gore-Booth family burial plot.
Cloghcor Dolmen, a collapsed portal tomb on a hill with excellent views on all sides, has two tall entrance portal stones still standing. Local folklore says that an earthquake caused the collapse of the monument, and the Annals record an earthquake in the Ox Mountains on the other side of Sligo Bay in 1490 AD.
Cloghboley is the location of a small central court-tomb.
St Patrick’s church (RC), a mid-C19th edifice at Maugherow, was damaged by lightning in 1882 and again in 1982, necessitating extensive rebuilding on both occasions and putting paid to one old proverb on the second.
Kilmacannon was an early ecclesiastical site, of which the only remaining sign is a cross slab.
Ardtermon Castle, built in 1648 by Sir Francis Gore, has been splendidly restored by Holger and Erika Schiller as luxurious holiday rental apartments with a helipad.
Raghly / Raghley / Raughley Harbour, built c. 1835 to design by the great Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo (1783-1832), is a handsome small coastal fishing harbour, forming an attractive group with the stone boat house and the coastguard station to the north-west, now derelict. A circular walking route takes in quiet roads with stunning views of Rosses Point peninsula and the North Atlantic. (Photo – www.sligowalks.ie)
Lewis (1837) recorded that “The blowing sands of Knocklane extend northward from the village, and are about two miles long and two broad; they have already covered a great tract of good land and about 150 cabins, and are constantly in motion, giving a dreary and desolate appearance to the country around. On the western shore is a remarkable chasm in the limestone rock, called the Pigeon Holes, and by the peasantry the Punch Bowls; into these the sea rushes with great impetuosity, and in rough weather is forced upwards to a considerable height. Close to the shore is a chalybeate spring of great strength, which is sometimes covered by the tide.”
A Fin Whale, probably 2 to 3 years old, was washed up dead on nearby Ardtermon Strand on 28th November 2011. On 10th December it was moved to Raghly Harbour. Five butchers from Slovakia and Brazil dissected the animal as two PHD students from UCG removed and cataloged all of the bones. A partial time lapse video of the event can be viewed here.
Brown Bay is fringed with Raghly / Yellow Strand, a lovely stretch of sand backed by some small sheltering dunes. The beach is frequented by seals and surfers.
Ardboline Island, the largest of three small uninhabited grass covered lumps offshore, has a treacherous reputation, as several ships have been scuttled on its shores. In 1867 the paddle-steamer Rose hit a rock at Ardboline and ten of her passengers were drowned, while in 1912 the SS Sligo ran aground on the island in a blizzard, thankfully without loss of life. (The salvaged anchor is now positioned on the Rosses Point promenade).
Knocklane Hill (57m) is the location of a spectacular promontory fort jutting out into the Atlantic, used during the Napoleonic era to build a signal station.
Ballyconnell, a coastal townland that sometimes shares its name with the entire peninsula west of Lissadell, is popular district for bird watching, mainly due to the thousands of Barnacle Geese that winter here, plus Oystercatchers,Turnstones, Red-throated & Great Northern Divers, Shag, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Eider. In summer, the boggy area inland of the bay holds Snipe, Wheatear, Stonechat and Sedge Warbler. The marshy areas are sometimes quartered by Merlin or Hen Harrier.
Munninane church (CoI), aka St Kevin’s Chapel of Ease , dates from 1896, making it the youngest Church of Ireland church in Connacht. It was erected by the Gore-Booths because too many parishioners were sneaking off to the Gospel Hall at Cashelgarron.
Munnimane is near Grange on ByRoute 1.