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May 2019
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2003-07-01 Lakes and forests of Sligo

I am sure Yeats made a mistake. Or at least he may have been mis-interpreted. With regards the Lake Isle of Innisfree, I have always been sure he meant another island on Lough Gill.


At this juncture I ought to point out that I adore Yeats poetry, and have even memorised much of it. Now at the risk of incurring the wrath of the Yeats society, or worse still the Yeats estate, I will proceed.

Our family has always had a boat on Lough Gill, kept at Hazelwood, and I used to love our trips up the lake through Annagh Bay, past Per Rock to Church Island. In hindsight, it was like an adventure playground there, in the days before adventure playgrounds. The fact that there was a church on an island in the middle of a lake always fascinated me as a child, and the possibilities for Hide and Seek were endless. I also had a thing about freshwater swimming when I was little, even with the knowledge that Lough Gill was famous for its giant pike.

Beezies Island (or Gallaghers Island as we used to call it, more respectful to the old lady) intrigued me, but I always felt we were sort of disturbing the ghost of an elderly woman when we landed on its shores. I was really proud of myself on one occasion when I swam there from Dooney, but the charred remains of the ruins of old Beezies house will always seem a little eery. This island was also a favourite trip for Arnie Griffin and our scout troup. God love poor old Beezie on those days.

So could Yeats have meant Church Island or even Beezies when he talked of arising and going? On either of the two islands I mention he could have had a clay and wattle chalet, or mansion even? And sure he could have had an entire bean plantation, and a full apiary for his honey-bees! I mean, Innisfree is fine, but there are nicer islands on Lough Gill surely, and ones with slightly more room? Sure he couldnt swing a cat (under the moon)?

As with the abundant variety on our coastline, the lakes and forests of Sligo are truly deserving of the eloquence of Yeats Poetry. Fishing has been in my family for generations, but unfortunately I didnt have the patience to carry it on, unless of course it meant a trip to picturesque, and unfairly under-rated Lough Talt (past Tubbercurry) , where we would hook a trout every couple of minutes. This area of south Sligo is an area I have yet to fully discover, and if the beauty of Lough Talt is anything to go by, then there is a lot for me yet to see.

But just because I am not a fisherman, that doesnt stop me marvelling at the beauty of places like Slish Wood (or should I say Sleuth Wood), Lough Arrow (several island adventure playgrounds there too!), Union Wood, Ballygawley Wood, Hazelwood, the Deer Park (with its fascinating archaelogical site), Sriff, Parkes Castle, and of course breathtaking Glencar with its cascading waterfall, Swiss Valley, and dramatic mountain road spiralling up from the lake. At Glencar I was always intrigued by the barytes mines, and on occasions, I am sure we explored where we were not meant to explore. Even more eery and almost disturbing is Protestants Leap (especially having been brought up in the Church of Ireland). The scene of a mass suicide is bound to make an impression on a young lad I suppose?

Over in Skreen, the Ladies Brae ( and yes, Im sorry but it always made me snigger immaturely when I was little) shows off the gneiss (sic) Ox mountains at their best. Again, this is an area I need to explore more. And if its mountain roads youre into, then take the stunning route that is the Gleniff Horseshoe, up towards Truskmore. Its been a while since I was on the top of Benbulben and Knocknarea, but that is something I want to do soon again too. Never enough time when Im at home.

Even sitting here in a break in rehearsal writing this, Im once again struck by how totally spoiled we are in Yeats County.