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June 2019
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2003-09-30 Dunmoran & Aughris

When I was growing up in Cartron, our daily dog-walks tended to take us northwards to the Point, Lissadell or Streedagh. We generally avoided going through town to Sligo's other coastline stretching from Ballisodare to Enniscrone, Easkey and Killala Bay as it always appeared such a marathon journey.


Yet when I walked Dunmoran strand just a few weeks back, I drove there in less than half an hour. To my young mind all those years ago, the North Sligo beaches always seemed sunnier and less exposed, and the Costa del Aughris had a much more "west of Ireland" feel to it, more dramatic, with an oddly inviting bleakness.


I must have matured into this stunning part of our county, because as I write this, I am longing to go - down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky of Dunmoran and Aughris.


Travelling through Ballisodare towards Ballina, my mind suddenly recalled a bizarre image from years before, that of a youngster on a kitchen chair by the roadside at Streamstown having his hair reluctantly shorn. Through Beltra and past McMunns, a left turn at the crooked bridge in Skreen leads to the spectacular Ladies' Brae on the side of Knockalongy, Knockachree and the Ox Mountains, offering commanding views across Sligo bay.


A right turn past Skreen presents one of the several possible meandering approaches to Dunmoran. At the near end of the beach perched on the rock face are what I always imagined were "famine cottages", but these derelict dwellings apparently have a less tragic history. One, I am told, was inhabited by a local postman. His now roofless bedroom has a bed of nettles, and a large welcoming parlour fireplace where once swayed a whistling kettle lies fully exposed to the elements.


As I walked with my father on Dunmoran strand, I noticed a flowery ball bobbing up and down in the brine - the hat of a lone swimmer braving the icy surf. A generous panorama extends as far as the Donegal coastline past Ardbolan, Raughley, Lissadell, Benbulben to Knocknarea.


This often empty strand is one of Sligo's best "thinking places", so I inhale the seascape deeply. A halo of pink crowns nearby Aughris and above it rests a celestial mantle of gold. As we return across the sand, stern on Aughris, bow on Knocknarea, the lone swimmer is now re-enacting the swimming tog scene from Mr.Bean.


En route back to Beltra, a left diversion towards Derk took us to picturesque Portavaud on Ballisodare Bay. A short stretch of water, dotted with anchored sail-boats, separates this concealed beauty-spot from Culleenamore.


The next day, I returned to the area once again, this time to Aughris. I had of course frequented Aughris in my childhood, but since then had only really seen it from the air as I made my approach to Strandhill on the way home from London. Just past the turn for Maggie Mae's Beach Bar, a steep uneven slope lined with redundant lobster-pots leads down to the quiet little working harbour.


I scaled up the grassy bank to join the partly-enclosed cliff walk and stood for a moment to once again take in the full expanse of the view before me, stretching from Slieve League to Slieve Gambh. I remember as a small child picking a bunch of wild flowers for my mother on this very path. Years later, the flora is as rich and varied as I recall.


Her sea-pinks, meadow-sweet, hairbells, daisies, trefoils, orchids and clovers are all still there in a rich rug of purples, blues, pinks, yellows and creams. The grassbank's bramble overhang heralds a return to school, as the berries change from red to black. The mile-long cushioned walk above the jagged sloping rocks of Aughris Head passes an ancient promontory fort reminding me that this is an area steeped in history and alive in mythology.


The path eventually ends near what is basically a sea-bird sanctuary, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the deep resonant bass of An Corragh dTonn, the roar of the Aughris reef wave. On the way back to Sligo, have a cup of tea and treat your passengers to a drink at McMunns, Rafters or Collerys, and you will learn even more about this under-rated but wonderful part of Sligo.