12 Great Irish Drives: Uncover Hidden Woodland Waterfalls on Sligo’s Scenic Yeats Country Loop

by Paul Wilson | 6 min read

July 8th, 2019

FOR SUMMER 2019, we are partnering with theJournal.ie to bring you the 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.

This week, Paul Wilson takes on Sligo in a loop covering the length and breadth of the county, stopping at woodland waterfalls and tiny island villages.

benbulben-mountains



START IN SLIGO town (with a stop at the IT Sligo Farmers’ Market if it’s a Saturday morning), and head out along the southern edge of Rosses Peninsula to Coney Island.

When the tide is out, you can drive across Cummeen Strand along a route marked by 14 stone pillars. At high tide, there’s a boat from the pier.

As the local story goes, New York’s Coney Island took its name from this one, thanks to the captain of a merchant ship sailing between Sligo and New York. Friendly locals here are happy to chat and share stories about the history of the area.

coney-island

Hungry? Back on the mainland, the 200-year-old Austie’s at Rosses Point serves up incredible local food daily, like creamy chowder, homemade brown bread and crispy battered fish.

Driving onward to Drumcliffe, you’ll find the grave of WB Yeats – though it’s more of a memorial, because his actual remains were reportedly scattered in France in 1946, as outlined in the book Body Parts by Hermione Lee.

A coffin was returned to Ireland in 1948 all the same. Lee quotes the Belfast poet Louis MacNeice, who said at the time that the casket was “more likely to contain a Frenchman with a club foot”. 

Benbulben is an imposing continuation to your drive through the land of Yeats’ poetry, a flat-topped rock in the heart of the Dartry Mountains.

At the top sits a huge cairn, Queen Maeve’s Tomb, with views of the Wild Atlantic Way below.

For the courageous, take the 10km Gleniff Horseshoe Drive: a single lane 10km loop; it twists and coils for a spectacular, foot-on-the-brake drive.

Glencar Waterfall on Glencar Lough (technically you’re over the border into Leitrim at this stage, but not for long) is the perfect place for a picnic or a few photos.

Onward to Yeats’ beloved Innisfree, skirting Lough Gill. Innisfree is Irish through and through, surrounded by woodland, nature trails and views.

There’s plenty to see for nature lovers and plant fans here. According to Dan McCarthy, writing in the Irish Examiner, the area is home to “an abundance of rare plants including the strawberry tree and a species of orchid.”

On the lapping shore of Bunowen Bay, Slishwood was another of Yeats’ haunts, where you’ll find towering oaks, Norway Spruces, and pine trees, with the Ox Mountains rearing up in the background.

To explore Lough Gill’s vast waters further there are daily boat tours departing from Parke’s Castle on the Rose of Innisfree.

rosses-point

The N4 will take you directly back to Sligo but the R277 runs the Coolera Peninsula if you wish to extend your trip with a visit to Strandhill.

At Strandhill Beach, the jewel of the Wild Atlantic Way, Dunes Bar runs a locally famous open mic night on Mondays. If it’s earlier in the day, stop in for a coffee and cake at Shell’s Café after your Strandhill swim, before hitting the road for Sligo.


For summer 2019, we are partnering with TheJournal.ie to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.

This week, Paul Wilson takes on the Wicklow Mountains, with a stop off for a satisfying hike at Glendalough – and thrilling sights along the Sally Gap.

wicklow-mountains

•Name: Wicklow Mountains Drive •Where: Co Wicklow. •The route: From Wicklow town, head for the Sally Gap and Blessington. At Hollywood, the road joins the Wicklow Gap for Glendalough. The route for Avoca and Arklow via Brittas Bay will take you back to Wicklow. See our Google Map of the route here. •What makes it one of Ireland’s Greatest Drives? Easily accessible from Dublin, two passes cross the Wicklow Mountains for double the fun. •Journey time:4 hrs, approx. •Photo opportunities: Lough Tay, or the ‘Guinness Lake’, sits on private land owned by the trustees of the Guinness family, but you can look down on the black water from above. •Hidden gems: Snack on wild bilberries at Vale of Clara, and bring the kids to Clara Lara FunPark for an afternoon of canoeing, obstacle courses and rope-swinging. •If you’re feeling courageous: Even the bravest adventurer will be left awestruck by the Sally Gap mountain pass.

JUST UNDER AN hour south of Dublin, Wicklow town nestles on the coast. As for the mountains, you’ll know you’ve arrived by the colours: rich brown earth, purple heather and golden gorse.

On the R759, the road leads you to the Sally Gap. This road gets a shout-out on dangerousroads.org– but only because winter snow sometimes renders it impassable. On a summer’s day it’s a wonderful route to bring you further into the mountains.

The stark black waters of Lough Tay are in contrast to the white sand along the top edge which form a man-made beach. Lough Tay can be viewed easily from Military Road.

lough-tay

At the Liffey Head Bog, the river Liffey rises toward Dublin. The first bridge over the river is high in the mountains, 600m from the source. The rare Red Grouse nests around here– you’ll be lucky to spot him, but listen out for his explosively guttural callbecause you can’t miss it.

The road will lead you onward from here to Blessington, and slightly further on you’ll hit Russborough. This is an exquisite historical house with acres of parkland, its own fairy trail and an annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

glendalough1

At Hollywood, you can join the Wicklow Gap on the R756, zig-zagging east through the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

 

At Glendalough, Kevin of Glendalough set down a monastic city of sorts in the sixth century, with the Round Tower and St Kevin’s Bed two particular sites of interest, along with an endless spread of views, lakes and walking trails.

From Laragh, the R755 heads for the Vale of Clara, but if you have kids in the car, Clara Lara FunParkshould be your first stop for canoeing, zip lining, obstacle courses and heaps more.

Then, take the Forest Walk through the Vale, where you’ll spot plenty of wild juicy bilberries just waiting to be picked and eaten.

Only open March to June, at Macreddin Village, The Strawberry Tree was the first certified organic restaurant in Ireland, and it’s worth a stop to treat yourself to a locally sourced meal.

The R752 will take you to Avoca (where Ballykissangel was filmed). Keep your eye to the sky here – the Red Kite bird, reintroduced to Ireland after a 200-year absence, has been spotted around Avoca.

avoca-river

The Avoca River, Co Wicklow. Source: lifeisajourney22

Heading back towards Wicklow, the Blue Flag Brittas Beach is full of powdery sand and dunes, ideal for swimming or strolling as the sun sets.

Many choices we make in life can require a degree of courage, big or small. Whether it’s the moment you sit behind the wheel for the first time, decide to settle down, or bite the bullet and take that trip of your dreams. This is how great things happen and, at Allianz, we are proud to support people who have the courage to go forward in life.

About the author

bio image for Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson

Paul is a travel journalist at the Journal.ie. Allianz and the Journal.ie have partnered for Summer 2019 to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country.