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Sligo History, Ireland

An array of archaeological finds around Sligo, Ireland show that the area has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic Era.  During that time period (around 5,000-4,000 B.C.), Sligo was probably a highly-populated and important city.  There are many prehistoric tombs and ritual sites, such as Carrowmore.  Another common prehistoric sight in Sligo is shell middens.  These are piles of shells which indicate that they were possibly discarded after meals were prepared using shellfish in prehistoric times.

The actual town of Sligo, though, did not show itself until the Medieval Age when the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Maurice Fitzgerald, built a castle there in 1245 A.D.  Fitzgerald also founded a Dominican Friary in Sligo known as the Sligo Abbey.  Sligo’s original name is Sligeach.  This means “shelly place” and is in reference to the multitude of shellfish and their remains found in the area. 

The early years of Sligo were not years of peace, growth, and prosperity because of the number of attacks on and fires within the town.  Sligo was a small town consisting of just one street and no defenses - this left it open to attack.  One of the first of these attacks took place in 1257 when the armies of the Gaelic chief, Geoffry O’Donnell, attacked the town and set it on fire.  An accidental fire in 1414 led to the destruction of the Sligo Abbey.  It was rebuilt, but was burned again during a siege in 1642 by Frederick Hamilton.  This time the structure remained and it is the only medieval structure still in existence in Sligo today. 

Fortunately, by the mid-1400’s, the town had gained a port and more importance.  It is listed in the trade records of important businesses at the time, including royal records.  The port also played a major role in the Great Famine of the mid-19th century.  Over 30,000 people left Ireland through the Sligo port between 1847 and 1851 in order to escape extreme poverty and even death.

One famous historical figure associated with Sligo is the poet W. B. Yeats.  After his death in 1939 he was buried in the town of Drumcliffe in Sligo County.  Fans of his poetry can visit the sights described in many of his poems.  For instance, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is associated with an island on a lake close to Sligo called Lough Gill.  Also, the nearby Dartry Mountains are the home of the Benbulbin rock formation that Yeats wrote about several times.

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