We returned to Sligo Ireland in early October at the invitation of the Sligo Food Trail to experience everything that the county has to offer as an up and coming gastronomic destination in Ireland.
We visited County Sligo for the first time in August for a long weekend packed with Yeats’ poetry and magnificent countryside. This time, we departed Sligo with our belts a notch looser and a solid respect for the places to dine in Sligo.
Read on for more on why Sligo is the next major cuisine vacation destination in Ireland.
1. Sligo is an Easy, Direct 3 Hour Train Ride from Dublin
Sligo is an easy 3 hour train travel from Dublin beginning from the strategically placed Connolly Station. In fact, Sligo is one of the greatest destinations to visit from Dublin by rail in my view. Upon arriving at the railway station in Sligo Town, you may tour the tiny city core on foot. There is bus service to prominent sites including Lissadell House and Strandhill or rent a vehicle upon arrival to explore. Alternatively, if you already have a vehicle, you may drive to Sligo in 3 hours or less. On our excursion with the Sligo Food Trail, the train ride zipped through as we tried delights ranging from savory to sweet and all in between (Chew! Chew!, I hope you’ll humor me in that pun).
2. Sligo Has Quirky Country Markets
Our first culinary contact on our Sligo Harvest Feast excursion was on the train with Marguerite and Mary from Sligo’s Beltra Country Market. They stuffed our stomachs with scones and handmade apple butter and spicy Indian and Middle Eastern savories. Our favorite indulgence was a dish of ‘buzz balls’; chocolaty and thick, these sweet snacks packed a punch and gave fantastic fuel for the road ahead.
Marguerite and Mary were incredibly charming and even improvised a song for us about Sligo and serenaded us as we bit into our varied and excellent breakfast.
3. Sligo Has World Class Seafood
It should come as no surprise that Sligo’s seaside location in the northwest of Ireland means the area boasts superb seafood. On the train, we tried fresh salmon on brown bread with a hint of avocado aioli cooked by Chef Rodolpho Leonardo from the Conservatory Restaurant at the Riverside Hotel in Sligo Town. I discovered that I simply couldn’t stop myself from eating more than one scrumptious mouthful.
We also met Eithna O’Sullivan from Eithna’s by the Sea in the port of Sligo’s Mullaghmore peninsula. Eithna’s by the Sea is a family-run restaurant and Eithna told us proudly about how her son and daughter grew up in the restaurant and learnt both the business and great culinary talents from her. Given the location, Eithna’s is well renowned for lobster. Eithna also works in conjunction with Prannie Rhatigan to add nutritious seaweeds into her cooking. We had some excellent and flaky cheesy crackers flavored with seaweed.
4. Sligo Has Artisanal Meats
As we proceeded to travel from Dublin toward Sligo on the train, we were introduced to Simon O’Hara from Coopershill Farm. We had some artisanal smoked venison cooked from animals bred at Coopershill Farm, another family operated company.
When the train rolled into Sligo’s Ballymote station, we had a surprise delivery from Adrian Sheerin from Sheerins Meatin’ Place. Three varieties of sausage created by hand were placed out: pork, black pudding and thyme; pork and cracked pepper; and the award-winning Maud Gonne (named after WB Yeats’ unrequited love) which was loaded with pork, garlic, sage, salt, pepper, and red wine. Delicious!
5. Sligo Can Sate a Sweet Tooth
At the other end of the scale, we immediately realized that Sligo can sate a sweet craving as wild as my own. Aisling Kelly from WB’s Coffee House in Sligo Town told about how she established the company from scratch while we munched on chocolate muffins and prettily painted cupcakes.
Rolls with a slight sweetness from My Strandhill Bakery were another delightful treat on our train travel.
We also got to try beautifully crafted chocolates from The Glasshouse in Sligo Town. I’ll confess, we were getting very full at this time and our Sligo Harvest Feast was just beginning began. I ended up saving a lot of the chocolates to take home and have been thinking about Sligo as I eat them one by one (rationing myself to one each day!) with a cup of coffee or a bottle of red wine. I can tell you from experience that Glasshouse chocolates work nicely with both drinks.
6. Sligo Ireland Has Boutique Accommodation with Gourmet Treats
We also met Teresa Krebs from Cawley’s of Tubbercurry on the train. Cawley’s has been in operation for more than 50 years and provides boutique lodging not far from the Knock pilgrimage destination. In addition to offering visitors and pilgrims a place to sleep their tired heads, Teresa also offers wonderful cuisine which tastes great after an arduous trek to Knocknashee.
We tasted her rum balls (another delight that I got to take home and have been rationing to lengthen the pleasant experience) (another treat that I got to take home and have been rationing to extend the delicious experience). Cawley’s rum balls are sweet yet not overly thick and not too alcoholic. They are simply great for an after dinner treat. We also carried home a loaf of Cawley’s Guinness bread. Much like on our previous journeys, culinary memories endure the longest for us and that’s particularly true when we bring home something unique from the locations we visit. It turns out that Cawley’s bread is great with conventional butter or jam. I have discovered that it works with turkey and spicy sauce for a savory sweet contrast. Great thing!
7. Sligo Has Award-Winning Restaurants
The day before we were supposed to travel from Dublin for our Sligo Harvest Feast, Eala Bhán restaurant in Sligo Town earned four prizes in the Yes Chef awards: Best Newcomer Regional, and Best Newcomer in Ireland + Eala Bhán chef Marcin Szczodrowski was selected Best Chef Regional Winner and Rising Star Winner. We had the opportunity of having not one, but TWO, multi-course dinners provided by Eala Bhán during our time in Sligo. Lunch at Lissadell House includes a Taste of the Wild Atlantic Way (see above) served on a rock hand chosen from the beaches of Sligo. We also sampled herb crusted Tubbercurry Sligo lamb with red wine and rosemary reduction, mint courgette puree, and seaweed mash.
Our meal was punctuated by an assiette of sweets. The favorite was generally the peanut butter cake with crushed chocolate topping. Outstanding! I can understand why Eala Bhán has earned attention and accolades from the culinary scene in Ireland.
Dinner (a short few hours after we completed lunch!) was a six course feast created by the award-winning chefs at Eala Bhán. This time we were eating on their own soil at the restaurant in Sligo Town. We noshed on Mullaghmore crab tacos (not seen), trio of duck…
8. Sligo Has A Renowned Seaweed Expert
Our Sligo Harvest Feast also featured a session from renowned seaweed specialist Dr. Prannie Rhatigan. Sitting in the Alpine Garden at Lissadell House with sweeping views of the sea, Prannie showed us the numerous varieties of seaweeds that may be gathered in Sligo. We also got to try some seaweed fresh from the beach with just the sand cleaned away. Prannie is a medical practitioner and proponent of the health advantages of seaweed. Walking down to the shore, Prannie showed us several varieties of seaweed in their original environment. Just don’t attempt this at home guys. You need a license to gather seaweed in Ireland.
9. Sligo Has Fresh Oysters
Back at Lissadell House, we found first hand that Sligo offers the freshest oysters around. Glenn Hunter from Wild Atlantic Oyster was shucking oysters on the spot for our delight. With a splash of lemon, the Sligo oysters were a delicious treat after our invigorating seaweed hunting adventure.
10. Sligo Has an Italian Soul
Somewhat unexpectedly, we also discovered that Sligo had an Italian spirit. Lucia Cecchini who manages Laura’s of Carney is from Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy (a gourmet nirvana as I’ve detailed earlier on Sidewalk Safari). Lucia brought out a great aperitivo platter for our party. My favorite dessert was a light pastry pillow filled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a drizzle of honey on top for a wonderful balance of savory and sweet.
We also found Mammy Johnston’s which is managed by an Irishman schooled in the art of Gelato making in Bologna, Italy. Ice cream makers Michael O’Dowd and Neil Byrne have even received an award as the world’s finest at their trade.
Located in Strandhill, Mammy Johnston’s is a delightful location for gelato in inventive flavors. The coconut and chocolate was my fave. Despite eating a lot up to that point at our Sligo Harvest Feast, there’s always space for ice cream!
11. Sligo Ireland Has Craft Beer
Sligo Ireland also offers a burgeoning craft beer culture. White Hag Brewery in Ballymote offered beer pairings with each dish of our six course tasting menu at Eala Bhán, From session IPAs to Imperial Oatmeal Stouts that deliver a punch in taste and power, White Hag Bewery is another another reason why Sligo is an up and coming gourmet destination in Ireland.
12. Sligo Has Lively Pubs
We ended our supper at Eala Bhán at approximately midnight. We were preparing to head back to our accommodation at the Riverside Hotel in Sligo Town to slip into a full blown food coma when Anthony Gray, President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) and Chairman of the Sligo Food Trail suggested going out for a sneaky pint at the historic Thomas Connolly Pub. We somehow acquired a second wind so we could enjoy the craic. Even late on a Wednesday, the bar was buzzing. A couple was performing folk tunes at the front and accepting requests from the crowd. Anthony even had a go and regaled us with a spectacular version of a pseudo-French folk tune. We ultimately called it a night at approximately 1:30 am. Sligo clearly knows how to enjoy the craic.
13. Sligo Has Handy Cafes So You Can Pack a Picnic
If you are searching for a supper on the move, Sligo also has you covered. Cafes like Sweet Beat, Knox, and Osta Cafe are great for packing a picnic lunch to explore some of the magnificent seaside views that Sligo has to offer.
14. Sligo Ireland Has History
While this essay concentrates on cuisine and the culinary experiences you can enjoy in County Sligo, it’s vital to note out that Sligo Ireland has so much more to offer, particularly history. Lissadell House was the ancestral home of Irish Freedom fighter Constance Markievicz. A modest museum on the premises contains some of Countess Markievicz’ personal things and mementos of the 1916 revolt.
When we had lunch at Lissadell House, several members of our party (myself included) dined on the identical table that WB Yeats had used to compose some of his poems.
15. Sligo Ireland Has Stunning Scenery
Sligo Ireland really shines when the sun is out and we experienced some of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve seen in Ireland with the additional bonus that we weren’t jockeying for a location to appreciate the views with bus loads of visitors. Sligo (for now) is very much off the popular tourist radar. Get there quickly for a real experience.
16. Sligo Has Windswept Walks on the Wild Atlantic Way
Sligo is positioned directly along the Wild Atlantic Way and consequently provides spectacular coastline vistas. As my regular readers know, walking is one of my favorite pleasures and is the greatest way to truly get to know a new location. In Sligo, Strandhill is a wonderful starting place for a stroll amid the dunes and local historic monuments.
17. Sligo Ireland Has Heart
All during our tour, we were impressed by the lovely people we met from Sligo Ireland and how they truly joined together with incredible pride to show off their home in the west of Ireland. From Kieran Quinn shlepping a grand piano through Connolly station to regale commuters with superb music to the Sandbars, the amazing quartet that serenaded us on arrival in Sligo Town, we were truly thrilled. This trip truly was a collaborative effort and you could simply sense the craic all throughout the event. We were very happy to be a part of it.
Key: Sligo Ireland