Sligo and its cultural history... is indeed Surprising!
By Declan Foley
Upon reading, Paddy Clancy's, excellent piece in Sligo Today, (see link below)
for one hope it leads to others, studying, the great, and important
history, of Sligo town and County. W. G. Wood-Martin's "History of Sligo
Town and County,"
published in 1883, has rarely been surpassed.
number of books, published in the past thirty years by amateur, but
notable, historians, alas, leaves much to be desired, for the simple
reason: the authors failed to reach out to others, with knowledge of
I cite two examples here: John Mc Ternan's
excellent book on Sligo, cites the make of motor car owned by the Gore
Booths in 1903 as a "Dainter" because, that is how he deciphered the
hand writing, in the Sligo Council, Motor Tax Office record for the car.
Whereas, the car was in fact a Daimler, -- these details, if made
available to the Daimler Club in England, would complete a blank space
in the records of the Daimler Car Co, destroyed in the bombing of
Coventry, during WW II. History in Sligo, also has its value in other
In 1976 the Diocese of Elphin,
published a history of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to
celebrate its centenary. The editor mentions on the original plan, there
is a "Mortuary": - he was baffled by this, and imagined it was an
error. Yet, if he had approached my father Gerry Foley, my brother Tony,
or myself, we could have told him that the "Mortuary" was where the
coffin was placed as part of the rite of "removal of the remains," to
the Cathedral on the eve of a Requiem Mass. This practice ceased circa
1955. The reverend editor again, did not ask anyone else's view. In
fact, any RC could have told this reverend editor, that the baptismal
font inside the front door of a Catholic Cathedral, or church, and the
mortuary behind the altar,signified the path of life, from birth to
As the piano that accompanied Count John
McCormack was dismissed as insignificant; so too, was the make of the
Gore-Booth car, and the actual reason for a mortuary, being in the plan
of the Cathedral. Nothing in history is insignificant.
For example, A Celebration of Sligo First Essays for Sligo Field Club, editor Martin
Timoney, is a fine example of the wonderful natural history that Sligo
has. Well edited, concise, but most importantly: shared with others
prior to publication, and their suggestions taken on board.
is important for many reasons, and Sligo is abundant in it. From the
dolmens preceding the Egyptian pyramids, through the Tuatha de Danaan;
the Fir Bolgs; Court Cairns, Carrowmore (the one in the Bricklieve
Mountains "The Speckled Mountains") and the great megalithic cemetery at
Carrowmore near Sligo town: the Battle of the Books near Drumcliffe,
preceded by Ptolemy's City of Nagnata.
example: Collinsford near Drumcliffe was a major north-south crossing of
the Drumcliffe river. This extract from Wood-Martin, (p 273 Vol:I)
A large boy of the cavalry of Carbury was ordered by O'Conor to occupy the pass of Bradhullian, - (Braghait- Chuillige. Old map of Sligo of 1609 this place is called Bradhillye, now
Collinsford.) [W-M footnote] - which lies to the east of Finned. This
pass was formerly identified by a castle, and the site is till called by
the country-people Bhaile-an-chaislean, i.e., Castletown.
notes, "the tradition amongst the men of Grange and Magherow (who so
late as 1836 spoke for the most part Irish) was, that O'Donnell, when
leading his forces against O'Conor Sligo, always passed from
Ballyshannon through the plain lying to the north-west of Ben-Bulbin,
keeping very close to the sea, until he reached Braghait- Chuillige, now
Collinsford, which lies about a mile east of the village, [of
Drumcliffe] and has given its name to a townland in the parish of
Drumcliff. Tradition further says, that at this ford (In Irish Atha-a-choilin, the
ford of the holly, and yet remarkable for the growth of that evergreen)
O'Conor always encountered O'Donnell and resisted his passage. . . .
Collins, from whom the ford, according to a local tradition, took its
name, lived in the time of this O'Donnell. He is sad to have been a
faithful retainer of O'Conor, proof against all bribes, and he is
reputed to have beheaded without compunction any person he detected in
an attempt to cross his ford, which formed one of the few inlets from
from the Magherow district to the country lying about the town of Sligo.
However strange this statement may now appear,  it should be
borne in mind that the whole of the district in question had been
continuous forest, that the destruction of forests is invariably
followed by a rapid diminution of rainfall, and it is therefore quite
credible that the streams and rivers were, at the time treated of, both
wider and deeper that at present. . . ."
years ago the Sligo Tourist Association came up with the headline for a
brochure "Sligo is Surprising!" Indeed it is, and so are its people and
places, from the distant, and recent past.
is so much of the County of Sligo: townlands, villages, and people that
have played minor and major roles, in long ago as well as recent
history. Nothing in history is set in stone, as one historian, asserted
some years back about the origins of the name of Sligo.
bear in mind, as this extract from Wood-Martin illustrates Irish
history was oral for centuries, and the following is an example of how
you can learn from oral history over a period of time.
1971 my father Gerry Foley (1913-1990) was telling us of an ambush on
the RIC barracks in Wine Street ( later Rogers & Lyons shoe shop) in
1921. Aged 8 years he was with friends from Upper John Street, when
the attack happened. He told us a man was killed by a ricochet bullet,
and he could not recall the man''s name.
Two years later
in the company of the late, Jim Duncan, - a long time employee, of
Henry Lyons & Co's furniture removal department, based in Lower
Knox's Street, with its high plate glass windows - of Willie Mc Quirter
installing flood lights in the ceiling, near one particular plate glass
window, Jim said to Willie, "Whatever you do, don't touch the top of
that glass, it is brittle,as that is where the bullet ricocheted in
1921, etc, etc.,
In 1984 talking to painter and
decorator, Seamus Mullen, I asked Seamus if he could do a faux black
carrara marble finish on the funeral parlour in High Street. Seamus
replied, "You will need to get Kivlehan the painter from Wolfe Tone
Street that was killed by a ricochet bullet in Wine Street during an
attack on the RIC barracks! No one ever learned that technique from
No more than Paddy Clancy's seeing the
historic piano lying dilapidated in Summerhill College, here was another
historical piece garnered over fourteen years, from three different
people, from three different aspects. This is why research is important
when it comes to history.
As an aside to the
Summerhill piano, on the day John Mc Cormack's completed his education
at Summerhill College, as he made his way down the avenue to Sligo
Railway Station, get a train to his home town of Athlone, he was
accompanied by a fellow student, going home to Roscommon, Edward J
Flanagan, the founder of the famed "Boystown" in Omaha, U.S.A.
dealing with Irish history, we must be aware of changes in the Irish
language down the years, and also take into account elision in place
names, as per the example from Wood-Martin: "... the pass of Bradhullian, - (Braghait- Chuillige. Old map of Sligo of 1609 this place is called Bradhillye,"