To the east of Sligo town lies one of Ireland’s most entrancing lakes, Lough Gill, set beneath wooded slopes which provide the backdrop to almost all its 40km shoreline. The best route around the lough, and one easily navigable in less than a day’s cycling, is to follow the shore clockwise by following the R286 from Sligo town, and taking in the plantation Parke’s Castle, just inside County Leitrim, from where you can board a cruise boat and catch a sight of idyllic Innisfree.
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Some 11km northeast of Sligo, towards the eastern extremity of Lough Gill, Parke’s Castle is a picturesque plantation fort erected by Captain Robert Parke in the 1620s and elegantly restored in the late twentieth century by the Office of Public Works. A moated tower house once stood here, home of the Irish chieftain Brian O’Rourke, who in 1588 was charged with high treason after sheltering Francesco de Cuellar, one of the few survivors of the Armada ships wrecked off the Sligo coast. O’Rourke was hanged at Tyburn in 1591 and his lands confiscated, later being distributed to the Leitrim planters, whose number included Parke. Reconstructed inside are some of the features of the inner courtyard, such as a blacksmith’s forge, a well and a water gate. You can wander around the battlements, admire expansive views of the lough and also take in an exhibition on the remodelling of the castle with displays on other notable vernacular buildings.
From the pier beside Parke’s Castle the Wild Rose of Innisfree waterbus operates a tour of Lough Gill, taking in views of Yeats’s beloved isle of Innisfree, and featuring recitals of the poet’s works by the skipper, almost certainly including the poet’s Lake Isle of Innisfree:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
Alternatively, head a few kilometres southwards through Dromahair and pick up the R287. About 4km along this a signposted lane leads down to the water where there’s a fabulous view of the lough and Innisfree in all its serene beauty.