The largest place in southern Sligo is BALLYMOTE, 20km from the county town. Richard de Burgo built a castle here in 1300 which, switching ownership numerous times during its history, proved to be a veritable straw in the wind of Irish politics. In 1317 it fell to the O’Connors and remained in Irish hands until captured by Bingham, the governor of Connacht, in 1584. It was soon afterwards reclaimed by the McDonaghs who then sold it to Red Hugh O’Donnell – he marched from here to catastrophic defeat at Kinsale in 1601. Later taken by Cromwell’s army, it fell yet again to the O’Connors in 1690, before they in turn surrendered the castle to Williamite troops who determined to put an end to the whole farrago by tearing down much of the building and filling in the moat. The ruins lie just west of the town centre, and the stripped interior can be visited by acquiring a key from the Enterprise Centre on Grattan Street. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the Book of Ballymote was assembled here, significant not just for the vast deal of information on Irish lore and history it contains, but also because it unlocks the secrets of the carved ogham letters that appear on numerous neolithic standing stones. The book is held by the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

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