The Sligo Secret Scripture Trail, is a literary & local history tour based around Sligo town and county. The tour takes a snapshot of Sligo in the 1920’s and 1930’s from the viewpoint of one semi-fictional family, who lived and worked in the town. The award winning author Sebastian Barry, set his novels in Sligo town and wrote about his family who resided in Sligo at the time. This tour will take you through the streets of Sligo where the characters walked, giving you a sense of the local history and architectural heritage of the locations during this time
Click on the contact form on the blog or send a mail to melcooireland (at) gmail dot com to book private group tours.
The Secret Scripture trail is also available to download as an app from Guidigo.
Walking Tour App available on iOS and Android
Go to the Apple or Play store and search for Guidigo, download this free app, then search for Sligo Secret Scripture trail and sign in with gmail, facebook or email and download the tour to your smartphone.
The app, guides you around several locations, the majority of which, can be reached on foot, the locations further out from the town, have been placed towards the end of the tour. We have suggested an order to explore the places but feel free to take the tour at your own pace, in whatever order suits you best. The map suggests a route of numbered stops but where you start and stop is entirely up to you. Instructions and directions are provided and you can check the map at any time, during the tour.
The tour is loosely based around the books of author Sebastian Barry who set his novels, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, The Secret Scripture and The Temporary Gentleman in Sligo. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have read the books to enjoy the tour and no major spoilers are revealed, as the tour combines the books, social history, fashion and architectural heritage, to paint a picture of Sligo in the 1930’s.
Are you a fan of the Secret Scripture ? this café is referenced throughout all three books and provides the backdrop to many scenes from the books. As a child Eneas’s mother brings him here for tea as they sheltered from the rain in The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, “usually they would not go into such a place, out of respect for the expense of bought tea..” after visiting the Cathedral.
The Café Cairo did exist in Sligo town, it opened for business on 13th January 1911, an announcement in the Sligo Champion newspaper at the time, declared that the owner a Miss Murtagh “begs to state that she will undertake to cater for all dinner, supper and luncheon parties” and as in the book it was located on Wine Street in Sligo town.
The original Egyptian themed café changed owners over the years and expanded to include a delicatessen and grocery section, it closed in the late 1970’s, it was located in the building on Wine street, now occupied by Cara Pharmacy.
In The Secret Scripture, Rose Clear works here as a waitress and it is where she becomes acquainted with the McNulty brothers. “The café served everyone in Sligo without criticism. It was owned by a Quaker family, and we were told to run no one from the doors.” Rose in her old age remembers her time working in the caféfondly, serving the dames of Sligo, the lonely pensioners and Tom and his brother Jack, “China tea and a deadfly bun. Earl Grey for the brother.”
Then: Café Cairo circa 1930’s
The café was well established in Sligo by the 1930’s and sponsored sporting events in the town. In the café, an orchestra played daily to entertain customers and in The Secret Scripture, Rose played the piano in Tom McNulty Senior’s Orchestra in the dance hall at Strandhill.
An advertisement from the Café Cairo in the 1930’s, when Tom Harte owned and ran it.
Then: Nuns from Nazareth Order, walking on Wine street outside the Café Cairo in 1959
Notice the Egyptian decorative motifs running along the side of the building front.
Now: Former buildings of Café Cairo on Wine Street, today it is a pharmacy business.
The windows and shop front remain largely the same and the shop sign attached to the building, is in the same spot as the original sign for the café in the 1950’s.
A fire engine outside the Café Cairo in 1959, a small fire had broken out in the building but it continued to trade for another 20 years.
This old postcard from the Francis Frith collection in 1960, shows the inside of the café serving cakes and selling groceries and cooked meats at its delicatessen counter.
In The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry uses the Egyptian theme in the café, to describe the ladies, the dames of Sligo, chatting and gossiping, “rising from them like dust from a desert caravan of camels” and in The Temporary Gentleman, Mai is one of the fashionable ladies of Sligo, drinking tea in the Café Cairo, “arranged among the tables like the fabulous beasts of some impossible watering hole”.
Barry creates a wonderful picture of the exotic sounding cafe in his novels, the café operated for nearly 70 years in Sligo town, it closed before I was born, although I remember my mother mentioning it.
In the Secret Scripture movie released in 2017, the main character Rose, played by the actress Rooney Mara, works in a cafe referenced in the movie as the less impressive sounding Prunty’s. This is an ode to the character in the books who owned the cafe, Rose in the books refers to the Quaker owner as Mrs Prunty. Let us know in the comments section, if you ever visited the Café Cairo in Sligo ?
Check out other locations that inspired Sebastian Barry’s novels here.
Also, available on Android and iPhone, download the Guidigo App from the Play or Apple store and search for Sligo Secret Scripture.