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.
You can also contact me on melcooireland (at) gmail dot com or call 353-87-7775058 to arrange alternative dates or 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.
Last weekend we attended a talk on Sligo Gaol and the women involved in the Irish revolution and got the opportunity to visit inside the old Sligo jail.
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Sligo Gaol is located in Garavogue villas in Sligo town, next to the Sligo Fire station. It was opened in 1818 and closed in 1956. It housed men and women and also had a debtors prison.
The talk was held in the morning in the Riverside hotel in Sligo town. We heard first from Gary Burke, a local historian, he gave an interesting presentation on women prisoners in Sligo Gaol in 1916. Many of the women, incarcerated in the prison were convicted on charges of drunkenness and petty larceny, prostitution also occurred in Sligo but was tended to be eluded to, under a vagrancy charge called found wandering abroad in the prison record books. In 1916, many Sligo men were fighting in the war and there wives received a separation allowance, which according to local press at the time was spent on alcohol and led to many of the drunkenness charges.
Women in the Revolution
We also heard from Liz Gillis, who is a published author and has published a book entitled the Women of the Irish Revolution, Liz talked extensively on several of the women involved in the Easter Rising, such as Belfast woman, Winnie Carney, who occupied the GPO for the week and worked as a secretary with James Connolly, who he viewed as his equal.
Also, Liz talked about Linda Kearns, who was a nurse from Sligo who set up a temporary medical station from a store during the week of the Rising. We also heard from a relative of Linda Kearns who was in the audience, that Linda had inherited a large sum of money at the time, which enabled her to buy a car and act as a messenger and courier, transporting men and arms during the War of Independence. I only heard of Linda Kearns last year when I read an article about Liz’s book and I had recently read about Linda’s work during the War of Independence, from the military statement she gave to the Military bureau in 1950. It’s a fascinating read, you can check out Linda’s statement here, (opens as a Pdf link).
The bureau of Military Archives website, militaryarchives.ie is a great resource and worth checking out. I also read the statement from Sligo man, Charles Gildea from Tubbercurry, who details his escape from Sligo Gaol alongside Frank O’Beirne and Tom Deignan on the 29th June 1921. You can read about Charles’s escape from prison here, (opens as a Pdf link).
In the afternoon, we watched a short documentary on Linda Kearns, you can watch a short clip below from the TG4 Ealu documentary or here.
After the documentary, we walked the short distance from the hotel to the prison and got a guided tour inside. I was a bit bemused to hear, when the prison was first opened, local people referred to it as been located in the countryside, as the St Anne’s and Cranmore roads did not exist and prisoners on been convicted in the Sligo Courthouse, would have been transported to the prison via Corcoran’s Mall now Kennedy Parade and over the Riverside road, passed the Sligo distillery (you can read a previous post about it) now the site of the Riverside hotel and the cottages on Armstrong’s row and up the Gaol road.
While on the tour, our lovely guide Chantal Doyle, told us how the prison was very modern and got the nickname the Cranmore hotel as it was heated and had piped water, which was pumped up from the nearby Garavogue river using a large treadmill wheel which each of the male prisoners had to spend time on each day.
We were able to explore several of the cells and walk the narrow corridors with high arched ceilings. There are a team of volunteers involved in Sligo Gaol and there are doing great work locally to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of the prison building, along with Sligo County Council, you can check out their website here. You can also sign up to a mailing list and Facebook page and find out when they will next be planning a tour of the prison.
Funnily enough, they mentioned at the end of tour, to tell all your friends about Sligo Gaol as many people aren’t aware it exists, which I was a bit surprised by, as having grown up nearby I’ve always known it was there and even got to sneak in when I was 11 years old. I’d assumed most Sligo people were aware of the buildings existence, later that day, I mentioned to my cousin from West Sligo where I had been and she wasn’t aware of the prison building at all! So there you go, tell everyone you know.
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Are you a fan of Sebastian Barry’s fictional trilogy about the McNulty family, Eneas, Roseanne, Jack and Mai ? Experience Sligo from the characters’ perspective. Check out the melcoo literary trail to follow in the footsteps of your favourite characters.
Over the next few weeks, we will be posting a walking tour series about the streets and buildings in Sligo that helped inspire the novels. Sebastian Barry’s novels have become a huge success. The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, The Secret Scripture and The Temporary Gentleman have sold millions of copies worldwide and The Secret Scripture is currently been made into a feature film. Sebastian Barry’s play Our Lady of Sligo also referenced places in Sligo.
Sebastian Barry fans can make their way around Sligo to see the locations where the novels are set or book a guided tour with us.
All of the locations are within a short walking distance of the main thoroughfare in Sligo town, called O’Connell street.
Check out the first location on the Literary trail here
Featured Image source: National Library of Ireland
Then: Queen Victoria Bridge and the Belfast Banking – Royal Bank of Ireland building, Lower Knox, Street, Sligo
Victoria bridge over the Garavogue river, which was built in 1846 by the local architect and engineer Sir John Benson, it was originally dedicated and called after Queen Victoria but was renamed in honour of Ireland’s first President Dr Douglas Hyde.
The Yeats Memorial building built in about 1895, was originally part of Belfast bank, called the Royal Bank of Ireland, which later become Allied Irish Bank, who donated it to the Yeats Society in 1973.
Now: Douglas Hyde Bridge and Yeats Memorial building, Lower Knox, Street, Sligo
This is still one of the main road bridges used today in Sligo Town, the bridge is made of cut limestone and has a 5 archway design, the last bridge archway is now partially obscured by the footbridge leading across to the Glasshouse hotel. The river rapids can still be as high as the original photo but it depends on the tide, weather and season, also there was originally a weir on the other side of the bridge to supply water to a flour mill.
Then: Walsh’s Royal Mail and Day Car office and Imperial Hotel on Corkran’s Mall (Corcoran Mall)
Victorian tourists pictured on Corkran’s Mall on Walsh’s horse drawn car service. Walsh’s car service went daily from Ballina, Sligo, Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Enniskillen.
Now: Toffs Nightclub and Embassy Bar & Grill Restaurant on Kennedy Parade
Walsh’s horse drawn car service and the Imperial hotel are no more but the businesses that replaced them are in the same entertainment and hospitality industry. Walsh’s office, the smaller 3 storey building in the photo, are now Toffs nightclub.
The main 3 storey 7 bay window building was the Imperial Hotel, its now the Embassy bar and restaurant. The stable’s cart entrance in the old photo is now the entrance to the Embassy bar.
The main yellow building is still recognisable with its distinct 6 window arches on the ground floor. In the old photo the building is rendered with plaster all over. It is only in the last 10 years, the current building owners renovated it to reveal the original brickwork around the arches, when this building was originally built in the late 18th century it was a Linen Hall. As this photo of the building circa 2000 shows the original plaster work is still intact.
This stretch of road was originally called Corkran’s Mall after a local merchant and builder. It runs along the east side of the Garavogue river, to the back of the Abbey monastery and ruins up to Bridge Street and the bridge. It was renamed John F. Kennedy parade in the late 1960’s.
Then: Sligo Court House, Teeling Street – Photo circa: 1879
Now: Lady of Erin Statue, Market Street, Sligo – 2011
Now: Lady of Erin Statue, Market Street, Sligo – 2014
The Lady of Erin statue was erected for the 1898 centenary commemoration of the 1798 Rebellion.
It’s great to see the latest re-development on Market Street, has helped improve the streets appearance and given the Lady of Erin statue back some of its prestige, as the last few years, it looked like no more than a traffic island. The photo below, is how I remember it, growing up in the 1980s and 1990s in Sligo with the telephone box behind it. I’ve always loved the old photo of the Lady Erin statue and I’d love if the statue was restored like the original with the railings and street lamps. Unfortunately, the Lady Erin monument has been vandalised several times down through the years and town drunks feeling emboldened have tried climbing it, I think with the guard rails around it again, it would act as a deterrent, well that and a few well placed spikes!
In the early 1900’s, water from the Garavogue river is diverted for a mill in the old photo. Today, in 2015, where the Garavogue bar and restaurant is, they now have a replica of the original mill wheel.