Sligo is the county town
of County Sligo, Ireland. Situated on the coastal plain facing
the Atlantic Ocean, the town is located on low gravel hills on
the banks of the Garavogue river between Lough Gill and the
estuary leading to Sligo bay. It is an important bridging point
on the main north/south route between Ulster and Connacht.
Sligo is an English
corruption of the Irish name Sligeach, meaning "abounding
in shells" or "shelly place". This refers to the abundance of
shellfish found in the river and its estuary, and from the
extensive 'shell middens' in the vicinity. This whole area,
from the river estuary at Sligo, around the coast to the river
at Ballysadare Bay, is rich in marine resources which were
utilized as far back as the Mesolithic period.
The town is unusual in
that it is the only major Irish town to have been under
continuous Gaelic control throughout the medieval period.
Maurice Fitzgerald, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, is
generally credited with the establishment of the medieval town
of Sligo, building the Castle of Sligo in 1245. The annalists
refer to this Sligo as a sraidbhaile ('street
settlement'): a village or town not defended by an enclosure or
wall, and consisting of one street.
Sligo was burned, sacked
or besieged approximately 49 times during the medieval period.
Despite this, by the mid-15th century the town and port had
grown in importance. In the late 16th century, during the
Elizabethan conquest, Sligo was selected as the County town for
the newly shired County of Sligo. An order was sent by the
Elizabethan Government to Sir Nicholas Malby, Knight, willing
him to establish "apt and safe" places for the keeping of the
Assizes & Sessions, with walls of lime & stone, in each county
of Connacht, "judging that the aptest place be in Sligo, for
the County of Sligo…"
The walls were never built.
Sligo Abbey, the
Dominican Friary, is the only medieval building left standing in
the town. It was destroyed in 1414 by a fire, ravaged during the
Nine Years' War in 1595 and once more in 1641 during the Ulster
Uprising. The friars moved out in the 18th century, but Lord
Palmerston restored the Abbey in the 1850s. Currently, it is
open to the public. Much of the structure, including the choir,
carved altar (the only one in situ in Ireland) and cloisters
The town suffered badly
from a cholera epidemic in 1832 and the Great Famine between
1847 and 1851 caused over 30,000 people to emigrate through the
port of Sligo. On the Quays, overlooking the Garavogue River, is
a cast bronze memorial to the emigrants.