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Updated 03/07/2017




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 remains. 

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.