Strandhill, County Sligo
iSurfIreland School Of Surfing is located in Strandhill, County Sligo in the northwest of Ireland. Strandhill is an excellent location to learn to surf, it has a world-class beach break nestled under the majestic Knocknarea and Benbulben mountains. Strandhill is a fascinating and lively place to visit. The village is famous for its warm and welcoming local characters and its beachfront boasts a fine promenade, shops, cafes and amenities.
The famous surfing destination of Strandhill is centrally located ten minutes from Sligo Town, the gateway to the northwest of Ireland. The village is a forty-five minute journey from Ireland West Airport Knock, a two and half hour journey from Dublin airport. It is also a two and a half hour journey from Belfast airport and three hours from Shannon airport. Sligo is also easily accessible from any other major urban centre by bus or train.
County Sligo is known as the adventure capital of Ireland because of the amount of quality soft and hard adventure activities available in the county. Sligo is also famous for its cultural and literary associations. Sligo is a magical place: a place of myth, mystery, mirth and imagination.
The village of Strandhill is part of the Coolera Peninsula, an area with a particularly rich archaeological heritage with evidence of human civilisation dating back more than six thousand years. In fact, much of Ireland’s ancient history is cradled between Knocknarea mountain and the Carrowmore megalithic cemetery on the Coolera Peninsula.
Strandhill is a top tourist destination and a favourite stop on the Wild Atlantic Way. It is one of the area’s most popular places to socialise, it has a well-developed surfing scene, top restaurants, amazing live music and local musicians, an 18-hole golf course, a playground, tennis courts and football pitches, even an airport.Strandhill has an ambitious community spirit that sees a range of fun events held from one end of the year to the next. Strandhill proudly hosts the world famous Warriors Festival and adventure race from the beachfront to the top of Knocknarea and back each year.
Welcome to our little secret
The limestone hill of Knocknarea is the most prominent landmark on the Coolera Peninsula. The Queen Maeve trail guided walk is a must-see attraction for any visitors to Strandhill. The forty minute hike is rewarded by the commanding and panoramic views from the top.
Knocknarea was was one of the major ritual centres of Ireland during the Neolithic period New Stone Age. (c. 4000 – 2500 BC). The ancient inhabitant of Sligo people built small passage tombs on the summit and in about 3,400 BC this sacred space on the summit was further defined by a complex series of walls extending 2.5 kilometers along the inland side of the mountain. Around 3000 BC the large cairn on the summit was built using over a hundred granite kerbstones weighing between five and ten tons. This cairn most likely covers a passage tomb, the entrance of which has never been located. The builders of the cairn on the summit of Knocknarea transformed the skyline of Coolera and thereby made the entire mountain into a monument!
The majestic Meascán Méadhbha is one of largest Stone Age monument to be seen anywhere in Europe. Meascán Méadhbha was constructed. Meascán Méadhbha is only one of a number of monuments on top of Knocknarea, but these smaller tombs were severely damaged bythe excavations of nineteenth-century antiquarians, mainly treasure hunters who were attracted to Sligo by valuable finds like the Bronze Age gold torc which is now in the national museum.
At the centre of the Coolera Peninsula is the elevated ground of Carrowmore, the site of the largest number of passage tombs ever seen in Ireland. There are an estimated eighty passage tombs on the Coolera peninsula. The areas and hilltops around Knocknarea and Carrowmore are dotted with so many megalithic stone monuments that the Knocknarea expert Professor Stefan Bergh has called the Coolera Peninsula “the Landscape of Monuments”.
The Coolera peninsula holds remains of the Stone Age, the New Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, and County Sligo has one of the richest concentration of prehistoric monuments in Western Europe with over five thousand recorded archaeological sites, the largest being Carrowmore. Approximately one-seventh of all the megaliths in Ireland can be found in County Sligo.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a Swedish archeological team completed two extensive excavations under the direction of the Swedish professor Gorän Burenholt and many important finds were made. One of the most important results by the Swedish team was dating Carrowmore. Charcoal samples discovered by Burrenholt’s team showed that the Carrowmore monuments were mainly used during the period 4000 BC – 3000 BC. Two dates from Carrowmore No. 3 are very early, 5,400 BC and 4,600 BC, and are among the earliest dates from any megalithic monument in Ireland. All this information implies that the tombs are older than the monument in Brú na Bóinne (3400 BC – 2900 BC) and even older than the great Egyptian pyramids at Giza (2000 BC)!
The Carrowmore Centre offers highly recommended tours daily.
According to legend, Saint Patrick arrived in Coolera and converted the local chief to Christianity and secured a site for a new church. He gave the church to his disciple, Bishop Bronus, the son of a local chief, in the fifth century. The church of Bishop Brón was a spiritual centre not just for the Coolera Peninsula but for the whole Northwest of Ireland and from Coolera Christian missionaries were sent up the Carbury coast. Killaspugbrón was subject Viking attacks in the ninth century.
Killaspugbrón is one of Strandhill’s archaeological gems and rests on the extremity of the headland behind Sligo airport on the edge of the Atlantic. The site includes a ruined twelfth-century medieval church ruins built on the site of the original church and a graveyard used by the local community up to modern times.
William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) is certainly Sligo’s most well known literary figure. Yeats was educated in Dublin and London but his childhood holidays were spent in Sligo. From an early age William was facinated by Irish legends. Over time, Sligo’s landscape became both literally and symbolically his country of the heart or as William himself put it, “The Land of Heart’s Desire”.
Yeats drew inspiration from Sligo’s scenic landscape and sense of place and wrote about the mythology of Sligo, as well as the birds, plants and animals belonging to the local environment. W.B. Yeats used Sligo placenames in his writings from the 1880s right up to his death in 1939, which makes Sligo a more literary landscape than Shakespeares’ hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Rosses Point and Strandhill feature in Yeats’ writings and artistic works along with other features of Sligo Bay such as Carrowmore, Cummeen Strand, The Glen, Kilmacowen, Glencar and Benbulben.
It is for this reason Sligo is also known as Yeats Country. Strandhill is situated in the heart of the world famous Yeats Country. All around Strandhill you have the chance to visit the sights and the scenes that inspired some of the most beautiful poetry and paintings of the twentieth century.
Exploring the beaches, lanes and the small village on Coney Island is like stepping back in time. This idyllic island has commanding views of Blackrock Lighthouse, Rosses Point, Sligo Harbour, the Atlantic Ocean and Knocknarea.Coney Island in Strandhill gave its name to the more famous American Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. In the eighteenth century a Captain of a merchant ship sailing between Sligo and New York, Peter O Connor, saw so many rabbits on the New York island that he decided to call it after Coney Island (or rabbit island) in Sligo Bay, or so the story goes.
Cullenamore Strand is the peaceful, calm, sandy and extremely tidal strand at the south side of Strandhill that is perfect for walks, swimming, and picnics. Culleenamore is located along the estuary at Ballysadare Bay and has an abundance of wildlife. This area forms part of Ballysadare Bay seal sanctuary and the lazy and fat grey seals can be seen lying on the sandbanks when the tide is out. Also watch out for wildfowl, waders, dolphins, porpoise and even the odd whale.
Shelly Valley is a popular walking route through the Strandhill sand dunes that link Culleenamore with Strandhill Beach. Shelly Valley is so-called because of the amount of shells found in the general area. The Strandhill dune system is listed as an Area of Scientific Interest of Regional Importance, a Natural Heritage Area and a Special Area of Conservation. Watch out for wildlife such as butterflies, moths, bumblebees, weevils, hares, rabbits, badgers and pygmy shrews. Common birds include herring gulls, gannets, skylarks, brent goose, oystercatchers and curlew. Portcurry Point at the tip of the dune system is popular with sea anglers because of the good numbers of sea trout and sea bream.
Dolly’s cottage, the famous Strandhill cottage owned by the late Dolly Higgins, was built in the early 1800s and it has survived without alteration to the present day. It is a perfect example of a nineteenth century west of Ireland common stone cottage. It has a roof thatched with straw, an open fireplace and the cottage’s walls, the roof, loft beams and fireplace are all original.
Dolly’s cottage was known as a good rambling house where neighbours could gather to swap news and stories, or simply sing or play music around the open turf fire. When Dolly Higgins died in 1970 the Strandhill guild of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association bought her thatched cottage in order to maintain it in its original state. The turf fire is still alight in Dolly’s Cottage and visitors are welcome step through the little red door and to explore the small cottage and its many artefacts.
Dolly’s Cottage is run as a folk museum by the ICA, and you can browse and purchase some of the local craftwork. Visiting Dolly’s cottage when you come to Strandhill is an experience not to be missed. Dolly’s is open at weekends in June and every day in July and August. Admission is free.
History of surfing in Strandhill
The story of surfing in Strandhill began with a fateful visit made by Kevin Cavey, the ‘Godfather of Irish surfing’ to the world famous Strand Bar in Strandhill, County Sligo. Kevin discovered surfing in 1962 when he read about it in Reader’s Digest and ordered a balsa surfboard kit. In 1966, Cavey travelled to the World Surfing Championships in San Diego and became the first to represent Ireland internationally in the sport.
In the early Sixties, Willie Parke was working behind the bar in his father’s establishment The Strand House, which was built in 1913, when a group of out of towners entered the Strand. All Willie could gather was that they were from the east coast and came to Strandhill to do ‘surfing’, which involved going out into the sea with a plank of wood. Young Willie eventually he approached one member of the group and enquired about buying a board so that he could give it a go himself. This turned out to be Kevin Cavey, who agreed to sell Parke his first surfboard, a mammoth 11′ 6” wooden craft, which became the first surfboard in Strandhill. Strandhill would never be the same again.
Willie had none of the conveniences available to people learning to surf in Strandhill today, there were no surf schools, no beginner boards, no surf instructors, no leashes. Nevertheless, without any guides and without any peers Willie became Strandhill’s first surfer when he learned to surf in the fine Atlantic breakers which regularly and rapidly rolled up along the shoreline at Strandhill Beach.
“The surf [in Strandhill] is one thing that will definitely be an ongoing attraction,” says Willie, “because it is a good sport, it is a healthy sport.”
Willie was joined in the waves by his cousins Bryan and Jean Parke, Strandhill’s original surfer girl, and surfing in Strandhill began to get more popular. Strandhill surfers dominated the Irish surf scene from the mid-seventies onwards. Strandhill has produced more than its fair share of surfing and bodyboarding Irish national champions: Aine O Donnell, Ashleigh Smith, Stevie and Jonathan Burns, John, Neil and Johnston Byrne, Colin O Hare, Conn Mc Dermott, David O Donnell, Elisha Hickey, Andrew and Stephen Kilfeather, Shane Meehan and most recently Gearoid Mc Daid. These Strandhillians have won at least thirty national titles between them
In 2000, thanks to the efforts of the Strandhill community, a new purpose built Maritime Centre was built on the seafront to house the County Sligo Surf Club. In 2016, plans are underway to build an even more ambitious surf centre building that should help Strandhill develop into one of the surf capital of Europe.