Little Known Tidbits about County Sligo, Ireland

Whether you're after a bit of craic, a pint of the black stuff or all things Irish, then look no further than the North West as County Sligo has it all! From the bent-grass dunes of Strandhill to the glacier-carved slope of Benbulben, the Gateway City promises Instagram lovers a snap happy vacation. Yet beneath its jagged coastline and hallmark 40-shades of green lie hidden histories, fantastical myths and folklore.

You say Dracula, we say Droch fhola!

Despite being home to a bevy of musical and literary talent, few know of Sligo town's role in Brahm Stoker's grisly saga, Dracula. Fans of the bloodthirsty tyrant often point to Vlad Dracul of Wallachia as the Dubliner's key muse but it was his Sligo born mother's storytelling that inspired the macabre read. Bedridden until the age of seven, Charlotte Thornley entertained young Brahm with terrifying tales of the cholera epidemic that ravaged her hometown in 1832. Born and raised on Correction Street, (now Teeling Street/ Old Market Street), 14-year-old Charlotte experienced the three month nightmare first hand. Her graphic descriptions captivated her son's imagination as did her tales about the Celtic "undead". These vile ghouls are said to have "droch fhola", which means evil blood and is pronounced as droc-ola in the Gaelic tongue. Legend has it that they continue to wander the earth, forever seeking the blood of others.

A Tale of Two Islands

Mention Coney Island to a New Yorker and you'll probably hear about its theme parks and sandy beaches. Few if any will talk about its lesser known cousin – Coney Island in Sligo Bay. Yet locals here will tell you that it was a Sligo man that gave the New York island its name. Captain Carey from Rosses Point sailed from Sligo Harbour to New York throughout the 1700s for Peter O' Connor; Sligo's wealthiest timber merchant. It is said that when Carey sailed into Brooklyn, he spotted a small island teeming with rabbits. It reminded him of Coney Island near his home, which means "island of rabbits" in Gaelic as it too was overrun by the long-eared scamps. He christened the New York isle, Coney Island and as locals say, "the rest is history".

Curse of the Mummy

From spine-tingling tales of the "undead" to the deathly cries of the banshee, Irish folklore is steeped in superstition and myth. While some are fantastical, others will leave you bug-eyed. One fixates on the 'curse of the Mummy' at Lisheen House in County Sligo – one of Ireland's most infamous homes. Story has it that when Owen Phibbs took over the palatial family mansion, he filled the first floor with relics and mummies from Egypt and the Middle East. However, it was perhaps best if he had left the relics behind as the house soon became inhabited by a powerful poltergeist. Guests and servants complained of dips in temperature, rapping on walls and strange sounds at night. Steadily, the paranormal activity grew worse as furniture was flung violently throughout the house. One night, the high jinks came to a head when the house shook so much that the servants refused to return to work. Jesuit priests were called in to perform exorcisms but failed to rid the house of its unwelcome guest. Deemed uninhabitable, Lisheen House was sold for a song and now stands as a mournful ruin on the shores of Ballisodare Bay.

A Rite of Passage

At the foot of Knocknarea, four kilometres west of Sligo town lies Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery – one of the world's oldest cemeteries. To the untrained eye, the sacred site looks like a large field filled with boulders and stones. However, it is home to one of the largest number of Stone Age tombs in Western Europe. Over 60 tombs have been located by archaeologists and it is believed that one tomb predates the pyramids; making it possibly the oldest building in the world. Cremated bone and some unburnt bone, including teeth belonging to that of a dog or wolf were first recorded in 1888 and later excavations found that the monuments were reused for burials during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Guided tours of this must-see attraction run from March through to October and last for 45-minutes.

Having spent a number of years in the USA, Pat-Ann recently resettled in her hometown of Sligo. She's worked for Ireland's TV station, TV3 and has freelanced for several local and international publications.