Surrounded by woodland and forested hills, tranquil Lough Gill, just outside Sligo town, was a frequent retreat for poet WB Yeats. His poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, was inspired by one of the 20 small wooded islands which dot the lake. Gliding silently through the water by kayak with a local guide, you’ll explore the lake shore and islands, learn about the history of the surrounding area, and possibly see some of its wildlife such as kingfishers and otters. After a few hours on the water, it’s not difficult to see just why this place inspired Yeats so much.
You’ll meet your guide, pick up your kayaks and join other participants on the shores of Lough Gill. Following a short safety briefing, you’ll be fitted with buoyancy aids and rain jackets, given some instructions on using your kayak, and then set off into the water.
Depending on your starting point, the weather and wind direction, your route may differ, but you’ll get a chance to kayak along the old-growth oak, rowan and willow forest along the shore, as well as land on one of the islands to take a break from paddling and explore a little on foot.
Scenic Innisfree was the inspiration for Yeats’ poem. Church Island is home to the ruins of an early Christian church. Cottage Island also has the ruins of an old church and part of a former leper colony, as well as the now-ruined home of much-loved local character Beezie Gallagher. She lived here until her death in 1951. Today, sheep are the only inhabitants of any of the islands.
As you paddle along, your guide will fill you in on local history and legend, pointing out areas of interest and identifying any wildlife you may see. Otters, kingfishers, herons and Atlantic salmon are often seen, while the lake’s micro-climate means the area is home to some of the world’s most northerly strawberry trees and is protected as a Special Area of Conservation.
With views of imposing table-top mountain Ben Bulben, and, if the route permits, 17th-century Parke’s Castle and two large Neolithic cairns that overlook the lake, there’s plenty of interest. Thanks to the quiet nature of exploring by kayak, you have a greater than usual chance of spotting wildlife.
Once you’ve had some time to explore, stop for a coffee break, and see the local sights, you’ll return with your guide to your starting point on the lake shore.