A civilised short break in County Sligo

by bobclowrey

Don't be fooled by the untamed scenery of Sligo. With its literary heritage, art galleries, fine food and pubs, this corner of north-west Ireland is anything but wild – unless you want it to be

It's a wild, spectacular ride into Sligo Airport. The early-morning Aer Arran flight from Manchester cuts a wide arc over the Atlantic before almost skimming the drink on its approach. While Manchester Airport resembles a cattle market, this tiny, secluded terminus bears more resemblance to a coastal working men's club. The surrounding landscape may be wild, but Ireland's characteristic laissez-faire attitude means the lazy days you spend in the imposing shadow of the majestic Ben Bulben Mountain are likely to be anything but.

In a welcome change from the neck-breaking luggage-carousel vigil, your cases are brought to you just minutes after you set foot in the terminal, with a laid-back efficiency that sets the tone for the rest of the trip. On checking into the impressive Radisson SAS Hotel Sligo, it is time to beat the midday hunger with a side of locally bred ham served with those old Irish favourites, cabbage and bacon.

Cuisine in County Sligo is very much a no-nonsense affair, but you are likely to find traditional dishes subtly updated for the sophisticated European palate. The cabbage and bacon comes steeped in delicious cream, the mashed carrot and swede are spiced with just enough ginger to ward off the Atlantic chill. Such fare is typical of the region. Whether you're eating at the Glass House in Sligo City or the award-winning Clevery Mill in nearby Castlebaldwin, hearty traditional dishes are often served with a modern twist and, of course, the obligatory pint of glorious Guinness.

A short ride from the Radisson, in the cemetery of St Columbia's Parish Church at Drumcliffe, is the grave of one of Ireland's four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. WB Yeats spent much of his life in County Sligo, and was eventually buried here in accordance with the wishes he set out in his poem "Under Ben Bulben" just a year before his death. It is possible even to follow in the footsteps of this literary giant, with a boat trip to the famous Lake Isle of Innisfree.

The presence of the Yeats family looms almost as large as that of the great Ben Bulben itself. In Sligo's Model Arts and Niland Gallery, the haunting expressionist artwork of the poet's brother, Jack B Yeats, is permanently displayed. There, too, you will see contemporary, cutting-edge work by the likes of Patti Smith and Andy Warhol sharing the gallery's minimalist space with a wealth of local talent.

Local bands often play live at the Radisson SAS, and the hotel is seen as very much a part of Sligo City's vibrant nightlife. Here, you'd be hard pressed to find a venue that doesn't offer great ale and live music or céilidhs. Shoot the Crows is billed as "the biggest little pub in the country" and is one of many bars and pubs where you can hear great music and slosh down copious amounts of the black stuff.

The Radisson's Espa facilities will help stop your head pounding like a bhodran the following morning, and the more adventurous may even try dipping into a hot bath of freshly harvested Atlantic kelp which leaves you silken-haired, fresh-skinned, alert and ready to do it all again.

If it's leprechaun hats and four-leafed clovers you're after, forget it. Sligo City is forging its own identity as a cosmopolitan city that is far from Dublin's increasingly clichéd fiddle-de-deeism. All the elements are still there, of course – the Guinness, the music, the exceptional food – but this wild corner of Ireland's North-west is untouched by tourism and drunken stag-party hordes.

Only very occasionally does one stumble on such an untainted corner of the world – and it is hard, when you do, not to keep such a place as a jealously guarded secret. Sligo is just that kind of place, so go and enjoy it. Just don't let the word spread too far.