My Sligo/Brian Leyden

‘The biggest change of all is the amount of good food now available’

Brian Leyden, who came to Sligo as a student, says one of the nicest changes has been the makeover of the riverfront

Brian Leyden, who came to Sligo as a student, says one of the nicest changes has been the makeover of the riverfront


I came to live in Sligo town as a student, and for the last 30 years, I’ve been living in or near the town. Like a lot of country towns, it doesn’t change radically. Being a college town, there are always students. And then there is the core contingent of the old Sligo; people who were born inside the borough stones. They are the only people who know how to use the local bus system, which is something of a mystery to everyone else.

One of the loveliest things over time has been seeing a neglected and rundown riverfront beautifully reinvented. When I was here first, I remember a coffin makers and an abattoir being on the riverside. Now there are pedestrian bridges, walkways, parks and amenities that extend for about two miles along the Garavogue from the centre of town out.

The biggest change of all in the town is the amount of good food now available. When I was in Sligo first, you’d get served brown soup or vegetable soup in a bar, with extra salt to encourage you to have a pint after it. Now we have an Italian quarter, on a lane with an Irish name – Tobergal – that also has a French bakery on it, Le Fourneil.

I’ve also seen the fabric of the town keep getting makeovers. There has been a high attrition rate in new enterprises over time, but there are also some lovely old-world shops and haberdasheries that survive, such as Moffits and Lyons. They give continuity between the past and the present.

If anything, there is now a more realistic and sustainable reconfiguration of the town going on. There is a lot of emphasis on artisan food, craft and jewellery making, but there is also room for the shopping centres. There is energy in the open streets of Sligo; you still have chance meetings in the cafes and bars and on the streets. One of my favourite places is the cafe in Henry Lyons. It has been there a long time, and feels very French.

There are some things in the town that could be better. The traffic flow, for instance, is very eccentric. They’ve made all the wide streets in the town one way and turned residential streets into heavily trafficked rat runs. What the town needs is another bridge, on the eastern flank. At present, you cannot cross from one side of the river to the other without going through the town.

As for the Sligo Museum, it could be in a museum itself, it’s been so neglected. And while the county council built the most fantastic offices for themselves, there is no library worth talking about and certainly no purpose-built library in the town.

Both city and county councils have suffered from infighting. Without taking sides, it was very unfortunate for both the town and the county, what happened with Lissadell. I hope the councils will now merge their strengths, not double their flaws.

Brian Leyden is a writer, documentary maker and columnist with the Sligo Champion

– In conversation with Rosita Boland