A walk for the weekend: Streedagh, Co Sligo

Streedagh Beach harbours fossils, tombs and wrecks, writes Michael Guilfoyle

 

Map: OS Discovery series sheet no 16.
Start/finish: Trawgar, 3km NW of Grange village and N15.
Time: 7km, about two hours (including stops), virtually no climbing.
Suitability: easy, care needed on bare limestone shore, best enjoyed at low tide

I’d heard Streedagh Beach called “the best-kept secret in Ireland” and, while comparisons are odious, it is certainly up there with the best.

I came there with my son on a blowy sunny day in August, wandered Streedagh Point and walked two thirds of the beach, returning via the Grange River lagoon. This walk boasts a real wealth of interest for every step of foot and imagination: a spectacularly situated wedge tomb, fossils of ancient coral, tropical sea limestone being violently recycled, the Armada, a “Butter Boat”, surfing and great views of Ben Bulben, Slieve League and Inishmurray.

We parked above Trawgar, crossed the aptly named short stony/sandy beach, my son reading the surfing possibilities in the heavy Atlantic swell.

The first thing that struck us, gaining the grassy high ground, was surf-rimmed Inishmurray, long and low away to the north-west, prompting yet another resolve to visit and “feel” its old monastic spirituality.

The second was the Streedagh wedge tomb a few metres up from the end of Trawgar, uncovered by an early 1800s storm and part-submerged again by more recent blowing storm-sand. It spoke of a distant ancestor who perhaps stood there, and expressed a wish to be interred in that beautiful place, many thousands of long summers and winters before it captivated us.

Moving on, we stepped onto the limestone shore and an abundance of fossils, taking us back to Earth-memories of that sun-lit calm warm sea, whose fossil signature was already well-formed hundreds of millions of years before the wild Atlantic was born. We carefully walked the sometimes slippery rock-shore, marvelling at the power of the ocean to lift and shift huge blocks of limestone, avoiding the deep wave-churning trenches – and, all the time, taking in the freshest of air and views of sky, mountain and the blue and white sea.

The tide was well out that day, allowing us gain the beach under the ocean-shattered limestone strata on the east side of Streedagh Point, with shapely Ben Bulben and distant Classiebawn Castle catching the eye. The beach is a beautiful curving spit or tombolo connecting Streedagh Point to Conor’s Island and, with the tide out, its wide expanse encouraged a quickening of pace. The protruding skeleton of the old “Butter Boat”, which may have plied its trade between Sligo and Scotland, was largely uncovered by the low tide, and young surfers were being warned to stay clear by instructors.

And then, halfway along the beach, we remembered September 6th, 1588, when 1,200 young Spanish soldiers and sailors, their heady dreams of glory and conquest long displaced by nightmares of storm and battle, met their ends in three shipwrecks just off the beach. Their fragile remains were scattered and buried, with only their more robust weapons of war being recently passed down to us. A sombre thought as we crossed the fragile dunes, and followed the curving stone-strewn shore of the calm lagoon back to the waiting car above Trawgar.

 

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