Lough Gill – WB Yeats and Lake Isles

Lough Gill is the last stop for the waters of the Garavogue River before they make their way to the sea at Sligo Bay. Surrounded on all sides by hills and mountains, the lake is a favorite fishing ground and makes a wonderful day’s excursion in a row boat, rented locally.

The picturesque islands which dot the lake provide plenty of inspiration and make a day on the lake sailing, fishing or canoeing a real pleasure.

The Poetry of WB Yeats

The lough (gaelic for lake) is the subject of several poems by William Butler (W.B.) Yeats, who spend many years in the area and immortalized the region’s beauty in his poetry. For example, on the banks of Lough Gill you can climb Dooney Rock where you can see all of the lough and which is featured in the Yeats’ poem The Fiddler of Donney.

Lake Isle of Innisfree

Notably, the lake isle of Innisfree is located in Lough Gill. W.B. Yeats who wrote the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfreewhen he felt homesick for Ireland and imagined the sound of the water at Innisfree.

“I will a rise and go now, and go to Innisfree
And a small cabin there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wing.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core”

Beezie’s Island

Beezie's Island in Lough Gill
Beezie’s Island in Lough Gill

Beezie’s island; cottage or Beezie’s Island as it is called by locals is situated near Dooney Rock and has an area of 14 acres. It contains the ruins of an old church which belonged to the Trinity Abbey, Lough Key, County Roscommon. The island also contains the ruin of a centuries-old cottage which was occupied, until her death in 1949, by Mrs. Beezie Clerkin (nee Gallagher)-the last resident of any island on Lough Gill. Beezie was much loved by local people for her kindness and hospitality. Her love of nature and rapport with wild animals & birds was well-known. Often referred to as ‘THE LADY OF THE LAKE’ Beezie lived all her life on her beloved Island. In her early years she was employed as housemaid to the Wynne family of Hazelwood House and when her husband died in 1934 Beezie continued to live alone on the Island, regularly rowing the 6 miles round trip to Sligo Town for her provisions.

Following the blizzards of February and of 1947, locals became concerned that Beezie’s stock of food &supplies would be exhausted and not seeing chimney smoke from her cottage tried to break a path for a boat across the frozen lake. When this effort to reach the Island failed, Sligo Gardai was alerted and organised a rescue attempt. A big tough U.S. Army truck, owned by Mr Kevin Murray from Sligo Town was placed at the disposal of the rescue party. Incidentally, after the snow storms, Kevin Murray with his truck undertook several vital missions to get relief supplies through to people living in isolated places in County Sligo. Led by Gardai, the rescue party arrived at the lake shone at Aughamore, near Dooney Rock, with a flat-bottomed boat on the truck. The rescuers tied a rope to the boat and in single file, each holding the rope; they pushed the boat ahead of them across nearly a mile of the unpredictable frozen lake to the Island. On reaching the Island safely, they found Beezie huddled in her little cottage, no heat and provisions all gone. Her faithful dog and cat already dead from exposure and hunger. The rescuers realised they had just arrived in time. Beezie was brought to stay with friends for a few days, at the Riverside, Sligo Town but was never fully content until she was back in her Island home.

Locals feared the 80-year-old Beezie was destined to drown while boating on Lough Gill but instead she dies in small accidental fire in her Island cottage. On Christmas Eve 1049 Beezie visited Sligo Town and returned home safely. Her body was discovered a few days later by local friends who had arrived to cut firewood for Sligo’s ‘Lady of the Lake’

Church Island

Church Island Lough Gill
Church Island Lough Gill

Church Island and Monks Island Church Island is the largest Island on Lough Gill and contains ecclesiastical remains. An early Christian church ruin on the Island belonged to the O’Rourke’s, Chieftains of Breffni

The church is said to have been founded by ST Loman in the 6th Century and formed part of an Abbey. The building is oblong, has loophole windows and a recess at one end. Near the door there is a cavity in a rock, known as ‘LADY’S BED’, which was a frequent place of pilgrimage for pregnant women.

In 1416 the church was burned and O Cuirnin’s books, including the Leabhar Gearr of the Muinter Cuirnin, and his splendid valuables, ornamental cup, and his harp were burned in it.