Sea Tales, Festivals and a Sligo Tavern

By Patrick Lagan
The Irish Press, Tuesday, February 28, 1961

"By thy wild and stormy steep Elsinore," the poet Campbell said, when he was enthusing about the Battle of the Baltic. He didn’t, it seems, know a lot about the terrain around Elsinore for the whole coast there is as flat as a pancake.

The Elsinore I went to visit one day last week isn’t next or near Elsinore. It’s a neat white spotless tavern on the edge of the Sligo Sea at Rosses Point and the name on the signboard is Bruen and the name of Bruen and of the Elsinore was famous in the old days for a case against the licensing law.

The present proprietor, Austie Gillen, who married to a member of the Bruen family, is also one of the pilots who guide the ships up through that narrowest of channels into Sligo Harbour; and I had a pleasant time indeed, listening to the sea-going talk of Austie and his friends, Josie Haren, the Irish Lights contractor; Willie Bruen, a pilot; John O’Connor, the principal light-keeper for Oyster Island; and Mr. Gerry Finucane from Dublin, who because he loves boats and the sea, finds Sligo a wonderful home from home.

We talked about the Metal Man, and about the vagaries of the narrow channel between the island and the shore, about Henry Middleton, ‘that great ladies man,’ celebrated in a poem by William Butler Yeats. Middleton’s house ‘Elsinore’ may have passed its name on to the Bruen tavern. There’s a delightful story to the effect that Middleton, splendid in his white suit, was returning from night strolling in Strandhill; and being misdirected by some jocose locals, got home plastered with mud. He was so chagrined that he accepted his age and never went dancing with the girls again.

And we talked about Memory Harbour, the great painting in which Jack B Yeats put on canvas, as his brother had done in poems, the evocative symbols of haunting beautiful Sligo. And Austie showed us a photograph taken forty years ago of a three-master being towed up the narrow channel and looking as if it was travelling smoothly along the green fields.

Then we got around to talk of sea-angling, for I was privileged to be in at the beginning of the talks that will lead to Rosses Point taking its rightful place with the places on our coast where sea-angling is now big business.

Sligo and Rosses Point have wonderful opportunities; for the whole area is already a well-established holiday resort with any amount of tourist accommodation. And my informants in The Elsinore hammered home to me the sea-associations of Rosses Point. For one thing, in nearly every family one, or more of the men are retired from the Merchant Marine or away at sea. The Lighthouse Service is also well represented and the Irish Lights has its staff of keepers to watch the lights that guide the ships along the channel.

So a group of enthusiastic Sligo people have come together to set the first Rosses Point Sea-Angling Festival going and the date is from the eighteenth to the twentieth of August. But there’s more than sea-angling involved. This is a full scale festival that will revive and surpass the splendour of the old Rosses Point Regatta. There’ll be swimming events and water-skiing, recitals by the Sligo Town Band, dances, a shell-fish-picking competition for children, deep-sea and offshore angling, athletics on the strand, a clay-pigeon shoot, yacht-racing, cycle racing and table tennis. The cycle racing will make the lovely circuit of Lough Gill. There will be races for four-oared boats and speed boats and duck hunts, and climbing on the greasy poll. A festival on a grand scale. How Henry Middleton, in his fine white suit, would have loved it.

The Chairman of the Festival Committee is H. K. Tyrrell; the Secretary, G. Finnucane; the Treasurer, C. T. Costello, and the other members are R. Blennerhassett, J. McDonogh, J. McGoldrick and M. Melly.

And the list of groups who have agreed to co-operate is an inspiring sign of the way Sligo people can come together to get things done. The Swimming Club, the Rowing and Yachting Club and the Water Skiing Club are on it; the Rosses Point Table Tennis Club, the Sligo Tourist Development Committee, the Rosses Point Angling Club, the Sligo Deep Sea Angling Club, the Sligo Clay Pigeon Shooting Club, the Sligo Red Cross Water Safety Committee, the Eire Og Angling Club and the Rosses Point Tourist Committee.

So I wished my men in the Elsinore and all their friends good luck, good weather and good fishing, and may I be there for those fine August days.

Click here to see a Festival Programme from 1974