Music & Art in Sligo

To say Sligo has a proud music tradition is certainly an understatement! Just over 100 years have passed since the great Michael Coleman first took to the stage as an 18 year old at Sligo’s Feis Ceoil. He went on to become the world’s most influential traditional musician of the twentieth century, though at that initial outing he only finished in 3rd place. After all, being the best fiddler in the world was no guarantee you were the best fiddler in Sligo! Along with fellow master musicians, such as James Morrison and Paddy Killoran, Coleman blazed a trail that has richly endowed Sligo to stake its claim as the home of traditional Irish music.

  • Sligo Arts:

We hurry down Castle Street in warm evening sunshine, but even so we are a few minutes late as we run up the stairs to Hamilton Gallery. I can hear a distant voice speaking, a ripple of laughter, clapping. It’s the opening of Emma Stroude’s latest exhibition, ‘Glow’, and the speeches are just finishing as we edge into the packed room. I know it will be worth waiting until the crowd thins before trying to look at the pictures properly, but a quick glance tells me that they are more Stroude-magic: deep blues, greys and silver; moody light, water, mountains and fleeting glimpses of road – the stark beauty of Sligo caught on canvas by an artist who is already internationally collected. (

The gallery is full of familiar faces, including Cormac O’Leary who is standing next to me. Pausing to say hello, I remember ‘Of This Place’, a group exhibition of ‘reflections from Yeats Country’ that was held here not long ago. It was also shown at Espacio Prada, Madrid, and included such artists as Nuala Clark, Conor Gallagher, Brian McDonagh and Michael Wann amongst others. But it’s not just painters who have gathered this evening. I spot Bettina Seitz, one of Sligo’s sculptors and ceramicists, whose fabulous exhibition ‘A Trembling Veil’ moved from Sligo to Belgravia in London’s smart West End a few months ago. (

I am just reflecting on how much talent there is in the county when Clare whispers in my ear: ‘You know there’s a Bill Bryson movie at The Model later on?’ and we stop for a minute to discuss the current programme of events at Sligo’s biggest centre for the arts. The Model. Home of The Niland Collection, it is situated on The Mall and hosts everything from the largest permanent Jack Yeats collection outside Dublin (53 pieces) to Creative Summer Camps for Children, taking in music, contemporary visual culture and a weekly cinema night (showing international and independent movies) along the way, this last in partnership with Sligo Film Club. The Model also boasts a wonderful light-filled atrium and café – a perfect meeting point or place to while away a quiet hour after viewing the art collection. Alongside Jack Yeats are works by his father, the portraitist John Yeats and other contemporary Irish paintings, and in the grounds of the gallery is a new installation: Yeats’ Secret Garden, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, relocated to Sligo after I designed and built it for Bloom, the national garden show, last year. (

I find myself wondering how the garden is looking after the winter, when I’m distracted by another question. ‘Did you see Kieran Quinn at The Hawkswell last night?’ a friend asks. The answer is sadly not, but it leads to an interesting discussion about the highlights of this season’s offerings at our largest theatre on Temple Street. There are workshops, poetry readings, dance, music and even what promises to be an amusing talk on Ireland’s weather, quite apart from the drama that regularly spices the theatre’s calendar. ( We laugh over the unending wealth of matter for a weather talk, and I ask her what the Blue Raincoats are offering at The Factory. Last year they gave an amazing performance of ‘On Baile’s Strand’ by WB Yeats, both on Coney Island, New York and on Cummeen Strand here in Sligo. This year is bound to hold another terrific programme. (

I see Tom O’Rourke and pause to ask what he’s currently showing at his light and airy little gallery at Drumcliffe, just next to Yeats’ grave, Teach Bán (, and my friend Naomi, hearing Drumcliffe mentioned comes over to say how much she and her husband enjoyed the Vogler Quartet, part of the Sligo International Chamber Music Festival which takes place every May in St Columba’s Church and at The Model – a real highlight of the year. ( I wasn’t able to get to Drumcliffe, but definitely plan to attend both the Jazz and the Baroque Festivals this year. ( and

Finally, I get to look at Emma Stroude’s latest paintings. They conjure everything that is Sligo: wild skies, sweeping seascapes, mountains – an elemental immersion, born, Stroude writes, ‘from my fascination with the relationships between light, water and the landscape’. ‘Reminding us,’ Cormac O’Leary says, ‘what it’s like to be alive to that sudden illuminating moment, catching it before the glow fades.’ I note the apposite quote from Patrick Kavanagh that Stroude has used in her brochure: ‘To snatch from time the passionate transitory...’ It exactly captures the essence of the exhibition.

As we are leaving the gallery, someone asks my husband if he’s picked up an entry form for Cairde Visual yet – the Open Submission art exhibition at Sligo Art Gallery that forms part of the Cairde Festival in the summer. ( and They ask if they’ll see him at Life Drawing Class at The Model tomorrow, and meanwhile Tessa slips a leaflet into my hand. It’s about a new series of courses running at The Dovecote, which includes ceramics, drawing and painting, and fashion and textile design.

Yet more reminders of how lucky we are here in Sligo – we are surrounded by the Arts.

The Hamilton Gallery hosts new exhibitions regularly. 6pm on the first Thursday of each month marks Opening Night. All are welcome. (

  • Shoot The Crows

This remarkable pub “Shoot The Crows”, or “Shoots” as it is affectionately known, opened its doors to the public in 1991 in Sligo and since then has become a music venue of renown. The only pub in Sligo to host Traditional Irish Music three nights a week, Seamie O’Dowd and his father Joe O`Dowd, well known traditional Irish musicians, have played here regularly over the years. Joe is recognised as one of Sligo’s master fiddle players. His son Seamie carries on the tradition, and is involved in a number of music groups including Sligo’s own Dervish, who have entertained fans and followers the world over. One of Ireland’s top guitar/fiddle players, Seamie headlines the Rory Gallagher Festival every year.

Shoot the Crows hosts a variety of music, from Americana to Bluegrass and everything in between. Ronan Watters, one of the owners, feels that “there is a real purity about the music scene in Sligo, so much happening in terms of creativity, and it needs to be encouraged more! And the best way to do so is with a sense of togetherness.” Ronan has had the delight of watching some of the older crew like Eddie Lee (founder of Sligo based folk world music group, “No Crows”) and many others reach a new level of musical maturity. In the 80`s local bands were playing music of the time, then branching off as they developed, expanding their taste and beginning to mix up their style, in turn setting a new trend along with a very high standard for up and coming artists today.

Down through the years, Shoots has had many big name acts perform, such as James Blennerhassett (who has played with famous musicians such as Van Morrison, The Chieftains, John Prine, Brian Kennedy, Paul Brady, David Knopfler, Gilbert O’Sullivan to name but a few). Steve Wickham from The Waterboys (also a founder member of No Crows) plays at Shoots regularly along with other intriguing acts both old and new. Be sure to visit Shoots to check out the musical treasures that have helped carve the Sligo music scene into its dynamic shape!

Everyone loves to have a good time on an evening out, right? Perhaps go where there is a roaring turf fire, friendly staff and cracking tunes three nights a week; where there is always someone new to meet, something new to hear, and a place to always feel welcome and part of the gang. If that sounds like your kind of scene get yourself down to Shoot the Crows to see for yourself the “craic agus ceoil” that there is to be had! The front window alone is enough to entice you, with beautifully painted designs by a well known local artist Peter Crann. As the designs change every few months, these remarkable displays of true original art work are a rare feature you won’t find anywhere else. In the past three or so years, Sligo people have really come together to reach the same goal, promoting this rare and innovative atmosphere that we have come to love dearly. It is important to the people of Sligo to pursue commercial success while preserving the native culture.

There has been much publicity from the ‘Sligo - Who Knew’ campaign in highlighting the positive impact that this growing branch of musical creativity is having on the community of Sligo. Shoots the Crows, a gem we are proud to call our own, is the real McCoy when it comes to great tunes!

  • Sligo the home of traditional music

To say Sligo has a proud music tradition is certainly an understatement! Just over 100 years have passed since the great Michael Coleman first took to the stage as an 18 year old at Sligo’s Feis Ceoil. He went on to become the world’s most influential traditional musician of the twentieth century, though at that initial outing he only finished in 3rd place. After all, being the best fiddler in the world was no guarantee you were the best fiddler in Sligo! Along with fellow master musicians, such as James Morrison and Paddy Killoran, Coleman blazed a trail that has richly endowed Sligo to stake its claim as the home of traditional Irish music.

In their illustrious footsteps came musicians of the calibre of Fred Finn and Peter Horan who, as a duo, lit up the Irish traditional music scene for nearly three decades. National media delivered the sad news of Horan’s recent passing but, without a doubt, both Finn and Horan left a lasting imprint on traditional Irish music. Sligo’s unique style, musical history, and all the characters behind it, continue to inspire creative young people all over Ireland and beyond.

Currently, Sligo’s traditional music scene is at a very exciting juncture. Annual events such as Feis Shligigh and the internationally acclaimed Sligo Feis Ceoil are headlined by Fleadh Cheol, the all-Ireland traditional music festival. Also dotted throughout the year are a plethora of festivals, events and summer schools such as Cos Cos Sean Nos Dance Festival in Drumcliff, the South Sligo Summer School, the Coleman, Morrisson and Killoran festivals, as well as the relatively new and increasingly successful Sligo Live, which now encompasses the long-standing Fiddler of Dooney competition, an event inspired by a poem by W.B. Yeats of the same name.

There has never been a better or more exciting time to unearth Sligo’s glorious musical tradition. Whether you make the pilgrimage to The Coleman Irish Music Centre and try your hand at becoming the next Michael Coleman, or uncover this original and authentic brand of traditional music at one of the daily sessions that occur in town and county, if it’s traditional Irish music you’re after then please wipe your feet as you cross the border into Sligo, because you’re home!

  • Ceoláras Coleman

Michael Coleman, the legendary fiddle player, was born in Knockgraine, Killavil, near Ballymote in Co. Sligo in 1891. Surrounded by fiddle players of great skill, his older brother Jim, regarded locally as a master fiddler and his neighbours Philip O’Beirne and PJ McDermott had a major influence on the young Michael. He emigrated to America in 1914 and was among one of the first to record traditional music there.

Coleman’s records were to have a major impact on musicians back in Ireland, and were to exercise an influence on traditional music which was to long outlast his own lifetime. Although he has had many imitators, his combination of superb technical ability and deeply expressive playing has had few, if any equal. Michael Coleman died in New York in 1945 and is buried in St. Raymond’s cemetery in the Bronx.

Today, Ceoláras Coleman – or The Coleman Music Centre, located at the crossroads in Gurteen village, is a state of the art traditional music and cultural centre developed & dedicated to the memory of Michael Coleman. It is also the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Regional Resource Centre for the five counties, Sligo Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Fermanagh. The centre is very welcoming and caters for individuals and groups as well as coach tours, retirement groups and school tours. A visit to the centre will provide a first-hand experience of Sligo’s original brand of traditional music where visitors can view an audio-visual presentation on the history of Irish traditional music and experience the exhibition area with its interactive multimedia terminals of various musicians, their music and styles from the beginning of the last century to modern times.

Learn about Irish dancing styles and traditions, how musical instruments are made and much more. The Coleman Archive houses an extensive collection of music, folklore, songs, videos, photographs and has a link to the National Comhaltas Archive.

The Coleman Theatre

The Coleman centre has an intimate theatre where regular concerts and theatre events take place during the year. During the months of July and August, concerts take place twice weekly.

The Music/Gift Shop

The shop stocks a vast selection of traditional music CDs, including many of an archival type, DVDs, music books, musical instruments and accessories, gift ideas and lots more....

Coleman School of Music

Weekly music classes, catering for all age groups are held for an extensive range of instruments during the school term. Special one-to-one tuition is available all year round by advance booking.

The Coleman Cottage

This farmhouse cottage is a replica of the original Coleman homestead, which will give visitors a unique insight into how people lived during the early twentieth century in Ireland. The building has three rooms, is constructed of red sandstone and is roofed in traditional thatch. The cottage contains everyday cooking utensils, furniture, crockery and other artefacts, which date back to the 1920s. These give the visitor a living representation of life during that time. (Visit by appointment)

Visiting Groups

A programme of music, song and dance is available - day or evening - booking essential. GPS-coordinates: 53.996017, -8.522813

Open all year round - Mon-Sat

Live Music Around Sligo

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Live Music in Sligo Town

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