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I had the most spectacular walk in Sligo last weekend and wanted to share a few pics. November is a very special time in the west, the quality of the light is quite exceptional and when the day is bright and cold the views are out of this world.

Lough Gill in Sligo is one of my favourite places to bring visitors. It has an unusual scale for an irish lake- it’s vast yet comprehensible and meets the forests and mountains in incredibly pleasing ways. At times of the year it strongly reminds me of a North American landscape, particularly in the autumn with the colours of the leaves and the winter sky in the evening.  Yeats wrote regularly about the lake, and it’s the home of his infamous Lake isle of Inishfree. It makes for a wonderful drive too, circling you from the Ballinode side of Sligo town right round to Carraroe, and is a perfect thing to do with a car on a less than beautiful day – with regular stop off opportunities at Parkes Castle, Dromahair, Slish Wood and Dooney Rock.

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I regularly stop at Dooney Rock with its glorious views over the span of the lake – its one of the few places where you can see how Knocknarea and Benbulben talk to each other across the Sligo landscape – but this weekend I had a friend with a baby in tow so even a light climb was out of the question with the buggy. We decided to try Slish Wood which has a super walking path all along the lake, perfect for a buggy.

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The light was insane – it was nearing sunset (about 4pm) and the lake has never looked so still. It was a perfect mirror for the sky as you can see in these photos. None of these have any post-production or photoshop trickery involved – they are just iPhone pics of how it was in reality.  If you want information on the Slish Wood walking trail visit the excellent new site SligoWalks.ie.

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I’m forever recommending gigs I know, but one is on the horizon that I’m immensely excited about. The uber talented Sam Amidon is bound for these shores this weekend, and he’s playing two of my favourite venues; my old stomping ground in Sligo The Model, and The Sugar Club in Dublin, which was so effective for Agnes Obel earlier this year.

Sam Amidon is an american musician who’s largely made a name for himself with his unique and modern reworkings of folk tunes. His albums rarely have any original tracks on them, but when the songs themselves are so beautifully and originally arranged it hardly seems to matter. I first fell in love with his music via a track called Sugar Baby – a reworking of an Appalachian tune by Dock Boggs – that Donal Dineen used to play on his show about 2 years ago, although Ray in DeBarra’s in Cork had mentioned the young musician in dispatches earlier much earlier.

I think I’ve honestly played Sugar Baby hundreds of times (iTunes tells me it’s 267, but I’m sure it’s more) and it finds its way onto my favourite mix tapes and playlists. Although It’s from All is Well, and this run of gigs focuses on the newer album I See the Sign, I’ll be silently hoping for an encore appearance. It’s the most beautiful and restful song, and the sounds are so resonant, that it slays me every time. It’s one I played over and over again in hospital.

He seems like an interesting guy and a real artist, and these shows sound like an altogether immersive experience of sound and vision, with field recordings, visuals and drawings all featuring alongside the music. He also seems to have deep connections with irish music, citing the Paul Brady/Andy Irvine album as a huge inspiration, alongside the musicianship of Tommy Peoples. It’s something that certainly comes across in his fiddle and banjo playing, but the extra textures and layers to his tracks, especially the male female vocal harmonies on the current album, or the appearance of low cello or trumpet, give them that contemporary feel.

Despite booking tickets for him countless times, I have a long history of missing his gigs at every turn, often due to volcanoes and snow and illness, so I’m determined to get to one of them this weekend.  I’d actually love to be seeing him in DeBarras next week but the diary says no.  If you’re partial to folk music I’d urge you to catch these shows if you can, and if you’re not in Sligo or Dublin this weekend he’s in Cork (Triskel and DeBarras) and Galway the following week- see here for dates. Below is a great example of how compeltely he makes a track his own – in this case R.Kelly’s Relief; one of my favourites from I See the Sign.

Sam Amidon’s version

and the original…

Earlier this month The Irish Times published a great little guide to Sligo, in collaboration with Failte Ireland. Lots of times you read this type of thing and, as a local, don’t recognise the place you live, for good or bad reasons. This one was different though, Not only did I recognise the place they were describing, but it covered nearly all the best bits of Sligo that I include when I’m in my own tour guide mode with visiting pals. Lots of my Top 10 things to do in Sligo made an appearance, in one guise or another, but I see the Magic Road alluded them once again, it must be the magic….

The supplement, which you can download via the link below, or by clicking on the image up top, is a great reference guide, and would make an excellent pocket guide for any type of traveller. I was particularly thrilled to see so much culture and lifestyle entries; great foodie recommendations, culture summaries and a special focus on Sligo Music, which is in abundance in all forms in Sligo town and county, as a quick glance at sligomusic.ie will usually show you.

I think the publication was the first time, or one of the first times, that the new Sligo brand was used;“Sligo, Set your Spirit Free”.  It’s a brand I really like, and I’m usually very critical of visual identities, especially the tag line. This one however, also seems to concur with the Sligo I know, a place that can set your spirit free in lots of ways; surfing, golfing, eating, listening to music, walking, visiting arts and culture events, or ancient historic sites, or just contemplating the landscape. The actual coloured text took me a few minutes to settle into, but it’s really grown on me. For some reason it immediately reminded me of Dakar’s photos of Sliglow (a project for Culture Night Sligo 2010), something in the free-flowing, yet painterly aspect of the font. It could reference anything from cave painting to street art and all that came in between, while still looking very natural and “of nature”. When I looked up the official line it said; “The brushstrokes are inspired by the paintings of Jack B Yeats, the vertical limestone features of the landscape and the crashing Atlantic waves.” which is even better; Sligo’s three big selling points; landscape. culture and water all rolled into one. Well done Zero G

Download the pdfSligo – Irish Times 6th July 2011

sligo events

If you want to get a great online guide to what's on in Sligo then head over to Sligo Events or if Music is your bag head to Sligo Music

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