Disclaimer: Please take note of current Covid-19 restrictions before following this route.
Nestled in the southeast corner of Co. Sligo, Lough Arrow is a peaceful and scenic area to while away an afternoon. As well as being famous for its trout fishing, the area is full of noteworthy historical monuments and sites.
This drive will bring you around the lake in an anti-clockwise direction, beginning in Ballinafad just off the N4 route. It highlights six points of interest along the way, as well as a playground and picnic area.
Starting Point: Ballinafad Castle
Ballinafad Castle (also known as the Castle of the Curlews) is a prominent south Sligo landmark, unmissable from the nearby N4. It was built to protect the Red Earl’s Road, an ancient pass that connected Boyle and Ballymote through the Curlew Mountains. Although it was built around 1590, it was modelled on the design of many 13th century castles. Today, it lies in ruins and is accessible by foot.
Ambrose O’Higgins Memorial
Beside Lough Arrow Touring Park, in the townland of Ballinarry, you will find a memorial to Ambrose and Bernardo O’Higgins.
Although Ambrose was born in Ballinary, he ventured much further afield. His emigration to Spain ultimately led to him becoming the Viceroy of Peru. Bernardo, his son, became the Supreme Director of Chile in 1817.
A public picnic area is located across the road on the lakeshore.
Continuing north from the memorial, you will pass a large lay-by and pier known as Flynn’s Pier. Depending on the time of year, you might spot an angler getting ready to launch, or some kayakers enjoying the water. When possible, the annual Lough Arrow Christmas Day Swim in aid of the North West Hospice takes place here.
Directly after Flynn’s Pier, you will come to a crossroads known as Biddy’s Cross. Turn left here to make your way down the Annaghloy Peninsula. After crossing a bridge, you will find a small layby, perfect for parking. Although it’s possible to drive most of the peninsula’s length, it’s best enjoyed on foot. Soak up the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful views as the lake spreads out to either side.
After exploring the peninsula, turn left back on to the main road and continue until you see Ballindoon Abbey on the shore.
The local and prominent McDonagh family founded Ballindoon as a Dominican priory in 1507. It’s still used as a burial ground, with graves located both inside and outside the ruins.
Visitors can gain access to the Abbey through a metal pedestrian gate that opens on to the road. However, this involves crossing farmland, so please take care and treat the land with respect.
After visiting Ballindoon, turn left at the next crossroads, and continue until you reach the junction at Des McDonagh’s pub (you will notice fuel pumps at the front). Turn right here, then immediately turn left.
Straight away, keep alert for Heapstown Cairn to your right. Although this monument (thought to be a passage tomb) is one of the largest in the country, it can be easy to miss. At roughly 63m in diameter, only Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in the Boyne Valley are bigger. Unfortunately, stones were routinely removed for building purposes during the 1800s. The cairn is thought to be associated with Carrowkeel megalithic cemetery, which is located in the Bricklieve mountains to the west of the lake.
Finishing the Loop
To return to the N4, go back to McDonagh’s pub and turn right, following signs for Castlebaldwin. If you wish to complete the loop of the lake, turn left once you reach the N4 and drive back to the starting point at Ballinafad.
Please note that small, local diversions may be in place near Castlebaldwin due to the current upgrade of the N4.
Written by guest writer – Amy Shorten who has a blog called The Memory Mum. Thank you Amy!