Traveller writer John Woods visited Ireland in 1947 and wrote a travel guide with insightful observations which provide a vivid social history account of 1940s post war Ireland. I first read the book when I was researching for an assignment for my diploma in heritage and folklore and wrote an assignment on visitors travel accounts of Sligo. Here is an excerpt from his book ‘With Rucksack Round Ireland’, we join the writer as he reaches Ballysadare in County Sligo.
A timely bus took me along by the foot of the north-eastern end of the Ox Mountains… At Ballysodare I dismounted, was tempted to inquire for a room at the Swiss Hotel on the strength of its name and appearance, but in an unlucky moment decided to walk a further six miles to Strandhill.
No sooner had I left the main road when heavy rain started, and whilst putting on my cape under a tree I was invited into a cottage, whereas a matter, of course, the wife began to prepare tea for me. The husband, a lorry driver for the flour-mills at Ballysodare, had been in the British Army during World War I – a point of sympathy between us. After an hour there was no sign of the rain’s clearing and I set off again in the wet and gathering gloom.
Strandhill is one of the few places in Ireland that I have no wish to revisit, though its situation at the foot of isolated Knocknarea and at the tip of a peninsula in Sligo Bay is pleasing enough. Then, admittedly, I was ‘asking for it’ by going to a bathing resort at 10.30 pm on a rainy night in the height of the season, but after trying in vain most of the hotels and boarding houses I was taken in at one hotel where the official charge was rather high. The proprietress explained to me with some naiveté that an English hotel manager had booked a single room for that night, but upon arrival some hours earlier he had refused to take it because there was no running water in the room. Considering the tariff, he was quite justified, and anyway, he let me in, at a price. The place was supposed to have a bathroom, but when I asked for it I was shown to a room that had a w.c. and washbowl. As to my bedroom, it was comfortable but as narrow as a cell. Next morning I was charged a shilling over the official list price, and upon later complaining about this to the Irish Tourist Board I was informed that the higher rate had been sanctioned after my edition of the list had been printed. All things considered, the Irish Tourist Board is doing a good job, but it lost my confidence here.
Next morning I climbed Knocknarea (1,078), but the day was showery and the visibility only poor, so that the hill could not live up to its reputation as one of the finest viewpoints in the west. On the summit is the biggest cairn in Ireland, its circumference nearly two hundred yards; it is a monument to Maeve, Queen of Connacht…
The travel writer John Wood then finished off his short stay in Sligo by visiting the megalithic dolmens at Carrowmore. Before boarding a bus for Blacklion, he took a walk around the town where he was accosted by an old woman who complimented him on been a fine figure of a man, much to his embarrassment. As he left Sligo, Wood lamented that he did not have time to visit Lough Gill for its association with Yeats and its reputation for natural beauty.
With Rucksack Round Ireland by John Wood
Douglas Campbell Collection/Flickr