The River of the Town of the Waterfall of the Oak Trees

Sligo is the Shelly Place, on the Little Rough River that runs, short and fast, from the Bright Lake to the shining sea where Eva Gore-Booth’s ‘little waves of Breffni’ lap gently on the shore.
Sligo is ‘the holy mountain (Ben Bulben) whose mighty heart gathers into it all the coloured days’ of Seamus O’Sullivan’s poem The Starling Lake. Sligo is the “moleskin mountain” (Knocknarea) of Louis MacNeice’s poem, Neutrality, surrounded by “a litter of chronicles and bones” at Carrowmore. It is said that under Knocknarea there is an underground lake in a cave. The entrance to the cave was lost long ago, but a small stream of lovely clear water runs down from the mountain, through meadows full of wild orchids, into the sea through the old stone dock at the Culleenduff Oyster Beds. That stream has never been known to dry up.
I grew up in Avena House, which was the home of William Pollexfen, owner of the Avena Mills, and grandfather of W.B. Yeats. The young William often stayed in Avena House. He learned about the folklore of Sligo from the gardener there. I remember strangers calling to the house and my mother would show them the big, kitchen window where Yeats was said to have written The Sally Gardens. As a child, this always puzzled me, as the kitchen window looked out on the back yard which was all very fine in its way, but not poetically inspiring!
I eventually realised that the Sally Gardens were across the river which runs along the back of Avena House and on down past the Mills. There is no view of them from the house, but down in the stable yard there was a pair of big, tall iron gates which led out to the river bank. My brother and I loved sitting on rocks in the middle of the river on a summer’s day, when the water was low and large stretches of the river were shallow enough for us to paddle in.
The source of the Ballysadare River is in the Curlew Mountains, and it is derived from the joining of three rivers, The Unshin, the Owenmore and the Owen beg. I like to think of the young Yeats sitting cross legged on a rock, gazing across the deceptively gentle water of the river flowing down by his grandfather’s Mills, and watching the willows in the Sally Gardens on the far bank moving gently in the warm summer breeze.
Also outside the big gates, a lane led up to the village. In autumn a load of hay or straw would be delivered, pitch forked up into the hay loft and neatly stacked, ready to be forked down through the trapdoors, the hay to fill the mangers and the yellow straw to make sweet smelling bedding for the horses in the stables.
Perhaps William lay on his back in a nest of wheaten or barley straw in that same hay loft, watching the dust motes dance in the stray sunbeams shining through the holes in the roof, and listened to the rough and tumble of the river, now swollen with winter rains, roaring down to power the big turbines at the Lower Falls, the Easa Dara. These not only powered the Mills but gave electricity to the village, long before the coming of the “Rural Electrification”. The Ballysadare River is and always has been, renowned for its Salmon fishing. Stories of salmon poaching on the Ballysadare stretch of the river abound, but sin sceal eile.