Slishwood (Slish Wood) was once part of an ancient oak forest around Lough Gill.
Much of the trees were cut down for fuel during World War II (known in Ireland as The Emergency), but the forest was subsequently replanted and nowadays provides wonderful lakeshore walking trail that forms part of The Sligo Way.
In Reveries Over Childhood and Youth (1914), W.B. Yeats describes a sleepless night he spent in Slish Wood awaiting the dawn, an enterprise which would provide him with early morning views over Lough Gill towards the Lake Isle of Innisfree.
‘I set out from Sligo about six in the evening, walking slowly, for it was an evening of great beauty; but though I was well into Slish Wood by bedtime, I could not sleep, not from the discomfort of the dry rock I had chosen for my bed, but from my fear of the wood-ranger … However, I could watch my island in the early dawn and notice the order of the cries of the birds.’
While his night of sleeplessness may have been unpleasant, the dawning of the day seems to have alleviated his discomfort. And the area’s beauty did provide him with the inspiration for one of his best-known poems The Stolen Child.
Yeats drew on the long held folk belief of abduction of vulnerable young children by fairies and a ‘changeling’ left in its place. Slish Wood, or ‘Sleuth Wood’ as he calls it, as well as other places like Rosses and Drumcliffe represent the remote and captivating faery places, where it was believed one can easily pass from one world to the next.
from The Stolen Child (1889)
Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.