The Gleniff Horseshoe is not a horseshoe at all but a six-mile loop of single lane road surrounded by spectacular mountain views. It is an hour's motoring tour par excellence and not without connections to myth and legend as well as a sprinkling of what can only be described as cynical humour.
Getting there is easy. Just drive north from Sligo on N15 to Cliffoney (22km). From Cliffoney, continue north 2km to the first crossroads. Turn right as the sign indicates for a straight shot of 6km. Now, you're primed for formidable masses of rock in the form of precipitous cliffs that have been in place for thousands of years. And it doesn't matter which way you go around the loop. Like many, you may have the urge to do it both ways. You'll see more if you do. Either way, you feel not just see the presence of the giants: Tieve Baun, Trushmore, King's, Benbulben, Benwiskin (the bar at the Radisson, Rosses Point, borrows its name from the latter).
Clockwise, Benbulben will be on your right just past the halfway point. High up toward the summit, over 1,000 feet, you'll see the ominous dark opening of the cave known as Kesh Corran, the home of the ill-fated lovers, Diarmad and Grainne. How her aged husband ever found them without signposts and a paved road needs no explanation in legend. Needless to say, he did and then cleverly arranged for Diarmad's death to look like a hunting accident. Some think the high ridge of Benbulben looks like the spine of a boar, the one that possibly gored Diarmad. If you're from Arkansas, you'd call it a razorback. If you're an inveterate hiker, known locally as a hill walker, you'll be discouraged...but not by a boar. By a bull.
Hiking access is severely restricted by Mr. "Bull" McSharry. But the inviting magic of these highlands is easily accessed from your car. If you tour the loop counter clockwise, you won't see the signs that The Bull has gone to such lengths to post until the later third of the tour, but they are as amusing as they are serious. The Bull is a codger with class. One of his signs reads, "As Yeats himself might say, maybe you should arise and go...NOW!" But the road is paved and public. Continue on your way. His fight isn't with hillwalkers as much as with Tourism Ireland. The Bull just wants to be compensated for the few hardy souls who might do what the majority of us only dream of: walking the spine of the boar, with Sligo and Leitrim and the vast Atlantic spread out before and beneath. One of the signs sums up his fight. "The tourism industry may ride the Ryder Cup, but not the Bull McSharry."
Who would want to when the loop is a free and safe ride open to all. Benbulben, Benwiskin, and the other giants say, "Welcome."
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007