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Top 7 Historic Graves of the Wild Atlantic Way



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What have poets, theatre luminaries, Antarctic explorers, soul legends and pirate queens all got in common?

Much more than you think. Not only did they each revel in the Wild Atlantic Way’s reviving landscape or contribute to its rich history and culture, they all chose one of its serene corners as their final resting place. These historic graves of the Wild Atlantic Way show how the hearts and minds of just about anyone can be won by these rolling mountain slopes and salt-breezed shores.

 
 
WB Yeat's grave, County Sligo
 

WB YEATS (1865 - 1939)
DRUMCLIFFE, COUNTY SLIGO

Ireland’s greatest poet always considered Sligo, his mother’s native county and where he spent many childhood summers, his ‘spiritual’ home. Yeats was inspired time and time again by its idyllic landscape, including the mesmeric ‘table mountain’ Benbulben: “Now they ride the wintry dawn, Where Ben Bulben sets the scene.” 

Although the poet died in France in 1939, his remains were repatriated to Drumcliffe Churchyard, Sligo (where his great-grandfather had been rector) in 1948. The limestone headstone at his grave in the leafy cemetery, itself nestled under Benbulben, shows Yeats’ iconic self-penned epitaph:

Cast a cold Eye.
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!

 
 
Queen Maeve's Cairn, County Sligo
 

QUEEN MAEVE OF CONNACHT (FIRST CENTURY)
KNOCKNAREA MOUNTAIN, COUNTY SLIGO

Still on Sligo’s Surf Coast, you’ll find that the area left an impression on more than just icons of the 20th century, but as far back as 3,000 years ago, too. Queen Maeve, one of ancient Irish literature and mythology’s most renowned figures, is said to be buried in a large cairn (man-made stack of stones) on the top of beautiful Knocknarea Mountain - itself a prominent site of neolithic ritual. 

The central character in the infamous tale of the Táin Bó Cúailnge or 'Cattle Raid of Cooley’, Queen Maeve of Connacht sought to steal the valuable Brown Bull of Cooley in an effort to match her husband King Ailill’s wealth. Maeve’s cairn is Ireland’s largest unexcavated one, an impressive 10m high, and is a great spot from which to survey “The Land of Heart’s Desire”, as Yeats affectionately named the area.

 
 
Grace O'Malley's home, Clare Island, County Mayo
 

PIRATE QUEEN GRACE O’MALLEY (1530 - 1603)
CLARE ISLAND, COUNTY MAYO

Another Irish queen famed for her ferocity and daring, pirate queen Grace O’Malley (also known as Granuaile) claimed picturesque Clare Island as her family stronghold. Well-educated and well-versed in many languages, this added to her might as a successful conqueror and as a threatening adversary in battle, as many other Irish clans and the English themselves discovered.

Visit the abbey on the island, which was founded by Grace’s father and is said to be where she was baptised, married and buried (a plaque marks her grave), to salute the tenacious woman whose motto and dynamic approach to life was Terra Mariq Potens or Powerful by Land and Sea.

 
  • Lady Augusta Gregory
 

LADY AUGUSTA GREGORY (1852 - 1932)
BOHERMORE, COUNTY GALWAY

Founder of Ireland’s national theatre, The Abbey Theatre, lauded dramatist, champion of the Irish Literary Revival, Irish language devotee and close friend and patron of WB Yeats, Lady Gregory packed plenty into her 80 years. 

Once described by playwright George Bernard Shaw as “the greatest living Irishwoman”, Gregory’s former Galway home at Coole Park was a site of pilgrimage for Irish writers as the still-visible initials of Shaw, JM Synge, Douglas Hyde, GW Russell, Yeats and Sean O'Casey on a tree in the grounds reveal. The unassuming grave of this theatre matriarch lies in a shady spot beneath a tree in Prospect Hill Cemetery, County Galway.

 
 
Dusty Springfield
 

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD (1939 - 1999)
CLIFFS OF MOHER, COUNTY CLARE

Visit the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher and you can certainly expect sweeping panoramas and crashing swells, but unexpectedly it’s also a fitting place to hum some sultry 60s soul music, too. 

Some of the ashes of Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, better known as the iconic blonde bouffant-wearing Dusty Springfield, were scattered off of this coastal clifftop following her death in 1999, lending a quirky, musical edge to this already exceptional corner of the Wild Atlantic Way.

 
 
Tom Crean
 

TOM CREAN (1877 - 1938)
BALLINACOURTY, ANNASCAUL, COUNTY KERRY

The early 20th century was a golden age for geographic discovery and bold expeditions, perhaps none more so than the Antarctic feats made by Captain Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. At the heart of three of the four major British polar expeditions of the 1900s was Kerryman Tom Crean.

A modest man who actually spent more time in the depths of polar snow and ice than either Scott or Shackleton (he was a member of both’s expeditions), Crean was awarded the Albert Medal, then the highest award for gallantry, for his rescue of a companion in what’s considered the greatest single-handed act of bravery in the history of Antarctic exploration. Although physically exhausted following three months of marching across the polar landscape, Crean volunteered to seek help when a crew member collapsed 35 miles from safety. He trekked 18 hours without a tent or sleeping bag and with only two sticks of chocolate and three biscuits for sustenance in the harshest conditions on earth. 

After a distinguished Royal Navy career and having spent more than half of the years 1901-1916 in polar conquest, Crean returned to his Dingle Peninsula home, opened his pub The South Pole Inn and spent the remainder of his days there until his death at the age of 61. Raise a glass to the great man at his rural pub or pay your respects at his grave in Ballinacourty near Annascaul, County Kerry.

 
 
Peig Sayers
 

PEIG SAYERS (1873 - 1958)
DÚN CHAOIN, DINGLE PENINSULA, COUNTY KERRY

As important to the Irish storytelling tradition as any warrior from our great canon of folk tales, seanchaí (storyteller) Peig Sayers recited Kerry and the Blasket Islands’ unique heritage, folklore and her own autobiography to her son Micheál, who had them published in 1936. 

Recounting 350 ancient legends, ghost, folk, and religious stories, Sayers captured the vibrancy of the west of Ireland’s storytelling culture and provided us all with an historic snapshot of the often harsh reality of early 20th-century island life. Visit Peig’s grave at Dún Chaoin and marvel at view of the Blaskets before you, a fitting spot for a woman so synonymous with these wild and wonderful Atlantic islands.


To delve into more of the Wild Atlantic Way’s diverse culture and history, why not read more about its ancient folklore here or how to learn Ireland’s native tongue here?

Or if you’re wondering just how to start exploring the route, check out its key Signature Discovery Points for some inspiration.

 
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