A tale of 12 Sligos

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Native of Sligo Ireland visiting cities of the same name in America

By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

In 2000, Irishman Gavin Walsh set off on a unique journey.

A native of Sligo, Ireland, Walsh, 43, learned during his previous travels that there were 11 Sligos in the United States. And in 2000, he visited each one on an 8,000-mile “racethrough.”

Now, Walsh is on his 88th trip to the United States and retracing some of his steps and gathering information for what could be part of a travelogue.

During his travels, Walsh has been to 50 states — and drove to all but one — a task that took him 18 years to complete. A former student of both pure and applied mathematics, Walsh left school at 15, and said he has written three books. He plans to write a fourth book that will be about his travels, and will include his Sligo journeys.

Walsh’s native Sligo is a metropolis compared to some of the Sligos he’s visited, with a city population of 20,000. The sea-side town is in the County of Sligo, home to 60,000.

“It’s a seaside town, (it’s) got lovely beaches, used to be a major port,” Walsh said. “Now we get our coal shipments, maybe once a month.”

In times past, he said, Sligo was a major sea port, and had at least one purported claim to fame . “The guy who avenged the assassin of Lincoln? He’s from Sligo,” Walsh said.

Just before Christmas, Walsh visited Henry County’s own Sligo, on the same day he visited Sligo, Ohio. There also are Sligos in Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and two in Pennsylvania. Yes, two.

Of the two Pennsylvania Sligos, one was absorbed by Pittsburgh, while the other is the largest of the American Sligos, with 947 residents.

Walsh has found similarities among the various  Sligos, including those in Kentucky and Ohio. Both, he said, are about 28 miles from a large city, and “Interstate 71 killed both of them.”

Naturally, Walsh has had a variety of unique experiences as he’s traveled to the American Sligos. Sligo, Colorado, he said, is a virtual ghost town that has just one resident. “There’s wrecks and ruins and foundations,” Walsh said of the Colorado town.

In Sligo, Tenn., Walsh met a man in his 70s who was, he described, “the most interesting character of my life.”

“He was nothing less than a literal walking encyclopedia,” Walsh said. “He didn’t have a car, he didn’t have a television. He wrote a book on his family, and it took him 65 years to do it. It’s bigger than anything I’ve seen in my life.

“He has done a family tree on himself that I would say is infinitely better than the Queen of England.”

Walsh said that while folks in the Sligos he’s visited in the U.S. have been friendly, folks in Sligo, Ireland are a little less enthusiastic. The “Irish” reaction he said has been more subdued. “You’ll never be a prophet in your own hometown,” Gavin said with a wry smile.

During his visit to Henry County, Walsh met with Hammer Smith at the Henry County Historical Society in New Castle. Together, the two dug into records and found that the Henry County Sligo likely was founded in the early 1800s, like the others in the U.S.

Walsh’s fascination with the United States began, he said, 22 years ago. “I was fascinated by this country as I think a lot of people are,” he said. “I gave myself the goal of seeing the entire country properly.

“I just love this country and all it stands for, its freedom and its fairness, and the important role it’s played oversees. Who’s in power, I don’t care.”


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