New publication by Joe McGowan

New publication by Joe McGowan launched at County Hall

New publication by Joe McGowan launched at County Hall Local historian and author Joe McGowan with Cathaoirleach Councillor Paul Taylor

The latest publication by local historian and author Joe McGowan has been launched at County Hall by the Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, Councillor Paul Taylor.

In his address, the Cathaoirleach said

‘It is unfortunate we are hosting this event under Covid restrictions; it is an occasion that deserves a higher profile and a greater attendance.  However, we hope that by recording this launch we will bring news of this superb book to a wider audience.

Major contribution

Joe is one of our foremost historians and authors, he has made a major contribution to our knowledge and appreciation of local history, heritage, tradition and folklore.  Starting in 1993 with the publication of ‘In the Shadow of Benbulben’, Joe has added hugely to our font of knowledge of our storied past, most recently in 2015 with the publication of ‘Sligo Folk Tales.’


He has the innate gift of being able to capture the essence of a story, and has recorded and documented countless invaluable memories that otherwise would be lost for ever.  Joe has dedicated much of his life to documenting and preserving our traditions and customs, many of which would have slipped through the mists of time without his painstaking research.

Famine Commemoration

In addition to his many notable publications, Joe was the driving force behind the Famine memorials in Sligo town and the famine graveyard in Ballytivnan.

We are especially indebted to Joe for giving this Council permission to republish his book on the Famine to coincide with the National Famine Commemoration ceremony.

Joe McGowan book launch Local historian and author Joe McGowan with his new publication Even the Heather Bled


Sligo County Council’s Acting Chief Executive Tom Kilfeather said

‘It is an honour for this Council to host this launch for one of our foremost local historians and authors, Joe McGowan.  In a tribute written over ten years ago, a local journalist wrote ‘If there is truth in the saying that a man in his life plays many parts, then this adage is surely epitomised by Sligo author and historian Joe McGowan, Farmer, soldier, builder, fisherman, writer’.

Exemplary contribution

There are many facets to Joe’s life and times, but this afternoon we focus on his exemplary contribution to our local history and heritage.  Joe also has a story teller’s gift of capturing and retaining the listener's attention, he can relate tales of the ordinary and everyday with a sense of wonder that live long in the memory.

Fascinating insights

Joe's fascinating insights, his interest in his subjects, his attention to detail, combine to make him a master of his craft.  Joe McGowan has been a great friend to Sligo County Council over the years, he has advised and supported us on many projects, including the National Famine Commemoration in 2019.

August destiny

In his address Des Gilhawley said that

‘All who died as a direct consequence of our Civil War are as real as we are today.  Each death was a tragic loss for family, community and country.  For all of time, these untimely deaths make a demand on our capacity for courage and generosity.  And so it passes to each generation to solemnly and formally acknowledge all the Civil War deaths.

In remembering death we acknowledge life.  For most of those who died in the Civil War, before they were divided, they were comrades united in the War of Independence.  They were among the best of their generation.  Together they had answered the call of the Proclamation of 1916.  Together they had proven themselves worthy of the august destiny to which they were then called.  May this be the memory of our Civil War dead we honour and cherish.’


Joe McGowan said he was very pleased to have finished the book and was grateful to Sligo County Council for their support with the launch. ‘The incident on the mountain has been part of my psyche since my earliest memories.  It was always there: known and yet unknown, like a dark shadow seen and unseen, half understood: There was always a mystery surrounding the event, overall an abiding sense of sadness for Sligo’s sons.

Historical context

To explain the historical context the story begins with the invasion by Strongbow’s forces in August 1170.  It tracks Ireland’s crucible of conquest, colonisation and survival from that Norman invasion to the birth pains of the Irish Nation in the 20th century:  Penal Times, the Great Hunger of Black ’47, Davitt and the Land League, the Celtic Renaissance, the Easter Rising, War of Independence, Civil War, and Sligo’s part in that journey, are all covered in the book.

In Sligo and elsewhere, when the Civil War was over things had to be patched up with neighbours that had taken different sides.  In the words of Ernie O’Malley: ‘comrades who had withstood the jail war parted to take up the threads of inscrutable destiny; some to begin life all over again.

Joe McGowan book launch - others Back Row: Jimmy Devins and Des Gilhawley
Front Row: Jow McGowan and Cathaoirleach Councillor Paul Taylor