At the turn of the twentieth century, the area between the upper road of Strandhill and the sea was a wasteland of sandbanks and there were no houses near the seashore. The townland formed part of the Nicholson estate, and around 1877 Nicholson started selling portions of this estate. A man named Benjamin Murrow who came from Belfast to Sligo to become a lawyer’s clerk bought the area and decided to develop his purchase. Murrow built a fine residence for himself in 1902 and he encircled the surrounding grounds with a high wall regularly intersected by mini-battlements.
This old wall can still be seen today at the T-junction between the Top Road and the hill road leading to the sea. This road, which Murrow christened Buenos Ayres Drive, was built by Murrow to link the upper village with the sea. In fact this steep hilly road to the strand is how Strandhill got its name.
In the early days, Ben Murrow was concerned with attracting people to Strandhill and getting people to move there and develop houses and hotels. The new road gradually attracted private developers and was the key to developing Strandhill. The Strand House was built near the beachfront in 1913 and the premises were greatly extended in 1930 and acquired a spirit licence. Patsy Byrne acquired the property in 1982, paving the way for the surfer’s favourite, The Strand Bar of Patsy Byrne and Sons, which greatly enhanced the drawing power of Strandhill Beach into present times.
When the battery of the Sligo Militia at Rosses Point was dismantled in 1907, Mr Murrow purchased three cannon guns and mounted one cannon at the seashore where it proudly stands to this day. In an effort to attract more visitors to Strandhill Murrow built a Bath House on the seafront. The baths closed in 1966 but this old tradition was re-established on the seafront when Neil Walton and family began operating their modern, thriving, therapeutic seaweed baths.
The foundation stone of the church of St. Patrick halfway down Buenos Ayres Drive was laid on St Patrick’s day 1920. Once this Catholic Church was in place, the ‘new’ Strandhill began to earnestly take shape and new homes and guest houses were built on both sides of the new road. The Strandhill golf club began in 1931; Ben Murrow’s son Stuart was captain of the Club from 1937-40. The course itself was converted from a nine hole course to an eighteen hole course in 1973. Also in 1973, Strandhill’s first airstrip was built near the northern edge of Strandhill in an area known as Walker’s Banks near Walker’s Lodge. Walker’s Lodge was once the holiday house of the Walker family who owned the Rathcarrick mansion two miles from the foot of Knocknarea.
Murrow usually enjoyed spending his summer months at his Strandhill residence where he entertained many notable guests including the poet William B. Yeats. Murrow’s house was purchased by Willie Parkes (formerly of the Strand House and one of the first surfers in Strandhill) who demolished it and built a bungalow on the site. One of the biggest changes in the Coolera area in the last twenty years has been the rise in popularity of the seaside village of Strandhill. It is one of Sligo’s top tourist destinations, and one of the area’s most popular places to socialise, it has a well-developed surfing scene, top restaurants, amazing live music and local musicians, an 18-hole golf course, a football club, an airport, an aero club, it has a world famous ‘Warriors Run’ adventure race to the top of Knocknarea and an ambitious community spirit that sees a range of fun events held from one end of the year to the next.
The story of Coolera began thousands of years ago. The Story of Strandhill only began with the story of Ben Murrow and his vision of developing his land purchase by building a road to link the Top Road with the sea. In no small part can the subsequent development of Strandhill into a very popular seaside resort be attributed to the foresight and progressive outlook of Benjamin Murrow; the founder of the ‘pretty watering place’ at the foot of Knocknarea.
source: Seamus McGoldrick