Daily Archives: February 6, 2011

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 19

Westmeath Longford

County Westmeath.

Tourism in Westmeath is generally based on its many water amenities. The county lakes include Lough Derravaragh, Lough Ennell, Lough Cassidy, Lough Lene, Lough Hogg, Lough Owel, Lough Coffey and Lough Ree, and the River Shannon has a modern inland harbour in Athlone.  The town is a popular spot for people passing through on pleasure craft, many of whom stop off at the Marinas.

Kilbeggan is in the south of County Westmeath. It lies southeast of Lough Ennell, north of the boundary with County Offaly, about 9 kilometres north of Tullamore.  Locke’s Distillery, the oldest licenced distillery in the world (I think all Irish distilleries make that claim. 😉  ), standing on the banks of the River Brosna, commenced whiskey production in 1757. Within the distillery complex, the owner constructed a house and gardens on an island in the river.  Although whiskey production ended there in the 1950s, the buildings survived and were reopened as a visitor attraction. I hear tell that distillation has recently recommenced.

Athlone is a Walled town home to several historical landmarks, most notably Athlone Castle which was built as a fortification in 1210 during the Anglo-Norman times.  Called Adamstown Castle on the west bank of the River Shannon, it overlooks the bridge giving marvellous town views from loopholes in the 12m high curtain wall.    Today the castle is a centre of tourism, housing the tourist office.  The museum, established by the Old Athlone Society containing relics of the town and district’s history, and a specially commissioned tribute to John Count McCormack, the world famous tenor. Other features include exhibitions on the siege of Athlone, River Shannon wildlife and history, together with folklore and military museums.  The visitor centre is due to re-open in 2011 following renovation.  Local artists frequently exhibit in the tea rooms while the Castle is often used for theatrical and musical events. 

Lough Ree just north of Athlone is one of the largest lakes on the Shannon and serves as a border between the counties of Longford and Westmeath.  It provides the perfect location for water activities such as angling, cruising, water skiing, wind surfing and sailing. The town is easily accessed by rail and road and is within a short driving distance of Dublin, Galway and Knock airports.

Between 1931 and 1975 the main radio transmission centre for Irish radio was located at Moydrum, Athlone.  The original  call sign was 2RN (a wordplay on the song “Come back to Erin”). It subsequently became known as “Radio Athlone” and could clearly be heard throughout Europe, and as far as Moscow.

The well preserved original village layout of Castlepollard is now landscaped in a central triangular green. Surrounded by buildings from the Georgian period, a fine sculpture on the square depicts a scene from the famous locally centred legend of the Children of Lir.  A plaque outlines the story in several languages.  Having being turned into swans, the four children of King Lir spent three hundred years on Lough Derravaragh before moving to other locations around Ireland.

Tullynally Castle is a situated some 2km from Castlepollard on the Granard road 20 km from Mullingar,.  The famous British Army general, Sir Edward Pakenham GCB, was born and raised in the house. The building has been home to the Pakenhams, for over 350 years.

In Mullingar the County Town, you will find a small Famine Memorial at Dominick Place, in the centre of town – a water feature somewhat understated but allows you time to stand and think about those events. Most estimates put the number of dead at around one million, millions more emigrated in the following years. Even with all the modern building work Ireland still has a population barely half of that of 150 years ago.

The cathedral of Christ the King, designed by Ralph Byrne would perhaps look more at home in Spain , Italy or Portugal rather than in the windswept midlands of deepest Ireland.The impressive modern building was consecrated on the day that World War Two broke out.  It contains outstanding mosaics of St Patrick and St Anne near the high alter that are the work of Russian artist, Boris Anrep. Permission must be obtained from the sacristan to see a small ecclesiastical museum above the sacristy , where you can learn more about Celtic crosses and other items.

The Belvedere estate, about 4 miles out of town is now in the hands of the nation.  The grounds are a treat – especially the follies such as the Jealous wall

Notable Westmeath natives include:

  • The Blizzards, musicians
  • Joe Dolan
  • John McCormack was born in the Bawn, Athlone, the fourth of eleven children of Andrew McCormack and Hannah Watson on 14 June 1884.  He became a world-famous Irish tenor and recording artist renowned for his diction and breath control    His greatest honour was bestowed upon him by the Pope in 1927 when he was made a Count of the Papal Court.
  • Michael Joseph Curley, Archbishop of Washington & Baltimore
  • Sir Walter Raleigh  was born in Devon. Little is known for certain of his early life, though he spent some time in Killua Castle, Clonmellon, County Westmeath
  • The writer John Broderick was born in Athlone in 1924

County Longford

Longford is the fourth smallest of the 32 counties in area and second smallest in terms of population.  There are several important Early Christian sites in and near Ardagh, including the Church of St. Mel. It is suggested that Saint Patrick built a church here in the fifth century and installed Saint Mel as bishop.  Monastic remains at Ardagh, Abbeylara, Abbeyderg, Abbeyshrule, Inchcleraun Island in Lough Ree and Inchmore Island in Lough Gowna are reminders of the county’s long Christian history.   St. Mel’s Cathedral was gutted by fire around 5 am on Christmas morning 2009. The work of restoring our Cathedral is ongoing.

Edgeworthstown has a small museum dedicated to the Edgeworth family.  The father an Anglo-Irishman Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817), was a busy man: writer, scientist, inventor and educationalist, who married four times and had twenty-four children.  His daughter Maria, although English born, became one of Ireland’s leading women writers.

Lanesborough and Ballyleague, more commonly known simply as Lanesborough or Lanesboro, is a town composed of two villages, Lanesborough is on the County Longford (east) side and Ballyleague on the County Roscommon (west) side of the River Shannon. They are located at the northern tip of Lough Ree

Notable Longford People include:

  • The mother of actor Mel Gibson, Anne Reilly Gibson, was born in Colmcille Parish, County Longford, Ireland. Gibson’s first name comes from the 5th-century Irish saint, Mel, founder of the diocese of Ardagh (which contains most of his mother’s native county), while his second name, Colmcille, also linked to an Irish saint, is the name of the parish in County Longford where Anne Reilly was born and raised.
  • Michael Gomez, champion professional boxer was born in an Irish Traveller family in Longford.
  • Ray Flynn, Irish mile record holder, grew up in Longford.