History of Westmeath
Motto: Triath ós Triathaibh
“Noble above nobility”
County Westmeath is often referred to as the “Lake County” on account of its many lakes.
Located in the heart of Ireland, the county was officially established in 1543 and was named after the historic Kingdom of Mide.
The territory of the Kingdom of Midh was subsumed into the Lordship of Meath and granted by King Henry II of England, in his capacity as Lord of Ireland, to Hugh de Lacy in 1172. Following the failure of male heirs, the Lordship was split between de Lacy’s great-granddaughters.
The western (now called Westmeath) part was awarded to Margery and her husband, John de Verdun, son of Walter de Lacy while the eastern part (now called Meath) centred on Trim, was awarded to Maud.
Throughout the county you will find remarkable evidence of the areas long and colorful past. The Hill of Uisneach is where King Túathal Techtmar erected his castle in the early second century and it was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland for 200 years prior to the coming of St. Patrick. On the Hill of Uisneach you will find the “Ail Na Mearainn”, said to be the meeting point of the five ancient provinces of Ireland and where the great pagan festival of Bealtaine was held here during that time.
There are many castles located within the county. Perhaps the most famous is Tullynally castle, which is still lived in by the family of the Earl of Longford. One of the oldest in the area is Delvin Castle, built in 1181 by Hugh De Lacy. Athlone Castle was built in 1210 for King John of England. There are many other historical homes throughout the county.
Crookedwood Fort is one of the oldest structures in the county. It is related to the old Stories of the mythological warrior Fionn and the Fianna. Many of the towns located within the county have their own distinct histories. The town of Fore, is a small medieval town containing a large moat from Anglo-Norman times, remnants of the ancient walls and a Benedictine Monastery that was in use until Henry VIII closed it in 1539 can be still seen today.
Large numbers of immigrants left Westmeath and Ireland in the 18th and 19th century to find better fortunes in America amid the Famine and English colonialism that existed in Ireland at that time. Their first stop en-route to the new continent was Saint John in Canada, and the historic sights of Saint John prove why this city is now called ‘the most Irish city of Canada’.
Towns of Westmeath
Athlone is the largest town in Westmeath, however it also spans into the county of Roscommon. It is a crossing point of the Shannon, and it’s name means the Ford of Luan. The ownership of the ford has been disputed from early history. In 1001, Bran Boru marched here with a great army, 1129 saw King Turlough O Conor build a wattle bridge here, in 1199 the Normans occupied the town, and built the town walls in 1257. After the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, the Irish withdrew to Athlone. One of the attractions in Athlone is the 13th century castle, which during the 17th century Cromwellian Wars changed hands many times. The castle was handed over the the State in 1922, and was declared a National Monument in 1969, after serving as a military post.
Ballymore is situated almost 5 miles from Mullingar on the R390. Mentioned in the annals as far back as the eight century, its importance in ancient times was due to the fact tha it lay on the trade route between royal ‘Uisneagh’ and Athlone. The remains of a fort dating from the Williamite campaign can be seen beside the lake, as well as Father Dalton’s mass rock which was used during penal times.
Ballykeeran – The Way of Ciaran. Situated north of Athlone where the Breensford River joins Lough Ree, Ballykeeran derives its name from Saint Ciaran the founder of the great University of Clonmacnoise, who lived on Hare Island before founding Clonmacnoise. The remains of a corn mill can still be seen in the Village. The Dog and Duck Pub is very inviting as it stands between the “High Road” and the “Low Road” to Glasson.
Castlepollard – Cionn Torc (Hill of the Boars), in a district of low hills east of Lough Derravaragh, is a good angling centre for the Westmeath lakelands and a base for exploring this part of the country. Tullynally Castle , the residence of Lord Longford , is one mile west of the village. The gardens are open to the public during the summer season. A large castellated mansion, it is mentioned several times under its former name of Pakenham Hall in the memoirs of the eighteenth century novelist, Maria Edgeworth, whose father was a frequent guest there.
Collinstown is about 10 miles from Mullingar. This is a very scenic village particularly in the summer with beautiful array of flowers. Further on from Collinstown is Lough Lene, like Lough Ennell this lake is also a holder of the European Blue Flag Award for cleanliness. An early christian hand-bell was found here in the last century, Lough Lene has important Viking connections.
Coole is approximately 12 miles from Mullingar. Just outside the village of Coole is Turbotstown House, a Georgian mansion about 200 years old. It was designed by the celebrated architect, Francis Johnston and has many noteworthy features. Turbotstown was the home of the Dease family for 650 years until 1926. The house is open to the public from May to September, goup tours welcome on Sundays.
Delvin is a picturesque village in wooded surroundings. The Dysart lakes near by are good for angling. Delvin Castle (thirteenth century) , a well preserved ruin, was erected by the Nugents. They later abandoned it to move to Clonyn Castle, west of the village. The present Clonyn Castle is a nineteenth century building which replaced the original one that stands in ruins in the grounds. Brindsley MacNamara, the writer, was born at Ballinvalley near Delvin and some of his works are set in the neighbourhood. There is an 18-hole golf course in the grounds of Clonyn Castle.
Finea is a picturesque village on the River Inny, between Lough Sheelin and Kinale. In the centre of the village there is a memorial to Myles “Slasher” O’Reilly, who defended the town bridge in 1646 during the confederate wars. On the shores of Lough Sheelin is Ross Castle where O’Reilly slept the night before the battle.
Glasson takes its name from the Irish word Glasan – a streamlet, and is known as the “Village of the Roses”. A Victorian writer Mary Bannim wrote: “The houses are of picturesque build, and some are kept in the old style – smothered in roses and fuchsias; upon all are trained vines and climbing plants” This is still true today and it is a pretty picturesque place famous for its hospitality and features two olde world pubs and two first class restaurants. The old Glasson Schoolhouse dates from 1844. Itis a Tudor style, single storey schoolhouse with a characteristic “Tudor” arched doorway and hood mouldings on the windows. It is being restored and renovated as an interpretative centre.
The village of Horseleap, gets its name from the tradition that the Norman Baron, de Lacy, whilst being pursued by a party of the MacGeoghegans, native chieftains of the area, jumped his horse over the drawbridge of the castle; it is related that the imprint of the horse’s hooves can still be seen on the stone. Near the village is the partly damaged Norman motte-and-bailey, erected in 1192 A.D. and a well preserved 16th century tower house, erected by the MacGeoghegans. The village has an excellent garden centre and art stone industry.
Kilbeggan has a proud heritage of flour milling and whiskey distilling powered by the waters of the River Brosna. Locke’s, Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery, has become one of the Midlands leading tourist attractions. A number of new restaurants and coffee shops have opened to cater for the growing numbers of visitors. A green mound known as the Church of the Relic, 1km south of the village is said to mark the site of a Cistercian abbey founded in the thirteenth century on the site of Saint Becan’s settlement. 6.5km to the south east, there are good views from the summit of the motte at Rathugh, the site of an Early Christian settlement. Part of the Eiscir Riada sand and gravel ridge runs through the Kilbeggan district.
Just opposite the village, in a grove, stand three 16th and early 17th century crosses. One was erected to commemorate a couple who were killed in a coaching accident, the second commemorates a couple killed by a runaway horse and the third appears to be just a headstone. The Protestant church contains a finely carved 13th century baptismal font and at the east end of the village stand the remains of a 15th century church. Rathwire, 2km from Killucan, was the meeting place between King John of England and Cathal Chrobhdearg, King of Connaught, in 1210 A.D.
Kinnegad located at the junction of two major routes in Ireland, where the roads from Dublin to Galway and Sligo meet, as a long tradition in providing hospitality for the travelling public. It has many eating houses with facilities to cater for every taste from early morning to late at night… The terrain around Kinnegad is a Walker’s Paradise, especially ‘An Boreen Bradach’ a walkway of approx. 3.5 miles which semi-circles Kinnegad. Along the Boreen nothing interrupts the view across the flat open fields streching in all directions. It is aesthetically and visually soothing to walk and gaze out over flocks of sheep and herds of cattle grazing. Depending upon the desires of the walker, naturalist or just plain observer, the sole expenditure is time and the only requirements are a keen eye and ear for what is all around while listening to the whispers of the soul.
Milltownpass is approximately 9 miles from Mullingar on the N6. The Tyrrell family had castles at the pass of Kilbride and Milltownpass, where they also had one of their mills. These castles guarded passes through the bog on the route from Dublin to the West. Belvedere House and Gardens make for an interesting excursion.
Moate gets its name from the nearby motte and bailey. The town originated with the Quakers who settled here and started up industries in the area near the end of the 17th century. Moate’s earliest building is ‘The Castle’, an early 16th century rectangular, three storey building, which is still inhabited. Beside the castle is a Quaker graveyard, and the remains of the Quaker Meeting House which was built in 1697. Moate today is a thriving market town with a large cattle and dairy industry.
A little village located on the Longford border with Westmeath. The nearby Rath river provides some good fishing.
Mullingar comes from the Irish “An Muilleann Cearr” which means the wyr mill or the left hand wise moving mill. It is derived from the legend of Saint Colman of Lynn in the 7th century. Mullingar is located near to the lakes of the midlands, such as Lough Owel, Lough Ennell, Lough Derravaragh and Lough Lee. It is the ideal location for tourists interested in fishing and water sports. There is also golf and horse riding available locally. The population of the town, according to the 1996 cenus, is 12,196, which rises to over 30,000 within a 16km radius.
About 3 miles (5km) north of Lough Owel is the village of Multyfarnham, one time tidy Towns winner. The modern Franciscan college is on the site of an early monastic foundation, and the tower of the adjoining church probably dates from the sixteenth century, and has recently been extensively restored. On the lawns around the church and college are elaborate life size Stations of the Cross, one of the finest outdoor shrines in Ireland. There are horse-riding facilities available.
Located in the east of County Westmeath, near to the border with Kildare. The main N6 road between Dublin and Galway crosses the island. Nearby Lough Ennell provides a good stock of brown trout.
Tyrrellspass was a Tidy Town winner and the European Architectural Heritage Award winner. This area was in the barony of Fartullagh and the Anglo Norman family of Tyrrell ruled over it until Cromwellian times. Tyrrellspass gets its name from a Captain Richard Tyrrell who lead a small Irish force and beat a large army of Queen Elizabeth at a pass north of the village in 1597. A castle of the Tyrrell’s still stands at the west end of the village. Built in the 15th century, it now houses a restaurant and antique shop. The village was laid out as a crescent by the Countess of Belvedere around a central green in the late 18th century.