County Longford lies at the heart of Ireland and is steeped in ancient Irish mythology and lore. From the reedy shores of Lough Gowna to the banks of the River Shannon, the quiet countryside of County Longford overflows with rural charm.
A low-lying, inland county, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dreamland.
Come join me today on a photographic tour of this inland treasure, which may seem off the beaten path to many. However, County Longford is an area of great natural beauty, just waiting to be explored.
Located In The Province Of Leinster:
County Longford is one of the 12 counties in the ancient province of Leinster.
It was formed under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I in 1569.
Known in days gone by as the Land of Annaly, a common nickname for County Longford is “O’Farrell County.” You’ve guessed it – in day’s gone by the O’Farrell clan were in charge in this neck of the woods.
Most of this inland county lies in the basin of the River Shannon. Lough Ree one of the big lakes on the River Shannon forms much of the county’s western boundary.
Longford’s landscape is generally low-lying, and features acres of pastureland, bogland and lakes.
The county takes its name from its principal town, Longford. The word longfort is derived from the Viking word for a safe harbor, or a stronghold.
The town boasts wide streets and many buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The 200 foot tower of St. Mel’s Cathedral dominates the town.
Building of this cathedral began in 1840, but was interrupted by the tragedy of the Great Irish Famine. It was not finished until 1893.
Unfortunately, the building went up in flames on Christmas Day 2009. Restoration has been completed and once again this magnificent church is open to the public.
Luckily, the cathedral’s windows survived the blaze, which include many beautiful stained-glass works by renowned Irish artist Harry Clarke.
The Royal Canal:
The Royal Canal is a man-made waterway which once was the principal cargo route between Dublin and the River Shannon. Building began in 1789 and the canal was first opened in 1817.
It was closed in 1961 when railways and trucks replaced barges for cargo transportation.
But good news! The canal has now been restored to its former glory after years of campaigning by local community groups.
Flowing for over 90 miles (146 km), the canal is now navigable from Spencer Dock in Dublin to Richmond Harbour in Clondra, County Longford, the point where the Royal Canal meets the River Shannon.
This historic waterway is a wonderful amenity for the people of Longford, providing incredible opportunities for water leisure activities, not to mention the enjoyment of walking its peaceful banks.
The village of Ballinamuck is well known to students of Irish history.
The very last battle of the 1798 Rising of the Irish against British rule took place here in County Longford.
Gereral Cornwallis, whose British forces were defeated during the American Revolutionary war, did not meet a similar fate in Ireland. He led the British army against a combined Irish and French force at the Battle of Ballinamuck.
French battle survivors were sent home but the Irish survivors were shown no mercy. They were hunted down and executed in the nearby village of Ballinalee
Ballinamuck Visitor Centre houses an excellent exhibition which details the Battle of Ballinamuck and the 1798 Rising. Visitors learn about the social and political history of the era, and the significance of this battle for Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world.
Trails lead visitors to the battle sites and the ‘Croppies’ Graves’ can be visited.
The name “Croppy” is used to describe the United Irishmen who fought in the 1798 Rebellion. The Society of United Irishmen cut their hair in a closely cropped style in opposition to the aristocratic fashion of wearing powdered wigs. However, such short haircuts aroused the suspicions of the English and Irish ‘croppies’ were often seized for interrogation and tortured. Most were brutally killed in the days and years after the 1798 Rising.
The Ballinamuck Visitor Centre is housed in a barracks built for the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1846 to help counter insurrection and to monitor the people of North Longford who were feared by the British for their revolutionary nature.
The Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre explores the significance of a pre-historic roadway discovered at the site in 1984.
An Iron Age trackway of large oak planks was discovered in the bog at Corlea, near the village of Kenagh, and dates back to 148 BC.
These wooden tracks survived through thousands of years, buried beneath bog peat. It is believed the ancient roadway was built to allow passage of wheeled vehicles. It is the biggest and heaviest prehistoric roadway ever discovered in Europe.
The Corlea Exhibition Centre is built on the exact axis of the trackway with an 18 metre stretch of the preserved roadway on permanent display.
A boardwalk across the bogland allows visitors to follow the course of Iron Age man. This modern track has been built along the course of the ancient roadway.
The town of Granard is home to the remains of an Anglo-Norman Motte and Bailey. Built around 1199 by the Norman Knight, Richard de Tuite, it is one of the best examples of these earthen fortifications in Ireland.
Learning about motte-and-bailey castles was part of our Irish history curriculum when I was a youngster in Ireland. The Motte was a huge circular earthen mound with a wooden or stone castle built on top. It was surrounded by a bailey or courtyard with a protective ditch and palisade or protective fence.
It is said that Granard’s Motte and Bailey was erected upon and within a pre-existing ringfort or rath, much to the chagrin of the Celtic O’Farrell clan. Local folklore claims there is a fairy castle concealed within the mound. Other stories recount tales of vast stores of fairy gold.
A statue of St. Patrick was erected on the mound in 1932, and our beloved saint has a magnificent vista. Standing at 534 feet above sea level he has scenic views of many lakes and surrounding counties.
Ardagh Heritage Village:
Ardagh is a charming, picturesque village with many beautiful Victorian buildings.
It’s history however dates back way past the 19th century to pre-Christian times. A forested hill called Brí Leith (pronounced Bree Leh) was once a famous center for Celtic religious worship.
Ardagh was an important center for Christian worship and Saint Patrick himself visited many times. He appointed his nephew Saint Mel as the Bishop of Ardagh and the Abbott of the Monastery of Ardagh. The revered Saint Mel is said to be buried beneath the ruins of his church at Ardagh, and Longford’s Cathedral bears his name.
Saint Brigid, Mary of the Gael, is said to have visited Ardagh before founding her famous monastery at Kildare.
In the early 1700’s the Fetherston family moved to Ardagh and built their home on their estate. They were improving landlords and redesigned the village itself. Beautiful Victorian buildings survive to this very day.
Lady Fetherston built the homes for her tenants and was inspired by the neat order of Swiss town planning.
The Fetherston family home, Ardagh House, was once mistaken for an inn by the famous English writer, Oliver Goldsmith (1728 – 1774), who was born in County Longford. The young poet thought the Fetherston daughters were servants, an incident which inspired his famous play, ‘She Stoops to Conquer.’
Goldsmith’s writings were inspired by many locations in County Longford.
The town of Edgeworthstown is most famous as the home of the celebrated Anglo Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849), and her family. The Edgeworth family first made their home in the area in 1583.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth was an ingenious and eccentric inventor and surveyor. Maria was one of his 22 children and was keenly interested in the Irish and their way of life. Her novels, of which ‘Castle Rackrent’ may be the most famous, immortalize life on small, rural Irish estates in the early 19th century.
She was admired as a writer by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen.
Edgeworthstown House was once the center of Anglo Irish aristocratic life in County Longford. It is now a private nursing home,
Fond memories of Maria Edgeworth remain throughout County Longford. Despite her advancing years, she worked tirelessly to help the starving Irish during the tragedy of the Great Irish Famine.
Lough Gowna lies between counties Longford and Cavan and is an angler’s paradise.
The lake’s name means calf lake in Irish. It derives from a legend about a supernatural calf which escaped from a well south of the lake and raced northward. The well water streamed after the calf and flooded the area to form the lake.
Lough Ree is the second largest lake on the River Shannon and forms the western boundary of County Longford.
The lake is popular for fishing and boating. Many islands dot the lake and the very central point of Ireland is located on an island in the lake.
Saints Island Priory:
Saints Island is a tranquil, peaceful site in County Longford with stunning views across Lough Ree.
Located a short distance outside the village of Newtowncashel, the ruins of an old priory are found on the island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway.
Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise first founded a monastery here before 542 AD. The ruins which now stand on the island belong to an Augustinian Monastery founded before 1259 AD.
It was here that Abbot Augustin Magraidin authored his manuscript collection of the lives of Irish Saints ‘Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae.’ This important work is now preserved in the Rawlinson collection of manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
The Monastery flourished until the time of the suppression of all Irish and English monasteries by the infamous Henry the VIII and continued by his daughter, Elizabeth I, who is not-so-lovingly called ‘Good Queen Bess’ in Ireland.
Today, the ruins of this ancient place are a memorial to Ireland once known as ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars.’ This spiritual place is perfect for contemplation and for many is one of Ireland’s thin places.
The ruins of the Augustinian Priory of Abbeyderg is located outside the village of Kenagh. The priory was founded in the 13th century and dedicated to St Peter.
The Abbey remained in existence until 1540 when once again Henry VIII destroyed it along with four other monasteries in this region.
Aughnacliff is home to one of Ireland’s most unusual looking dolmens.
This amazing megalithic portal tomb boasts two massive capstones, balancing on each other. Truly a sight to behold!
Another dolmen in the area, called the Cleenrath Dolmen is known locally as ‘Leaba Diarmuid agus Gráinne’, which means ‘the bed of Diarmuid and Gráinne’.
Gráinne was the daughter of the High King of Ireland and was supposed to marry Finn McCool. However she fell in love with one of Finn’s warriors called Diarmuid, and the pair ran off together. Finn went in hot pursuit and the two spent many nights lying beneath Ireland’s dolmens. One such dolmen remains noted in local Longford lore as the Cleenrath Dolmen.
Myths And Legends:
County Longford has strong associations with the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht. The epic Celtic tale, An Táin Bo Cuailgne, (pronounced Tawn Bow Koo-in-eh) tells the story of how Queen Maeve stole the coveted Brown Bull of Cooley from Ulster. On her pilfering journey she overnighted with her armies in Granard.
But County Longford brought no luck to the mighty Queen Maeve because she met her death while bathing on the island of Inis Clothran on Lough Ree. She was killed by her very own nephew who is supposedly buried on Cairn Hill, Longford’s highest point.
Another mythical tale from Longford is the legend of Midhir and Étain set at the hill of Brí Leith in Ardagh. This is a love story known as ‘The Wooing of Étain’ and this mythical tale spans over a thousand years.
It recounts the many lives and loves of the beautiful Étain, and this story is recorded in one of the earliest surviving Irish manuscripts, the Yellow Book of Lecan.
This is a story of the fairy people of Ireland known as the Tuatha De Dannan. County Longford is thought to be the location of portals to the underground world of these mythical fairy people.
Perhaps you’ll find an entrance to their magical world as you travel this beautiful county.
More Information On County Longford:
More information about County Longford can be found on the Tourism Longford website.
Wishing everyone happy travels throughout Ireland’s thirty-two counties.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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