County Roscommon is part of Ireland’s hidden heartlands. It’s an inland county in Connacht, and is home to medieval castles, aristocratic homes, lush landscapes and many fascinating archaeological sites.
Roscommon is truly steeped in history, with some ancient sites dating back over 6,000 years. The land is closely associated with old Irish legends and myths, with stories of Queen Maeve of Connacht and the Brown Bull of Cooley or the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
The families that ruled this land in days gone by were the McDermott, O’Connor and King clans. Their stories can be experienced through some amazing visitor centers and ancient castles.
This beautiful county is home to many historical and archaeological sites and is most well known for its amazing lakes and forests.
Please join me on a photographic tour of County Roscommon.
Table of Contents
- Finding County Roscommon On An Irish Map
- Towns of Roscommon
- Castles and Big Houses of County Roscommon
- Monastic and Ancient Sites in County Roscommon
- Out and About in County Roscommon
- Thank You For Touring County Roscommon With Me
Finding County Roscommon On An Irish Map
County Roscommon is located towards the north west of Ireland, and is part of the province of Connacht. It is one of five counties in Connacht and is bordered by the other four, Sligo and Leitrim to the north, and Mayo and Galway to the west.
It’s eastern border is the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest waterway.
In the Irish language the name for County Roscommon is Contae Ros Comáin (pronounced kun-tay ross cum-awn). The literal translation of the name is the wood of Comán. Saint Comán was a local saint in years gone by.
The nickname for people from this Irish county is ‘the Rossies’ and the ‘Sheepstealers.’
The sheepstealers is probably one of the most unusual nicknames of all. Apparently in famine times many people from Roscommon would cross the Shannon to steal sheep in counties Longford and Westmeath.
They had a greater chance of escaping since it was hard to follow them across the river. They took quite the risk, since this crime could get you deported to Australia or Van Diemen’s Land as it was called back then.
Towns of Roscommon
Just like many parts of Ireland, the towns of County Roscommon are filled with history, heritage, and hidden treasures. Here’s a quick look at some of the main towns of County Roscommon.
Boyle is an old fashioned country town, situated in pleasant, hilly Irish countryside. The streets are lined with quaint shops and pubs from years gone by.
Boyle is built on the River Boyle, that is part of the Shannon river basin. It flows from Lough Gara near Sligo to the Shannon River.
The Abbeytown Bridge spans the River Boyle and it is one if the oldest of its kind in Ireland. Built entirely of stone with no masonry, this arched bridge has not changed since it was built between 1190 and 1220.
The town’s history dates all the way back to the time of Saint Patrick. In 435 AD Ireland’s patron saint reportedly convinced Saint Attracta, an Abbess of Killaraght, that this lakeland area needed better accommodation. She dutifully built a hostel in what is now the town of Boyle.
Saint Patrick visited and local legend tells how he fell into the River Boyle. Of course he cursed the spot where he fell and ever since the fishing has been poor at the place where he fell.
The foundation of the Cistercian monastery here in 1161 ensured the town would grow.
Boyle is home to the monastic ruins of Boyle Abbey and the stately home King House, both of which we’ll visit later in this post.
The county town bears the same name as the county of Roscommon. This settlement has a history dating back over two thousand years.
Built beside an imposing medieval castle, Roscommon was a major market town in centuries past. It prospered until the late 1840’s when it was devastated by the Great Famine. Nearly one third of the population of this town was lost.
Roscommon town’s long history is clearly evident to this very day. and is home to a number of buildings of historical and archaeological significance. These include Roscommon Castle, Roscommon Abbey and the Old Roscommon Gaol.
You can explore all that the town has to offer on the Roscommon Town Heritage website.
Lying to the west of County Roscommon, Castlerea is its third largest town.
It is the ancestral home of the O’Connor clan, who were High Kings of Ireland. The last High King of Ireland, Felim O’Conor was born here in the 12th century.
It is also the birthplace of Oscar Wilde’s father, Sir William Wilde (1815-1876).
The railway station lies on the main Dublin to Westport line. It was first opened in 1860.
Today, Castlerea is home to the Irish Rail Museum which houses an extensive collection of rail memorabilia. Here you can celebrate the railways of Ireland, and learn how this museum is working to preserve this important part of Irish history.
Strokestown is County Roscommon’s only designated heritage town. It is home to Strokestown House and Gardens, and the National Famine Museum.
These visitor attractions are being redeveloped and will reopen to the public in sumer 2022.
Strokestown was the home of the Packenham-Mahon family for over 300 years. Their Palladian home is still furnished with the family’s possessions, dating back hundreds of years.
The National Famine Museum at Strokestown tells the story of Ireland’s most tragic historical event.
The words and illustrated tales of the people who experienced this devastating event are presented in this informative museum.
The impoverished Irish people of Strokestown and the surrounding area suffered greatly during this tragic time.
Their stories are told through memorials in the town and in the museum.
Castles and Big Houses of County Roscommon
Many of County Roscommon’s castles and mansions lie in ruins, but luckily some are still intact, and are open for visitor tours.
King House is located in the town of Boyle. This large home was originally built in 1720.
It was the primary seat of the King Family. Sir John King was originally from Yorkshire, England. He arrived in Ireland in the early 1600’s and was granted lands in County Roscommon.
For nearly 300 years, this family was one of the wealthiest in all of Ireland. They owned vast tracts of land in County Roscommon and were landlords to Irish tenant farmers.
King house later became a military barracks to the Connaught Rangers.
Roscommon Castle now stands in ruins, and is situated on the northern side of Roscommon town.
Built in 1269 by the Norman Chief Justice Robert de Ufford, this imposing stone fortress is quadrangular in shape and has four tall towers at each corner. It was an impressive building in its day. Two additional towers guarded the entrance gate.
In 1566 Sir Henry Sydney captured the castle from its Irish owners. Colonel Nicholas, a captain in the army of Queen Elizabeth I of England, lived here around 1580. She granted him one of the biggest estates in Connacht.
The Castle was burnt by retreating Jacobite troops from the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.
The ruins of this castle are still impressive today. The castle is surrounded by an idyllic park with a sculpture garden.
Castlecoote House is located beside the River Suck and this 18th century Georgian mansion is surrounded by beautiful woodlands and parklands.
Visitors can wander through the gardens, orchard, and over a medieval bridge. There are also three medieval lookout towers, which are still standing and intact.
Each year it hosts the Percy French Festival in July, a tribute to this 19th century songwriter who was born in County Roscommon. He composed and sang comic songs, the most famous of which is The Mountains of Mourne.
He also wrote poetry, including one of my favorites called, If I Were A Lady.
Donamon Castle is one of Ireland’s oldest inhabited buildings.
A fort has stood on this site for thousands of years, but a castle is first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters referring to the year 1154.
It became part of the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 1200’s, but it was repeatedly attacked and demolished by the native Irish clan, the O’Connors.
The de Bermingham family lost the castle to the MacDavid Burkes in 1307 who held it for 300 years.
In the 1600’s it was taken over by the British Caulfeild family. It 1932 it was reclaimed by a unit of the Irish Republican Army.
In 1939 it was purcahsed from the Irish Land Commission by the Divine Word Missionaries who still live there today.
Kilronan Castle and Estate
Kilronan Castle is a magnificently restored stone castle which today is one of Ireland’s most luxurious castle hotels.
It was the ancestral home of the Tennison family, dating back to the 1300’s.
Located in secluded countryside on the shores of Lough Meelagh, the castle is surrounded by 40 acres of ancient forests and lush green pastures.
The O’Conor family have lived at this site on the River Suck for over 1500 years. Clonalis House is now owned by the 27th generation of O’Conor’s, from the time of the last High Kings of Ireland.
Today the family hosts guests in their beautiful country home, surrounded by lush woodlands and countryside.
Visitors who may not be staying at the guest house can also view this historic house. Guided tours are available for those who wish to explore the history and heritage of this ancient Gaelic family.
This is the ancestral home of the might O’Conor clan of Connaught. It was built in the early 1300’s.
It was here that the O’Conor family defended itself from attackers and ruled over the surrounding countryside.
They lost the castle to Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1652, but the castle was restored to the family in 1677.
Alack and alas, the castle was once again confiscated from the family when they backed the loser, James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Monastic and Ancient Sites in County Roscommon
Roscommon’s landscape, like that of many Irish counties, is dotted with the remains of many ancient monastic sites.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most important sacred sites of the county.
The local ruling family, the MacDermotts, invited the Cistercians to the area and provided patronage for this monastery.
Unfortunately, when Ireland was occupied by Cromwellian forces in 1659, they showed little respect for this holy site, and some of it was destroyed.
In the following centuries it was used by the British as a military garrison.
Despite the Abbey’s tumultuous history, it stands relatively intact to tell the tale of sacred times and monastic settlements in Ireland.
The story of the monastery is told at the interpretive center which is housed in a restored 16th century gatehouse.
Rathcroghan Visitor Center
Rathcroghan is the site where the festival of Samhain or Halloween is said to have been first celebrated by the Celts.
This was once the ancient capital of the Province of Connacht. There are over 240 archaeological sites in the area, including prehistoric burial mounds, ringfort settlements, and standing stones.
This is one of Ireland’s and Europes largest archaeological sites that has not been fully excavated.
Some of the ancient sites at Rathcroghan date back over 5,500 years. Visitors can join expertly guided tours to explore this amazing history, mythology and archaeology.
The Rathcroghan Visitor Center is located in the village of Tulsk, County Roscommon.
Here you can walk in the footsteps of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht, climb to the top of Rathcroghan Mound which was a ceremonial site in the Iron Age.
Or perhaps you would like to look into Oweynagat (the Cave of the Cats) which is said to be the entrance to the Otherworld.
This monastic ruin stands just outside Roscommon town, and is the remains of a Dominican Friary that was built around 1253.
Felim O’Connor, the King of Connacht invited the Dominican’s to the area and built this monastery on the original site of an abbey first built by Saint Comman.
Despite being a ruin, there are still many old walls intact, with lancet windows and arched entrance ways.
The peace and serenity of this site allows visitors to contemplate and imagine what this place must once have been in its heyday.
Castlestrange Scribed Stone
This large granite boulder lies in a field where it has stood for thousands of years.
It is one of three such Celtic inscribed stones in Ireland displaying curvilinear etchings in a typical Celtic ornamentation pattern.
Similar flourishes and carvings were first found at La Tène in Switzerland, and for this reason this stone is characterized as a La Tène stone.
It dates back over 2000 years to the Iron Age and was first carved sometime between 400 BC and 100 AD.
Out and About in County Roscommon
County Roscommon is a region that is rich in outdoor and natural splendors. Here lakes and rivers teem with fish, and wildlife wander through the lush forests and mountains.
Arigna Mining Experience
The Arigna Mining Experience celebrates the mining industry which employed many in County Roscommon for decades. Here coal mining history is brought to life.
This was an active coal mine until it closed in 1990. The local people of Arigna raised funds to transform the mine into a visitor attraction and a tribute to the local miners who worked here for centuries.
Visitors can take a journey back in time, and enter the underground world where Irish men and women labored over the centuries.
This experience explores the themes of energy and looks at our journey from the past to the present and onwards to a new future.
Lough Key Forest Park
Lough Key is a large lake which is over 3 miles wide and is surrounded by a lush forest park.
Thirty-three islands dot the lake, many of which were home to famous monasteries in centuries past.
The Annals of Lough Key were compiled on Castle Island around 1041, and are now preserved in Trinity College in Dublin.
The forest park lies over 800 acres, on lands that once were part of the Rockingham Estate, owned by the King family.
In 1957 the estate was sold to the Irish Land Commission, and the current day park was envisioned and developed.
This amazing park includes large woodlands, gardens, nature walks and cycling tours. There are zip line adventures, treetop climbing platforms, boat tours and kayak experiences to be enjoyed in this outdoor wonerland.
Elphin windmill is a monument to an old way of life in Ireland.
This windmill was built over 300 years ago and was used to grind grain.
This old mill is now home to a local visitor centre.
Demonstrations of the workings of the windmill can be enjoyed by those who stop by.
Cruising the Shannon
County Roscommon is bordered to the east by the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river.
Cruising the Shannon is a wonderful way to explore this amazing inland waterway.
The village of Roosky is home to a thriving marina with river cruising amenities.
The River Shannon meanders through magnificent countryside, with many historic towns built along its banks.
Shannonbridge in County Offaly is another wonderful marina which is just across the river from County Roscommon.
An old Napoleonic era fort stands on the banks of the River Shannon on the County Roscommon side of Shannonbridge.
This old fort has been transformed into a tourist attraction with a lovely café and exhibition, sharing the history of this defensive fort from the early 1800’s.
Lough Ree, one of the three major lakes on the River Shannon is bordered to the west by County Roscommon. The lake is dotted with many islands just waiting to be explored by boaters. Some are home to ancient monasteries and were inhabited when Ireland was a land of Saints and Scholars.
The Curlew Mountains lie between the counties of Roscomman, Leitrim and Sligo.
The name of these mountains might at first appear to be linked to the curlew bird. However their name comes from the Irish language.
The word corrshliabh (pronounced kurr-hleeve) means steep pointed mountains, which is appropriate for these low lying hills in County Roscommon.
A famous Irish battle was fought here on the 15th of August, 1599.
Red Hugh O’Donnell from Donegal, led an army of Irish to defeat an English army of about 2000 men at The Battle of Curlew Pass.
His achievement is commemorated through the iconic Gaelic Warrior statue found in the Curlew Mountains today near Lough Key Forest Park.
The Suck Valley Way
The valley of the River Suck is home to peat bogs and wildflower meadows, lakes and marshes, plus glorious woodlands and forests.
This spectacular part of Ireland’s hidden heartlands is waiting to be discovered.
The Suck Valley Way is a long-distance walking trail that meanders along the river bank and its surrounding meadows.
You can walk or cycle along this sign posted route. Plus if you like to fish, the River Suck is an angler’s paradise.
Ireland is home to many signposted walking trails and this path in County Roscommon is perfect for young and old alike.
Derryglad Folk Museum
This award-winning folk museum is dedicated to the history and experiences of those who lived in rural Ireland in the 19th century.
This was a time when many of our Irish ancestors left their homeland to seek a new life in America.
Guided tours of the Derryglad Folk Musuem help you step back in time, as visitors learn about old Irish traditions and life in rural villages in years gone by.
This was a time of self-sufficiency, when people churned their own butter and grew their own food. This carefully curated museum commemorates the way we used to live.
Thank You For Touring County Roscommon With Me
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s photographic tour of County Roscommon.
You’ll find lots of helpful information on the Visit Roscommon website.
Roscommon is one of Ireland’s hidden gems. If you wish to get off the well worn tourist trail, and escape far from the madding crowd, then this may be the county for you.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings around the Emerald Isle.
Happy travels in Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad –Irish American Mom
Pronunciation – slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad – rhymes with parade
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