Explore

Fore Abbey

Fore Lakes

Loughcrew Cairns

Kells Round Tower

Trim Castle

Belvedere – the Jealous Wall

Locke's Distillery

Uishneach "The Cat Stone"

Uishneach "The Sun God"

Uishneach "The Festival of Fire"

Maria Edgeworth

ullynally is set among the beautiful limestone hills and lakes of North Westmeath, almost in the centre of Ireland – and is easily accessible from Dublin or the West.There are plenty of exciting places to explore en route, but better still, take time off to explore this magical landscape and read the layers the history visible everywhere. Westmeath has attracted settlers from Neolithic times and was once part of Ireland’s powerful middle kingdom, Midhe, ruled for 600 years by the O’Neills who had their stronghold on Cro-Inish, near Mullingar.. From the 12th century, it was part of Meath, under the Norman Pale but in the 15th century, western Meath was abandoned to “Irish rebels” becoming literally “Beyond the Pale.” There are ruins of Norman castles and abbeys everywhere, and the crumbling mansions and lost demesnes of later settlers, many of whom laid out model towns and villages. CASTLEPOLLARD, Tullynally’s nearest town, was laid out by the Pollards who arrived in Elizabethan times. Its name in Irish is Baile na Gros – Town of the Crossroads and there are roads to explore from here in all directions. Read below to see where they might lead.


Go northeast (R194) for Oldcastle and turn right for FORE of the 7 WONDERS. This tiny village was once a fortified town and you can still see the two town gates. The 7 wonders ( or miracles) are attributed to St Fechin who settled here in the 7th century AD, and the oldest building is his small stone chapel on the right - one of his miracles was to raise single handed the giant stone above its door. Across the road is the 13th century Benedictine monastery, which once held up to 300 monks. From the 14th century, it was often under attack, and there are defensive arrow slits in the towers and a stone for sharpening swords in the central cloister. Follow the looped walk from the gatehouse to the hill opposite and then back to the village for a drink in the cosy Seven Wonders bar. Or climb to the top of the BEN (or hill) of Fore. On a clear day, you can see 13 lakes.

Follow R194 to Millbrook and turn right (R277) for the LOUGH CREW HILLS (in Irish, Slieve na Callaigh , the Hill of the Witch). They are crowned by a remarkable string of passage graves, dating from 3,500 BC. Unlike their larger Neolithic sister at Newgrange, these are angled to catch the sun at the autumn and spring solstice and there is usually a local festival at those times. Climb to Cairn I to see the famous Equinox stone. In summer there is a guide on site to let you in. At other times, ask for the key at Lough Crew Gardens in the valley below. The Gardens have a fairy trail for small children and an adventure course for bigger ones. The café here offers excellent refreshments, as does the Megalithic tearoom on the north side of the cairns

Follow the road to KELLS, the ancient monastic town founded in the 6th century by St Columcille. It was once home to the famous book of Kells now on display in Trinity College library in Dublin, and there is a replica in the local tourist office. Head for St Columba’s church at the top of the town to see an early monastic cell and the 8th century High crosses used to teach the novice monks scripture – sadly defaced by Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17th century. The adjoining Round Tower has windows high up to watch for enemies approaching from all sides. The town has several good restaurants and a 5 star hotel and there is easy access to Dublin by the M3.

 

Go east (R395) for LOUGH LENE, a Blue Flag lake where all the locals like to swim. Take a detour first left outside Castlepollard to catch the best view and look for the mounds of Long Cyst graves on the hill above which date from around 2000 BC. Further on to the right is a magnificent ringfort, known as Randoon. In the 9th century it was occupied by a Danish warlord called Turgesius who offered to marry the O’ Neill king’s daughter. He was lured to meet her with her handmaidens on an island in the lake. The handmaidens turned out to be armed warriors in drag, who bound him in chains, then rolled him down the hill in a barrel studded with nails. The grisly tale is told by Gerald of Wales, a Norman historian who came to Ireland in Strongbow’s train.

Rejoin the main road for DELVIN, once the home of the Earls of Westmeath. You can see their castle (now privately owned) on the skyline just before the town and there is an earlier Norman castle in the town itself.

Follow the N53 east for TRIM. Once a stronghold of the Norman Pale, this medieval town has 5 ruined abbeys and a magnificent castle overlooking the Boyne. It was built by Hugh de Lacy, the Norman overlord of Meath, who stuffed it with ingenious devices for killing enemies. In the 1990s it was partly restored as a filmset for Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson and there are now excellent tours available in summer. You can lunch in a hotel overlooking the castle walls or picnic on the grassy banks beside the Boyne. R154 to the east joins the M3 to Dublin.

 

Go south (R394) for LOUGH DERRAVARAGH – the legendary lake of the Children of Lir, who were turned to swans here by their jealous stepmother, and lived here for 300 years. According to the legend they were baptised by St Patrick 600 years later and returned to human form.

There are stunning views of the lake from the main road or even better if you turn left at Crooked wood and climb the hill to TAGHMON. (Note St Munna’s tiny 14th century church and the Norman motte crowning the hill). Or you can turn right at Crookedwood and follow the southern shores to MULTYFARNHAM. This pretty village has a fine Franciscan abbey still in use as the parish church - Look for the Way of the Cross in the abbey garden with outsize figures, modelled on local parishioners, then call at Weirs in the high street for an excellent pub lunch or dinner.

You can return to Castlepollard along the northern shore of Derravaragh across the Inny River or continue to Mullingar via the N3 past LOUGH OWEL, a beautiful spring fed lake full of wooded islands. MULLINGAR is a thriving market town, famous for its connection with singer, Joe Dolan, whose statue adorns the market square. There is a vast cathedral built in the 1920s with fine mosaic murals by Boris Anrep who designed the mosaic floors in London’s Tate Gallery. Make a staging post here to explore south Westmeath. There are several excellent 5 star hotels. LOUGH ENNELL (2 miles south) was once the stronghold of the O Neill kings. They guarded the road from Tara to the royal burial grounds at Clonmacnoise and collected tribute from as far away as Dublin; their treasure is said to be buried in the lake.

Visit BELVEDERE on the eastern shore, an elegant early I8th century villa built by the “wicked Earl of Belvedere” – he locked up his young wife for 30 years for supposed adultery with his brother and built the vast battlemented folly known as the Jealous wall to blot out the sight of another brother’ house. There is now a visitor centre and café hidden behind it, and there are walled gardens and beautiful walks along the shore.

Or take a tour of LOCKE’S DISTILLERY in Kilbeggan, said to be the oldest distillery in Ireland– Learn the secrets of making whiskey, “ the Water of Life”. and enjoy a delicious whiskey-laced cake in their restaurant.

Or go due west to Rathnew (R389/390) for the HILL of UISNEACH, once the sacred centre of Ireland, crowned with a giant Catstone. There are guided tours at weekends in summer and a spectacular Festival of Fires every May to celebrate the return of the sun god Lugh.

 

Back in CASTLEPOLLARD, there are 2 other roads to explore. Go northwest (R394) to Finea, set between LOUGH SHEELIN and LOUGH KINALE. This is where Myles the Slasher with a hundred followers held the crossing against Cromwell’s army in 1646. You are now in Co.Cavan, a different landscape of tiny drumlin hills and secret lakes. Take R194 to explore the CAVAN COUNTY MUSEUM at Ballyjamesduff which has exciting exhibits from the Bronze age on and a stunning recreation of trench warfare during World War I – much recommended for kids. Or turn right just before Finea to explore MULLAGHMEEN FOREST. This is the largest beech wood in Ireland, with an ancient ringfort at its centre and a network of paths, carpeted with bluebells and wood anemones in spring.

 

Finally for another landscape, go west (R395 ) past Tullynally’s gates to the village of Coole. Beyond is a vast chocolate coloured bog stretching all the way to Co.Longford. Buried under it are ancient iron age tracks made of oak planks, some over 2000 years old. One of them has been excavated and is on display at the CORLEA TRACKWAY CENTRE, southwest of Longford town (R398) Pause at EDGEWORTHSTOWN, once owned by the remarkable Edgeworth family. Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) was a hugely successful novelist, Ireland’s answer to Jane Austen. Her father was a gifted inventor who designed Ireland’s first telegraph system used during the Napoleonic wars. (The Edgeworths were frequent visitors to Tullynally and he also designed a central heating system for Tullynally’s Great Hall!) You can see the old entrance to their house at the south end of the village street. The house is itself a nursing home but there is an Edgeworth museum in the nearby rectory and an annual literary festival in summer.

From here, follow the N3 to LONGFORD town to see magnificent 19th century cathedral, St Mels. It was almost destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve in 2008 but has now been miraculously restored.


For further details of where to stay and what to do in Westmeath please visit www.northwestmeath.ie or www.westmeathtourism.com For details of what to see over a wider area; visit www.irelandsancienteast.com or www.hiddenheartlands.com. For details of heritage house and gardens open to the public, visit www.ihh.ie or www.gardensofireland.org.

 


E-mail:info@tullynallycastle.ie Tel: 00353 (0)44 966 1856