Often called the Lake County, Westmeath offers an array of streams, lakes and other waterways, it is part of the Leinster province and the Midlands. It has a colourful and long history and it is said that Westmeath was where the five ancient provinces of Ireland met. Before St. Patrick, it was the gathering county of all the high kings. The Normans built forts and castles after their arrival in 1170, and the county was established in 1543 and got its name from the kingdom of Mide. It was centrally involved with the rebellion in 1641 and active in the Williamite war, most of the Norman or Irish landholders lost their homes and land after the rebellion in 1641. Still, today, visitors can view the evidence of the county’s eventful past.
The hill, Uisneagh is 180 meters high and it is here where the palace of King Tauthal Teachmar was built in the 2nd century, the pagan kings ruled Ireland for over two hundred years. There are several castles in the Westmeath county, the most famed, Tullynally, it is still occupied by the Earl of Longford’s family. Yet the oldest castle is arguably the Delvin Castle, it was built in 1181 and constructed by Hugh De Lacy. King John of England built the Athlone Castle in 1210, and he made a strategic move and placed it in a position from which it was able to guard the main crossing of River Shannon. The oldest structure in the county is Crookedwood Fort, related to the ancient tales of Fionn, a mythological warrior and hunter, and it is nearby the Taughmon, a fortified stone church built in the fourteenth century.
The towns located within the county each have their own history, one of the medieval towns is Fore containing a moat that comes from the Anglo-Norman era and there are still remains of the ancient wall of the city as well as the Benedictine Monastery, used until it’s 1539 closure, by Henry VIII. The Westmeath popular was 141,300 in 1841 and from 1845 to 1847 during the Great Famine it drastically decreased and in 1851 it was 111,407. The Westmeath population further decreased and by 1926 it was only 56,8181, the population in 2011 was 86,164.
A trip to Westmeath is made special by so much, this great destination offers several lakes, its favoured for its angling and water sports. Popular water sports spots are Lough Owel and Lough Ennell, and Lough Derrravaragh is fundamental in the mythology of Ireland. Westmeath is based in the heart of the Ancient East of Ireland, and it comes as no surprise that its mystical lake is part of many folklore and tales of fables. Some of the legends include that the Children of Lir was transformed into swans by a very jealous stepmother who was then condemned to wandering of 900 years. Tullynally Gardens and Castle can be found near the lake of legends, it has been the home of the Pakenham family for more than 350 years. During your trip to this magnificent county, you can enjoy pre-booked tours, visit the Georgian-styled manor, enjoy leisurely walking trails and get lost in gardens of the 18th century.
Medieval Landmarks in Westmeath
The gateway town to the Shannon River is Athlone, visitors can rent cruisers to explore the artsy Left Bank and the medieval castle. The 12th century, Athlone Castle is one of the major attractions for visitors and was built by Bishop John de Gray for King John of England. It was erected in such a way that it could also defend the River Shannon crossing point and it now displays ancient artefacts enabling tourists to wander into 5,000 years of history.
The compact maze of Athlone towns’ old streets offers restaurants such as the Thyme and The Left Bank Bistro, shopping centres, and when you feel thirsty the Kilbeggan Whiskey pub offers some of the best local beers. This is where the Drama Festival of Ireland takes place and it is not surprising when you take into consideration that both the Athlone Little Theatre and the Dean Crowe Theatre is situated here. The yearly events bring lots of visitors as well as drama groups and art exhibitioners.
Wicked Spouses and Grand Houses
The main town in Westmeath is Mullingar and only a few miles outside of the town, tourists can find the Belvedere House, this parkland estate overlooks the Lough Ennell. The hunting lodge offers magnificent ceilings decorated with fire-breathing dragons, it also offers the Jealous Wall. This feature well worth being curious about is a mock-up of a ruined abbey, a Gothic folly built by the owner of the lodge. Lord Belvedere intended to block the view of his brother’s residence, which was the much grander Tudenhan House. Belvedere was known as the Wicked Earl and he is also notorious for locking up his wife for a period of 31 years, all due to a suspicion of infidelity, which clearly shows that he was not a moderate man.
Westmeath & The Seven Wonders
The 7th-century remains are situated in the village of Fore, the monastic settlement is the biggest Benedictine site in entire Ireland and it also is the home of the seven fabled wonders of Fore. These are the miracles most associated with the tree that would never burn, St Fechin, there is also the water that never boiled, and the monastery that was built on a bog. The seven wonders are seen as miracles, it is the pretty light-hearted take you’ll remember most from your visit and with so many folk tales about the saints, the place is one of curiosity. Maybe the eighth wonder of Ireland is how Westmeath have remained for so long on the radar, and the only way to find out is to add it to your wish list of places to visit.