The Kingdom of Moylurg
Until the end of the 16th century the Gaelic Kingdom of Moylurg covered a large part of what is now North Roscommon. It was replaced, mainly through conquest, by English and later British systems of governing, land ownership, law, culture and language; a process complicated by divisions within the Christian church. But long before Gaelic Ireland emerged settlers built megalithic tombs in the region from about the end of the fourth millennium BCE. These Neolithic settlers were replaced by others who built the earthen and stone ring forts of the Bronze and Iron Age. Rathcroghan became the royal seat of Connacht, home of the legendary Queen Maebh and the inspiration for Ireland’s national epic poem the Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley).
Christianity developed in the area from about the 6th century with followers of Patrick and other religious leaders being followed by Cistercians, Augustinians and Premonstratensian monks linked to France and Italy from the 12th century onwards. The Annals of Loch Cé, a Chronicle of Irish Affairs from A.D. 1014 to A.D. 1590, were part written on Trinity island – one of three monastic islands on this beautiful lake close to the town of Boyle. The magnificent Cistercian Abbey at Boyle became a military post in the Elizabethan era and, in time, Boyle became an important military town and a base for the Connaught Rangers regiment of the British Army.
In this tour you can visit the megalithic cemetery of Carrowkeel (one of the four main groups of passage graves in Ireland), explore a stone fort and an underground chamber, see where the Annals of Loch Cé were written and tour Boyle town with its fine abbey and its museum and cultural centre in King House; one of the finest town-houses in Connacht. You can also visit Rathcroghan and enter the ‘cave of the cats’ which our ancestors may have seen as the entrance to another world.
Romantics & Realists
Some of the finest of modern European literature has been inspired by the landscapes, mythology and people of counties Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim.
Ireland’s national poet and Nobel prize winner, William Butler Yeats,(1865 – 1939) is buried under Ben Bulben mountain. He was a romantic who immortalised the ‘Lake Isle of Inishfree’ from the streets of London. A pillar of the Irish literary renaissance, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre. .
John McGahern (1934 – 2006) has been described as ‘arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett’ and much of his finest work reflects the twists and turns of the laneways, the people and the social attitudes he observed during his long life in the area.
Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1882) was an English novelist and civil servant of the Victorian era who spent twenty formative years living and working in Ireland. He travelled extensively in Connacht and his first novel The Macdermots of Ballycloran was prompted by a visit to Drumsna in Co. Leitrim.
The Great Hunger
The National Famine Museum in Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon, is not a tourist attraction. It is a place of pilgrimage and reflection on what was Europe’s greatest famine of the 19th century; known in Irish as An Gorta Mór or The Great Hunger. The famine brought about the most profound changes in Irish society, economy and politics. Arguably it made those who stayed more conservative and those who left more radical. The many famine graveyards across the region are a lesson from history that is still being learned.
Visits to Strokestown House, Ardcarne, Arigna, Boyle, Carrick-on-Shannon and other famine related sites provide some insight into the horrors and the complexities of the 1840’s. These areas suffered massive population losses through hunger, disease and emigration. Descendants of those emigrants can explore the areas and the communities their families came from.
Forests, Bogs & Beaches
The quiet beauty of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands can be seen in it’s forests and bogs and the dramatic beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way can be seen at it’s seashores and beaches. You can walk though the beautiful Derreen Woods near Ardcarne (famous for their bluebells in late Spring) Lough Key Forest Park and Derryvunny woodland trail. You can see how concerns about climate warming are restricting turf harvesting and why rewilding of bogs is so important, visit bogland at Knockvicar and Arigna and see the wind turbines that increasingly provide clean electricity as an alternative to fossil fuels. You can watch the surf at Strandhill or kick your heels on the beautiful Dunmoran Strand with its fine views of Knocknarea, Ben Bulben and (on a clear day) Sliabh Liag in Donegal. There are days when you can be in Heaven and in Connacht.