With a strong connection to Ireland’s mythical history and an impressive array of beautiful lakes, gardens, parks and incredible scenery, there’s an endless variety of things to experience when you visit Westmeath, writes David Tucker.
County Westmeath has a long and colourful history that predates its official charter. It is said that this was the meeting place of the five ancient provinces of Ireland. Prior to the arrival of St. Patrick, the county was the gathering place for the High Kings of Ireland.
The Normans arrived about 1170 and built many castles and forts. The county was officially established in 1543 and was named after the historic kingdom of Mide.
The county was centrally involved in the 1641 rebellion and was active in the Williamite wars. Most of the Irish or Norman landholders lost their land following the 1641 rebellion. Throughout the county you will find remarkable evidence of the region’s long and colourful past.
Uisneagh Hill is an impressive hill nearly 180 meters tall. It is here that King Tuathal Teachmar erected his palace in the early second century. For two hundred years the pagan kings of Ireland ruled.
There are many castles located within the county. Perhaps the most famous is Tullynally. This castle, which is still lived in by the family of the Earl of Longford, is a beautiful castle that is nearly a quarter of a mile long.
One of the oldest Castles in Westmeath is Delvin Castle, built in 1181 by Hugh De Lacy. Athlone Castle was built in 1210 for King John of England. It was strategically placed to guard one of the main crossings of the River Shannon.
Crookedwood Fort is one of the oldest structures in the county. It is related to the old Stories of Fionn, the mythological hunter and warrior or the Druids. Nearby at Taughmon is a fourteenth century fortified stone church.
Many of the towns located within the county have their own distinct histories. The town of Fore is a medieval town containing a large moat from Anglo-Norman times. There are remnants of the ancient city walls and a Benedictine
Monastery that was in use until Henry VIII closed it in 1539. The monastery contains superior ancient artwork and crosses.
The population of Westmeath in 1841 was 141,300. During the Great Famine of 1845-1847, the population decreased until it was 111,407 in 1851. The population continued to decrease to 56,818 in 1926. In 2011, the population was 86,164.