County Roscommon (from the Irish, Contae Ros Comáin) lays claim to the geographical centre of Ireland and borders all other counties in the Connacht province. The name derives from the influential abbot and bishop, Coman mac Faelchon, whose monastery laid the foundations of the county town of Roscommon.
Two famous highlights derive his name: The Abbey of Roscommon on the outskirts of the town, which contains the tomb of Felim O’ Connor, the King of Connacht, and Roscommon Castle, which is also located on the outskirts of town and was partially destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1652 (and ultimately laid to waste in 1690).
“The Old Gaol,” adjacent the castle, fashions a deeper history than both of these places out of sheer opportunism. The tale is cruel and compelling. A poor woman, known today as Lady Betty, robbed and killed a wealthy man she never suspected of being her long-lost son. On the day she was scheduled to be executed, the hangman fell ill; then, in a grand show of how far some people will realistically go to save their own skin, volunteered to fulfil the rest of his duties. She was allowed to live and her sentence lifted (Lady Betty’s story was documented by William Wilde, father of Oscar).
Perhaps the best-known of Roscommon’s tourist attractions is, however, Strokestown Park House, a Palladian-style building designed during the 18th century by Richard Cassells, who was also the architect of Leinster House in Dublin. Originally intended for use as a gentleman’s country home for the Mahons, who were a rather prestigious family of the time, the house now preserves the history of their lives inside it, and in fact seems to have hardly changed at all since the late 1800s. Of particular interest is the upstairs playroom, demonstrating with some unease a child’s collection of toys, including pedal-powered wooden cars and a doll’s tea party.
The Famine Museum, housed in the old stables next door, unrolls the blighted history of the former plantation workers of Strokestown Park House during the famine. The famine in Ireland, as we all know, qualifies as the worst catastrophe to the island since the Viking invasion; the unnatural suffering upon these workers – peasants, really, after Major Denis Mahon evicted 3,000 of them from his land – doesn’t bear thinking about. The tale itself is something to behold. With one of his own guns and a mighty cause for revenge, his remaining tenants then revolted against the Major, who was mobbed to death. The gun now sits on display in the museum.
Unmissable Attractions County Roscommon
2. Roscommon Castle and “The Old Gaol”
3. Roscommon County Museum (Opening Times: Monday to Friday from 10.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m.) Prices: Adults €2.00 / Children €1.00
4. Strokestown Park House and Famine Museum (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.30 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. in summer / Monday to Sunday from 11.30 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. in winter) Prices: Adult €8.00 / Children €5.00 / Family €25.00 (2 adults and 4 children)
5. Rathcroghan Visitor Centre at Cruachan Ai (Opening Times: Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.) Prices: Adults €5.00 / Children €3.00
6. King House Interpretive Centre (Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 11.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m.) Prices: Adults €5.00 / Children €2.00 / Senior citizens and students €2.00 / Groups €3.00 / Family (2 adults and 3 children) €15.00
7. Lough Key Forest Park (Opening times vary from season to season, but generally the park is open Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m – 6.00 p.m. in summer) Prices: Adults €7.50 / Senior citizens and students €6.00 / Children €5.00 (children under 5 go free) / Family (2 adults and 2 children) €20.00
8. The Douglas Hyde Centre (The centre is available to the general public by appointment only
9. Arigna Mining Experience (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.) Prices: Adults €10.00 / Senior citizens and students €8.00 / Children €6.00