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Another of the centrally-located Irish counties, Westmeath was created from the ancient kingdom of Mide (meaning 'middle'). With the key town of Mullingar at its heart, Westmeath is essentially a rural county, with farming and agriculture the main commercial activities. Mullingar benefitted from the development of the Royal Canal, whilst in contrast, the town of Athlone historically held a strategic position on the main Dublin-Galway route across the River Shannon. Both towns were also aided by the advancement of the Midland Great Western Railway.
Things to do in Westmeath
With a plethora of loughs, rivers and canal waterways scattered across the county, Westmeath is popular with both inland mariners and nature-lovers alike.
South of the town of Mullingar, Lough Ennell offers an accessible, low-lying shoreline and a wide expanse of largely shallow waters for recreational bathing, boating and fishing. Brown Trout and Pike are the main catches available to local anglers. Once a regular visitor, Jonathan Swift, the author of 'Gulliver's Travels' is said to have taken much inspiration from the local area when writing his seminal work.
As befits such a rural county, the Athlone Agri-Show takes place every June, and is just one of a number of similar regular events in the local calendar.
Mullingar – The twin tapering white Neoclassical towers of Mullingar's Cathedral are perhaps the most striking feature to be found in the town. Inside the cathedral, two well-known mosaics by the Russian artist Boris Anrep are located behind the altars of St Patrick and St Anne. Nearby, on the shores of Lough Ennell, stands the Georgian estate and parklands of Belvedere House; this elegant house was once the home of Lord Belfield, the infamous first Earl, who imprisoned his wife for more than thirty years, and commissioned the construction of Ireland's largest purpose-built folly, the fine Gothic facade known as the 'Jealous Wall', to block out the view of his neighbouring brother's house.
Collinstown – The presence of a number of ringforts on the high ground surrounding Lough Lene reinforce the notion that this area has been inhabited since ancient times.
Finea – A picturesque village on the River Inny, between Lough Sheelin and Lough Kinale, Finea attracts nature-lovers with its soft bogland, limestone outcrops (including the wonderfully named 'Rock of Curry') and more than a thousand acres of forest, bringing both walkers and picnickers flocking to the area to enjoy the local environment.
Clonmellon – On the border with County Meath, Clonmellon is an attractive little village. A monument – 'the Raleigh Obelisk' – erected in 1810 by a local baronet, commemorates the introduction of the potato to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh, marking the spot where the first tubers were thought to have been planted. Meanwhile, to the east of the village, the ruins of the 18th century Killua Castle are reputed to have been the birthplace of Laurence of Arabia.
Fore Abbey – Fore is known as 'the town of the water-springs'. The ruins of an old Benedictine Abbey are situated to the north of Lough Lene. St Feichin founded the ancient Abbey around 630AD. Originating in the 13th century, most of the existing ruins of the Benedictine Priory are the remains of 15th century activities. Fore is noted for its eighteen 'Fore Crosses', and the Abbey for its 'seven wonders'.
Athlone – Perched on the River Shannon, near to the southern shores of Lough Ree, Athlone promotes itself as the commercial capital of the Irish Midlands, added to which, it is certainly very close to being at the geographical centre of Ireland as a whole. There is also a harbour for watercraft heading for Lough Ree, and this, the largest lake on the Shannon, is also popular with anglers, swimmers and birdwatchers. Athlone Castle and the twin white towers of the Church of St Peter and Paul overlook the main access bridge over the River Shannon at this point. On the west bank of the river, 'Sean's Bar' purports to be the oldest pub in Europe, dating back to 900AD.
Castlepollard – A well-designed town, with a fine triangular green surrounded by 19th century buildings, Castlepollard was constructed by the Pollard family under a Charter from King Charles II at the end of the 17th century.
Glasson – Visitors to this excellent village can enjoy a fine selection of award-winning pubs and restaurants, set in the midst of an area rich in historic buildings and monuments, with forest walks and fishing close at hand. The old schoolhouse dates from 1844.
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