Irish villages are small places, but even by such standards, Keadue in north Roscommon is small indeed. It has just two shops, two pubs, a church and a health centre. The population is barely 150 people. But a third of them seem to be on the local Tidy Towns Committee. They keep their very Irish little village a neat as a new pin, and have celebrated the fact that Keadue (try pronouncing it “Kay-doo”) has been the Tidy Towns Gold Medal holder for Roscommon, and for all Ireland.
And in 2008 Roscommon acquired a further all-Ireland distinction. The national public health survey came up with the new that Roscommon has the highest life-expectancy figures for both men and women in the entire country. By the standards of some notably long-lived countries the figures aren’t particularly high – 76 years for men, and 82 for women – but nevertheless the emergence of Roscommon at the top was newsworthy. particularly as Leitrim next door was analysed as having the lowest lifespans.
It could be said that in times past, Roscommon was a county much put upon by the counties about it. Or, put another way, to the casual visitor it seemed that just as Roscommon was on the verge of becoming significant, it became somewhere else. In one notable example - the hotel complex at Hodson's Bay on the western shores of Lough Ree - the location is actually in Roscommon, yet the exigencies of the postal service have given it to Athlone and thereby Westmeath.
But Roscommon is a giving sort of county, for it gave Ireland her first President, Gaelic scholar Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), it was also the birthplace of Oscar Wilde's father, and as well the inimitable songwriter Percy French was a Roscommon man. Like everywhere else in the western half of Ireland, Roscommon suffered grieviously from the Great Famine of the late 1840s, and at Strokestown, the handsome market town serving the eastern part of the county, Strokestown Park House has been sympathetically restored to include a Famine Museum. A visit to it will certainly add a thoughtful element to your meal in the restaurant.
Roscommon town itself has a population of 1,500, but it’s growing, though the presence of extensive castle ruins and a former gaol tell of a more important past. The gaol was once noted for having a female hangman, today it has shops and a restaurant. Northwestward at Castlerea - headquarters for the County Council - we find Clonalis House, ancestral home of the O'Conor Don, and final resting place of O'Carolan's Harp.
In the north of the county, the town of Boyle near lovely Lough Key with its outstanding Forest Park is a substantial centre, with a population nearing the 2,000 mark. Boyle is thriving, and symbolic of this is the restored King House, a masterpiece from 1730. Reckoned to have been the most important provincial town house in Ireland, it is today filled with exhibits which eloquently evoke the past. Nearby, the impressive riverbank remains of Boyle Abbey, the largest Cistercian foundation in Ireland, date from 1148.
Lough Key is of course on one of the upper reaches of the inland waterways system, and a beautiful part it is too. In fact, all of Roscommon's eastern boundary is defined by the Shannon and its lakes, but as the towns along it tend to identify themselves with the counties on the other side of the river, Roscommon is left looking very thin on facilities. But it has much to intrigue the enquiring visitor. For instance, along the Roscommon shore of Lough Ree near the tiny village of Lecarrow, the remains of a miniature city going back to mediaeval times and beyond can be dimly discerned among the trees down towards Rindown Point. These hints of of an active past serve to emphasise the fact that today, Roscommon moves at a gentler pace than the rest of Ireland.
Local Attractions and Information
Boyle Boyle Abbey (12th C Monastery) 071 966 2604
Boyle Frybrook House (18thC town hse) 071 966 2513
Boyle King House (500 years of Irish life) 071 966 3242
Boyle Lough Key Forest Park 071 966 2363
Boyle Tourism Information 071 966 2145
Castlerea Clonalis House 094 962 0014
Elphin Restored windmill 071 963 5181
Frenchpark Dr Douglas Hyde Interpretive Centre 0907 70016
Roscommon town Arts Centre 090 662 5824
Roscommon town County Museum 090 662 5613
Roscommon Town Race Course 090 662 6231
Roscommon town Tourism Information 090 662 6342
Strokestown Park House, Garden & Famine Museum 071 963 3013
Strokestown Roscommon County Heritage Centre 071 963 3380