If you seek a county which best symbolises the resurgence of Ireland, you need look no further than Leitrim. In times past, it was known as the Cinderella county. Official statistics admitted that Leitrim did indeed have the poorest soil in all Ireland, in places barely a covering of low fertility. Back in the sad old days of the 1950s, the county’s population had fallen to 30,000. It was doubted that it was still a viable administrative entity.
You’d be hard put to visualise those gloomy times now, more than fifty years on. Today, Leitrim prospers. The county town, Carrick-on-Shannon, is one of Ireland’s brightest and best, a bustling river port. Admittedly, there are drawbacks. The town’s very first traffic lights came into action in the summer of 2004. Formerly, there were no traffic lights in all Leitrim county. Or at least, not on the roads. The modern automated locks on the restored Shannon-Erne Waterway – whose vitality has contributed significantly to Leitrim’s new prosperity – may have had their own boat traffic lights since the waterway was reopened in 1994. But it took another ten years before the roads followed suit.
Yet despite the new energy, Leitrim is rightly seen as a pleasantly away-from-it-all sort of place which has many attractions for the determined connoisseur, not least enthusiasts for traditonal music, though “traditional” is scarcely the proper word – in Letirm, it’s vibrantly alive and developing all the time. However, with some of Ireland's better known holiday areas suffering if anything from an excess of popularity, the true trail-blazers may still be able to find the relaxation they seek in Leitrim.
But is it really so remote? Popular perceptions may be at variance with reality. For instance, Leitrim shares the shores of Lough Gill with Sligo, so much so that Yeat's legendary Lake Isle of Innisfree is within an ace of being in Leitrim rather than Sligo of Yeatsian fame. To the northward, we find that more than half of lovely Glencar, popularly perceived as being one of Sligo's finest jewels, is in fact in Leitrim. As for the notion of Leitrim being the ultimate inland and rural county - not so. Leitrim has an Atlantic coastline, albeit of only four kilometres, around Tullaghan.
It's said this administrative quirk is a throwback to the time when the all-powerful bishops of the early church aspired to have ways of travelling to Rome without having to cross the territory of neighbouring clerics. Whatever the reason, it's one of Leitrim's many surprises, which are such that it often happens that when you're touring in the area and find yourself in a beautiful bit of country, a reference to the map produces the information that, yes indeed, you're in Leitrim, a county which also provides most of the land area for Ireland’s first Ecotourism ‘Green Box’.
Leitrim’s significance within this scheme achieved additional recognition when the first An Taisce National Awards were announced. The prize for the most appropriate building in the countryside – a concept which is surely central to An Taisce’s very existence – went to Rossinver Organic Centre, whose buildings in North Leitrim near Lough Melvin were designed by Colin Bell
Local Attractions and Information
Ballinamore Shannon-Erne Waterway 071 9644855
Ballinamore Slieve an Arain Riverbus Cruises 071 9644079
Carrick-on-Shannon Moonriver Cruises 071-9621777
Carrick-on-Shannon Tourism Information 071 9620170
Carrick-on-Shannon Waterways Ireland 071 9650898
Dromahair Parke's Cas. (restored 17c fortified hse) 071 9164149
Drumshanbo Sliabh an Iarainn Visitor Centre 071 9641522
Manorhamilton Glens Arts Centre 071 9855833
Mohill Lough Rynn House and Gardens 071 9631427
Rossinver The Organic Centre (Ecotourism) 071 9854338