Looking for Ireland under-the-radar? Roscommon is where you’ll find it
Get there quickly, though. As the birthplace of Ireland’s first president, the childhood stomping ground of Bridesmaids star Chris O’Dowd (there’s a reason his Twitter handle is @BigBoyler, as residents of the town Boyle might tell you); as home to Ireland’s only lamb festival and site of a potential Unesco World Heritage Site at Rathcroghan, it won’t stay secret for long.
Roscommon may not have a coastline, but it’s three-quarters bounded by water. Sail and cruise boats potter around pleasure lakes like Lough Ree, and rivers like the Shannon and Suck are feisty temptations for fishermen, too. Think of it as angling, off the beaten track.
At the heart of the county lies Lough Key. Surrounded by 350 hectares of woodland, the old Rockingham family estate has today been transformed into a fantastic forest park. Can you see yourself swinging like Tarzan through an aerial adventure course, exploring servants’ tunnels, or taking a tree canopy walk? They’re just some of the family attractions on offer…
Mines of information
Also unique to Roscommon is the Arigna Mining Experience, an insight into what coal mining life was once like in the Arigna Valley. Why is it unique? Because visitors tour the mines with former miners as guides – men who made their living squeezing into treacherous gashes in the rock and pummelling the coalface with pneumatic picks. Expertise doesn’t get much grittier.
From peat bogs to native woodlands, turloughs, lakes and marshes, Roscommon’s landscape is pretty sweet above ground, too. In fact, one of its best-known hikes follows a long-distance network of paths once used by those same coal miners: The Arigna Miner’s Way.
The more you explore this quiet countryside, it seems, the more there is to explore. Did you know Roscommon was the birthplace of Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde? Or that the royal seat of the mythical Iron Age Queen Maeve was at Rathcroghan, where the Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre anchors a complex of over 200 medieval sites? Crannógs (man-made islands) are visible on nearly every lake in the county.
A lamb’s tale
When you work up an appetite (and you will work up an appetite), make sure to tuck into some Roscommon lamb. Roscommon doesn’t just have the highest lamb output in Ireland; it has some of the sweetest-tasting, too – thanks to free-range farming and lush, limestone-rich soil.
The result is finding its way onto menus all over Ireland, but it tastes all the better close to home, at local restaurants, farmers’ markets and riverside stop-offs. Or you could always combine grub and a giggle at Ireland’s only lamb festival– a celebration of food and farming held every May, complete with its own currency, Roscommon Alternative Money (RAM)!
Guess we know where Chris O’Dowd got his sense of humour.