Longford’s rebellious streak goes back quite a bit. Some of the fiercest fighting of Ireland’s 1798 Rebellion took place at the Battle of Ballinamuck. Then, over a century later, Seán Mac Eoin, a soldier and politician known as the Blacksmith of Ballinalee, led the North Longford flying column in the Irish War of Independence.
There a fair bit of Longford’s early history still in evidence, too. The county has plenty of monasteries (including Abbeylara, Ardagh, Abbeyshrule and Saint’s Island); and the Corlea Trackway Visitors Centre in Kenagh where you’ll find the preserved remains of a wooden Iron Age bog road (Europe’s largest, no less). It dates back to 148BC.
Water, water everywhere
But back to the present. From the raised bogs of its southern edges to the drumlin belt of the north, it is Longford’s lakes and waterways that give shape and expression to its gentle countryside and provide an outlet for outdoorsy types.
Much of the county’s western boundary is formed by Lough Ree – a major lake on the River Shannon – which is popular for fishing and boating (and sparks the occasional rumour of a lake monster).
Also winding its way towards the Shannon is the Royal Canal from Dublin, newly revitalised as a cool and leafy channel for walkers, cyclists and boaters to escape the madding crowds.
And if that isn’t enough to get your heart pumping, kayaking enthusiasts can jump on the River Inny in Ballymahon and race down some thrilling white water rapids.
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Longford’s past and present really come together in its festivals. The county is home not only to the 200-year-old Granard Traditional Harp Festival (held the weekend after Easter), but to two literary events celebrating the work of Longford authors Oliver Goldsmith (held in Ballymahon, in early June) and Maria Edgeworth (held in Edgeworthstown in March).
For an entirely different take on Irish culture, make your way to the Sean Óg Set Dancing Festival, held in Longford town in November. Set dancing is a kind of court dance involving four couples moving in a “set”. It might sound orderly, but the athleticism and passion of the spectacle has to be seen for real.
People in the know come from all over to gasp in admiration. Are you and your friends bold enough to take your place (and your chances) in a set? The competition is fierce. But so is the fun.