It is clear to see why County Longford is one of the gems of Ireland’s Ancient East. The county’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.
A step back in time
There is a fair bit of Longford’s early history still in evidence, too. The county has plenty of monasteries (including Abbeylara, Ardagh, Abbeyshrule and Saints Island, the latter is nestled on the banks of Lough Ree); 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
Much of the county’s western boundary is caressed 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 their way towards the Shannon are the steady waters of the Royal Canal. Initially completed in 1817, the Royal Canal journeys from the bustling city of Dublin all the way through the green fields of the midlands to Clondra in County Longford, where it joins up with the River Shannon. Cruise past the tranquil countryside or pedal along the Longford Clondra Greenway for a tranquil glimpse of rural Ireland.
And if that isn’t enough to entice you, kayaking enthusiasts can jump on the River Inny in Ballymahon and race down some thrilling white-water rapids.
Longford’s past and present really come together in its festivals. Head to The Marquee in Drumlish where every August some of Ireland’s most well-known country music stars come together for a four day event of live top-tapping music.
If you prefer the idea of engaging in creative writing workshops and poetry competitions then Longford’s summertime literary festivals are definitely worth a look! Every June The Goldsmith International Festival takes place to pay homage to the literary genius Oliver Goldsmith, or try the Literary Festival held in Edgeworthstown every May where there is a hive of activity promised to entertain the whole family.
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 in this corner of Ireland’s Ancient East. 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.