County Leitrim (Contae Liatroma) is in Northwest Ireland and Lakelands Region, traditionally part of Connacht. It's a long narrow county, thinly populated with poor land, large lakes and boggy hills. It's in the upper part of the Shannon waterway network, and pleasure boating and other river activities draw many visitors.
- 1 Carrick-on-Shannon, the county town, has what may be Ireland's most utterly ruined castle. Together with Leitrim village it's a major junction on the Shannon waterway network.
- 2 Drumshanbo is a small town at the south end of Lough Allen where it flows into the Shannon waterways.
- 3 Manorhamilton is the only settlement of any size in north Leitrim. It has a ruined castle, and several megalithic sites nearby.
- 4 Ballinamore has pubs and other eating places, so it makes a good rest stop, but it's short of accommodation and sights.
Leitrim is from Liath Druim, "grey ridge", a common Irish place name. The county is fringed by mountains and almost bisected by Lough Allen, with sparsely-populated boggy terrain to the north, but more settlement to the south along the Shannon valley. It lay in the province of Connacht, and in medieval times was part of the kingdom of Bréifne. Its Gaelic rulers the O'Rourke dynasty staunchly resisted the Normans but then warred among themselves, and their kingdom sundered into east and west. Once Elizabeth I of England subdued it, east Bréifne became County Cavan while west Bréifne became County Leitrim. It's named for the village of Leitrim, an O'Rourke stronghold and place where the Shannon could be forded. The district around Drumshanbo developed industry in early modern times, based on local coal and iron. More and more of the Shannon was made navigable, until eventually there were waterways all the way from Lough Allen to the Atlantic at Limerick and across Ireland to Dublin. Still the land remained poor, with no safety margin against the famine years, and in the 19th century these struck hard.
The waterways withered as the railways and roads advanced, but from the late 20th century they were refurbished for leisure craft. They're nowadays better than ever, with a link created to the Lough Erne system in Northern Ireland, and Carrick is a major junction on the Shannon network - see Waterways Ireland for routes and current status. Along the river are quiet small towns with ruined abbeys and castles, and prehistoric megaliths out in the fields. The county tourist agency is Leitrim Tourism. The area is also promoted as "Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands", which isn't an agency but is a marketing brand for this and other counties along the upper Shannon catchment.
- Six trains per day run from Dublin Connolly via Maynooth, Mullingar and Longford to Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon, continuing to Boyle, Ballymote and Sligo. See Irish Rail for fare deals.
- Expressway Bus 23 runs six times a day from Dublin Busáras via Dublin Airport, Lucan, Maynooth, Mullingar and Longford to Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon, and continues to Boyle and Sligo.
- See individual towns for Local Link bus services. They're generally too sparse for visitors, running once or twice a week, but a few are practical ways of getting in (eg Carrick to Manorhamilton) or getting around (eg Carrick to Arigna Mines).
- By road from Dublin follow M4 then N4 through Mullingar and Longford.
You need wheels, public transport is too sparse for sight-seeing.
- Glencar Lough has the famous Glencar waterfall.
- Lough Gill is mostly in County Sligo and usually visited from the city, but Parkes Castle is near its head in County Leitrim.
- One of the world's smallest churches is the Costello chapel in Carrick.
- Standing stones: Fenagh in the east of the county has the best.
- Down a coal mine: the former coal mine at Arigna near Drumshanbo has tours.
- Cavan and Leitrim Railway is a heritage narrow gauge railway at Dromod, next to the mainline station. It operated 1857-1959, hauling coal from Arigna mines.
- What's on: check the Leitrim Observer. The Leitrim Post folded in 2009.
- Hire a boat to explore the Shannon-Erne network. Start and drop-off points are Carrick, Bellanaleck near Enniskillen and Banagher in County Offaly; one-way rentals are possible. You don't need a boat licence, anyone over 21 can hire.
- Walk on water at the north end of Shannon Blueway: at Drumshanbo a 600 m floating boardwalk crosses Acres Lake. Beyond is conventional waterway and trails to Carrick, then the downstream section from Carrick to Rooskey near Dromod is all waterway, suitable for kayaks and paddle-boards.
- The Leitrim Way is a 25 km walking trail from Dowra to Ballinagleragh, Drumshanbo and Leitrim village.
- A loop drive or bike excursion taking in many of Leitrim's sights is (going anti-clockwise) from Manorhamilton to Glenfarne, then north to Kiltyclogher, Rossinver and Kinlough, then south to Glenade and back to Manorhamilton.
- SLNCR Greenway is under construction along the trackbed of the former Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway. As of 2020 only a 5 km demonstration section near Dromahair is open, but it's hoped eventually to link Sligo and Enniskillen. The railway, active 1875-1957, was Irish Standard Gauge and transported cattle; it was unprofitable but privately owned throughout as from 1922 the border crossing made it more trouble than it was worth to nationalise.
- Beaches: Leitrim has only 4 km of coastline and it's not up to much, though Tullaghan the coastal village has a 3 m High Cross. You're better driving 40 min west to Rosses Point, Strandhill or other beaches in County Sligo.
- Watch Gaelic games: County GAA teams play Gaelic football and hurling in Carrick. There are 24 club teams across the county.
- Look up your ancestors at Leitrim Genealogy Centre in Ballinamore.
- Cowboys and Heroes is a Country & Western festival and rodeo held in Drumcoura near Ballinamore in early June.
- An Tóstal ("The Gathering") is an eclectic festival held in Drumshanbo in June / July.
- Joe Mooney Summer School is a week-long festival of Irish trad music held in Drumshanbo in July.
- Mohill Agricultural Show is in Mohill in August. The next is probably Sunday 15 Aug 2021, tbc.
- No standout, bar meals are likely to be your best bet.
- Connolly's in Manorhamilton is renowned not only for its Guinness but for the owner's singing.
- The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo produces gin, whiskey and vodka, and offers tours.
- Carrick-on-Shannon together with Leitrim has the most choice.
- Splurge at Kilronan Castle near Drumshanbo.
- As it's a small county, you might be better based in Sligo for the north end, or in Longford for the south.
- Sligo has prehistoric monuments and cloud-wreathed mountains that inspired WB Yeats.
- Boyle in County Roscommon has two ruined abbeys and a suspicious lack of UFOs.
- County Leitrim lacks a coastline, visit County Mayo for the Wild Atlantic Way.