County Longford (Contae an Longfoirt) is in the East Coast and Midlands Region of Ireland, and fairly central. It's a lowland rural area that was originally part of the province of Connacht, but re-assigned to Leinster in 1608.
- 1 Longford (An Longfort) the county town has a fine cathedral and is near Corlea trackway.
- 2 Aughnacliffe (Achadh na Cloiche) is a village with a striking collection of dolmens.
- 3 Granard (Gránard) is a village at the watershed between the Shannon and Erne river systems.
- 4 Edgeworthstown (Meathas Troim) is a small market town at the southeast edge of the county.
- 5 Ballymahon (Baile Uí Mhatháin) may have been the birthplace of Oliver Goldsmith, and hosts a literary festival.
- 6 Lanesborough together with Ballyleague is on the Shannon.
This is a lowland area, with boggy terrain bounded to the west by the Shannon and Lough Ree, and to the north by a drumlin landscape and the watershed with the River Erne. From the 5th century AD it was part of the petty kingdom of Teabhtha, but in 1070 it was captured by the O’Farrells, who called it Angaile or Annaly.
The Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century and steadily expanded from their bases on the coast. Irish rulers were toppled and their territories awarded to Anglo-Norman barons, and the landscape was populated by castles, city walls and abbeys. This began to happen in Annaly, but hadn’t gone far when the Normans were rolled back. In the 14th century, Scotland gained the upper hand in its wars with England, and went on the attack in England and Ireland. The O’Farrells were therefore able to regain control until the 17th century, and this means that the county lacks the medieval heritage seen elsewhere. Granard for example acquired a wooden fort but it wasn't converted to stone, and the whole town burned merrily when Edward the Bruce (brother of Robert the Bruce) arrived to win the crown of Ireland. About a dozen monasteries were established, but they never enjoyed the centuries of medieval patronage and embellishment, and their remains are scant.
By the time of Elizabeth I the English again felt able to draw maps, define counties and decide where to build their mansions in Ireland, but County Longford was one of several where this was “castles in the air.” Not until the start of the 17th century were the last of the old Irish ruling clans smashed by the Nine Years War. County Longford had been part of the Irish bad-lands of Connacht, but in 1608 it was re-assigned to Leinster, no longer "beyond the pale". The O’Farrell lands were confiscated, to become plantations of English and Scottish landowners and secure loyal control. The final rebellion was by the United Irishmen of 1798, who had a redoubt in Granard, but fell to British bayonets like their companions in Wexford and Mayo. The story of the county thereafter was the familiar tale of provincial life, relaxation of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws, famine and mass emigration, industrialisation and the coming of the railways, and the conflict around Irish independence.
In the 20th century the county name became famous through Lord Longford, Frank Pakenham (1905-2001) the 7th Earl. With his mad-scientist gleaming cranium, he was a tireless campaigner for unpopular causes and people, and a love-to-hate figure in the media. The 18th century Earls of Longford had been big movers and shakers in the county, and Pakenham himself was knowledgeable about Irish history and culture, but he had no strong links to this area.
Six trains a day from Dublin Connolly take 2 hours to Edgeworthstown and Longford via Drumcondra, Maynooth and Mullingar; they continue northwest to Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle, Ballymote and Sligo.
Expressway Bus 22 / 23 runs six times a day from Dublin Busáras, taking 2 hours to Longford via Dublin Airport, Lucan, Maynooth and Mullingar. Bus 23 continues to Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle and Sligo, while Bus 22 heads west to Ballina.
Bus 65 runs once a day from Athlone to Ballymahon, Longford, Granard, Cavan, Clones and Monaghan. On Friday only it also runs from Galway to Tuam, Roscommon, Longford, Granard and Cavan.
Bus 466 runs from Athlone via Ballymahon and Keenagh to Longford, with two M-Sa and one on Sunday.
Andrew Wharton Bus 975 runs five times M-Sa from Cavan, taking 75 min to Longford.
By road from Dublin follow M4 west then N4 past Mullingar. This road courses northwest through Edgeworthstown, Longford, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle and Sligo.
N5 branches off N4 at Longford, heading west to Castlebar and Westport.
N55 runs cross-country from Athlone to Ballymahon, Edgeworthstown and Cavan.
From Galway it's quickest to take M6 to Athlone then N55, but you could also take N63 via Rosscommon.
The best way to get around Longford is by car.
- Corlea Trackway is an oaken track into the bog, constructed in 148 BC. It was probably used for ritual rather than transport and only for a few years before sinking into the bog. It's open May-Sept, see Longford.
- Granard is a small village in the north of the county. Its Motte was built in 1199 over an earlier ring-fort, creating a wooden fortress. Nothing remains of that, so it's just an earth mound. In 2017 some treasure-hunters were sufficiently lured by the fabled gold within that they tunneled into it, where lo and behold, no gold. On the village main street, Knights and Conquests is a museum majoring on the Norman / medieval period. It's open M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa Su 10:00-16:00, adult €6, conc or child €4.
- Churches: St Mel's in Longford is the finest.
- The Royal Canal stretches 146 km from the Liffey in Dublin to the Shannon near Longford and is navigable throughout. From Mullingar it heads west to enter County Longford at Abbeyshrule. It passes north of Ballymahon then turns north via Keenagh to join the Shannon at Termonbarry. Check Waterways Ireland for current status of locks, moorings, towpaths and other facilities. There's a spur canal to Longford but this is disused, just a reedy ditch but with pleasant walking and hiking trails alongside.
- Gaelic football: the Longford County GAA team play at Pearse Park in Longford town. There are some 20 football teams in the county; hurling is only a minor sport here.
- Oliver Goldsmith Literary Festival celebrates yer man (1728-74), who was probably born in Ballymahon. It's held over the June holiday weekend, so the next is probably 5-7 June 2021, tba.
- Granard Harp Festival (Féile Chruite Ghráinaird) was originally held 1781-85. It was revived in 1981: it's in late August but dates for 2021 are tba.
- Still Voices is a short-film festival in Ballymahon, with the next held 19-22 Aug 2021.
- Taste of Lakelands Food Festival is in Lanesborough in October. The next is probably 10 Oct 2021 but tba.
- The standout is Viewmount, 1 km southeast of Longford town centre.
- Lough Ree Distillery in Lanesborough, on the boundary with County Roscommon, produces gin, vodka and whiskey.
- Wide Street Brewing in Ballymahon use unusual yeasts and brewing methods to produce distinctly dry beers.
- County Leitrim to the north is the upper limit of navigation of the Shannon - Carrick-on-Shannon is a good base.
- Athlone to the south has a castle and fine city architecture.
- Mullingar to the east has a cathedral and Belvedere House.
- Roscommon to the west is surrounded by prehistoric, Norman and Georgian sites.