County Roscommon (Contae Ros Comáin) is in West Ireland, historically part of the Kingdom of Connacht. It's low-lying and rural, with the River Shannon forming its eastern boundary.
- As the county is quite narrow, towns on or just across its boundary may be good bases for exploring.
- 1 Boyle has a ruined castle in town, and a more scenic one on an island in Lough Key.
- 2 Castlerea has Clonalis House, a stately mansion with a 100,000 volume library of Irish history. Tours and accommodation are available.
- 3 Elphin has a restored 18th century windmill and a ruined cathedral.
- 4 Strokestown has the magnificent Palladian Strokestown Park.
- 5 Roscommon the county town is near Rathcroghan, seat of the Kings of Connacht.
- 6 Carrick-on-Shannon straddles the boundary, with its town centre in Country Leitrim.
- 7 Drumshanbo is across the river in County Leitrim, but is the best base for Roscommon's northeast corner, such as Arigna mines.
- 8 Athlone is in County Westmeath, but the best base for south Roscommon around Lough Ree.
Little is known about the pre-Celtic peoples of this area, but the Coggalbeg hoard demonstrates their artistry. It was found in 1945 near Strokestown by a turf-cutter, and comprises a gold lunula (crescent moon shape) and two gold discs, all lightweight and suitable for personal ornament. The hoard was tucked away in a pharmacist's safe, until 2009 when the safe was stolen during a break-in. The thieves were only interested in ready cash and dumped the other contents into a skip in Dublin, but were spotted on CCTV. The police retrieved the hoard, which is now on display in the National Museum in Dublin and dated to 2000 BC.
By the early centuries AD the west of Ireland was populated by Celts in the Kingdom of Connacht, ruled from Cruachan, nowadays called Rathcroghan and with extensive remains. The area became christianized, and Coman Mac Faelchon built a monastery in the 5th century. The woods near the monastery became known as Ros Comáin, "Coman's Wood", hence Roscommon town. The native rulers were subjugated by King John in the 13th century, and the Tudors set out the county boundaries.
County Roscommon has low hills, mostly in the northeast towards Lough Allen, with Seltannasaggart reaching 428 m (1404 ft). The farmland is poor and drains east into the River Shannon and its loughs, which are navigable and form the natural boundary with Counties Leitrim and Longford. There's been little industry since a 17th / 18th century spell of coal and iron mining, and thus little to foster population growth or urban development. "Unspoilt" is how the County Tourist Agency pitches it. The region is collectively promoted under the brand "Ireland's Hidden Heartlands".
Two railways cross the county. Trains from Dublin Connolly run via Drumcondra, Maynooth, Mullingar, Longford and Dromod to Carrick-on-Shannon and Boyle, and continue to Ballymote and Sligo. Trains from Dublin Heuston run via Kildare, Portarlington, Tullamore and Clara to Athlone, whence they either continue west to Athenry and Galway, or head northwest via Roscommon and Castlerea to Castlebar and Westport.
Bus Éireann buses run from Dublin Busáras and Airport to Carrick and Boyle, heading to Sligo, and to Athlone heading for Galway. Roscommon town has no direct service, train is better, but you could change at Athlone for the bus to Roscommon, Castlebar and Westport.
With your own car, from Dublin take M4 to Kinnegad. For the south of the county, stay on it (becoming M6) to Athlone, then take N61 for Roscommon. For the north, exit onto N4 through Mullingar and Longford; stay on N4 for Carrick and Boyle, but take N5 for Strokestown.
The train will get you between Carrick and Boyle, and between Athlone, Roscommon and Castlerea.
Local Link buses run 2 or 3 times a day between Roscommon, Strokestown, Tulsk, Elphin, Boyle, Lough Key and Arigna.
The countryside is low-lying and the distances in such a small county are not great, so bicycle is a viable option.
And then the rain sets in, what a surprise. Thank heavens you hired a car from Dublin Airport.
- Roscommon Castle was Norman, re-modelled in early modern times but demolished under Cromwell.
- Also in Roscommon town see Harrison Hall and the town museum. Only the facade remains of the Old Gaol.
- Rathcroghan in the village of Tulsk, midway between Roscommon and Boyle, is an extensive archaeological site occupied from Neolithic to Iron Age times, with burial mounds, ringforts and medieval field patterns. Notable sights are the Rathcroghan Mound, the cave of Oweynagat, the Mucklaghs earthworks, and the Cairns.
- Arigna Mining Experience: see Drumshanbo for this museum in a former coal mine.
- There are golf courses at Roscommon town (18 hole), Strokestown (9 hole) and elsewhere.
- Watch Gaelic games: the county GAA teams play Gaelic football and hurling at Douglas Hyde Park in Roscommon. There are some 30 club teams across the county.
- Miners Way and The Historical Trail are two long-distance walking trails across the north of the county.
- Cruise the Shannon: the western navigable system stretches downstream from Boyle and Lough Key to join the Shannon near Carrick, where you can hire boats for extended trips.
- In Roscommon town it's Gleesons that earns the raves.
- All the towns have bar food, nothing outstanding.
- Drumshanbo has The Shed Distillery, producing gin, vodka and whiskey. Tours available.
- Lough Ree Distillery is in Lanesborough, just over the boundary into County Longford. They produce gin, vodka and whiskey.
- There are traditional pubs in all the towns.
- Some notable rural pubs are Coffeys in Lecarrow, D'altons in Fuerty, and Luke Gibbons in Ballybeg.
Roscommon has the best range, but the grand splurge is Kilronan Castle, see Drumshanbo.
- County Leitrim is on the east bank of the Shannon, with Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon good bases for exploring the waterway network.
- County Galway is lowland and pastoral where it meets County Roscommon, with historic towns such as Tuam and Athenry. Head further west for the wild scenery of Connemara.
- County Sligo has cloud-wreathed scarps and prehistoric monuments that inspired WB Yeats.