County Tyrone is one of the six counties of Ulster in Northern Ireland, though these are no longer units of local government, and Tyrone is divided between three council districts. In Irish it's Tír Eoghain, the land of Owen, forerunners of the medieval O'Neill ruling dynasty. Tyrone is mostly lowland, with prehistoric sites and interesting small towns created during the 17th century Plantations. It has a long (and nowadays open and peaceful) border with the Republic of Ireland.
- 1 Cookstown has a famously long wide main street, but you come for its prehistoric monuments and the "beetling mill", which put the shine on Ulster linen.
- 2 Ardboe is a small village on Lough Neagh with a 10th century High cross.
- 3 Dungannon is mostly just a commuter town, but The Argory is a mansion from 1820.
- 4 Augher is a tiny village along the road from Dungannon to Enniskillen. Royal Spur Castle is a mostly 19th C mansion house not open to the public. Knockmany and Clogher are nearby neolithic sites.
- 5 Omagh is near the Ulster American Folk Park.
- 6 Strabane is where John Dunlap (printer of the US Declaration of Independence) learnt the printing trade.
- 7 Castlederg is a village at the base of a knuckle of Tyrone projecting into Donegal. The castle is a scrap of ruin and you'd only pass through to reach the upland heath and forest to the west.
This rural, mostly lowland area triggered the sequence of events leading to the partition of Ireland. Medieval Tyrone was ruled by the O'Neill dynasty, the Gaelic lords whose territory took in Derry and Donegal. Their powerbase was initially near Strabane, then Tullyhogue near Cookstown, and finally at Dungannnon. Further south the English increasingly controlled Ireland but the O'Neills held out until the Nine Years' War of 1593-1603. That broke Gaelic rule, and their ceremonial seat at Tullyhogue was smashed with relish.
The victorious English organised Ulster into nine counties. Scottish settlers were already moving in before the war, but 1607 saw the flight of the defeated Earl of Tyrone into exile, and seizure of his estates. In 1608 rebels burned Derry, and London authority was determined to prevent further uprisings, so they began the systematic Plantation of Ulster with loyal Protestants. These became the majority population especially in the industrial east around Dungannon, while rural Strabane and Castlederg remained largely Catholic. The main industry was linen, although Dungannon also had a coalfield.
In 1921 the Anglo-Irish conflict led to the partition of Ireland. County Donegal, though geographically in Ulster, was Catholic and joined Southern Ireland, which became an independent republic. Tyrone and Londonderry were marginally Protestant and (with Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and Down) joined Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom. A boundary commission recommended transferring several Catholic areas of Tyrone and Armagh to the south, but no adjustment was made, and the county boundaries became an international border. This blighted transport, trade and industry on both sides.
Northern Ireland slumped in the 1950s and 60s as textile and metal-bashing industries were lost to foreign competition. "The Troubles" flared up in 1969, with economic grievances stoking sectarian tensions. There were frequent bombings and shootings, and gun-running and other crime along the porous border. The army and police were deployed in force, to become themselves targets for violence. In Tyrone, Strabane was the worst damaged, and employment and industry fled.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led to de-escalation of violence and military presence, though four months later a terrible bombing in Omagh showed that murderous splinter groups remained active. The border of Tyrone with Donegal and Monaghan became as insignificant as a parish boundary, but economic regeneration was slow. In 2011 the counties of Northern Ireland were abolished as units of local government, and since 2015 Tyrone has been divided between three "super-districts": of Mid-Ulster to the east with Cookstown and Dungannon, of Derry and Strabane to the north, and of Fermanagh and Omagh to the southwest. In 2020 the big uncertainty is the long-term effect of Brexit on the Irish border.
See Northern Ireland#Get in for air and ferry routes - County Tyrone is within a couple of hours drive from most ports of entry.
There is no railway service. Ulsterbus 273 runs hourly from Belfast Europa bus station to Dungannon, Omagh, Newtonstewart, Sion Mills, Strabane and Derry.
Buses run 3 times a day from Dublin Busáras and Airport: the X3 runs via Monaghan, Ballygawley, Omagh and Strabane to Derry, while the X4 runs via Armagh, Dungannon and Cookstown to Derry.
Buses also ply between Dungannon and Cookstown, and Enniskillen and Omagh.
By road from Belfast follow M1 west, which becomes A4 at Dungannon. However for the north end of the county around Strabane, it's quicker to take M2 / A6 towards Derry.
The bus routes above connect the towns. Beyond that, you need wheels, because most sights are scattered around the countryside with little or no public transport.
- Stately Mansions: good examples are Springfield House, Lissan House and Killymoon Castle near Cookstown, and The Argory near Dungannon.
- Wellbrook Beetling Mill near Cookstown demonstrates the last stage of the process of turning flax into linen. The fabric is pounded with "beetles" - wooden mallets - to give it a lustrous shine.
- Beaghmore is a stone circle near Cookstown. Other nearby prehistoric sites are Creggandevesky Court Tomb and Aghanascrebagh Ogham Stone.
- Ulster American Folk Park a few miles north of Omagh depicts the Ulster emigrant experience.
- Gray's Printing Press in Strabane shows 18th century printing methods. You wouldn't want to overturn that colossal jug of ink.
- Lough Neagh for water activities, though there are better facilities on the east bank near Antrim.
- Strabane has a drama festival in mid-March, close to St Patrick's Day.
- No standouts, bar food will often be your best bet.
- Eat in an atmospheric old church at Viscount's in Dungannon.
- Mary Mallon was an early 20th century celebrity chef - from Cookstown, appropriately. She's better known as Typhoid Mary.
- The towns all have bars, either as free-standing pubs or in the hotels.
- Wild Atlantic Distillery produce gin and whiskey, way out west of Castlederg, and offer tours.
- Tyrone breweries are Pokertree east of Omagh and Clearsky between Dungannon and Cookstown.
Usual advice about road safety, care of valuables, and dressing for the weather. The border with the Republic is nowadays safe, but many people lost family members in the Troubles so there are still raw nerves.
- North to County Londonderry, with the fascinating walled city of Derry and an attractive coastline to Coleraine
- Southwest to County Fermanagh, with thinly-populated countryside and the Erne loughs
- Southeast to County Armagh, where Armagh is the ecclesiastic capital of all Ireland
- South to County Monaghan in the Republic, a landscape of drumlin hillocks and quiet market towns
- West to County Donegal in the Republic, wild country and coast stretching further north than Northern Ireland