Mullingar is the county town of County Westmeath, with a population of 20,928 in 2016. It has nearby lakes for recreation and a grand mansion with a disturbing history. Further out are a scattering of castle and religious ruins, near small villages that are short of visitor amenties, so this page covers the whole north end of the county.
An Muileann gCearr means "backwards-flowing mill" as St Colmán of Lann was supposed to have miraculously reversed its direction. The life of this 7th century abbott is described in a text of circa 1122 as so holy and pious as to cause readers to fall about laughing; another miracle. In Norman times the town was big enough to support two abbeys, but nothing remains except the name "Austin Friars Street" for the Canons Regular of St Augustine. Mullingar became a county town in 1542 when Westmeath was separated from County Meath; along with it came Longford, but that was formed into another county in 1586. It was and is an agricultural market town, but Mullingar wasn't colonised or divided into "plantations" as it was loyal to the English crown, unlike areas to the west and north where the Irish had rolled back the Normans.
The Royal Canal arrived in 1806 - you coud reach Dublin by fast boat in 8 hours - and the railway opened in 1848. That made leisure travel possible. The main reason to visit is the scattering of nearby lakes, Lough Ennell being the nearest, with Belvedere House and Gardens on its banks. Well-known people associated with Mullingar include author JP Donleavy (1926-2017), Michael O'Leary (b 1961) CEO of Ryanair, and singer Niall Horan (b 1993) from the band One Direction.
Mullingar Tourist Office is in Market Square.
Can you cadge the fare from M'Coy? In 1900 the 18-year old James Joyce spent a while in Mullingar with his father and siblings. It features in Ulysses as Leopold and Molly Bloom's daughter Milly works there: she writes home that she's met a young student called Bannon. Leopold broods on what she might be up to, and thinks he'll pay her a visit, but he broods even more about the return rail fare of 2 shillings and sixpence. Could he wangle a freebie? He once did a favour for a railway clerk called M'Coy, could he tap him for a travel pass? Or he could even walk or cycle the 50 miles from Dublin along the Royal Canal. For lack of a reliable internet travel guide, Leopold's trip remains unresolved at the close of "Bloomsday".
Intercity trains from Dublin Connolly take 75 min to Mullingar via Drumcondra and Maynooth, and continue to Longford, Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle, Ballymote and Sligo. These run every couple of hours and are supplemented by commuter trains, inward to Dublin in the morning and back out to Mullingar and Longford early evening. A walk-up single from Dublin is €11, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets.
1 Mullingar railway station is 500 m southwest of town centre. The ticket office is open M-Sa 08:00-16:00, Su 16:30-21:00 and there are machines and toilets. The original line to Athlone and Galway branched here: that route is now via Portarlington so the line west from Mullingar is disused and has become a cycleway.
Expressway Bus 22 / 23 runs six times a day from Dublin Busáras, taking 90 min via Dublin Airport, Lucan and Maynooth. These continue to Longford whence Bus 23 runs to Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle and Sligo, while Bus 22 heads west to Ballina.
Bus Éireann 115 takes almost two hours from Dublin Connolly and Heuston stations (but not Busáras), via Lucan, Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield and Kinnegad to Mullingar. It's hourly M-Sa and every two hours on Sunday; intermediate buses only run as far as Kilcock.
Bus 70 runs twice M-Sa from Athlone via Moate and Kilbeggan to Mullingar.
Mullingar's 2 main bus stop is on Austin Friars Street next to SuperValu supermarket.
From Dublin take M4 / N4 and reckon an hour, 80 km / 49 miles. N4 bypasses Mullingar to the east then becomes single carriageway, and often congested, but that's mostly grief for the people of Longford and Leitrim. The long-awaited upgrade of the Mullingar-Longford N4 has stalled.
The Royal Canal is navigable along its entire length from Dublin through Mullingar to the Shannon near Longford: check Waterways Ireland for current info on locks, maintenance closures, moorings and so on. It has a good towpath for cycling or walking.
The town is compact but you need your own wheels for outlying sites. Distances are not great and the terrain is lowland so a bike would do.
Mullingar Bike Hire is by the canal bridge on Harbour St and open Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 13:00-17:00.
- 1 Cathedral of Christ the King, Bishop's Gate St N91 EF82. This impressive RC cathedral was built from 1933 in Renaissance style and consecrated in 1939. It has striking mosaics by Boris Anrep (1883-1969), who clearly had half his mind on the poet Anna Akhmatova when he decorated the chapel of St Anne.
- Chimera Gallery at 32 Oliver Plunkett St is open Tu-Sa 12:00-18:00.
- 2 Columb Barracks on Ashe Rd was a large army base but closed in 2012. The buildings are a mixture of the impressive and the ugly: a few commercial units have set up within but it hasn't found a definitive use.
- 3 Belvedere House and Gardens, Belvedere N91 EF80 (8 km south of town on N52), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily Nov-Feb 09:30-16:30, Mar & Oct 09:30-18:00, Apr-Sept 09:30-19:00. This Palladian villa was built as a hunting lodge in 1740 for Robert Rochfort the first Earl of Belvedere. He made it his main home since he was using his residence at Gaulstown (now demolished) to incarcerate his wife Mary Molesworth for having an affair with his brother Arthur; he also got Arthur imprisoned for debt (the unpaid legal damages for the affair). They were only released when he died, Arthur having been confined 18 years and Mary 31 years. He'd also built Belvedere - which of course means "pleasant view" - right next to his brother George, who he hated: the great ramshackle wall that looks like the ruin of an earlier castle is a "jealousy wall" so he didn't have to see George's better mansion. His cause of death was blunt trauma to the head, but there was no appetite for hunting a culprit, so it was called a maybe-accident. After various owners the property passed to Westmeath County Council in 1982: house and gardens have been extensively restored. Adult €8, child €4, conc €6.
- Tudenham Park House 200 m south of Belvedere is what provoked the jealousy, but it suffered a fire in 1958 and is now an overgrown ruin.
- Lough Ennell is the lake south of town, 6 km long by 2 km wide, with Belvedere House on its east bank. It's shallow and popular for angling (mostly for brown trout and pike) but has suffered pollution. It's fed from the north by River Brosna, flowing down from Lough Owel: in the 18th century the 3 km stretch from Mullingar town was channeled as "Lacy's Canal", but this is nowadays just a broad ditch with no footpath. The Brosna drains the lake south at Lilliput and flows down to Kilbeggan and eventually into the Shannon. Formerly called Nore, this south shore was where Jonathan Swift played in boats as a child and remarked on how small the people and houses appeared from mid-lake. So it morphed into Lilliput; the lake's main water activities are here, see below.
- Lough Owel north of town is smaller but deeper and spring fed. It's the source of the Brosna and supplies water for the Royal Canal. It has angling and sailing and is accessed by lanes at its south end.
- Lough Derravaragh and Lough Lene are further north. They're quiet places for angling, kayaking and the like, with protected wetlands.
- 4 Multyfarnham Abbey is a Franciscan friary, founded in 1268 but suppressed by Henry VIII and wrecked by Cromwell. It was re-built in the 1880s in a pleasing unity of style. It's also been a school and agricultural college but remains an active friary. You can visit the church, which incorporates its 15th century predecessor.
- Knockdrin Castle northeast of town is a 19th century neo-Gothic pile. It's privately owned with no tours, but you'll pass the gatehouse on R394 towards Castlepollard.
- 5 Church of St Munna east of Crookedwood is an oddity: a fortified church built in 1450 though altered in 1843. It was C of I but is no longer used.
- 6 Fore Abbey is in the north of the county near Lough Lene. It's the substantial ruin of a Benedictine monastery founded by Saint Feichin in 630 AD; most of what you see is 15th century. Fore - Fhobhair - means springs, as these bubble out of the ground hereabouts. The ruin is free to explore 24 hours.
- 7 Tullynally Castle or Pakenham Hall is a cod-castle, a mansion made over in neo-Gothic style in the early 19th century. It's been the residence of the Pakenhams (Earls of Longford) for 350 years. The mansion isn't open for tours, but the gardens are open Apr-Sept Th-Su 11:00-17:00, adult €7.50.
- 8 Delvin Castle or Clonyn Castle is the crumbling ruin of a 12th century castle 18 km northeast on N52, Delvin village main street. It's unsafe to enter. The same names also refer to the castle of 1639 on the hill west of the village. This was torched in the Cromwell wars but rebuilt and occupied until 1860, then a neo-Gothic mansion was built adjacent. The mansion was variously a community of Australian nuns, a home for Jewish children orphaned by the Holocaust, and a private residence. It's not open for tours.
- Ballinlough Castle further up N52 isn't open for tours and no longer hosts "Body and Soul" Festival, which has moved to Cork.
- Killua Castle on the boundary with County Meath was built in 1780. It was a hollow ruin by 2000 but restored as a private residence. An obelisk of 1810 commemorates Sir Walter Raleigh's first planting of potatoes in Ireland here, though this may be mythology. The castle grounds are a deer farm and you'd probably only visit if you wanted to buy venison.
- What's on? For local events listen to Midlands 103 FM, or read Westmeath Examiner, Westmeath Topic or Mullingar Advertiser.
- Royal Canal stretches across the county and loops round the north side of town. There's a good firm towpath for walking and cycling. The canal is navigable throughout but there's no local boat hire: you'd probably have to start from Leixlip near Dublin. There is no navigation link to the nearby lakes.
- Gaelic games: Westmeath GAA play football and hurling at Cusack Park, capacity 11,500, east side of town centre.
- Theatre: Mullingar Arts Centre is on Mount St in town centre.
- IMC Cinema is east of town at jcn 16 of N4 with N52.
- Get up in Victorian drag or come as your great-great nan's hen party to Victorian Escapade. It's a themed event-space in Clonmel House, east off Dublin Rd. Built in 1802 for the second Earl of Belvedere, it was variously a townhouse, a Bishop's Palace, the childhood home of Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, and the base for the Regional Tourist Board.
- 1 Mullingar Greyhound Stadium, Lynn Rd N91 P22Y, ☏ . Sa Su 18:30-22:30. Races are on Saturday and Sunday evenings. TV coverage intersperses races here with those at Shelbourne Park Dublin. Adult €10.
- 2 Mullingar Golf Club, Belvidere, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Parkland course by the lake, the chief tournament is the Scratch Trophy in August (72 holes strokeplay) - Rory McIlroy won it in 2006. Blue tees are 6683 yards, par 72. Visitor round €40.
- 3 Lilliput at the south end of Lough Ennell is its main centre for boat hire and other water activities. Jet skiing is banned on the lake.
- Greenway: the railway from Dublin to Galway originally ran via Mullingar, then west to Athlone along a branch that was abandoned and turned into a hiking and cycling trail. The trail starts southwest of town at the junction of Newbrook Rd with R394. It's 11 km to Castletown, then 16 km to Moate, then 12 km into Athlone, on a firm paved surface.
- Horse riding: the nearest is Mullingar Equestrian Centre off Athlone Rd, 2 km west of town. They host the Mullingar International Horse Show in June: the next is probably 2-6 June 2022, tbc. Other centres are Ladestown Riding Stables north shore of Lough Enell, Catherinestown Stables east of the lake, and Culleen Equestrian north of town on R394; with others further out.
- Main St has various stores, banks and ATMs, and SuperValu open daily 07:30-22:00.
- Fairgreen Shopping Centre is west side of the canal. Tesco on Ashe Rd a block north is open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 09:00-22:00.
- The Farmers' Market folded in 2014.
- Pewter is crafted at Mullingar Pewter, off N4 five km southeast of town. It's open M-Sa 09:30-17:30.
- Oscar's, 21 Oliver Plunkett St N91 KR98, ☏ . M-Sa 17:30-21:30, Su 12:30-14:15, 17:30-20:00. Med-style restaurant, most reviewers enjoyed.
- Ilia Cafe, 28 Oliver Plunkett St N91 DP78, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-18:00. Good central cafe for breakfast or lunch.
- Church Restaurant on Castle St is open W Th 10:00-16:00, F Sa 10:00-23:00, Su 10:00-18:00.
- Others along the main strip are China Garden within Newbury Hotel, Amber Court also Chinese, Lingi's Takeaway and Mekong.
- Danny Byrne's, 27 Pearse St N91 YT34, ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-02:00, Su 10:00-00:00. Friendly central pub with a good selection of food.
- Druid's Chair is at 8 Pearse St by the main bus stop and open M-Sa 10:30-00:00, Su 12:00-00:00. They serve food but it's mainly one for drinking in rather than eating.
- Town centre choices also include Daly's, Caffrey's, The Chambers, Smiddy's, Montgomery's Whiskey Bar, Con's, Old Stand Bar, Clarke's, Gilleran's and Kerrigan's.
- 1 Lough Ennell Caravan Park, Tuddenham Shore, Carrick Wood N91 P798 (8 km south of town), ☏ . Well-run site for camping and tourer caravans on lakeside, open Apr-Sept. Tourer hook-up €25.
- B&Bs in Mullingar are mostly east of town along Dublin Road, but didn't open in 2021.
- Annebrook House Hotel, Austin Friars St N91 YH2F (by Supervalu and main bus stop), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Central hotel, clean, comfy and good value unless they've a hen / stag party staying. B&B double €90.
- 2 Newbury Hotel, Dominick St N91 YP9Y, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Good mid-price hotel with 30 bedrooms in the heart of Mullingar. Free car park, though it's small. B&B double €90.
- 3 Greville Arms Hotel, 33-37 Pearse St N91 X9RN, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Reliable inexpensive hotel in the centre of Mullingar, and featured in the writings of James Joyce. B&B double €90.
- 4 Mullingar Park Hotel, Dublin Rd N91 A4EP (jcn 15 of N4 east edge of town), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. At first glance it's just a boxy business hotel on the bypass, but it gets great reviews for comfort, service and dining. With conference facilities, leisure club and pool, and set in landscaped gardens. B&B double €120.
- 5 Bloomfield House Hotel, Belvedere N91 HP8E (3 km south of town), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Slick hotel, leisure club and spa in a great lakeside setting. B&B double €100.
- 6 Lough Bawn House, Collinstown, ☏ . Welcoming Georgian house, mainly B&B but dining on request. Open Jan-Nov. B&B double from €170.
- 7 Mornington House, Multyfarnham N91 NX92, ☏ . Upscale Victorian manor house with great dining, open mid-Apr-Oct. No dogs, they're iffy about children. B&B double €160.
As of June 2021, Mullingar has 5G from Eir and Three, and 4G from Vodafone. There's a good mobile signal on the approach highways.
- Tullamore, famous for its distilleries, is a port on the Grand Canal.
- Athlone is a centre for boating on the Shannon and Lough Ree.
- Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon is one of the finest medieval monasteries in Ireland, rivalled only by Glendalough in Wicklow.