Omagh is the county town of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. It's a market town with a population of 19,659 in 2011, standing at the confluence of two small rivers that creates the Strule River. It became notorious in 1998 when a car bomb exploded on its crowded main street.
In 1998 there was optimism in Omagh, as elsewhere in the UK and Ireland, that the Troubles were behind them. The Good Friday Agreement, signed on 10 April 1998, bound all sides to non-violence and a series of reforms on civil rights, policing, military de-escalation and recognition of sovereignty. Sinn Féin the republican political faction supported the agreement, but a splinter group called the Real IRA saw it as betraying the struggle for a united Ireland. They began a campaign of bombings against symbolic targets and the security forces, and their car bomb in Omagh was the worst single act of violence in the entire Troubles.
On 13 Aug a maroon Vauxhall Cavalier was stolen in the Republic, fitted with fake Northern Ireland plates, and loaded with 500 lb (230 kg) of explosives; the man who stole the car was a double agent. On 15 Aug it was driven to Omagh, with a scout car ahead to warn of checkpoints. Security forces were listening to these mobile phone conversations, and there had been other intelligence. The target in Omagh was the courthouse on High Street but they couldn't find a nearby parking spot, so they parked further east on Market Street near its junction with Dublin Rd. They set the timer for 40 minutes, walked clear and drove off in the scout car. A family of Spanish tourists happened to pose for a photo next to the car.
The Real IRA phoned three warnings, but they caused police to believe the site was the courthouse, so people were evacuated along Market Street towards the bomb. It exploded at 15:10 BST, turning the car into a fireball and hail of shrapnel. 27 people were killed outright or died of their injuries, including two of the Spanish tourists, and a woman who was pregnant with twins.
The aftermath was universal condemnation; the Real IRA became pariahs and said they would abandon their bombing campaign. There were years of police, legal, political and media enquiry, and several suspects were arrested but no convictions could be secured. However the families of children killed by the bomb launched civil litigation against the main suspects, and four were found liable for the deaths.
Ulsterbus 273 runs from Belfast Europa bus station, hourly M-Sa and every two hours Sunday, via Lurgan, Dungannon and Ballygawley to Omagh (1 hr 40 min), and continues to Newtonstewart, Sion Mills, Strabane and Derry. From Cookstown change at Dungannon.
Goldline Bus X3 runs once or twice a day from Dublin Busáras and Airport via Monaghan and Ballygawley to Omagh (3 hours), continuing to Strabane and Derry. You could also take the X4 from Dublin via Armagh and change at Dungannon; this bus continues to Derry via Cookstown.
Buses also run to Omagh from Enniskillen via Dromore (Bus 94, five M-F, two Sa), and from Castlederg (Bus 96, four M-F).
1 Omagh bus station is north bank of the river, corner of Bridge St and Mountjoy Rd.
By car from Belfast follow M1 onto A4 then at Ballygawley take A5.
Omagh lost its railway in 1965. There are calls for it to be re-connected to the main line at Portadown, but the track bed has been built over so that would be an expensive project.
For the Ulster American Folk Park, take Bus 273 / 97 towards Strabane. For the Abingdon motor collection, take the same bus as far as Mountjoy post office.
The local taxi firm is Urgent Taxis on Bridge St (+44 28 8224 8999). Uber doesn't operate in Omagh.
National Cycleway 95 runs mostly on-road from Armagh to Dungannon, Cookstown and Strabane, while Route 92 runs from Enniskillen to Omagh, Strabane and Derry.
- 1 Omagh Bomb Memorial is on two sites: a glass obelisk marks the blast on Market St.
- 2 Memorial Garden of Light is north across the bridge, since space is limited on Market St. It's a set of mirrors each bearing the name of a victim.
- 3 Omagh Jail: all that remains is the octagonal tower of the Governor's House, built in 1804. (The town's monastery and Franciscan Friary also stood here, but were obliterated by later building.) It's privately owned and you can't go inside. Most of the inmates were debtors, but one notorious criminal hanged here in 1873 had killed the cashier while robbing the bank at Newtonstewart. The crime was diligently investigated by District Inspector Montgomery, but in a twist worthy of The Real Inspector Hound, the murderer turned out to be himself.
- 4 Abingdon Collection, 16 Gortnagarn Rd, Omagh BT78 5NW (5 miles north of town), ☏ . Daily 09:00-17:00. One enthusiast's motoring collection, with World War II militaria, civilian classics, and models. Donation.
- 5 Ulster American Folk Park, 2 Mellon Rd, Omagh BT78 5QU (7 miles north of Omagh off A5), ☏ . Th-Su 10:00-17:00. This was the birthplace in 1813 of Thomas Mellon, founder of the US banking dynasty. It's now an open air museum showing the story of emigration from Ulster to North America from the 18th to 20th centuries. Start with the Old World section, in buildings depicting town and country life in Ulster. Then move through the dockyard and ship section, with a replica emigrant ship. Then in the New World section you see their life in the East Coast cities and farmlands, pushing west onto the Frontier. Adult £7.88, child £4.81.
- 6 Newtonstewart is a village ten miles north of Omagh on the road to Strabane, with two ruined castles. Stewart Castle on main street is the gable-end shell of a 17th century manor house. Harry Avery's Castle, half a mile south of the village, is two bulky D-shaped towers - a rare example of a Gaelic castle built in stone, and named for a 14th century member of the O'Neill dynasty.
- 7 Beaghmore: see Cookstown for this group of stone circles and other prehistoric monuments in the lanes east of Omagh.
- Strule Arts Centre, Townhall Square BT78 1BL, ☏ . Closed in 2020. Rotating art exhibitions in the gallery, 400-seat theatre, 125-seat lecture theatre, dance and recording studios and cafe.
- Omagh Leisure Complex on Old Mountfield Rd has gym, fitness classes and a pool.
- Cinemas are the Omniplex on Kevlin Rd, south side, and IMC Cinema on Gillygooley Rd northwest of the centre.
- Watch Gaelic games: the County GAA plays Gaelic football and hurling at Healy Park (capacity 18,500), along Gortin Rd half a mile north of town centre.
- The town centre retail strip is Main Street, the pedestrianised mall off High Street.
- The edge-of-town retail park is a mile southwest, junction of A5 and A32. Asda petrol here is the cheapest place to refuel.
- There's a slew of cheap and cheerful places along High Street.
- Main Street Omagh, 12 Main Street BT78 1BA, ☏ . Daily 09:00-21:00. Restaurant with trad food, good beer and live music. Also has rooms. B&B double £75.
- Grants of Omagh, 29 George's St BT78 1DE, ☏ . M Tu F Sa 17:00-22:00, Su 14:00-21:00. Long-established restaurant with good food, named for Ulysses Grant.
- Along High Street are Top of the Town, Bogan's, and Rue the bar within Main Street Omagh restaurant.
- Sallys of Omagh, 33 John St BT78 1DW, ☏ . Daily 12:00-01:00. Lively bar with TV sport, bistro serves food to 20:00.
- Pokertree Brewing Company produce a range of ales in Carrickmore village east of Omagh. No tours.
- 1 Silverbirch Hotel, 5 Gortin Rd BT79 7DH, ☏ . Friendly comfy hotel half a mile north of town, good food, live music at weekends. B&B double £80.
- 2 Pinewood Lodge, 2 Loughmuck Rd BT78 1SE (one mile south of town off A32), ☏ . Friendly cosy B&B. B&B double £70.
- 3 Mullaghmore House, Old Mountfield Rd BT79 7EX (one mile east of town centre), ☏ . Quirky Georgian property, the proprietor is a character, but it's room-only and doesn't do breakfast. Double (room only) £80.
- 4 Baronscourt is a plush Georgian mansion along B84 northwest of Omagh. It's the home of the Duke of Abercorn and doesn't offer tours, but there's upscale self-catering accommodation on the estate.
As of Sept 2020, there is a good 4G signal from EE, O2 and Vodafone; on Three you'll manage a mobile call in town centre. 5G has not reached this area.
- Cookstown has a famously long wide main street, but the real attractions are the ancient sites (including the inauguration site of the Kings of Tyrone), and the "beetling mill" that put the final shine on Ulster linen.
- County Fermanagh starts 15 miles southwest. Irvinestown, the first place you reach, has a couple of castles, though they're really mansion houses.
- Derry is a fascinating historic city and its walls still stand.