Roscrea (Irish Ros Cré, "Wood of Cré") is a town in County Tipperary in Ireland, with a population in 2016 of 5446. It has a concentration of medieval buildings, notably the castle, and is also a good base for nearby sites across the county boundary in Offaly and Laois.
Expressway X12 runs every two hours from Dublin Airport and Busáras via Portlaoise, taking two hours to Roscrea, and continuing west to Nenagh and Limerick. A Local Link bus also plies the section between Roscrea and Nenagh.
Kavanagh's Bus 812 runs twice M-Sa between Roscrea, Templemore, Thurles and Urlingford.
A branch railway line connects Limerick, Nenagh and Roscrea to the main line at Ballybrophy (for trains between Dublin Heuston and Cork). There are two trains M-Sa and one on Sunday, and travel time from Dublin is 90 min. Roscrea 1 railway station is 500 m north of town centre: there are no facilities to collect online tickets here.
By car from Dublin follow N7 onto M7 (the first section to Naas has not yet been upgraded to motorway) then stay on M7 to N62 the Roscrea turnoff.
The town is easy enough to walk around. You need your own wheels for outlying accommodation and for sights in the nearby villages.
- 1 Roscrea Castle, Castle St E53 F652. Apr-Sept daily 10:00-17:00. The castle was built in the 13th C on the orders of King John to replace an earlier wooden structure. There's a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall but no keep - the main bastion is the tower house at the north gate, and there are round towers at the southeast and southwest corners. The south wall has gone. In 1728 a large mansion in Queen Anne style, Damer House, was built within the castle. 1960s developers thought it would be cool if this was demolished and replaced by a bacon factory, but the campaign to save the house was successful. Interiors by guided tour only. Castle admission includes the nearby Black Mills. Adult €5, child €3, conc €4.
- Black Mills nearby on Church St is a restored watermill, included in the castle admission. Within is the original 12th C St Cronan's High Cross.
- The Round Tower next to Black Mills was built around 1100. These distinctively Irish structures are believed to be bell towers for adjacent churches; they could serve as look-outs but were not primarily defensive. Roscrea's tower is only 20 m high: the top and conical cap were removed during 1798 "The Year of the French". Church Street nowadays cuts across the monastic site, and the Tesco just behind doesn't do much for the ambiance.
- St Cronan's 12th century Romanesque church survives only in the west gable on Church St, the rest was demolished in 1812 when the present Anglican church was built. There's also a replica of the High Cross, the original being within Black Mills. St Crónán of Roscrea was the 7th century founder of the nearby abbey, where an 8th century monk called Dimma MacNathi produced a beautifully-illustrated copy of the Gospels. This Book of Dimma is nowadays part of the Book of Kells display in Trinity College Dublin. The present church is a product of the "First Fruits" initiative to build more Protestant churches in Ireland by the neat trick of taxing the Catholics - see County Tipperary for more on this story.
- 2 Roscrea Friary or Abbey was founded in the 15th century by Greyfriars (Franciscans). It was smashed at the Dissolution but the bell-tower remains, along with north and east walls.
- RC Church of St Cronan's is a block south of the Friary on Convent St. Building started in 1843 but the Famine delayed things. It was dedicated in 1855 after a successful fund-raising tour of the USA.
- 3 Sean Ross Abbey was the original site of St Crónán's monastery: living in a bog was great for solitude but was distinctly boggy, so they moved on to Roscrea. In 1750 Corville House was built here and was a family home to 1932; it then passed to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who ran a home for unmarried mothers and their babies until 1970. The babies were sent for adoption, mostly to the USA. Many mothers and babies lie in the graveyard known tweely as "The Angels Plot", which ducks the question of why so many died here. In 1971 the home became a school for children with special learning needs, still run by the Sisters.
- 4 Monaincha Church is the remains of a 12th century abbey, originally on an island in Loch Cré (Monaincha means "bog island"). It's cited in 12th and 13th century texts as a place that no female can enter - even female birds or animals would instantly die. But the male inhabitants live forever, until they're so decrepid that they ask to be taken off in order to expire. The area has been drained for farmland and those mystic properties nowadays affect neither visitors to the church nor guests of the nearby spa.
- 5 Moneygall is a village 14 km southwest of Roscrea, straddling the boundary with County Offaly. It was the ancestral home of Falmouth Kearney who emigrated to Ohio, and was maternal great-great-great grandfather of Barack Obama, 44th President of the USA. O'Bama, as he should surely be styled, visited in May 2011 and in Olie Hayes' pub the First Lady was taught how to pour a correct pint of Guinness. The brief spell of Obama tourism has been and gone - let's face it, he never opened a string of plush golf resorts like that other guy - so the name mostly endures in the Obama Plaza service area, junction 23 of M7.
- 6 Leap Castle, Leap, Roscrea (on R421). This is in County Offaly but Roscrea is the nearest town. It was built circa 1250 but expanded in the late 19th / early 20th C, when the lady of the house Mildred Darby wrote Gothic horror novels and energetically touted the notion that this was Ireland's most haunted castle. Certainly there have been enough terrible deeds here to fuel a blockbuster series: in the early 1900s an "oubliette" was found with many human skeletons impaled on spikes. The castle is owned by the musician Seán Ryan, tours may be possible by private arrangement.
- 7 Ballaghmore Castle, Ballaghmore R32 K123 (8 km east of Roscrea). Just across the boundary into County Laois, this sturdy five-storey tower was built in 1480 to control the Bealach Mor - the "great road" through Ossory. It was damaged by Cromwell's forces in 1647 but restored in the 19th century. It was then used as a granary and again fell into disrepair until 1990, when it was refurbished as a private residence. Much of its medieval structure is well-preserved, including a "Sheela na Gig" who, with arms akimbo, looks like she's dancing a jig. Tours by arrangement, and you can rent the whole place: the castle sleeps 15 and the manor house five. Adult €5, child €3.
- 1 Roscrea Leisure Centre, Old Dublin Rd, ☏ +353 505 23822. M W F 07:00-21:00, Tu Th 09:00-21:00, Sa Su 10:00-18:00. Gym, weights, fitness classes, 25 m swimming pool with slides and kiddies and learner pools.
- 2 Roscrea Golf Club, Rackethall, ☏ +353 505 21130. White tees 5862 yards, par 71. 18 holes €20.
- 3 The Devil's Bit is a peak of 478 m (1570 ft) west of Templemore, and roughly equidistant from Roscrea, Thurles and Nenagh. It's usually climbed on its south side from the car park on R501. The legend goes that the devil took a bite out of it, broke his teeth, and spat out the lump which landed as the Rock of Cashel. The tower near the summit is a 19th century Folly. The large cross on the summit was erected in 1953/54.
- 4 Slieve Bloom Mountains (Sliabh Bladhma) form the boundary with County Laois, and Roscrea is a good base for hiking their southern parts.
- Aldi and Tesco are a block north of the centre.
- The Whitehouse, Castle St, ☏ +353 505 21996. Daily 09:00-23:30. Good dining option in town, better than your average bar meal.
- 1 Fiacri House, Boolereagh Knock, Roscrea (From town follow New Road, and good luck finding it amidst the bogs), ☏ +353 505 43017. Tu-Sa 18:30-00:00. Cookery school with its own restaurant - so they're on their mettle to shine.
- Town centre pubs are Delahunty's, Brendan's, Lily O'Briens and Stand Bar. Biddy's is south near the Abbey.
- 1 Slí Dála B&B, Dublin Rd, Roscrea, ☏ +353 86 880 1233. Friendly clean comfy B&B east of town. B&B double €80.
- 2 Racket Hall Hotel, Dublin Rd, Roscrea E53 WV00, ☏ +353 505 21748. Well-run mid-range hotel east of town, with Lily's Restaurant and conference facilities. Often hosts weddings. B&B double €95.
As of June 2021, Roscrea has 4G from all Irish carriers, though the Vodafone signal is patchy outside town. 5G has not yet reached this area.
- North to Birr, a Georgian small town with the remarkable "Leviathan" telescope.
- South through the market town of Thurles to Cashel, with its medieval religious complex teetering on a crag.
- West via Nenagh to the miniature Dublin of Limerick.