The East Midlands

Take a trip outside Dublin to a typical Irish town, some of which can be reached in less than an hour.

Portarlington

Portarlington was built as an English settlement on the banks of the River Barrow during the 17th Century but French Huguenots later took up residence and their family names are still widespread in the community.

There are some fine Georgian buildings located throughout the town as well.

How to Get Here

Portarlington lies on the road from Mullingar to Portlaoise, despite this, the town is far enough away from the motorway that little traffic stops off in the town. Portloaise is 20 minutes by car while Tullamore is 30 and Dublin is 45 and free car parks are located within the town. Portarlington is serviced by the Dublin to Cork train and is connected to major nearby towns and to Dublin by Bus Eireann.

Top Reasons to Visit

Emo Court and Garden – A fine epitome of Anglo-Norman extravagance, Emo Court is located seven kilometres south of Portarlington and is worth visiting as one of the finest Palladian grand mansions open to the public in Ireland – even if you choose to bypass the rest of the midlands.

The drive to this house, which began in 1790, is lined by grand Wellingtonia trees. Emo Court was designed by the architect of the Four Courts and the Custom House in Dublin, James Gandon, and is believed to be his only work in Ireland to match the grandeur of his key structures in the capital.

Emo itself derives from the Italian version of the word Imoe, the original name for the site. The first earl of Portarlington was both the patron and owner of Emo Court but his family fell into financial difficulty in the years that followed his death and so work on the house was not completed for another 70 years.

The house came into state ownership in 1996 when its English owner donated it to the Irish government. The rotunda, designed by William Caldbeck, one of Gandon’s successors, is the true prize here. This great domed space was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and contains marble columns supporting a coffered dome of blue and white.

But all of the rooms on the ground floor have been lovingly renovated with the library being another highlight. Three rooms have housed a permanent photographic exhibition since 2012 on the works of Father Francis Browne – who is most famous for his photos aboard the ill-fated Titanic (Browne was ordered to get off the ship at Cobh by his superiors, which likely saved his life).

There are also 55 acres of grounds including a 20 acre lake and gardens including Japanese maples, yew trees, and rare shrubs as well as a café.

Location: Emo, County Laois

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Accommodation

Eskermore House – An open fire greets visitors to this farmhouse and you might need it after a long day hiking the nearby Slieve Bloom Mountains. There’s also a fabulous display of roses surrounding the main door to the house during the summer months. This accommodation offers good value but there are few amenities.

Rates: €70

Location: Mount Lucas, Edenderry, County Offaly

Roundwood House – A row of dark trees hides this chateau-like accommodation on the Slieve Bloom Mountains. A grand country house with welcoming hosts and wild geese and ducks on the grounds, it’s almost like a fairy-tale. There are some fine walks in the nearby woods. Meals are occasionally given at large communal tables.

Rates: €140

Location: Mountrath, County Laois

Tullamore

Tullamore is a market town which owed its past success to its location of the Grand Canal, a major trade route through the country during the 1700 and 1800s; it’s also the county town for Offaly.

How to Get Here

Several major roads converge here and there is free street parking but it can still be hard to get a spot, particularly on market days.

Portlaoise, Athlone, and Mullingar are all about half an hour’s drive while Dublin is an hour away. Trains connect Tullamore to Dublin, Galway, and Sligo while Bus Eireann runs services to Dublin and surrounding towns. The town’s bus and train station is located on Cormac Street.

Visitor Information

Tullamore Tourist Office – Bury Quay, Tullamore, County Offaly (June to September only)

Top Reasons to Visit

Chareville Forest Castle –Charleville Forest Castle is quite possibly the finest example of neo-Gothic architecture in Ireland with turrets and a flag tower overlooking some 30 acres of gardens and forests.

The Castle was built as a symbol of British victory over the French (who had sympathisers among the Irish revolutionary cause) with construction beginning in 1812 under Baron Tullamore’s commission. Chareville’s layout is actually modelled on the Union flag and was designed by Francis Johnston, famous for many of Dublin’s Georgian buildings.

Sadly, most of the interior is showing signs of its age at this point though a slow restoration process is ongoing and the dining room still features stencilled wallpaper designed by William Morris. There are guided tours in the afternoon every 40 minutes during the summer months.

It is said that the surrounding forests are haunted by the ghosts of druids from Ireland’s distant past.

Location: N52, Tullamore (on road to Birr), County Offaly

Lough Boora Parklands– The bog here was once harvested for commercial purposes but has been opened up to hiking, cycling, angling, and bird watching. There were only 11 mating pairs of partridge when Lough Boora opened in 2001 but now some 900 ground nesting birds dwell here and you’ll find 150 species of birds in all (unfortunately, most spend very little time in the air each day).

Visitors will also find a sculpture walk featuring 22 statues created using locally harvested materials including stone and willow, each statue was inspired by the bog’s legacy.

Bikes are available to hire and there guided tours on foot between April and September.

Location: Boora, Kilcormac, Tullamore, County Offaly

Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre Following a 2012 makeover, there are new tasting opportunities and whiskey tours available at this distillery which is almost 200 years old (it was established in 1829). Daniel E. Williams significantly expanded the business, so much so that his initials were added to the name of the business and the phrase ‘Give every man his dew’ appeared on the distillery’s labels for years.

There’s a short video looking at the history of making whiskey and the company, now the second largest Irish whiskey maker in the world, and the fastest growing. Both self-guided and guided tours are available.

Location: Bury Quay, Tullamore, County Offaly

Accommodation

Annaharvey Farm – Located on the Portarlington road, six kilometres from Tullamore, boasts open fires and seclusion at this elegant accommodation but the bathrooms aren’t large. There are still active stables on the site and it’s entirely possible you’ll miss out on a good night’s sleep due to their neighing.

Rates: €70

Location: Tullamore, County Offaly

Sports and Other Activities

Golf – The Esker Hills Golf Club has several well designed sand greens and effectively incorporates natural forests and lakes. This 18 hole Christy O’Connor Jr.-created championship course is playable throughout the year and considered to be one of the country’s best inland links courses.

Fees: €30-€40

Holes: 18

Par: 71

Location: N80, Tullamore, County Offaly

Kilbeggan

How to Get Here

Kilbeggan is just off the M6 between Dublin and Athlone and Tullamore, 15 minutes’ drive on the N52 south, is the closest large town. Bus Eireann connects to Kilbeggan on the way to Galway and also to Athlone.

Top Reasons to Visit

Kilbeggan Distillery Experience – The reason most people visit this small town, Kilbeggan is home to the world’s oldest pot-still distillery and the only one of its kind in Ireland today. The distillery operated from 1757 until 1954 and has since been given a new lease on life as a museum which delves into the industrial processes involved in whiskey making and the lives of the people who once worked here.

The waterwheel has been operational since a 2012 restoration.

There are guided hour long tours which include whiskey tasting and 40 minute self-guided tours are also available.

If you want to taste three whiskies, the €13 Silver Medal Tour is the one for you while the €20 Gold Medal Masterclass allows you to try out Kilbeggan, Greenore, Tyrconnell, and Connemara whiskies. Normal admission is €8.

The Pantry restaurant serves homemade food.

Location: Main Street, Kilbeggan, County Westmeath

Mullingar

Mullingar is the capital of Ireland’s beef industry and Weatmeath’s principal town. The town is located on the Royal Canal between Lough Owel and Lough Ennel. Mullingar is a good base for touring the nearby area.

How to Get Here

Mullingar is located just off the N4 from Dublin to Longford and while the main road no longer runs through the town, traffic can still be problematic, especially during rush hour.

Irish Rail runs services to Mullingar on the way to Sligo from Dublin while Bus Eireann connect the town to Dublin and Athlone.

Visitor Information

Mullingar Discover Ireland Centre – Market Square, Mullingar, County Westmeath

Top Reasons to Visit

Belvedere House and Gardens – Located on Lough Ennel’s north-eastern shore, this fine 18th century home was built as a hunting lodge and you enter through the servants’ door, allowing you to get a glimpse of what it was like to serve aristocrats at the time.

The house was built in 1740 for the first earl of Belvedere, Robert Rochfort, by the architect Richard Cassels. Rochfort’s wife, Mary Molesworth, fell in love and had a child with his brother leading to her being moved to another family home for decades and leaving Belvedere House with a reputation for debauchery.

Robert wasn’t too put off, however, and regularly informed guests of the scandal at grand banquets hosted in the house. He also lavishly spent the family’s money on the gardens and ‘follies’. Follies were ornamental structures built by wealthy families to serve no real purpose other than to look pretty.

Belvedere’s follies include a mock castle constructed to his the estate of one of Robert’s brothers (not the brother with whom his wife had been unfaithful), whom he hated, and the much more recent Narnia Trail which includes a Gothic arch meant to represent the White Witch’s castle. The Fairy Garden and Sacred Tree Trail

Two children’s play areas, an animal sanctuary, and a café complete the offerings.

Location: N52, Mullingar, County Westmeath

Cathedral of Christ the King (Roman Catholic) – The largest building in town, this Renaissance themed church was finished in 1939 with a Russian artist, Boris Anrep, creating the fine mosaics of Saint Anne and Saint Patrick. The Cathedral includes a museum and there are tours during the spring and summer.

Location: Mary Street, Mullingar, County Westmeath

Sports and Other Activities

Golf – The 18 hole Delvin Castle Golf Club rests on the grounds of Clonyn Castle and you can see what remains of Delvin Castle on the 10th hole. There are well established trees and woodland on this appealing course though you may have to tackle heavy frost in the winter months.

Fees: €10-€25

Holes: 18

Par: 70

Location: Delvin, County Westmeath

Castlepollard

You’ll find Tullynally Castle, the largest still used as a private home in Ireland, in Castlepollard, a village consisting for houses dating from the 18th and 19th centuries which are centred on a large green.

How to Get Here

Mullingar is the closest large town, 20 minutes away on the R394, and there’s free parking throughout the village. Daily bus services connect to Dublin while there’s a weekly route to Mullingar.

Top Reasons to Visit

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Tullynally Castle and Gardens – This castle, seeming to have sprung straight from the pages of a fairy-tale, has been home to ten generations of the Pakenham family whose notable members include the Queen Victoria biographer Elizabeth Longford and Antonia Fraser, wife of the late Harold Pinter, a playwright and biographer of Mary, Queen of Scots. Thomas, Antonia’s brother, currently owns the home but has decided to forego using the title of earl.

Originally a Georgian home, the castle is topped by 123 metres of battlements built during the 18th century as part of the Gothic revival. The large rooms within are not exactly warm and welcoming, despite the best efforts of the Pakenhams.

Other notable architectural features include turrets, towers, and crenellations which were constructed between 1655 and the middle of the 19th century.

Thomas planted some 90,000 trees here and founded the Irish Tree Society in 1992 and has written several books on the subject.

Rhododendrons and a wide variety of trees can be found here on gardens whose layout has changed little since 1760 when they were initially laid out. There’s also a grotto, flower garden, Chinese garden, Tibetan garden, and a walled garden on the grounds.

Walking along the forest path will afford you excellent views of the castle and courtyard stables, which have been renovated as the Tullynally Tea Rooms, serves lunches and a fine lemon meringue pie.

Location: R395, Granard, Castlepollard, County Westmeath

Fore

Irish myths say water runs uphill in Fore and trees will not burn. Whatever the truth of the matter, Fore is worth visiting for the ruins of Ireland’s largest Benedictine monastery and Middle Ages church.

How to Get Here

This small village is located on the R195 between Oldcastle and Castlepollard with Mullingar, 30 minutes away by car, being the nearest big town. There are no bus or train services to the village.

Top Reasons to Visit

With intimidating square towers and narrow, loophole windows, you could be mistaken for thinking these ruins, which tower over the rest of the village, were a castle once rather than an abbey.

Cavan

Cavan is another good base location for exploring the region thanks to its fine selection of restaurants and accommodation. The town is also near the Northern Ireland border if you’re looking to head north during your visit to the Midlands.  Two major streets dissect the town, Main Street with its pubs and eateries, and Farnham Street which features Georgian homes and churches, as well as the town’s courthouse and bus station.

The town is also well known for its crystal factory.

How to Get Here

Located on the N3 between Enniskillen in Northern Ireland and Navan in the Republic, Cavan is a prosperous market town with paid parking available in the centre of town. Cavan is well served by buses with routes to Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Athlone, and Donegal. Buses run on weekdays to smaller towns in counties Cavan and Monaghan. There is, however, no rail service.

Visitor Information

Cavan Tourist Office – Farnham Street, Cavan, County Cavan

Top Reasons to Visit

Bear Essentials Ireland – You’ll find Ireland’s largest teddy bear collection at this great spot for kids, each one handmade in the workshop using top quality mohair. There’s a bear hospital where you can have teddies repaired or redesigned and the shop sells ‘My First Teddy’ bears for infants.

Location: Tirnawannagh, Bawnboy, County Cavan

Where to Eat

MacNean’s House and Restaurant –Neven Maguire’s restaurant is not cheap but this is one of the finest restaurants in Ireland after all. There’s a five course €72 dinner menu if you’ve plenty of time on your hands. Some of the best starters include shellfish and duck leg with balsamic jelly. Moving onto the main course, the pork belly, sea bass, and dry aged beef are all fine choices.

A €39 five course option for Sunday lunch represents great value while there’s also a nine course €87 option (which goes up to €132 if you choose to include wine with your meal).

MacNean’s is located in the remote village of Blacklion, just south of the Northern Ireland border, but don’t let that fool you, reservations are essential with waiting periods of up to 12 months if you plan to visit at the weekend.

There is also accommodation available upstairs though some of the older rooms are small.

Typical main: €72

Location: Blackloin, Main Street, County Cavan

The Olde Post Inn – This former post office, hence the name, has garnered numerous awards thanks to its exciting food. There’s also a finely designed landscaped garden for you to enjoy and paintings by top Irish artists line the walls.

Venison with rosti potatoes, sea bass, rabbit loin, steak, and Peking duck are all fine main courses.

You can also stay overnight in the former postermaster’s house.

Typical main: €55

Location: Cloverhill, County Cavan

Radisson Blu Farnham Estate Hotel – The old house here dates from 1664 and visitors can enjoy one of the Midlands’ finest spas as well as a golf course on the 1,300 acre grounds. The Botanica Restaurant and Botanica Bar serve excellent food, as does the Wine Goose Cellar Bar, which was once the servant’s quarters.

Health conscious diners will appreciate the options at the Pear Tree Restaurant located in the fabulous spa which includes a Roman style Lconium sauna.

Service can be a little slow when the hotel is particularly busy.

Typical main: €40

Location: Farnham Estate, Killashandra Road, Farnham, County Cavan

Accommodation

Cabra Castle –Regarded as one of the world’s scariest hotels, Cabra Castle features mock Gothic touches such as turrets and towers and there have long been rumours of supernatural occurrences. There are several suites as well as self-catering lodges available.

Rates: €150

Location: R179, Kingscourt, County Cavan

Sports and Other Activities

Golf – The County Cavan Golf Club course was recently redesigned but the club dates back to 1894, moving to its current location in 1920. Holes 14 to 18 have particularly challenging fairways while the 180 metre 10th is also tough.

There’s also a top of the range practice area and club pro Bill Noble hosts frequent lessons.

Fees: €20

Holes: 18

Par: 70

Location: Arnmore House, Drumelis, County Cavan

Longford Town

The principal town of County Longford which has strong literary connections, most famous among them Oliver Goldsmith. The quaint village of Ardagh 10 kilometres to the southeast is worth seeing while Longford town is a good location base yourself while exploring the surrounding countryside, which has largely been overlooked by the tourism industry.

How to Get Here

Longford is located on the N4 between Mullingar and Carrick-on-Shannon and there’s rarely a problem finding parking in the town. Mullingar is serviced by both bus and rail with Bus Eireann services stopping outside the train station. Buses connect the town to Dublin and Belfast while Ulsterbus co-operates a cross border service to Derry/Londonderry. Trains from Dublin to Sligo stop here.

Visitor Information

Longford Town Tourist Office – Market Square, Longford, County Longford

Top Reasons to Visit

Bogwood Sculptures – Newtowncashel near Longford Town is situated on the shore of Lough Ree and features sculptures by Kevin and Michael Casey. The artworks are carved from 5,000 year old trees which have been preserved by the region’s peat bogs.

Location: Barley Harbour, Newtowncashel, County Longford

The Genealogy Centre – If you have ancestors in the region, this facility is worth visiting to explore your roots though you should call in advance on 043/334-1235.

Location: 17 Dublin Street, Longford, County Longford

Strokestown Park House and Famine Museum – The Irish National Famine Museum is located in the stable yard of Strokestown House and looks at the history of the potato famine of the 1840s in which one million people died and another million people emigrated.

Major Denis Mahon, owner of Strokestown Park House and local area landlord, was assassinated in 1847, when the famine was at its worst.

Location: Strokestown, County Roscommon

Where to Eat

The Purple Onion – Once a normal Irish pub complete with snugs and a low ceiling, The Purple Onion is now a gastro pub popular with locals, Shannon cruisers, and tourists. The house specialties include duke, lamb, and, for dessert, the Toblerone cheesecake.

A gallery upstairs includes works by noted Irish artists including Jack B. Yeats and Paul Henry.

Typical main: €22

Location: Tarmonbarry. County Longford (10 kilometres from Longford on the N5).

Accommodation

Keenan’s Boutique Hotel – This hotel has been run by the same family over five generations since 1838. There are good views of the Shannon from the hotel and a fine restaurant.

Rates: €90

Location: Tarmonbarry, County Roscommon

Viewmount House – This fine Georgian house is comfortable and beautifully restored. It’s some distance from town however, and there’s little to do there in any case.

Rates: €110

Location: Dublin Road, Longford, County Longford

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