ByRoute 15.2 Co. Longford (W) // Co. Mayo (N)

Lanesborough – Ballyleague

Lanesborough – Ballyleague (pop. 1500) straddles the River Shannon just north of Lough Ree.

While Laneborough / Lanesboro is technically in County Longford, it is generally regarded as forming part of the same community as  Ballyleague (Beal Átha Liag – “Mouth of the Ford of the Flagstone”) , the County Roscommon district on the western side of the river.

The ancient Áth Liag crossing point must have been of major importance since prehistoric times, and several early Christian monasteries were established locally, mostly on the  islands in Lough Ree; the most notable is probably that founded by Saint Diarmuid on Inchcleraun, with six churches. These  monasteries later suffered numerous attacks by Viking marauders, with those from Dublin and Limerick clashing ferociously at the 937 AD Battle of Lough Ree.

The Lanesborough-Ballyleague Bridge

The first serious attempt to span the River Shannon at this point was a joint effort made around 1000 AD by Maelseachlainn / Malachy Ui Neill, king of Mide / Meath, and Cathal Ui Chonchubhair / O’Connor, king of Connacht, allied against the Norsemen, to extend structures from their respective sides to link in the middle. Another bridge was erected in 1140 by Turlough Ui Chonchubhair / O’Connor, High King of Ireland.

A new bridge was built in 1667, using stones from Meare’s fort, and survived until the Williamite War. It was destroyed in 1690 by the Jacobite Col. O’Reilly to stop the Williamite army under General Kirk.


In 1701 a ferry carrying 46  passengers to the local fair capsized, and 35 people drowned. Parliament was petitioned for a new bridge, and a stone structure was erected in 1706, 300′ long, 15′ wide with 9 arches. This was rebuilt in 1844 to include a swivel arch for large boats to pass through.


The Victorian bridge was partially removed in the 1960’s and although some arches were retained the top section was replaced by the present hideous concrete structure in 1971.

The northeastern bank of Lough Ree is in the ancient parish and small Barony of Rathcline / Rathline (Ráth claon – “Sloping fort”)

Rathcline church, standing on the site of an ancient church reputedly founded in the C5th by Saint Patrick, is a medieval edifice,  renovated during the C15th and now a picturesque ruin surrounded by gravestones. It features a largely intact gothic doorway,the remains of an early C13th Romanesque window,  and a later ogee-headed window high on the west gable, plus an unusually modest Sheela-na-Gig carved on the northern splay.

Rathcline Castle, a medieval Tower House built by the Ó Caon / O’Quin family and enlarged in the C17th, and now an impressive ruin, is in fact only one wall thick. (Photo by Kieran Campbell)

Ballyleague Castle, started by Walter De Lacy when he crossed into Connacht in 1220, was never finished and has stood in ruins for many centuries.

Meare’s Fort,  a castle erected  on the eastern bank of Áth Liag by Geoffrey Meares in 1228 to maintain control of the ford crossing, long stood on the site of the present car park, but no traces survive.

The eastern side of the river was renamed following the 1664 grant of the lands by King Charles II to Sir Richard Lane1st Baronet Lane of Tulske (d. 1668), grandson of Capt. George Lane, an Elizabethan adventurer who had married one of Cormac O’Farrell’s daughters.

Viscounts & Earls of Lanesborough


Sir George Lane (1620 – 1683), 2nd Bart, was created Viscount Lanesborough in 1676, but the title became extinct in 1724 with the death of his son James (responsible for building Lanesborough House on the site of the present Lanesborough Hotel in London).


The title was recreated in 1728 for Brinsley Butler, 2nd Baron of Newtown-Butler, whose son Humphrey Butler (c.1700 – 1768) was made Earl of Lanesborough in 1756. (His wife’s friend Sir Francis Bernard, Governor of Massachusetts, named the newly incorporated town of Lanesborough in Berkshire County in her honour in 1765).


The titles became extinct upon the death of the 9th and last Earl in 1998.

St Johns church (CoI) also claims to trace its origins to the C5th, presumably in succession to Rathcline. It was plundered during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms by Cromwellian soldiers, and rebuilt by Lord Lane in 1678. The tower,  used as an observation point during the Williamite War,was severely damaged by a cannonball fired from the west bank, and remained that way until the church was rebuilt in 1861.

The church of the Blessed Lady of the Rosary (RC) was erected in 1834 on a site donated by the local landlord Luke White of Rathcline House, remodelled / rebuilt c. 1859 by William Hague Sr and refashioned c. 1915.

Lanesborough – Ballyleague is is a popular stop-over for barges, river cruisers and other pleasure boats on the Shannon Navigation system, with good mooring facilities including a modern marina and a pleasant riverside park.

The Lough Ree (Lanesborough) Power Station, founded in 1958, extended in 1966 and 1983 and replaced by a new 100MW station in 2004, is fuelled by locally sourced peat. While Bord na Mona and the ESB are the two main industries in Lanesborough today, environmentalists have pointed out that the turf releases high CO2 emissions and is destructive to the diminishing natural peat bogs around the town. Aerial photographs of the area show huge areas of barren land.

The Hot Water Stretch of the River Shannon adjacent to the power station has attracted fishermen from all over Europe. Bream, roach, hybrids, tench, perch and guideon are the main species of fish here. The largest pike ever caught in Ireland was taken near Lanesborough.

The Commons, a rich ecological area south of Lanesborough, contains  limestone pavements / vegetated grykes rarely encountered outside the Burren, a limestone quarry, mixed woodland, reedbed systems grading into freshwater marsh and dense species of rich scrub/verge grassland, providing a variety of habitats for local wildlife.

The traditional Horse Fair held every March and the yearly Regatta in September are very important for the local economy. Lanesborough also hosts an annual Triathlon in mid-July.

Lanesborough – Ballyleague is


Ireland and it's history, culture, travel, tourism and more!