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

Roscommon (Co. Roscommon)

Roscommon (Ros Comáin – “Saint Coman’s wood”) (pop. 5100), the administrative capital of County Roscommon, is not on the usual tourist routes, but nonetheless has a couple of highly rated hotels with  good restaurants and several decent pubs.

Although insensitive construction of numerous  commercial and residential buildings during the Celtic tiger years inflicted considerable damage on the architectural integrity of the town, it retains several attractive edifices and interesting historical landmarks.

Roscommon’s Main Street

The district has evidently been inhabited for a very long time.  A notable archaeological find made in 1945 comprised a lunula, a gold necklace, and two discs, dated to between 2,300 and 1,800 BC

The name Roscommon is derived from the C6th Coman mac Faelchon, who had studied with Saint Finnian of Clonard and founded a monastery in a forest that was named after him on the east bank of the River Suck,  about four miles from the town.

Roscommon County Museum & Tourism Office is housed in a small edifice on the town square, erected in 1863 as Presbyterian church, with a  ‘Star of David’ over the door to commemorate its Welsh builders. Renovated in 1991, the museum contains exhibits and artifacts illustrating the history of Roscommon, including an ancient dugout canoe, a C9th grave slab from St Comans Abbey and a Sheela-na-Gig from Rahara church.

Roscommon Castle & Town Park


Roscommon Photos
Roscommon Castle, long a gaunt ruin on the outskirts of the town, has been enhanced by the development of the adjacent Loughnaneane / Roscommon Town Park. (Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor)

 

The castle was built in 1269 by Robert de Ufford, Justiciar of Ireland, and besieged in 1272 by  king Aodh O’Connor of Connacht. Eight years later it was retaken by Crown troops and fully repaired. In 1341 the O’Connors regained the stronghold and with some difficulty and occasional loss of possession managed to retain it within their control until 1569, when it was seized by Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney.

 

The castle was granted in 1578 to the Lord President of Connaught, Sir Nicholas Malbie, who had the interior remodelled and large mullioned windows inserted in the towers and curtain walls.

 

The stronghold was captured by the Kilkenny Confederation‘s Leinster army under Thomas Preston in 1645, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. In 1652 the Cromwellian Commissary Reynolds had the fortifications dismantled, and the structure was torched in 1691 after the Battle of Aughrim ended the Williamite War.

 

The 14-acre park is bisected by an  avenue  flanked with lime trees, orientated to visually connect Roscommon Castle and Roscommon church, and culminating at a viewing deck overlooking  an elliptical lake featuring a crannog known locally as the Hill o’ Bones. A turlough, a wildflower meadow, a bird walk and wildlife conservation areas provide habitats for a range of flora and fauna. Paths are flanked by groups of native and naturalised trees. There is also a swallow-hole enhanced by limestone boulders arranged in an elliptical form.

Medieval Roscommon was an ecclesiastical centre of some importance.

Roscommon Abbey

 

Roscommon Friary was created for the Dominican Order in the mid-C13th by Fedlimid Ó Conchobair / Felim O’ Connor, king of Connacht, who was buried on the premises in 1265. The establishment suffered a fire in 1270 and was struck by lightning in 1308, but survived until King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries. The tower still stood in the late C18th, but like the cloister was eventually demolished.

 

The main part of the church dates from the C13th, although the east wall was replaced in the C15th, when a chapel was also added to the north.

 

An effigy in a niche on the north side of the chancel is either that of the founder or of one of his successors; dating from around 1300, it shows a king dressed in a long robe and mantle of a kind aping an English regal costume of the period, bearing a sceptre with fleur-de-lis head in his right hand. The tomb front supporting his effigy slab (but not originally belonging to it) bears eight niches containing C15th carved figures of gallowglasses (Scottish mercenaries who played a major role in Irish wars of the Later Middle Ages).

 

The ruin is accessible by a path behind the splendid C18th castle manor house now run as the Abbey Hotel****.

Harrison Hall on the town’s main street was originally a C17th sessions house, converted by Sir William Morrison in 1762 into a courthouse and markethouse.  It became a Roman Catholic church in 1863. After 1903 it became a recreational hall named in honour of Dr John Harrison, a physician in Roscommon town’s Workhouse during the Great Famine, and was used as a dance hall, cinema and theatre before it was sold to the Bank of Ireland in 1972. (Photo by Alan L.)

The Old Gaol

 

The Old Gaol, thought to have been designed by Richard Cassells in 1736, was renowned for having an executioner called ‘Lady Betty’, a criminal who had her own death sentence commuted to life imprisonment provided she perform the unpaid task of hangwoman. it is said that she used to make a sketch of every candidate for the gallows before performing her grisly duties.

 

In 1822 the edifice became a lunatic asylum, and changed use again in 1833 when it was pressed into service as a ‘Lazaretto’ – a place where outcasts who suffered from small pox were confined. Sometime after 1840 the building was converted to residential and commercial use. It now houses a modern shopping centre, with the façade all that remains of the original structure. (Photo by Alan L.)

Roscommon County Library, originally built as an Infirmary in 1783, was used as a hospital until 1941 and refitted in 1989.

Roscommon Workhouse, constructed in 1840, was designed for 700 paupers but housed up to 1,600 people during the Great Famine.  Hundreds flocked to the workhouse for sustenance and refuge. However the workhouse could not cope with the numbers requiring assistance. This situation was reflected in a notice which was posted outside Roscommon Workhouse in January 1847, which stated that no new applicants seeking assistance could be admitted. Many who died there were buried in Bully’s Acre, a short distance away. The building, now known as the Sacred Heart Home, is situated on the outskirts of the town.

The Irish Famine Memorial, constructed in 1999 next to the Workhouse master’s residence, is a permanent memorial to the thousands of Roscommon people who perished in the Great Famine, when the area suffered one of the highest death rates per population recorded in the whole of Ireland, and the population of Roscommon fell by 31.5%.

Roscommon railway station opened on 13 February 1860.

The church of the Sacred Heart (RC), inaugurated in 1903 and completed in 1925, stands on rising ground and features a 52m high spire that dominates the skyline of the town. Over the main door is a fine mosaic made by the Italian firm of Salviate, depicting two bishops of the diocese of Elphin. The  impressive interior contains a replica of the Cross of Cong. The church is fronted by a sunken grotto.

Dr Douglas Hyde Park is an important GAA venue with a capacity of 30,000.

Roscommon Racecourse, situated approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) from the town centre, was founded by British soldiers stationed in Roscommon town during the C19th. The track itself is an oblong right-handed track 2 km (1.25 mi) in length, and the course has stabling for up to 95 horses.  The annual racing programme extends from April to October.

Mote Park


Mote Park was an estate founded in 1584 by Queen Elizabeth I‘s Auditor General for Ireland, John Crofton, whose son erected the Castle of Mote in 1620. In 1661 his descendant Edward was made Baronet Crofton of the Mote, a title which became extinct on the death of the 5th Baronet in 1780.

 

Rather unusually, a second baronetcy of the same name was created in 1758 for Marcus Lowther Crofton, who had adopted the latter surname on his marriage to Catherine, the 4th Baronet’s daughter. Their son Edward, MP for Roscommon, was offered a full peerage, but died in 1797, so his widow Anne was made Baroness Crofton later that year, and was succeeded in 1817 by her grandson Edward Crofton. The two C19th Lord Croftons appear to have been careful and reasonably fair landlords; despite the Land Acts, tenants made no effort to purchase their farms.

 

Crofton House, a splendid late C18th house extended in the early C19th by Richard Morrison, was badly damaged by fire in 1865, and the family lived in a converted stable block during the restoration work.  The once magnificent gardens were turned over to sheep around 1890, and the bulk of the 7000-acre estate was sold piecemeal in the early C20th. The last head of the family to live in the house was the 5th Baron Crofton, who moved to London during WWII.

 

The National Library of Ireland has the mid-C19th diary of Lady Georgina Crofton, a prosaic record of household expenses etc., and over 3,000 negatives of photographs of local life taken by renowned amateur photographer Augusta Crofton between 1880 and 1920, the year she was honoured with an OBE.

 

Crofton House on day of 1947 auction of contents, including an extensive 200-year-old library. (Photo – NLI)

 

The house was largely demolished in the 1960s, leaving only a ruined shell.  Of surviving structures on the old grounds, the most impressive is the Lion Gate, a Doric triumphal arch surmounted by a regal feline; some claim this entrance was designed by James Gandon.

 

The remnants of the demesne comprise a golf course and a Coillte woodland recreation area covering several square miles, popular with walkers. The young 8th Baron Crofton and his widowed mother inaugurated a 10km Heritage Walkway through the old grounds in 2008.

Ballinagard House, south of Roscommon town, was the home of the Dignan family at the beginning of the C20th, about whom interesting articles by Paul Malpas can be read here and here.

Roscommon is


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