The town of Macroom has developed as a result of its position at the meeting between the Lee and Sullane rivers. A successful blend of modern and traditional, Macroom still displays signs of its past. The walls of Macroom Castle still dominate the town centre. Interestingly the ancestors of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, at one time occupied this castle which is now in ruins.
Other inhabitants were the Earls of Bandon and Bantry and latterly the well-known Lady Ardilaun, sister of the late Earl of Bantry. She was a glamorous figure who, with her husband Arthur Guinness MP (of brewing fame), moved in literary circles, counting Yeats and the other members of the Anglo-Irish Literary movement among her friends. When the castle was burnt during the War of Independence, Lady Ardilaun sold it to the Irish people. The structure stayed there until the 1960s when it was declared dangerous and subsequently demolished. Similarly, the remains of other castles, usually McCarthy strongholds, and the elegant residences of the British landowners poignantly reflect another age.
Curiously, Macroom was a significant centre of British power and yet also remained closely bonded with the neighbouring Muskerry Gaeltacht - an Irish speaking region where the Gaelic tradition dominates. Its history is one which is occupied by British aristocrats alongside notable Irish literary figures.
The Irish piece 'Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire' (The Lament of Art O'Leary) was written by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. This work is widely respected as a literary masterpiece and tells the 18th century tale of the wealthy young man from Raleigh House, Airt UÃ Laoighire, who travelled to Europe where he fought in the Austrian Army. Marie-Therese, the Empress of Austria, presented him with a horse in thanks for his service and on his return he met and fell in love with EibhlÍn. The penal laws of the time stated that no-one could own a horse of more than £5 value. When he was caught and required to sell the horse for that amount, he refused and went on the run. Shortly afterwards he was found and shot. The riderless horse returned to Raleigh House and on seeing this, Eibhlín test realised what had happened and wrote the Lament.
There are some who believe that Macroom was the first town in Ireland to receive electric street lighting. In 1899 the nearby Bealick Mill began to provide power to the town and if it was not the first town, it was certainly one of the earliest in the country.
Macroom today is a popular inclusion in many tourist itineraries. On the main Cork to Killarney route, it is an ideal place to stop. There is a regular street market as well as an adequate selection of shops and restaurants. The 'Wild West' festival in August is a well supported event offering music and street entertainment.