The Midlands East Region2
The Midlands East Region2
Taking the Galway Road (N6) from Kilbeggan or the N80 via the Clara Bogs from Tullamore will bring you to the small cattle-market town of Moate (An Móta), founded by Quakers in the 17th century and home to the Dun na Si Heritage Centre.
Straddling the banks of the broad, majestic Shannon at the southern tip of Lough Ree, the bustling town of Athlone (Baile Átha Luain) is the capital of the Midlands and marks the traditional boundary between Leinster (The East) and Connaught (The West). Of crucial strategic importance since earliest times, Athlone took on its present shape when the Anglo-Normans walled the town and erected the castle in the 13th century. Athlone played an important role in the Jacobite Wars when besieged by the entirely of King Billy's army who merrily fired over 12,000 canon balls at the castle in 1291. Oddly enough, the castle survived the battering, even if its ill-fated garrison did not. The famous Irish tenor, Count John McCormack, was born in Athlone.
The N6 then cuts a south-westerly course from Athlone into the fertile pasturelands of west Galway and the town of Ballinasloe (Béal Átha na Sluaighe), location of an outstanding international Horse Fair since 1722 at which Napoleon himself is said to have purchased his horse. A worthwhile detour from here would take you south and east to Clonmacnois, once among the greatest ecclesiastical centres of Europe. Founded by Saint Ciaran in 548 AD, Clonmacnois flourished for several centuries under the patronage of various kings, including Rory O'Conor, the last High King of Ireland, who was buried there in 1198. The monastery took a fierce amount of flak over the ensuing centuries - from warring chieftains, hard-hatted Vikings, Anglo-Norman knights, Elizabethan soldiers and, finally, Oliver Cromwell's ill-bred army in 1649. Yet the substantial and well-preserved ruins of Clonmacnois, all contained within a high stone wall, remain one of the most poignant reminders of another Ireland, the Ireland of Saints and Scholars.
The River Shannon is fast becoming one of Ireland's busiest tourist venues. From Clonmacnois, head south past the Boora Bog for Shannonbridge and Banagher. These charming Shannon-side towns are well equipped to provide accommodation and entertainment for visitors, with leisure cruises an increasing occurrence since Banagher's new marina was opened up. The geography in this area is exceptionally beautiful, particularly around Victoria Lock.
Returning to the N6 and its voyage west, continue past the battlefield of Aughrim where King Billy's army inflicted their final defeat on the Jacobites, and head south to the market town of Loughrea and the illustrious St. Brendan's Cathedral. The N6 continues all the way to Galway City, but alternatively take the R349 north through the fields of Athenry and consider Connaughts' melancholic past as you follow the legendary N17 through the heather-coated boglands, dry-stone walls and crumbling cottages of east County Mayo, birthplace of so many men, women and children forced to seek a new and better life across the Atlantic Ocean in America.
From here it is only a short journey to Castlebar, Westport and the islands of Mayo. Alternatively, take the N60 east from Ballyhaunis for Castlerea (An Caislean), County Roscommon. Clonalis House, outside Castlerea, is the family seat of the O'Connors, while Rathcroghan, 6 miles east, was the traditional coronation and burial place of the Kings of Ireland. More