From Castlerea, follow the River Suck along the N60 for Roscommon and Lough Ree, or take the R361 north for the village of Frenchpark and the Douglas Hyde Interpretative Centre, which tells the story of Ireland's enigmatic first President. The shimmering waters of Lough Key and Lough Gara are world-famous for their trout, while another recommended diversion for those interested in the Great Famine of the 1840s is Strokestown House, the last surviving 18th century mansion in County Roscommon. The house was built by the formidable Richard Cassels and has recently been converted into the Irish Famine Museum. Just north of here lie the lakes and drumlins of lovely Leitrim while Sligo Town is less than an hour's drive.
Situated in a landscape of gently rolling pastureland, the county town of Roscommon (Ros Comáin) has been an important religious and political centre for over 1200 years, best surmised in the ghostly ruins of a once mighty Norman castle destroyed by Cromwell's troops in 1652. Charming Lough Ree, a large expansion of the River Shannon and the second largest lake in the Midlands, is lined with woodland and reeds, and peppered with the ruins of ancient monastic settlements and castles on its island-studded waters.
The N63 heads west from Roscommon past the northern tip of Lough Ree, across the River Shannon and the meadow-fringed Royal Canal to Longford (An Longfort), former seat of the O'Farrel princes of Annaly. Now the county capital of Longford, this small town makes for an excellent base for touring the wild and unexplored locality: wildlife of unsurpassed beauty on the bogs, the spectacular St. Mel's Cathedral and the Greville Arms where Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan would meet before his untimely assassination. To the north, the battlefield of Ballinamuck is where the Franco-Irish army of General Humbert met their end in the 1798 uprising, while Granard, a popular fishing centre, boasts Ireland's highest Norman motte at 534 feet.
Head south from Granard along the R394 for the pretty village of Castlepollard and Tullynally Castle, seat of the Earls of Longford and described as "the Camelot of Irish Gothic architecture". South west of Castlepollard, Lough Derravaragh is among the most romantic lakes in Ireland, perhaps on account of the unfortunate Children of Lir whose swan-song haunted these shallow waters for 300 years until the arrival of Saint Paddy in the 5th century. A drive through the enchanting Garriskill Bog concludes in the charming village of Multyfarham.
Located on the northern banks of Lough Lene, east of Castlepollard, the once substantial monastic settlement of Fore owes its special place in the sci-fi record books to a series of bizarre local abnormalities, known as the Seven Wonders of Fore, such as water that will not boil and a tree that will not burn. Highly recommended is a trip north along the R395 from Castlepollard to Oldcastle, home to Loughcrew Gardens and Slieve na Calliagh, County Meath's highest point. From the latter summit, get up close and personal with prehistoric burial sites from 5000 years ago, or simply gaze full circle at the superb views of the lakelands and cow-speckled pastures of this stunning landscape. The gardens of Loughcrew House have lately been restored to their original splendour and includes an ancient motte, an impressive yew walk and the birthplace of Saint Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh, martyred in 1681.
Heading east from Longford, the N4 steers through Edgeworthstown (Meathas Troim), home of the celebrated 19th century novelist, Maria Edgeworth. A particularly good diversion from Edgeworthstown is to the great Victorian house and gardens of Carrigglas Manor, built by a lover of Jane Austen. But now, see here! Where does the N4 take us to? We're back in Mullingar.