Staycation is once again the buzzword of the summer and this year I plan to visit county towns an hour or so from where I live. Roscommon Town, in the county of the same name, began as an early religious settlement and served as a crossroads for trade between north and south, east and west, therefore it is not surprising the roads leading to the town are, in places, as straight as the crow flies. The Romans would have been impressed.
What attracted me to Roscommon was the castle, situated in Loughnanean Park, which means Lake of the Birds in Gaelic. A lake once covered the park and is believed to have been a gateway to a utopian Otherworld, and is where the great poets of Ireland watched an exiled king of Ulster, Fergus, MacRoich, rise up from his burial mound to tell the famous mythical Irish story: The Cattle Raid of Cooley. A tale telling of a power struggle between Queen Meave of Connacht and her husband, Ailill McMata. The only battle going on whilst I was in the park and castle was between the sun and ominous grey clouds. I am pleased to say the sun won.
Loughnaneane Park is a tranquil paradise with a small lake attracting wild fowl to its waters and a meadow encouraging butterflies, ladybirds, smaller birds and a number of wild flowers to flourish.
There are winding paths along which to walk and beautiful wooden sculptures of those who lived in the castle during its turbulent history: Felim O’Connor, King of Connact and his son, Aedh O’Connor, Rebel of Connacht.
Felim O’Connor reigned from the early 1230s to 1265 and did much to work with the invading Anglo-Normans. Aedh did not follow in his father’s footsteps, fighting against the growing Anglo-Norman power and the castle was built to stop the plundering of this rebel king who attacked the castle in 1270, 1271 and 1272. It was only after Aedh died that the castle was completed c.1277-8.
Little of the castle now remains, but with a little imagination I could visualise it as an imposing Norman fortress with high walls, a moat, and a drawbridge. In the 14th century it was transformed into a stately home with roofs, chimneys, windows and doors, and surrounded by ornamental gardens, even a fish pond.
After enjoying an hour or so in the sunshine I left the park and castle and made my way to Longford, missing a turn and finding myself at an even later date in Irish history. Corlea Bog, dating back to prehistoric times, has an amenity to walk around the brown, flat fields and wetlands, but it is also a reminder of where turf has been cut which has warmed the hearths of many homes, even my own, thoughout the centuries.
Staycation 2021 is off to a good start.