Athlone - Hidden Gems

Strange and fantastical creatures, plundering Vikings and a literary icon – look beyond the surface of Lough Ree and you never know what you might find… ​

Derryglad Folk Museum
Pull up a stool at the mid-19th century grocery-pub in the Derryglad Folk Museum, and you’ll feel like you could settle in for the afternoon. This museum is a work of pure devotion by its owners, the Finneran family, who have created a treasure-trove of curiosities that will keep you engaged, entertained and enlightened. There are over 6,000 items on display detailing farm and folk life from the 18th century to the present day, including phonographs, school materials, tradesman’s tools and horse-drawn machinery.

Knockcroghery Claypipe Centre, County Roscommon
When the village of Knockcroghery was burned to the ground by the Black and Tans in 1921, a thriving clay pipe tradition died with it. Engulfed with flames, the factory – which had stood on the site for 250 years – was reduced to smouldering ash. But today, the tradition has been revived thanks to the interest and devotion of local woman Ethel Kelly. Step into the Knockcroghery Claypipe Centre and uncover the incredible history behind the soft curves of these beautifully crafted pipes, created using the original moulds and tools. Smoked by both men and women, and frequently used at funeral wakes when they would be broken after being smoked, claypipes have been described as the “pipe of the common man”.

Ireland’s Nessie…
It started off as a day like any others back in May, 1960 when three Catholic priests went for a lesiurely fishing trip on Lough Ree. But it would end with tales of a strange, black, eel-like monster that rose and fell as it travelled through the water. And the legend of the Lough Ree monster spread… Of course, there had been murmurings of a fantastical creature in the lake prior to the Sixties, but this was the best documented claim of an actual sighting. So keep your eyes out and your camera close when you’re cruising the waters here – you never know what you might see!

Goldsmith and Lough Ree
Leaving Glasson village on the road to Ballymahon, you’ll pass a spot called The Three Jolly Pigeons. It’s worth a stop-off: this 1920’s spot is overflowing with rural charm and is named after a pub that was the setting for Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, written in 1771. It’s the first sign that you are now in Goldsmith country – a part of Ireland with deep links to the 18th century literary genius. Goldsmith was born in Pallas, just outside the village of Ballymahon, where he is now remembered both with a statue on the main street and, more notably, with an annual festival. For the literary-minded, this is a gem of an event held every June, which celebrates both Goldsmith’s works and the beautifully surroundings that inspired them.

The islands of Lough Ree
Look out across Lough Ree and the islands seem to rise from the rippling waters like apparitions. Thousands of years of folklore and legend, history and myth swirl together around these grassy enclaves, and, at times, it feels like all of the area’s past is contained within them. Take Inchcleraun for starters – this quiet wilderness was a retreat for Queen Maeve, a haven for St Diarmuid who founded a monastic site here in 540AD, and was attacked and plundered repeatedly from the 9th to the 14th centuries. It’s not the only island that harbours a turbulent history. Walk down to the shores at Coosan Point, look out and you’ll see Hare Island in the distance. Back in the 19th century, a massive hoard of Viking gold was found here, while the island was also a lure for St Ciaran, who later founded a monastic site at Clonmacnoise. It’s easy to see why saints and scholars, adventurers and attackers were drawn to these islands over the years, and they add a unique beauty to cruising the vast waters of Lough Ree.

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