Lough Ree, the Lake of the Kings

Twinned towns, pristine castles and a positively ancient watering hole lie ahead on your trip around Lough Ree. 

Joined at the hip, Ballyleague-Lanesborough: Straddling the Shannon River, the towns of Ballyleague and Lanesborough are separated by a bridge and two counties, the former in Roscommon, the latter in Longford. Like twins with separate identities, there's a charm to how these towns have grown together while carving out their own specialities: Ballyleague is the perfect stop for a spot of angling, while Lanesborough is home to the beautiful 19th-century St John's Church, and was the first ever crossing point on the River Shannon north of Athlone.

If you have more time: Rathcline Castle has certainly seen better days, but is worth a quick stop to wonder how such a colossal structure was constructed back in the 800s!

Stretch your legs at Culnagore: On the shores of Lough Ree 90 acres of ancient woodland, an excitable chirping echoes all around: the cheery welcome of Culnagore's resident colony of garden warblers, a small, secretive bird rarely found in Ireland. You get the sense that time has forgotten this place… making it the perfect spot for a picnic! Take the time to plan ahead, fill a basket with fine, local produce from the Longford Farmers' Market (open Fridays 9.30am-2pm) and feast to your heart's content.

If you have more time: Head to nearby Casey's Bogwood Sculptures, where father-and-son duo, Michael and Kevin Casey, create sculptures from the dark peat of the Longford boglands.

Say a little prayer on Saint's Island: It takes a little exploring down the winding roads on Lough Ree's western side to find Saint's Island monastery, founded by St Ciarán in the 6th century. Although Ciarán soon moved on to greater things – founding Clonmacnoise some years later – Saint's Island evolved over time to become a hub of scholarship, thanks to the foundation of an Augustinian priory on the same site in the 1200s. Though mostly in ruins, the unspoiled triple-light window in the east gable is still enough to transport you back to medieval times.

If you have more time: The Corlea Trackway, Europe's largest Iron Age oak road, has existed since 148 BC – and 18 perfectly preserved metres of it are on display in the Longford Visitor Centre.

Athlone Castle: Built in 1210 to defend the crossing point on the River Shannon, Athlone Castle still gives the impression that it could withstand a siege or two! This fortified stone giant has remained at the heart of the town's history for almost a millennium, today housing a Visitor Centre that explores the Siege of Athlone, the town's military past, and countless ancient artefacts.

If you have more time: Savour a pint at Athlone's Seán's Bar: tracing its roots to the year 900! Or reserve a spot at The Fatted Calf for its seasonal Beef Club night, and see why it's the pride of Westmeath.

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