Byways rather than Highways: Roscommon

Christopher Moriarty embarks on a pilgrimage of history in a corner of fair county of Roscommon.

The last High King of Ireland, first President, greatest epic and most dearly-loved writer of comic songs are all associated with same corner of County Roscommon. They are remembered in a variety of ways and places and our tour will be something of a pilgrimage in their honor, beginning and ending at Clonalis, ancestral home of O’Conor family, descendants of 12th century King Rory. The demesne is on outskirts of Castlerea, to right on road to Ballinlough. Clonalis is a very unusual building. In first place, great majority of Irish stately homes were built in 18th century in Palladian style, but Clonalis is Italianate and 19th century, designed by English architect Frederick Pepys Cockerell and completed in 1880. You approach it by a wonderfully long avenue, passing through woodland and green pasture.

Its second claim to fame is its combination of family home with a treasure-house of gracious rooms, fine furniture, ancestral portraits and an unrivaled collection of family manuscripts, amassed over six centuries. A selection of these are on display, presided over by harp which was owned and played to O’Conors by Turlough O’Carolan, last and greatest of bards of old. If you stay, you will enjoy excellent meals and hospitality – but owners, Pyers and Marguerite O’Conor Nash, also give guided tours of house throughout summer.

Donamon Castle, much embellished in recent centuries, claims to be oldest inhabited fortress in land

When you leave Clonalis, turn left to go back through Castlerea – where you might visit railway museum – and take right turn on main street for Roscommon town. This takes you for 12 miles (18 km) through village of Ballymoe and a landscape of green fields and hedges to a large sign saying ‘Donamon Castle’. You approach Donamon by an inconspicuous turn to right where main road takes a sharp left bend. Donamon is a crossing place on Suck, lovely lazy river which we will meet several times in course of our journey. It snakes its way gently through water-meadows, and you cross water here by one of its many delightful, old, multi-arched stone bridges. The castle, much embellished in recent centuries, looks down disdainfully on road and river and claims to be oldest inhabited fortress in land. Rescued from decay in 1939 by Divine Word Missionaries, it serves now as a respite home for disabled people. Go up hill from river and follow signposts for Castlecoote, turning left at T junction and left and left again to reach outskirts of charming village of that name. At roundabout you meet gate to Castlecoote House, entrance to one of most delightful recent creations in Ireland’s tourism. The avenue leads to a great white house which looks down to riverside across a lawn on which two stone towers stand, each a former corner turret of a medieval castle – destroyed in course of numerous battles of 17th century. The house was built up from ruins of castle but was gutted by fire in 1989.

Kevin Finnerty is a life-long admirer of songs and paintings of Percy French and has established a summer school in his honor

 

It might have remained in ruin, but for vision of Kevin Finnerty who bought it in 1997. A combination of loving restoration of its past glories with discreet modernisation for maximum comfort has resulted in a truly delightful stately home – and that isn’t all. Kevin is a lifelong admirer of songs and paintings of Percy French and has established a summer

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