Rathconrath (Co. Westmeath / West)
Rathconrath, a small village, shares its name with the surrounding Barony, once aka Daltons’ Country.
(The Dalton / D’Alton family, of Anglo-Norman origin, acquired extensive lands in Meath under King Henry II. The head of the family was known as Lord of Rathconrath, but having become “more Irish than the Irish temselves”, they were broken as territorial magnates by the Cromwellian and Williamite devastations. Several members of the family later distinguished themselves in foreign services, particularly in that of Austria but the most famous member of the family outside Ireland was Robert Dalton, whose leadership of aband of desperate outlaws in Oklahoma and California ended abruptly in 1892. At home the best known of the name in modern times have been the historian John Dalton (1792-1867) and John D’Alton (1662 – 1963), Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland from 1946 and Cardinal from 1953).
Mount Dalton House was built c.1785 for Richard Dalton, who reached the rank of General in Empress Marie Theresa’s Austrian army. The charming gatehouse is covered with colourful flowers in the summer, and the grounds also contain the remains of a castle, an overgrown graveyard, and a small lake stocked with trout for visiting anglers.
A small hill used to be topped by a 30’ obelisk adorned with the profiles of Empress Maria Theresa and the Emperor Joseph II of Austria, King George III plus the Dalton family arms, demolished in 1906 by a person named Plunkett who wanted to use the stones to erect as a monument to his dead son, but failed to pay the railroad haulage fees, so the rail company used the stones for building walls.
The current owner of Mount Dalton is Mrs Catherine Gibson-Brabazon.
Ballymore & Killare (Co. Westmeath / West)
Ballymore (pop. 500) formerly aka Ballymore-Lough Sewdy, was of strategic importance in the Middle Ages, as it lay on the ancient route between royal ‘Uisneagh’ and Athlone. It has been suggested that it was the site of a bruighean / hostel.
The first reference in the Annals of the Four Masters to ‘Baile-Mór Locha-Semhdidhe’ (‘the great town of Lough Sewdy’) may be found in 1450 when Mageoghegan’s son, in the course of plunder, killed Brian, son of Laoiseach, at Ballymore-Lough Sewdy.The last mention is found in 1598, when O’Rourke and Red Hugh O’Donnell together moved into Meath, plundering the area from Mullingar to Ballymore-Lough Sewdy, during the Nine Years’ War.
Lough Sunderlin / Sewdy (Loch Seimhdidhe / Seimhdile) is one of Westmeath’s smaller and lesser-known lakes, is divided between the parishes of Ballymore and Killare, and includes parts f the townlands of Shinglis, Lugacaha , Ballymore and Mullaghcloe.
The Annals of the Four Masters record that Colman Rimidh and Aedh Slaine, ‘after six years in the sovereignty of Ireland‘ were killed at ‘Loch Semhdidhein’ in 600 AD; that Murchadh Ua Macleachlainn ‘was treacherously slain’ by Mac Iarnain, the chief of Ciurcne, ‘on the island of Loch Semhdidhe’ in 1034′; that Conchobhar Ua Briain / Conor O’Brien led an army of Munster men into Leinster and Meath in 1131 and reached Lough Sewdy, which they plundered; and that an army led by Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair /Rory O’Connor, comprising a battalion of Thomond men and the army of Tighearnan Ua Ruairc of Breifne, invaded Meath and reached Lough Sewdy; O’Conor’s son was killed in a battle against the king of Meath who had tried to prevent the building of a bridge at Athlone.
The remains of a fort dating from the Williamite campaign can be seen beside the lake, as well as Father Dalton’s mass rock which was used during penal times.
Killare is the location of St Brigid’s Well. Beside the well are the remains of an early medieval stone church, surrounded by a circular earthen bank which suggests a very early Christian foundation; history tell us that the founder was Saint Hugh, but tradition has linked the name of Saint Brigid with the place.
The Hill of Uisneagh
The Hill of Uisneagh / Uisneach / Usny / Cnoc Uisnigh (180m), sometimes called the navel of Ireland, commands magnificent views of the midlands; some claim that no less than 20 counties are visible on a clear day. As a ceremonial site the Hill of Uisneach was traditionally regarded as second only to Emain Macha.
In the poetic history Lebor Gabála Érenn (“Book of the Takings of Ireland”), Ériu, a tutelary mother goddess sometimes viewed as the personification of Éire (Ireland), met the invading Milesians at the Hill of Uisneach where, after some conversation and drama, the Milesian poet Amairgin promised to give the country her name. The Nemedian Druid Mide lit the first fire there, and thereafter a fire was also lit on the Hill on the feast of Bealtaine, and used as a signal for the inhabitants of Tara to light theirs.
It is elsewhere recorded that king Tuathal Teachmar (“the Acceptable”) erected his royal palace here in the late C1st or early C2nd AD, and it may have been he who instigated the custom of celebrating the great Celtic festival of Bealtaine here.
Some claim this was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland for 200 years prior to the coming of Saint Patrick. Another major Christian figure who is also notably connected with fire, Saint Brigid, is said to have taken the veil at this sacred locus.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) claims a common belief that Stonehenge was transported from the Hill of Uisneach.
Based on co-ordinates alone, some have theorised that this may be the site identified as Raiba / Riba by the Egyptian-Greek astronomer and cartographer Ptolemy in his Geographia, written c.140 AD.
The Catstone /Cat Usnagh / Ail Na Mearainn (“stone of the divisions”), marking the burial spot of Eriu, was the symbolic meeting point of the five ancient Cuagi / provinces of Ireland. (Photo by Tomasz Bukowski)
The remnants of an iron flagstaff from a Monster Meeting convened in favour of Catholic Emancipation by Daniel O’Connell c.1824 can still be seen.
Other archaeological sites on the hill include a large enclosure excavated in the 1920s by RAS Macalister and Robert Praeger, showing signs of continuous use from prehistorical times until the medieval era.
Kilbride takes its name from a monastery supposedly founded by Saint Brigid of Kildare (d.c 525 AD) and visited by Saint Kevin; the site on the southern slope of the Hill of Usny comprises C12th remnants, and is linked by an ancient road to Durrow Abbey, founded by Saint Colmcille / Columba.
Rosemount & Moyvoughly (Co. Westmeath / West)
Rosemount (an Bhric Óig), historically aka Ballybrickoge. is a village in County Westmeath, Ireland. It is located 5 km northeast of the town of Moate.
Located close to the southwest border of the ancient Barony of Moycashel, it was stronghold of a prominent branch the Geoghegan family, many of whom are interred in the mortuary chapel at Kill.
Knockastia (Cnoc Aiste) (200m / 656ft) is one of the highest points in County Westmeath. In 1932 Harvard Archaeological Society members excavated a hilltop cemetery with remains of 44 Bronze Age graves.
Three Musical Houses
Grouse Lodge, a 275-year-old estate with stone outbuildings, has been modernised and run since 2002 by Paddy and Claire Dunning (of National Wax Museum fame) as a state-of-the-art residential recording studio, used by renowned musicians such as Michael Jackson, R.E.M., Gary Moore, Shirley Bassey, Paddy Casey, Hitomi Yaida / Yaiko, Luka Bloom, Morrissey, Bonnie Raith, Caladh Nua, Muse, Liam Clancy, Snow Patrol, Horslips, Brian McFadden, Sinead O’Connor and the Manic Street Preachers. Facilities include gym, swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, tennis, horse riding, quad biking, archery, fishing etc.
Coolatore House was built in 1866 by Arthur Shuckburgh Upton, a descendant of the Rev. Ambrose Upton from Devon, who came to Ireland as the Lord Lieutenant’s chaplain and acquired the estate. In the 1980s new owners opened Coolatore as a one of the most fashionable country guesthouses in Ireland. Set in 16 acres of exotic garden and woodland, the house has cavernous public rooms with vaulted ceilings, a library, a splendid Victorian kitchen and six bedrooms. It is now available for self-catering holiday rental; guests have access to the exercise facilities at Grouse Lodge.
Bishopstown House was built in the early 1800s by Mr J Casey and acquired from his two daughters in 1895 by Mr Richard Cleary, a famous racehorse trainer, who turned the estate into a successful stud farm. Purchased for rock star Michael Jackson, who had hand-picked the property to become his Irish estate, the house was restored and extended in accordance with designs he had made with a local architect, including a spectacular wooden extension with a roof terrace commanding 360º panoramic views of the Westmeath countryside. It is now available for self-catering holiday rental.
Rosemount village holds a harvest fair every year, weather permitting, and the event draws large crowds.
Moyvoughly / Moyvaghly (Maigh Bhachla – “Plain of the Crozier”) is a hamlet set in rolling countryside.
The Moyvoughly Standing Stone is a 3m tall megalith standing on a small hilltop, with a recumbent stone adjacent to it.