Roscommon is one of those counties where history truly comes alive. This county in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands offers an incredible array of insightful, historical, and immersive places to unearth and discover as it brings us through a time long since gone. Not only does Roscommon value it’s history, support its locality, and cherish its surroundings, but the tourist attractions in Roscommon will also reel in the best explorer with its mountain of adventures amidst its natural landscapes on land and water. It also lures in the budding archaeologist exploring the hidden gems and uncovered sites, and not forgetting the nature lover with the rich intensity of its surroundings. Needless to say, Roscommon delivers!
Finding things to do in Roscommon is most certainly not difficult. But for your ease in uncovering the best Roscommon has to offer, we have gathered together ten of our favourites which are some of the best things to do and exactly what the Roscommon tourist is looking for. With our in-depth list of things to do in Roscommon, we will explore myths and legends, delve into rural living, explore curiosity and creativity, and possibly bewitch you with tales of the Gate to Hell!
Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, Boyle, Roscommon
It’s at the top of many of our itineraries so we thought it best to kickstart this list of the best things to do in Roscommon with Lough Key Forest and Activity Park which is nestled amongst some of the most stunning surroundings Boyle has to offer. Lough Key Forest is alive with wildlife, incredible views, and a deep history. To say there is something for everyone in this one locality is an understatement as it caters for those looking for a slow, relaxed pace and also to those out for an adventure. https://loughkey.ie/
From camping, caravanning, bog gardens, underground tunnels, boating on the lake, to ziplining, Lough Key Activity Park, the surrounding forest, and the almost mystical lake with islands is a must visit for anyone travelling to, from, or through Roscommon. The incredible refurbished Moylurg viewing tower awaits you to witness the glory of Lough Key. Not forgetting the first of its kind in Ireland, the Lough Key Tree Canopy Walk takes you through the woodland at a gentle slope, 9 metres above the forest floor, to witness nature in all of her glory as you walk through the trees.
Don’t forget to look to the skies too as Lough Key is considered to be Ireland’s UFO hotspot. Let’s just say, if you find yourself here, you won’t be disappointed!
For the history buffs among us, Roscommon has so much to teach us with its surroundings and the deep stories it has to tell. Boyle Abbey is one such location to add to your list of things to do in Roscommon as this 12th century Cistercian abbey was once one of the most powerful sites among the Cistercian order. https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/boyle-abbey/
Respectfully preserved, the ruins portray a magnificent example of the lives of the Cistercian monks. With beautiful stone carvings throughout the structure telling its story, the refurbished gatehouse also hosts a fascinating exhibit about the monks, their history, and that of the abbey. Centring heavily in Cromwellian history as Boyle Abbey was besieged in 1645, it was eventually used as a military garrison until falling into disrepair.
Boyle Abbey can’t be missed as it is situated in the middle of Boyle and is worthy of a pitstop for an hour or so as you take in the ruins and unearth the history. Boyle Abbey is perhaps one of the most exquisite examples of the Cistercian foundations in Ireland.
Strokestown House and Gardens
An Irish Heritage Trust property, Strokestown House and Gardens is an incredible display of 300 years of culture and history. When you step inside this stunning Palladian Georgian Mansion, you will be transported back in time to a world we can only imagine. Home to the Pakenham family, it almost feels as though Strokestown House has stood still in time as the furnishings, architecture, and atmosphere seems to have paused. https://www.strokestownpark.ie/
A guided tour of Strokestown House will bring you through the families 300-year history giving you an understanding of how the house was run, how society behaved, and the etiquette of the times since passed. Furnished with the family’s belongings from generation to generation, Strokestown House gives an insight into the affluent lives of one of Ireland’s greatest houses and compares that to the lives of their tenants as the famine struck.
The gardens and woodlands of Strokestown House are spread over six acres and are a beautiful sight to behold with walled gardens, summer houses, croquet lawns, and pleasure gardens. A stroll through these vast acres is highly recommended as you may uncover a rare specimen or two.
National Famine Museum
Located in Strokestown House, the National Famine Museum documents what is considered to be Europe’s greatest social disaster. Occurring in the 19th century, Ireland witnessed the departure of almost a quarter of its population, equating to approximately two million people, who either died or emigrated due to a wide sweeping famine which took hold across the island. https://www.strokestownpark.ie/famine/national-famine-museum/
The National Famine Museum has collated this significant time period and tells the story of the nation and its people during one of the most harrowing moments of our history. An incredibly interesting but equally devasting museum, it gives a voice to the ghosts of the famine who lost their livelihoods, homes, sense of belonging, and even their lives.
Hosted in the stunning Strokestown House which is in and of itself an historical artefact, and its surrounding gardens and woodlands, the National Famine Museum is exemplary in sharing history. The famine is a distinctive period of Ireland’s antiquity which will never be forgotten. The memoirs, letters, artefacts, and archives shared throughout the National Famine Museum maintain this important saga and is well worth a visit when in Roscommon.
Arigna Mining Experience
As we have said, stepping back in time in Roscommon is not a hard thing to do, but for an utterly unique experience we recommend uncovering the Arigna Mines in Derrenavoggy, Carrick-on-Shannon. Guaranteed to be one of the most interesting things to do in Roscommon on your list, the Arigna Mining Experience is like no other. https://www.arignaminingexperience.ie/
Mining in the Arigna Valley began in the 1770s and continued right up to 1990 when the mines were closed. The mines were the most productive business in the area creating vast employment making it a most appreciated and respected industry. On closure of the last coal mines, the local community developed the Arigna Mining Experience which was officially opened in 2003. Showcasing a world like no other, which many of us would otherwise never experience, the complex offers a fantastic insight into the industry which actively supported the residents of the locality for 400 years.
With guided tours by ex-miners themselves, audio-visual tours, and exhibitions, not to mention the stunning surroundings and panoramic views of Lough Allen, the Arigna Mining Experience shows us the life of a miner, of all it entails, and the incredible history, culture, and community of Arigna itself.
Note that due to COVID restrictions check in advance that the Arigna Mining Experience is open.
To say there is magic and mystery in Roscommon is a verified truth especially when we consider the mystical McDermott Castle which sits in splendour on its own island among the waters of Lough Key. Aptly named Castle Island, this particular spot on this uniquely beautiful lake, is one not to be missed when considering things to do in Roscommon.
A genuinely fascinating vista, McDermott Castle stands out high amongst the trees and bushes in all of its ruined splendour. The island itself is believed to have held a castle or structure of some sort dating back to the 12th century as the McDermott’s ruled the area to the 17th century. The island is most famous for the Legend of Una Bhan, the daughter of the McDermott Chief who fell in love with a peasant boy, a love that was returned but forbidden. The boy drowned, and Una died of a broken heart. https://loughkey.ie/activities/park-and-estate/
The current structure in all of its beauty, was never truly a castle as such but rather a significant mansion. And although ruined, the potential for McDermott Castle lives on despite being in perilous condition. It is ill advised to explore the ruins as it is in significant need of repair so if you do decide to rent a boat or row out to the island be cautious when exploring. But taking in the length and breadth of this romanticised island is certainly well worth doing.
King House Historical and Cultural Centre
King House Historical and Cultural Centre in the heart of Boyle, Roscommon, is a one stop shop for the historians among us. Covering 300 years of history in an iconic and beautiful setting, King House is a magnificently restored Georgian mansion which was originally built in 1730 as the seat of the King family. Eventually becoming a barracks and recruiting depot, King House is steeped in history and culture. https://www.visitkinghouse.ie/
With interactive displays, life size historical figures, and intriguing collections, the historical centre delves through period history, the civil war and so much more. As well as an historical centre, King House is a vocal point as a cultural centre by incorporating the Harrington studios supporting local artists and allowing visitors to explore their studios and watch the artists at work.
The centre hosts book, craft and antique fairs throughout the year, a farmers’ market, and is also home to spectacular tea rooms. Delving into all King House has to offer will not leave you disappointment but will intrigue you in its understanding of history, culture, and curiosity.
Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum
Another unique experience on offer from the historically ripe county of Roscommon is the Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum near Athlone. Step back in time and experience rural life as it was 250 years ago. Derryglad Museum offers a truly intriguing and personalised tour as the owner Charlie, when available, will take you by the hand and lead you around the artefacts, machinery and explore Ireland as it was with you. https://www.derrygladfolkmuseum.com/
It’s here you will explore how life was lived by your grandparents and great grandparents, compare the difference between school now and then, uncover the nature of rural life in the past and discover the methods of true craftsmanship.
Along with interesting tours, the Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum also houses a photography exhibit showcasing a photographer’s studio as it operated from 1948, an exhibit portraying the work of dairy farmers and another highlighting the work of a chemist. With so many fascinating exhibits, artefacts, and Charlies particular love and respect for the Museum and its visitors, Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum is an absolute must visit spot when in Roscommon.
Known as the Ancient Capital of Connaught, Rathcrogan is perhaps the most historical spot in Roscommon. Here you will find the oldest and largest unexcavated Royal site in all of Europe. The visitor centre of Rathcrogan is located in the medieval village of Tulsk and houses a museum bringing an in depth understanding to the history of Rathcrogan. https://www.rathcroghan.ie/
The incredible nature of this site is an archaeologist’s dream as it boasts hundreds of ruins within about 2.5 square miles covering 5,500 years of history, from the Mesolithic period right through to the Iron Age. The myths, legends, and heroes of ancient Ireland, including the great warrior Queen Medb, are truly brought to life when you explore Rathcrogan in all of its splendour. Best explored through tours from the Rathcrogan visitor centre, you will be brought back in time by knowledgeable guides who steer you through this uniquely preserved landscape.
Believed to be where the ancient ritual of Samhain (Hallowe’en) began, Rathcrogan is home to the supposed Gate to Hell! But let that fact intrigue you even more to pay a visit to one of Ireland’s most incredible Royal complexes.
Finally, we invite you to visit a rare sight in the west of Ireland, the only fully restored windmill on this side of the island. This beautiful, round, three stage structure is eye-catching with its stunning thatched roof. Originally used for grinding corn and grains, the mill is now home to a visitor centre showcasing the work of the mill and the surrounding agricultural lands. https://elphinwindmill.ie/
This 18th century beauty was originally built by Edward Synge who was a landowner and also the bishop of Elphin. It was built with the intention of supplying the local community but was only used for about a hundred years before being abandoned. Left neglected and untended to for 160 years, it was delicately restored in the 1990’s. It now stands as a rare and delightful sight and a wonderful example of interesting structural engineering. 12km northwest of Strokestown, this quaint, white-washed building is worth a visit as you travel through Roscommon.
Enjoy exploring Roscommon.