Is Ireland's least-visited county set to become its hidden gem?
Published 09/10/2016 | 15:17
Longford is Ireland's least-visited county, says Pól Ó Conghaile, but that could be set to change.
When it comes to tourism, Longford is Ireland’s lost county. It’s got no famous attractions. It’s not on the coast. Its population and area are tiny.
It gets the fewest tourists of the 26 counties, according to Fáilte Ireland (with just 30,000 overseas visitors in 2015)... and that’s not even starting on viral videos about wasps at mass.
When I stood in St Mel’s Cathedral (below) on a recent visit to Longford town, however, none of this seemed to matter.
St Mel’s was destroyed by fire on Christmas morning, 2009. Pay a visit today, and you’ll find the building risen like a Phoenix from the flames — its sparkling interior filled with fresh mosaics, artworks, stained glass and a helluva story.
I’m taking it as a sign. Longford is no Dublin or Kerry, but in travel, rewards come to those who venture off the beaten track.
Think of Saint’s Island, the Corlea Trackway (pictured top, and below), the dynamic Backstage Theatre, or the waterways potential in the Royal Canal and Lough Ree. The county falls under Ireland’s Ancient East, but it could also benefit hugely from the ‘Lakelands’ tourism brand laid out in the current programme for government.
Then there’s the €223 million Center Parcs holiday village, set for Newcastle Wood in 2019. Understandably, some locals worry that guests will stay on campus, but its scale and publicity will surely bring benefits.
Already there’s talk of passing traffic bringing business to a potential new attraction by the Norman motte in Granard. Longford will never be mainstream. But could the lost county carve a niche as Ireland’s hidden gem?
Last month, Beryl and James Kearney’s Viewmount House (viewmounthouse.com) was named Georgina Campbell’s Country House of the Year for 2017.
Combined with Gary O’Hanlon’s VM Restaurant, set in an atmospheric stable conversion, it’s by some stretch the best getaway in the county — combining 17th-century period detail, gorgeous gardens and a destination dining experience for which people now travel from far afield.
Viewmount joined the Blue Book recently and, going to press, B&B plus dinner for two is available from €260 in total.
Like Longford itself, Ireland’s bogs are a hugely under-rated part of the landscape. At the Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre (heritageireland.ie) near Kenagh, you’ll find a fascinating, 18m-long stretch of Iron Age road dating from 148BC.
Where was it going? What was it for? What other secrets do Irish bogs contain? The more you learn, the more intriguing the story gets, and the bogs boast fascinating fauna and flora, too. The centre is free to visit, but get there soon — it closes for the season on October 26. See also longfordtourism.ie.