The Attractions and Sights of the Ulster County of Cavan

Kilmore Church, a Church of Ireland building, in Cavan, Ireland.
Hugh Rooney/Getty Images

Visiting County Cavan? The county in the north of the Republic of Ireland is a part of the Province of Ulster (but not a part of Northern Ireland). County Cavan has a number of attractions you will not want to miss, plus some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path. So, why not take your time and spend a day or two in Cavan when visiting Ireland? Here are some ideas to make it worth your while.

  • 01 of 09

    County Cavan Basic Facts

    Here's what you need to know about County Cavan, part of the Irish province of Ulster. Ulster is sometimes mistakenly believed to be made up of counties only in Northern Ireland, but this is not true and Cavan is one of the examples from the Republic.

    The Irish name of County Cavan is Contae an Chabháin, which can be best translated as "Valley" or "Hollow" - a very fitting description for Cavan Town. The Irish license plates for cars first registered in County Cavan show the abbreviation CN.

    The county town is Cavan Town, other regionally important towns are Bailieborough and Belturbet. County Cavan stretches across some 746 square miles with a population of 76,092, according to the census of 2016.

    The population growth of 39% over the preceding twenty years reflects the fact that Dublin's commuter belt began to extend into the southern parts of County Cavan.

    Nicknames for County Cavan are "Lake County" or "the Breiffne" (referencing a medieval kingdom) - if you are talking to Cavan people. Outsiders are likely to add that the county is best known for being "mean" or stingy. The cost-saving efforts of the locals are the stuff of legends and many a joke. It is also sometimes joked to be the "Pothole County" (the local limestone makes road surfaces prone to crack and disappear. And the city council is, true to Cavan form, reluctant to spend money on "minor repairs").

  • 02 of 09

    The Aughrim Tomb, a monument which dates back to 2000 BC, can now be found on the grounds of the Slieve Russell Hotel. The ancient stone structure was buried undisturbed for many millennia until it was uncovered during the quarrying of an Irish mountain. Instead of destroying it, the group responsible for the mining had the monument moved at great cost and reconstructed on the grounds of the hotel. The man who owned the company and the hotel was once Ireland's richest man but soon lost his fortune. If you believe the rumors, then Sean Quinn became a pauper as a result of the ill-advised interference with the ancient tomb.

  • 03 of 09

    The County Cavan town of Virginia's Pumpkin Festival combines rural traditions, serious gardening, and Halloween. Taking place on the October Bank Holiday Weekend, it is a town-wide party with street entertainment for all ages which includes some interesting live performances. There is, of course, an emphasis on pumpkins such as the not-to-be-missed weigh-in for the largest pumpkin on display. Spooky, funny and varied, this is a definitive highlight in the Cavan calendar.

  • 04 of 09

    Cavan literally means "the hollow"... and driving into Cavan Town, you know the name fits. It is downhill, whatever direction you are coming from. But only in a geographical sense, as Cavan Town has the charms and small streets that Ireland's traditional county towns always seem to offer. Cavan Town has everything from a bustling commercial center with large chain stores and small local enterprises to a massive Catholic cathedral with an only slightly smaller Church of Ireland church opposite. From a graveyard with historic connections to cafés with a welcoming atmosphere. From the bustle of the local college to the otherwise sedate pace of life. Well worth a stopover, if only to grab lunch or listen to a live music session.

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  • 05 of 09

    County Cavan is part of what is known as the Border Region because it shares 43 miles of border with Northern Ireland (specifically County Fermanagh). The Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff is a hidden gem - not on any main road (and not very well sign-posted from the N3), it hides behind a modern church and holds the key to understanding the border counties history. From megalithic monuments with puzzling imagery to the bold images used by semi-secret societies and fraternal brotherhoods on both sides of the sectarian divide. It's not a big museum, but it packs a bit of punch nonetheless.

  • 06 of 09

    It is said that County Cavan has a lake for every day of the year. For those hoping to boat, it is worth stopping on Belturbet and braving the N3 as it winds its way from Cavan Town to Enniskillen through the middle of the town. Outside of town, at the waterfront, there is a tranquil setting where cruisers moor and families enjoy a stroll. Here the waterways almost intersect, with the Shannon and the Shannon-Erne-Waterway within easy reach.

    The now peaceful setting was once caught up in "the troubles" with Northern Ireland. The border is very close to Belturbet, and an old bridge here was blown up decades ago then only replaced by a new one during the peace process. You may also note the unassuming memorial next to the old Post Office, commemorating two local teenagers that died in a bomb attack on the small town.

  • 07 of 09

    Both the Shannon and the Erne have their origins in County Cavan - and the Shannon Pot near the village of Glengavlin is interesting enough for a short visit. An almost tiny (but deep) pond filled from an underground stream. Even though it looks like a mere trickle here, this is truly the source of the mighty River Shannon. The spot makes a great location for a picnic on a sunny day!

  • 08 of 09

    The annual Virginia Agricultural Show is definitely a rural highlight. The highlight of the country fair is a champion cow competition, though there are farm contests of all kinds. You will also see the cows that provide the cream for Bailey's, as well as have the chance to purchase local foods and handicrafts. The day out is definitely fun​ but dress for the changing weather and not-so-clean terrain.

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  • 09 of 09

    Visiting County Cavan and not sure what to do in the evening? One of the most popular nighttime activities means heading out into a local pub (which, by default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then joining a traditional Irish music session ... so why not give it a try?

    Most trad sessions start at around 9:30 pm or whenever a few musicians have gathered. Here are some reliable venues:

    Ballinagh - "Mary Brady's"

    Cavan Town -"The Farnham Arms" and "McCaul's"

    Killeshandra - "Dickie's" and "The Shamrock Bar"

    Virginia - "Healey's"