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? This part of the Irish Province of Ulster (which is not identical to Northern Ireland) 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, yet part of the Republic (this continually confuses visitors).

    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 number 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 1,890 square kilometers with a population of 73,183, according to the census of 2011.

    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 "Mean Shite...MORE County" (the cost-saving efforts of the locals are the stuff of legends and many a joke) or "Pothole County" (the local limestone makes road surfaces prone to crack and disappear. And the council is, true to Cavan form, loath to spend money on "minor repairs").

  • 02 of 09

    Can it be true? The Aughrim Tomb in the grounds of the Slieve Russell Hotel has its own history ... lying undisturbed for many millennia, it was in the way of commercial expansion. And moved. At great cost. And maybe at a greater cost than ever imagined by the movers and shakers of the ancient tomb, as Ireland's richest man is rumored to have become a pauper as a result of the ill-advised interference with the otherworld.

  • 03 of 09

    The Virginia Pumpkin Festival combines rural traditions, hard-core gardening, and Halloween. Taking place on the October Bank Holiday Weekend, it is a town-wide party with street entertainment for all ages. And some interesting performances. And with pumpkins - not at least during the weigh-in for the largest pumpkin on show. 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 odd traffic layout) of a traditional county town to offer. Cavan Town offers everything from a bustling commercial center with large chain stores and small local enterprises to a large 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 get provisions ...

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  • 05 of 09

    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

    Stopping on Belturbet is, frankly, not a welcome prospect - the N3 winds its way from Cavan Town to Enniskillen through the middle of the town in a tortuous way, with locals parking willy-nilly and trucks barely able to pass each other. What a contrast off the beaten track, at the waterfront, where cruisers moor and families enjoy a stroll. Here the waterways almost intersect, with the Shannon and the Shannon-Erne-Waterway within easy reach. And defining the border to Northern Ireland - just out off Belturbet to the north an old bridge had been blown up decades ago, only replaced by a new one during the peace process. Stark contrasts. 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. And the source of the mighty Shannon, though it is a mere trickle here. Great for a picnic on a sunny day!

  • 08 of 09

    The annual Virginia Show is definitely a rural highlight, though seeing cows battling it out for the price of the best-looking one may seem strange to many. There is more to it than hair-styling and well-scrubbed feet. You will also see the cows that provide the cream for Bailey's ... so it is educational too. Of sorts. Definitely fun, but dress for the changing weather and not-so-clean terrain.

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  • 09 of 09

    Visiting County Cavan and stuck for something to do in the evening? Well, you could do worse than head out into a local pub (which, by default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session ... so why not give it a try?

    Most 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"