An Introduction to Roscommon Town

Quiet Backwater with a Surprisingly Huge Castle

reland, County Roscommon, Ballinlough. Boat monument in small town
••• Nick Ledger/Getty Images

Roscommon Town, often regarded as the backwater of all rural backwaters, is not on the major tourist routes – there is, at least perceived wisdom tells us, nothing to see here. But while the town may lack the spectacular appeal of other, more touristy, places, it still has preserved the look and feel of a traditional county town.

Roscommon Town in a Nutshell

Roscommon Town, after all, is the county town of County Roscommon in the Province of Connacht and inhabited by around 5,000 people.

Located near the junctions of the N60, N61 and N63 roads, it is an important local centre for trade and commerce. Today it still conveys the feeling of an old market town slightly spruced up. Would it not be choked to death by traffic at times, it would be a reminder of the 1950s in rural Ireland.

A Short History of Roscommon Town

Roscommon has a history dating back a few thousand years ... though its name is more recent. In the 5th century, Coman mac Faelchon founded a monastery here and woods near the monastery became “Coman's Wood” (or in Irish “Ros Comáin). Civilization was, however, old news in the Roscommon area – an archaeological dig in 1945 discovered a lunula (golden necklace) and two discs, dating from the period 2,300 to 1,800 BC.

Roscommon became a major stronghold and market town and continued to prosper until the Great Famine, when about a third of the population was lost. From then on the town appeared to hibernate, until a new surge of activity during the “Celtic Tiger” years – not always to the benefit of the area with some property developments seeming “out of place”.

Places to Visit in Roscommon Town

Today, Roscommon Town has preserved its appeal to the visitor, albeit in a low-key style and enjoyed within a relatively short time frame. The main attractions to look out for would be:

  • Roscommon Castle – a ruin located just outside the town, quadrangular in shape and still imposing. Built in the 13th century, Roscommon Castle was finally destroyed in the Williamite Wars, it forms part of a park open during daylight hours.
  • Harrison Hall (Bank of Ireland) – a 17th-century house, converted into a combined court and market house in 1762, crowned by a cupola. Used as a Catholic church since 1863, it became a recreational hall in 1903, then a cinema and was finally sold to the Bank of Ireland in 1972. Thankfully much of the quaint appeal of the building survived.
  • The Old Gaol – just the façade remains of the original structure, the rest made way to a modern shopping mall just behind the Harrison Hall. Roscommon once had the distinction of having the only hang-woman in Ireland (who took the job to escape the gallows herself) ... and fittingly the gaol was later converted into a lunatic asylum. Only to become a hospital for infectious diseases and later commercial property.
  • Former Presbyterian Church (now used as County Museum) – an interesting building of cut limestone, renovated in 1991 and showing exhibits related to the history of Roscommon.
  • Roscommon Abbey (or Friary) – hidden away and reached via a path at the back of the Abbey Hotel, the abbey was founded in the 13th century by Connacht King Felim O' Connor. A tomb from around from around 1300 in the abbey's grounds may be his. It shows a king-like figure in an ornate dress that may be a conscious copy of English (or French) courtly fashion. The sides are “protected” by carvings of gallowglasses, Scottish mercenaries – these may be of a far later date, so the tomb may have been re-assembled from ruined bits and pieces.
  • Sacred Heart Church – definitely imposing with a spire 52 meters high, topped by a statue of St Michael the Archangel. Noticeable is the sunken grotto in front of the church and the mosaic over the main door, depicting two bishops.

Roscommon Town Miscellanea

Roscommon has a definitely sporty side: Roscommon Golf Club was founded in 1904, and owns a beautifully landscaped course. Dr Douglas Hyde Park is an important GAA venue (capacity 30,000), a large horse racing course is just outside the town centre too.