Found in the exact center of Ireland, Mullingar is one of the largest towns in County Westmeath. The town is surrounded by lakes, notably Lough Derravaragh, Lough Ennell, and Lough Owel. There are also several canals and rivers and run through the town, making outdoor sports and fishing an important part of local culture.
Mullingar was traditionally a market town, but its large cattle mart officially closed in the early 2000s. These days, the town remains an important commercial center in the midlands but it also provides plenty of cultural activities and famous sites. The mythical connections to Mullingar in Irish folklore also attract their fair share of visitors.
Visit the Stunning Belvedere House and Gardens
Mullingar’s most famous attraction is by far and away the Palladian mansion known as Belvedere House. The estate, with its extensive formal gardens, was first constructed in 1740 for Robert Rochfort, 1st Earl of Belvedere. The formal hunting lodge is set in the verdant countryside 5 miles (8 kilometers) outside of Mullingar town. The house is celebrated for its Rococo plasterwork ceilings, which are some of the most ornate in Ireland. Outside the residence, there is a walled Victorian garden, as well as a seemingly out-of-place wall that was constructed to block Rochfort’s view of his estranged brother’s house next door. The stone structure is sometimes called the Jealous Wall or the Belvedere Follies. In addition to touring the home, visitors are welcome to walk through the parkland to the shores of Lough Ennell or wander through the extensive woodlands. There are also four play areas for children in Belvedere Park.
Admire the Cathedral of Christ the King
Construction of Mullingar’s celebrated Cathedral of Christ the King began in 1933 but you wouldn't be alone in thinking that the church was much older. The cathedral is designed in a Renaissance-style with two tall towers topped with bronze crosses. The Catholic church was built to replace the earlier Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and was the first church in the world to be dedicated to Christ the King, at the specific request of the Pope. Inside are lovely mosaics that tell the stories of St. Anne and St. Patrick.
Go to a Show at Mullingar Arts Centre
The Mullingar Arts Center is the main cultural reference point located in the heart of the town, adjacent to the County Buildings and across from the courthouse. The arts center hosts regular performances that span from drama to musical concerts. If you happen to be in town for longer, sign up for some of the educations classes which they offer from adults and children. Workshops cover all forms of art, from music to dance and ballet and even photography. A full list of what is on is available on the Mullingar Arts Centre website.
Bike the Old Rail Trail
Peddling along the Old Rail Trail that links Mullingar and Athlone is a must for cycling enthusiasts visiting central Ireland. The paved and well-maintained path converts 26 miles (42 kilometers) of the former Midlands Great Western Railway route into a bike path. The trail cuts through farmland and runs along a canal, for a picturesque way to discover this quiet corner of Ireland at a slower pace than normal. Visitors can stop along the way in Castletown, Streamstown, or Moate, or simply loop back to Mullingar at any point.
Climb the Hill of Uisneach
Did you know that Westmeath was Michael Jackson’s favorite part of Ireland? The King of Pop visited the Emerald Isle many times and he even lived outside of Mullingar for a short period of time. It is said that he was totally enamored by the Hill of Uisneach, which is just outside the town. The hill has a special spot in Irish mythology and is said to be the exact center of Ireland. At the top of the hill, you will find the presumed remains of a megalithic era tomb. After taking in the ruins, be sure to enjoy the view because many people believe that you can see 20 Irish counties from the summit on a clear day. It may also be a spot where St. Patrick spent time in the 5th century, but these days it is most famous for its annual Bealtaine fire celebration. Guided tours of the area are also available.
Visit the Famine Memorial Fountain
Located in the center of town on Oliver Plunkett Street, Mullingar’s Famine Memorial Fountain honors all of those who died during the Great Hunger. While the west of Ireland is remembered for being particularly hard hit, the Midlands lots a quarter of its population to the famine. A millstone leans against the memorial, recalling Mullingar’s milling past. In fact, the town’s name comes from the Irish phrase "An Muileann gCearr", which refers to a mill that spun the wrong way.
Look for the Children of Lir on Lough Derravaragh
Lough Derravaragh is one of the most famous bodies of water near Mullingar because of its connection to Irish mythology. According to the story of the Children of Lir, Lir was an ancient Irish chieftain whose second wife was jealous of her stepchildren. Unable to bear their beauty, Aiofe stole the children away and put a curse on them which turned them into swans for 900 years. She sentenced them to spend the first 300 years on Lough Derravaragh. It is said that their songs were so beautiful that crowds would flock to the shoreline to hear them. Be sure to keep an eye out for swans when you visit this lake of legend.
Play a Round at the Mullingar Golf Club
The Mullingar Golf Club located at Belvedere first opened in 1894. In 1934, the course was redesigned by Scottish legend James Braid and is now known as one of the best natural links courses on the Emerald Isle. This is a member’s only club, but it is still possible for visitors to book a tee time to enjoy their three famous par 3s. After a round of golf, be sure to book lunch at the clubhouse to unwind and reflect on the challenging par 72 course.
Go Wild at Lilliput Adventure Centre
Just 10 minutes outside of the town of Mullingar, Lilliput Adventure Club offers family-friendly outdoor activities in Johnathan Swift Park on the shores of Lough Ennell. The center is well known for its organized summer camps, but it is also possible to book day activities or stay overnight with groups of up to 50 people. Organize a high stakes game of laser tag, create team building activities, or paddle out on the lake in a canoe or kayak. The athletic center also regularly organizes competitive runs for those who want to improve their race times.
Fish for the Catch of the Day
Mullingar is surrounded by waters teeming with fish. From the rivers running through town to the lakes that sit just outside the urban center, this area of the midlands is popular with anglers. Whichever water you pick for a day out, the Midlands has some of the best pike and wild brown trout fishing in Ireland. All game fishers will need a valid permit from Inland Fisheries Ireland, but it is well worth the effort to spend the day angling in this lovely part of the Emerald Isle.