Sep 25, 2011

Exploring Roscommon County, Ireland and nearby area

John and I were driving along Route N6 across Ireland when we noticed a place named Kilbeggan. We knew that it was the name of an Irish whiskey so we made a short detour. It was more than we expected because they not only make Kilbeggan Whiskey but it is also home to Locke’s Distillery Museum. Kilbeggan is one of the spirits in the Cooley Distillery family of whiskies and the only 100% Irish owned distillery and it is family owned. Licensed in 1757, Kilbeggan is the oldest continuously licensed whiskey distillery in the world and the Locke's Distillery is the last remaining example of a small pot still whiskey distillery in Ireland.

The Museum shows the traditional process of whiskey making from the grinding of the grain to the casking of the final product. Most of the original machinery has been restored and is working daily including a 19th century water wheel. They even have their own cooper on site. We saw a cask especially labeled for President Obama in honor of his recent visit. After a lunch at their Pantry Restaurant we continued to Roscommon where we stayed at the Abbey Hotel.

We love the view from the Abbey Hotel. Behind the hotel are the 13th century ruins of the Roscommon Abbey, which is free of charge to everyone. It was sacked and destroyed several times until it was finally abandoned around 1500 – about the time Columbus was exploring the Americas. I guess people who live with castles and ruins in their midst don’t find it unique but we do. Near the hotel we explored the ruins of Roscommon Castle, again people are free to wander about, explore and try to imagine what it was like in its heyday. Built in 1269, it exchanged hands many times over the years during which it was remodeled. After a fire in 1690 it fell into disrepair.

Just north of Roscommon, on our way back to Dublin, we stopped at the Famine Museum in Strokesville and learned that about 80 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry including 44 million American. Where would they be without the potato famine? The Great Irish famine of the 1840′s is regarded as the single greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe. Between 1845 and 1850, when blight devastated the potato crop, in excess of two million people – almost one-quarter of the entire population of Ireland – either died or emigrated. Without the famine the population of Ireland would be significantly higher; plus, Ireland’s famine caused a shift in land ownership and sparked the call for Irish independence.

The potato was introduced into Ireland from the Americas in the 1500s and by the 1800s it was the main source of food with the average man eating 45 potatoes a day. The potato was suited to Ireland’s wet, cool climate and with a little milk added it provided carbohydrates, protein, and minerals. The Famine Museum in Strokestown follows the history of the famine in Ireland, responses to the famine and ends with places that are suffering famine in the world today. Amazing the number of places today that are plagued by famine. According to the United Nations over 11 million people in the Horn of Africa are in a crisis situation.

Ireland is one of the friendliest countries we have visited. For more information check