Uncovering Longford's hidden gems

A run down of some of the places Fáílte Ireland bosses could have included in first broadcast of Hidden Heartlands ad

Jessica Thompson and Liam Cosgrove

Reporter:

Jessica Thompson and Liam Cosgrove

Email:

newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Mall

Longford's Mall, also known as the Albert Reynolds Peace Park is one of umpteen locations across the county which attracts large amounts of visitors each and every week.

Much has been made of Longford’s apparent exclusion from the opening commercial broadcast signalling the initial rollout of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

The tourism brand was launched amid considerable fanfare in April.

A total of nine counties stretching from Leitrim in the north to Limerick in the south were all pigeon-holed into a brand designed to boost tourism and drive visitor growth across the midlands region.

An initial €2m was set aside to coincide with its launch, with the promise of more to follow, the first signs of which were carried in a TV advertisement last month.

Despite the simmering anticipation greeting Longford’s expected inclusion in the broadcast, the county failed to feature, sparking a torrent of criticism at local political level.

Fáilte Ireland, in response, attempted to cool any lingering discontent, insisting Longford would play a part in future advertisements to highlight the brand.

This week, the Leader has taken the lead on that pledge by compiling a list of eight key attractions state tourism bosses perhaps should have included at the outset.

The Mall-the jewel in Longford's crown

Situated in the heart of Longford town, The Mall is arguably one of the most popular stomping grounds for fitness enthusiasts, young families and anyone who wishes to avail of a leisurely stroll.

Given its location along the shores of the River Camlin, there are few, if any, urban recreational amenities that can rival the rare and enchanting qualities this beautifully landscaped park has to offer.

To top it all off, a state of the art sports and leisure centre lies within its confines, offering a whole host of fun-filled activities for young and old alike.

Its delightfully managed grounds have also provided the stage for a weekly parkrun initiative, where a free 5km timed run and walk are laid on each and every Saturday morning to anyone who wishes to avail of it.

Perhaps not surprisingly then, the amenity has perenially been labelled the “jewel in Longford's crown” by those most closely associated with it.

One of those and among its loudest champions has been Cllr Peggy Nolan who this week spoke of her delight at how the centenary marking the first enfranchisement of women in Ireland still held strong thanks to the existence of a bridge entering the Mall which is named after former Fine Gael Cllr Philo Kelly.

“The Mall is one of those hidden gems,” she said.

“It has something for everyone.”

Beautifully restored St Mel's Cathedral

It may have been destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 2009, but the iconic centrepiece of the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Diocese is without doubt one of Co Longford's most preeminent tourist attractions.

It reopened five years later, following a €30 million restoration project.

The almost immediate initiation of a restoration project committee, chaired by local Cllr Seamus Butler, swiftly set about reviving the Cathedral to its former glory.

Since its well documented rebuild, the grandiose 19th century structure continues to draw visitors in their thousands.

In May 2015 President Michael D Higgins, his wife, Sabina, the Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, and retired Catholic primate, Cardinal Seán Brady, were among those who attended a rededication Mass.

St Mel's Cathedral, and all that goes with it, has played a central role in the hearts and lives of Longfordians both at home and those now living overseas.

The Cathedral is open for services and visits all year round.

Large groups can also contact the presbytery directly to arrange a guided tour if they wish or they can also contact The Tourism Office for assistance in organising their visit.

This is one quintessential tourist and religious emblem that is very much unique to Longford and an absolute 'must see' for anyone visiting the county.

Rustic beauty of Loch Gowna

As the Carlsberg ad would have it: If Fáílte Ireland did havens for fishing enthusiasts then Loch Gowna would surely be near or at the top of that list.

A dainty and well-kept village that lies just the other side of Aughnacliffe, this enchanting part of Ireland's lake district really is a sight to behold.

Set among a large number of basins connected by short river stretches and channels, Loch Gowna has long been regarded as one of the biggest draws for UK based fishing fanatics.

A small batch of inviting establishments, those being The Piker's Lodge and Fitzpatrick's Tavern and Guest House, provide a welcoming backdrop to visitors both from at home and overseas.

The same analogy could be used to describe the appeals of both Murtagh's Bar and O'Reilly's in the neighbouring parish of Colmcille.

To add to its rustic and enticing beauty, the area is not short on things to do thanks to a string of social events and festivals which are held throughout the year.

A routinely well attended Brian Boru Festival takes place every year with all proceeds going towards the continued upkeep of another locally based and popular civic amenity-Lebeen Park.

At the end of the month, a deluge of English fishermen are expected to descend on the region for a five day festival, providing a further boost to the local economy.

A short distance down the road in Arva, a ten day arts, music and cultural spectacle, dubbed the 3 Province Festival has just finished, bringing much vibrancy and all-round optimism to the region.

Not bad for a stretch of the north midlands countryside that's built up such an enviable reputation very much off its own bat.

Captivating serenity at Derrycasson Woods

Longford, in truth, has many idyllic walks and trails which could have been included in Fáílte Ireland's opening marketing insight into 'Ireland's Hidden Heartlands'.

From Newcastle Woods in Ballymahon to Edenmore Bogwalk at the opposite end of the county, hikers and walking aficionados are quite literally spoilt for choice when it comes to discovering what can only be described as some of Ireland's most remote, unique and unspoilt landscapes.

Perhaps the one walkway which has garnered the most attention in recent times has been that of Derrycasson Woods in north Longford.

Set over some 74 hectares of mixed woodland, this most tranquil and charming of trails is also located along the banks of one of this region's most dazzling of shorelines-Loch Gowna.

Besides its captivating serenity, Derrycasson carries plenty of historial weight too, given that it encompasses Derrycasson House, which was the home of the Dopping family, later Dopping-Hepenstal, who were the local landlords.

Derrycasson Wood is open to the public with ample parking available at the entrance to The Laurels, the home of St Columba's GAA pitch.

Undoubtedly, one of the many hidden gems in Longford's tourism crown.