Located in the center of the Republic of Ireland, County Westmeath is known as "The Lake County" due to the presence of Loughs Ennell, Owel, Derravaragh, Lene, and Ree. These lakes, in addition to numerous other water features throughout the landscape, allow for species such as otters, mute swans, and fragrant orchids to thrive in varying levels of abundance. Unlike many other counties in Ireland, County Westmeath is not named after its most prominent city nor a county seat. Instead, its name—along with that of neighboring County Meath—has origins in the word "Mide," which means "center." The Kingdom of Mide (also known as the Kingdom of Meath) had been established in the same general area, namely around the geographical center of the nation, thus the name. Mullingar, which acts as the region's county seat and "almost a suburb of greater Dublin," was instituted as such during the same time that county lines were formed, in the 1540s. Despite experiencing a few fires and plagues, the city continued to survive and has grown in its population at an accelerated rate in the past few decades. Temperatures in County Westmeath can range anywhere from 3 to 18 degrees Celsius in a typical year, and potential visitors are recommended to plan their trips in months such as July and August if they are seeking warmer weather during their stay.
County Westmeath, located in the central region of the Republic of Ireland, is home to approximately 96,000 residents (according to the 2022 census) and spans an area of 1,840 square kilometers. At the center of the zone can be found the county seat, Mullingar. Unlike many other counties in Ireland, County Westmeath is not named after its most populated city or county seat. Instead, the name "Westmeath" came to be as a result of the separation of County Meath in 1543. Accordingly, the name "Meath" originated from the historic Kingdom of Meath, formed in 1172. Meanings of the word are linked to the word "Mide," such as "middle." In short, County Westmeath can be considered "county west middle," which aptly corresponds with the region's position in relation to Ireland as a whole.
Westmeath is also referred to occasionally as "The Lake County" due to an abundance of streams, waterways—and, most notably—lakes that dot the landscape. Considering this fact, it is not surprising that a number of local attractions are based around expeditions that highlight the natural views of the county. Viking Tours Ireland is one such activity that allows visitors to cruise down the Lough Ree, which is the county's largest lake. The attraction leans heavily into Viking culture, going so far as to provide decorative helmets, swords, and shields in an effort to immerse tourists beyond the Viking-decorated nature of their ship. Closer to the center of County Westmeath can be found Lough Ennell, which some visitors have described as "one of the most beautiful [lakes] in the area." A 33 km linear walking route provides numerous views of the lake and other elements of the countryside and, overall, allows for people to "breathe in the fresh country air."
Mullingar, the county seat, contains roughly 21,000 residents as of the 2016 census, which means that—within the Midland Region—it is the third most populous town. The town's original name was "Maelblatha," though it was changed to Mullingar following "the legend of Colman of Mullingar." A wide range of historical and natural attractions can be found in or around the city, such as Killua Castle, the Kilbeggan Distillery Visitors Centre, and the Mullingar Cathedral of Christ the King. The former two attractions are situated 20 minutes outside of town, though the latter is situated right on Bishopgate Street in Mullingar proper. This cathedral is still in active use for Catholic peoples in the Meath and Westmeath counties.
With a name that roughly translates to "west center," County Westmeath is appropriately positioned near the centermost point in the nation of Ireland. More specifically, it belongs to the Republic of Ireland along with 25 other counties and is uncommonly named for something other than its largest city. The county shares its western border with County Roscommon, dividing Lough Ree in the process. Lough Ree (Ree Lake) is home to the exact center of Ireland, though, at this point, it is found on the western coast of the body of water in County Roscommon. Known colloquially as "The Lake County," Westmeath is home to Loughs Ennell, Owel, Derravaragh, and Lene, as well as numerous rivers, ponds, and portions of Lough Ree.
The city of Mullingar is located in the center of the county, acting as a connecting point for various roads in the area. The N4 enters the county from the northwest, cutting diagonally through Mullingar before merging with the M6 to become the M4 roadway that leads directly to the nation's capital city, Dublin. Other notable avenues of travel in County Westmeath include the N52, N55, N6, and additional sections of the M6.
June, July, August, and September are considered to be the summer months of County Westmeath and, more specifically, in Mullingar. The city of Mullingar usually experiences temperatures between 3 degrees and 7 degrees Celsius during the winter months of December, January, and February, with the temperatures hitting their highest averages of 11 degrees to 18 degrees Celsius in the aforementioned period of summer. Many days are cloudy in the region, though this is comparable with many other counties in Ireland as a whole. Generally speaking, the highest amount of precipitation falls in August (89 mm), and the least rainy month is February—although, with an average rainfall of 70 mm, there is not an overly-noticeable difference in the rain from month to month in Mullingar. Tourists are encouraged to visit in months such as July and August if they are hoping to participate in warm-weather activities.
Much of the indigenous wildlife is sustained by the various water features in the county. The five primary lakes are "wonderful site[s] for nature conservation in Westmeath," and they often act as "haven[s] for wildlife." Flora is abundant near Lough Ennell, comprised of species such as fragrant orchids, bird's-foot trefoil, marsh marigolds, and frog orchids. Additionally, birdwatchers have spotted starlings, peregrine falcons, lapwings, tufted ducks, and mute swans throughout the Lough Ennell area. In some lakes within County Westmeath, it is possible to encounter otters and white-clawed crayfish.
Informally established in 1170 with the arrival of the Normans, County Westmeath is home to a number of historical castles and forts that were used in rebellions and the Williamite wars. "Perhaps the most famous" of these castles is Tullynally, in part due to its immense size at nearly a quarter of a mile long. Delvin Castle and Athlone Castle were two structures built in the late 12th century and early 13th century, respectively, with the latter having a strategically-centered position with the intent of guarding a primary crossing of the River Shannon.
Over the years, the area became known as the Kingdom of Meath (or the Kingdom of Mide), which was the primary inspiration behind the name of modern-day County Meath. This process took a number of centuries to come into effect and involved a few modifications throughout. For example, the zone was classified as "the royal county of Meath" in 1297, though it wasn't until 1461 that the "liberty and royal county" would be merged. Nearly a century later, in the 1540s, County Meath was formed and subsequently named after the preceding kingdom in the same area. Shortly thereafter, the Parliament of Ireland divided the county into two sections, namely Meath and Westmeath, as part of the Counties of Meath and Westmeath Act 1543.
It was around the same time that Mullingar was formalized as the county seat of Westmeath under the rule of King Henry VIII. Only a few decades following this formation, the population was decimated by plague, and later the city was burned substantially by the O'Neills, further affecting the population of the area at that time. It wouldn't be until the 18th century that Mullingar would be "a major center for the sale of wool and the local livestock." This growth continued throughout the 1700s despite another "disastrous fire" in 1747, leading to a "transport revolution" in the early 1800s. In modern times, the city of Mullingar has experienced accelerated growth. It is reported that during the last two decades of the twentieth century, the population nearly tripled. This, in conjunction with "new schools, churches, and businesses," has caused the city to be thought of as "a suburb of greater Dublin."
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