The surface of the county, though nowhere rising into tracts of considerable elevation, is much diversified by hill and dale, highly picturesque in many parts, and deficient in none of the essentials of rural beauty, but timber. In its scenery it ranks next after Kerry, Wicklow, Fermanagh and Waterford. None of the hills are so high as to be incapable of agricultural improvement. Knock Eyne and Knockross, on the shores of Lough Dereveragh, have on their sides much stunted oak and brushwood, the remains of ancient forests. The former of these hills is about 850 feet high. Benfore, near the village of Fore, is 760 feet high.

The lakes are large, picturesque, and very numerous, mostly situated in the northern and central parts, the southern being flat and overspread with bog. The largest and most southern of the lakes is Lough Innel or Ennel, now called also Belvidere lake: it is 1 ½ mile from Mullingar, and is studded with eight islands, the largest of which, called Fort Island, was garrisoned and used as a magazine by the Irish in the war of 1641, and was twice taken by the parliamentary forces, and ultimately retained by them till the Restoration. The names of the others are Shan Oge's, Goose, Inchycroan, Cormorant, Cherry, Chapel and Green Island: the Brosna passes through it from north to south.

To the north of this lake is Lough Hoyle, Foyle, Ouel or Owel, in the very centre of the county; the land around it rises gently from its margin, and is fertile and richly planted. The only stream by which it is supplied is the Brosna. Two streams, called the Golden Arm and the Silver Arm, formerly flowed from it, one from each of its extremities: both have been dammed up, and the low grounds on the borders of the lake raised by embankments so as to increase the body of water contained in it, in order to render it the feeder of the summit level of the Royal Canal: this alteration has enlarged the surface of the Hoyle to an extent of 2400 acres. The lake has four islands, on one of which is an ancient chapel of rude masonry, with a burial-ground, much resorted to by pilgrims from distant parts; it afforded an asylum to many of the Protestants in the neighbouring country at the commencement of the war of 1641: the other islands are planted.

Further north is Lough Dereveragh, a sheet of winding water of very irregular form, 11 miles long and 3 in its greatest breadth; its waters discharge themselves through the lower Inny into Lough Iron, or Hiern, which is the most western lake in the county, and is likewise a long sheet of water, being a mile long and but ¼ of a mile broad, and very shallow: its banks are enriched with some fine scenery towards Baronstown and Kilbixy; from its northern extremity the Inny takes its course towards the county of Longford.

Lough Lein, three miles to the east of Lough Dereveragh, is of an irregular oval form, two miles long and one broad: its waters are peculiarly clear, and remarkable for having no visible outlet, nor any inlet except a small stream which flows only in rainy seasons: it is surrounded on every side by high grounds, which on the north and south rise into lofty hills from the margin of the lake, and are clothed to their summits with rich verdure and flourishing plantations: there are four fertile and well, planted islands in the lake.

In the west is Lough Seudy, a small but romantic sheet of water near the old fortress of Ballymore. Two miles north-east from Mullingar are the small lakes of Drin, Cullen and Clonshever; Lough Drin supplies Lough Cullen, which, after flowing through a bog, falls into Lough Clonshever, whence the Brosna derives its supply since the waters of Lough Hoyle have been appropriated exclusively to the supply of the Royal Canal.

Among the other smaller lakes scattered throughout the country, the principal are Lough Maghan and the two lakes of Waterstown, near Athlone. The fine expansion of the river Shannon, called Lough Ree, may be considered as partially belonging to this county, as it forms the principal part of the western boundary between it and Roscommon: it is twenty miles long in its greatest length from Lanes-borough to the neighbourhood of Athlone, and is adorned with several finely wooded islands: those adjoining Westmeath are Inchmore, containing 104 acres, once the site of a monastery built by St. Senanus; Hare island, containing 57 acres, and having the ruins of an abbey built by the Dillon family; Inchturk, containing 24 acres, and Innisbofin, 27.

An abbey built on this island by a nephew of St. Patrick was plundered by the Danes in 1089. Lough Glinn forms a small portion of the same boundary towards Longford; Loughs Sheelin and Kinale are on its north-western limit towards Cavan: the white lake, Lough Deel, and Lough Bawn are small boundary lakes on the side of Meath. The water of the last-named of these has the peculiarity of being lower and more limpid in winter than in summer, being highest in June and lowest at Christmas: in summer its colour is green, like sea-water; but in winter it is as pellucid as crystal and remarkably light.

County Westmeath | Westmeath Towns and Baronies | Westmeath Topography | Westmeath Agriculture | Westmeath Geology | Westmeath Manufacturing | Westmeath Rivers | Westmeath Antiquities | Westmeath Society

Search Topographical Dictionary of Ireland »