There’s more to Roscommon that meets the eye and we’ve got a whole host of underground attractions you’d never suspect. Caves, mines and tunnels – who knew. Here’s a whirlwind tour of going underground in Roscommon.
Start by delving deep into a real coal mine on a tour led by a real former miner bringing history to life right where it happened. Arigna Mining Experience in north Roscommon is a rare chance to explore one of Ireland’s coal mines. Put on your hard hat and wrap up warm to descend into the dark, damp underworld. You’ll get a remarkable glimpse of the cramped conditions miners worked in to extract the precious coal on the 45 minute tour. You’ll find a treasure trove of mining equipment, documents, photographs and videos in the visitor centre exploring 400 years of mining history. Arigna is suitable for all ages and an entertaining day out for adults and children alike.
Back in the real world, the Miners Way Historical Trail beginning and ending at Arigna is a way marked 118km figure-of-eight walking route. The trail passes three lovely lakes including Lough Key and scenic Lough Key Forest Park near Boyle where a different underground experience awaits.
The forest park was originally a demesne called Rockingham with one of the finest houses in Ireland owned by the King family and designed by famous architect John Nash. Unfortunately, an accidental fire destroyed it in the 1950s. Today you can rediscover Rockingham in the Rockingham Remembered Tour, an engaging self-guided tour which includes an unusual underground element. You’ll see two 19th century servants’ tunnels which survived the blaze. They were built so the gentry wouldn’t see the servants carrying supplies bringing supplies to the house from the lake or going to the stables. These 300m long barrel-vaulted underground passageways were lit by lightwells and have mainly flagstone floors.
During Rockingham Remembered you’ll also go to the top of the refurbished 5-storey Moylurg viewing tower and along a contemporary Tree Canopy Walk, the first of its kind in Ireland and the same length as the servants’ tunnels at 300m. It gently rises 9m above the woodland floor and gives wonderful panoramic birds’ eye views of the treetops, the park, the shimmering island studded lake and McDermott’s Castle. Rockingham Remembered uses an audio guide and lasts around 45 minutes.
Another servants’ tunnel can be found at the newly opened National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House whcih presents local and national famine history in a new light. The tour will soon include the house itself, currently being refurbished, and it also has a servants’ tunnel created for the same purpose as those at Rockingham though shorter in length. You won’t be able to walk through this tunnel but you’ll hear all about it when on the tour. The National Famine Way starts in front of Strokestown Park House. It’s a 165km way marked walking trail which could be called a trail of tears. It follows the route of forced emigration from Strokestown to the Dublin docklands which 1490 tenant farmers and their families walked in Black ’47. A free downloadable app tells their stories at each of around 30 bronze cast children’s shoes marking the way. Most of it is off road along the Royal Canal.
Down the N5 in Tulsk the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre is a journey back to a time before the pyramids, to the world of Queen Medb and the epic tale of the Táin Bó Cuailnge. Nearby is a mystical cave called Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), known as “Gate to Hell” and the entrance to the Otherworld. It is part of the complex of about 50 archaeological monuments making up the ancient pre-Christian royal site of Cruachán. The impressive underground construction includes two ogham stones incorporated as lintel stones in the roof. It is a protected National Monument which is accessible and open to the public but is not part of an official tour.
So now you know there really is a lot more to Roscommon than you think. It’s only 90 minutes from either coast and well worth the trip. Take a peek at what’s beneath your feet on your next visit.