Filled with wild waterways, surprise shots of adrenaline, and a landscape that continues to muse artists of all sorts. County Leitrim is one of the most astounding counties in Ireland. ‘Hidden gem’ is potentially one of the most overused terms in travel, and when it comes to Leitrim, most certainly, the glove fits. The least populated county in all of Ireland, sparse Co. Leitrim has only around 30 thousand people living on its 1,590 square kilometres. Unsurprisingly, Leitrim is also the least known-about county in Ireland and, perhaps unfairly, doesn’t really get its due.
The Heart of Leitrim
Small county, big heart. What it lacks in size, Leitrim more than makes up for in energy and ambition. It offers beautiful, untouched countrysides alongside busy small towns that are simply sparking with energy. A hidden gem in the West, Leitrim’s position on the River Shannon has always ensured it’s a favourite spot for tourists. The County provides a vital link between popular counties Sligo and Donegal. It even allows the Midlands some Wild Atlantic Way action via a 5km bit of the N15 where a nib of Leitrim touches the sea.
Investors and businesses are now realising the benefits Leitrim can offer through its motivated and educated workforce backed up by a solid infrastructure connecting it with the rest of Ireland and beyond.
The delights of unassuming County Leitrim are a well-kept secret, and it seems the locals like it that way. The feral landscape and authentic rural charm are genuinely cherished by those who call it home. Additionally, there is the astonishing lodge that resonates in the minds of fans of the hit TV show Game of Thrones called Leitrim Lodge.
County Leitrim was a poor and a rather bleak county. Few gentlemen of fortune resided in it, and it was divided by the electioneering interests of the absentee landlords. However, Leitrim politics remained fairly stable throughout the century. Leitrim was affected by the excoriating Famine in the 19th century and spent subsequent generations struggling with mass emigration and unemployment, but today it has become a beloved hideout for artists, writers and musicians, as well as a huge boating centre.
This district of western Ireland, remarkable for many peculiarities, is among others distinguishable for containing the smallest number of electors of any County in the kingdom. A circumstance partly caused by the meagre state of its population and still more by the prevalence of the Popish faith throughout the whole of its extent. But though their numbers are small, they have frequently shown themselves to be uninfluenced by a partial predilection for particular names and there is scarce a County in the nation wherein more gentlemen of different families have, at different times been chosen its representative.
The Epitome of Eco-Tourism in Ireland
The Organic Centre offers eco-tourism every weekend from the end of February to the beginning of November with interesting and entertaining courses on gardening, food and crafts. Participants are served by the in-house Grass Roof Cafe, run by Aisling Stone, from Aislings Homecooked Food. Hans and Gaby arrived in Ireland more than 30 years ago, inspired by the Nearings from Vermont in the USA and now teach what they have done and still do every day to live a good and healthy life. This is a great Irish Holiday Break to experience the beauty of County Leitrim.
Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat was set up 13 years ago. Tucked away near Dromahair in North Leitrim, it’s a unique retreat, based around Eco Cabins stocked with antique furniture, wood pellet stoves and views of the rolling countryside. Indulge your inner yogi, soak in the outdoor hot tub overlooking Lough Nahoo, or indulge in a massage.
Sliabh an Iarainn
Sliabh an Iarainn is an astounding rugged mountain in South County Leitrim. Which ascends 585 metres from the eastern shore of Lough Allen, the first of the great Shannon lakes. Its terrain includes country roads, forest walks and open mountain. The location makes it a treasure to locals and it has essentially been a playground for many families for years. It is majestic yet simple; exploring the area could never become dull. Whether you are leisurely walking about the trails or boldly hiking the up edge of the mountain, it will induce a glorious sense of vitality courtesy of Irish nature.
The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland, with a total length of 386 km. It rises at a place known as the Shannon pot, near Dowra, in the Cavan Mountains but the various tributaries and bogs along the spine of Ireland also filter into it and together have forged this great river. It was formed at the end of the last Ice Age. Its route creates a natural border between the western and eastern parts of Ireland and runs through 11 counties.
The Shannon gets its name from Sionnan, who was the granddaughter of the Irish God of the Sea. She was a beautiful yet curious mortal woman who lived in a mythical Ireland. This was the time of the Druids. They would gather on sacred nights in special places throughout the country to practice their ancient ways. One such place was The Well of Knowledge in the Cavan Mountains. It is here where Druids would come to gain an insight into the magic of the land.
The River Shannon has long played an important role in the history of Ireland. Providing a faster navigable route than moving across the land. The river has helped move goods and people across the country for hundreds of years. The Vikings used it for navigation, invading the inland areas quickly and easily. Today, the River Shannon produces hydroelectric power for its surrounding communities. It is a popular tourist destination and offers visitors boat tours and watersports, such as skiing. These cruises stop at various sites along the river including castles, nature spots, and ancient cities.
The county town and the largest town, although it has a population of under 5000 people. Carrick-on-Shannon, like many aspects of southern Leitrim, is defined by the stately River Shannon.
Carrick-on-Shannon is Leitrim’s beating heart, the cruise capital of the Shannon, and an ideal place for a wander from the marina. Its visitors can grab a beef and Guinness stew at a gastropub, or check out Costello Chapel, a souvenir-sized memorial with a big heart. Erected by local merchant Edward Costello after the premature death of his wife in 1877, the couple’s coffins still rest under glass today.
A small town at the end of Lough Allen and at the head of the Shannon navigation. Its a lovely place surrounded by gorgeous scenery of lakes, woodlands, rolling hills and mountains.
This is one of the largest and busiest towns found in County Leitrim that is located 19km from the border of Co. Fermanagh. The town is known for its abundance of coarse angling water. There is a total of 40 lakes found with a 10km radius. It is a place that is full of architecture and heritage. Some of the oldest buildings here include the Old Court House and The Church of Ireland. One was built in the 1830s and the other was built in c 1780.
There is a variety of attractions that you can take part in during a visit to Ballinamore including horse-riding, golfing, with great pubs and restaurants.
Attractions in County Leitrim
One of the most stunning features found in County Leitrim is the breath-taking Glencar Waterfall. At 50ft feet high and located at Glencar lough- the waterfall is very impressive, especially after it rains; it’s just majestic. There is also a lovely wooded walk, a children’s park, cafe and picnic area around the Glencar Waterfall. For any keen photographers, the attraction offers amazing photo opportunities, with the backdrop of the waterfall, lakes and mountains at Glencar Lough.
The waterfall has also been an inspiration for the famous poet William Butler Yeats. The attraction has been featured in his poetry ‘The stolen child’. A part of the poem is shown below:
“Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star”- William Butler Yeats
A part of Leitrim’s historic past is the recently resorted plantation Castle that was first built in the early 17th century. It is located on the pretty shores of Lough Gill. The castle itself was owned by Robert Parke and his family. Take a stroll around the courtyard grounds where you can explore some evidence of early 16th century with the tower house structure.
There are guided tours available for those who are curious about exploring the castle and discovering more of its history. It is one of most beautiful designed medieval castles in Ireland that has been restored using traditional material and craftsmanship.
Explore the Great Outdoors
The best of what Leitrim has to offer involves it’s amazing outdoors. One thing you can’t miss out on is a visit to Ireland’s first floating boardwalk. Located in Acres Lake between Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon you’ll find the 600m long boardwalk. The boardwalk is part of a 14km trail to Leitrim village and there is a network of recreational trails that offer walking, kayaking, cycling routes as well.
The many lakes found in Leitrim offer a great place to enjoy a variety of fun water sports such as Stand- Up Paddleboarding. With Leitrim Surf Company, you can learn to paddleboard and surf by trained professionals and explore the beautiful Leitrim coastlines.
Or head on a guided tour with ‘Adventure Gently’, where you can explore the waterways of Northwest Ireland in canoes. They provided an enjoyable and safe experience that still offers some excitement. The North West of Ireland where County Leitrim is located is full of unspoilt scenic waterways that you have to explore. Perfect opportunity to spot some wildlife, take many gorgeous photos and uncover hidden gems in the county.
Enjoy Some Amazing Food in Leitrim
For such a small rural county, Leitrim’s food scene is worth checking out and here are a few places that should be on your list when visiting.
Lena’s Tea Room
At the top of our list is Lena’s Tea Room that is located on the main street in ‘Carrick on Shannon’ in Leitrim. It offers a unique 1920’s decor inside that is welcoming and friendly. The menu on offer sounds amazing with their variety of home-baked goods including cakes, scones, tarts and more. Given the name, they specialise in afternoon tea with a variety of delicious teas and coffees. Perfect place to stop off after a busy day of checking out tourist attractions.
DiVino Italian Restaurant
This newly recent restaurant also located in Carrick on Shannon is the place to check out if you’re wanting to try some authentic Italian food. The gorgeous decor is what you would associate with typical Italian style with a touch of class. All the amazing food that you can try here from pizza’s and pasta are made from scratch using the best of Italian ingredients and taste delicious.
Check out this award-winning gastropub restaurant again located in the heart of Leitrim ‘Carrick on Shannon’. The restaurant has been providing amazing hospitality in the county for over seven generations. It a great place to enjoy some of the finest and best food in Leitrim as well as trying a great selection of wines, craft beers and spirits. The menu includes a lot of different sea-foods options, perfect for people wanting to try something different and exciting.
There may not be an Electric Picnic or anything in Leitrim but there are still plenty of festivals to keep you going.
The Carrick Water Music Festival brings music and art to Carrick-on-Shannon in the month of July while the free Ballinamore Fringe Festival takes place in August each year.
Nice Quiet County
As it has been pointed out before, County Leitrim is full of nature and lakes and what not and therefore the perfect place to go to relax.
Taking a walk out in the countryside can be a welcoming break especially if you live in a place with more than one traffic light so you should definitely give it a visit.
Leitrim is a place to head to if you are looking to unwind and relax. You can lose yourself in the beauty of County Leitrim; with is quiet towns and cinematic scenery. If you are wanting to explore the beautiful Irish outdoors, Leitrim is a place that will not let you down.
Other Worthy Reads:
Getting Around Antrim| Mesmerising Beauty of County Sligo| The Beauty of County Limerick| Clare and the Irish Wonder of the Atlantic| The Rich History of County Down|