Boyle is a market town in County Roscommon in northwest Ireland, with a population in 2016 of 2568. It's at the foot of the Curlew Mountains near Lough Key; its main attractions are King House, two ruined abbeys, and water activities on the lough.
The Boyle River is the western catchment of the Shannon system, with the main River Shannon catchment to the east in Counties Leitrim and Cavan. The town of Boyle stands where the lowland valleys give way to the Curlew Mountains, the watershed separating the catchment towards Sligo to the north. These "mountains" are a sandstone ridge only reaching 259 m / 850 ft, no great impediment to modern roads, but forming a natural boundary in earlier times. The lands to the north were the last redoubt of native Irish rule. It was to suppress Irish rebellion that in 1599 the English were marching through Curlew Pass, when they were ambushed and badly defeated. "Right, we'll have no more of this!" The territory was awarded to Sir John King from Staffordshire, to develop, exploit and above all to keep in check. For the next 150 years his dynasty ruled the area, building King House and then Rockingham House. The present-day town grew around their estate.
The railway arrived in 1862 and, although Boyle remained a provincial market town, it was on the pulse of Irish affairs. The first by-election after the Easter Rising of 1916 happened to be for Roscommon North, centred on Boyle, and the nationalist party Sinn Féin won its first-ever parliamentary seat. (Their candidate George Noble Plunkett was father of Joseph Plunkett, who had been executed by the British for his part in the Rising.) The distinguished Irish scholar Dr Douglas Hyde was from this area, and was first President of Ireland 1938-45. The actress Maureen O'Sullivan (1911-1998) was born in Boyle: she's best known for playing Jane in the Tarzan films, and was the mother of Mia Farrow.
Úna Bhán Tourism[dead link] is the TIC, in the grounds of King House, open M-Sa 09:00-17::00. They cover the areas of north Roscommon, south Sligo and west Leitrim.
Get in edit
Trains from Dublin Connolly take 2 hr 30 min to Boyle via Drumcondra, Maynooth, Mullingar, Longford, Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon, and continue to Ballymote and Sligo. There are 7 M-F, 6 Sa and 5 Sunday. A walk-up single from Dublin is €18, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets. The 1 railway station is 200 m south of town centre. The ticket office is staffed M-F 07:00-15:30 and there are ticket machines and toilets.
Expressway Bus 23 runs six times a day from Dublin Busáras, taking 2 hours 15 min to Boyle via Dublin Airport, Lucan, Maynooth, Mullingar, Longford, Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon, and continuing to Sligo. The bus stop is outside King House.
By road from Dublin follow M4 / N4, 173 km.
The upper River Boyle is not navigable but the town is connected to Lough Key by a short canal, thence via the lower River Boyle to the extensive Shannon network. See Waterways Ireland for current navigation status.
Get around edit
The Park Ranger Shuttle Bus runs between Boyle, the marina and Lough Key Forest Park, June-Oct with three trips daily.
Bus 571 runs twice M-Sa between Boyle, Keadue and Arigna coal mining museum.
You really need your own wheels to get around the district.
- King House, Military Rd, ☏ . Apr-Sept Tu-Sa 11:00-17:00, Su 11:00-16:00. Built in 1730, this grand Georgian mansion was the home of the powerful King family. They moved away in 1780 to an even grander pile by Lough Key, which burned down in 1957. King House became a barracks for the Connaught Rangers, then for the Irish army after independence, then a merchant's store. It was at risk of being demolished to make a car park but the county council bought the place in 1987 and restored it. There are plush period rooms, and museum displays of Irish history interwoven with the King family and the Connaught Rangers. There's also a modern local art collection, and the town library is housed here. Adult €5, child & conc €3.
- Boyle Abbey, Boyle F52 XE16. April-Sept daily 10:00-18:00. Substantial remains of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1161. The style is transitional between Romanesque and Gothic, with the contrast most marked in the nave. After the Dissolution it was trashed by Cromwell in 1659 then became a military base. A Sheila na Gig flaunts her stuff above one of the central arches. There's a display area in the restored gatehouse. Adult €5, conc €4, child €3.
- Abbeytown Bridge, on Abbeytown Road leading east from the abbey, is an attractive five-arched structure. It's of similar date to the abbey so it could well be the oldest stone bridge in Ireland. It spans the River Boyle, which flows into Lough Key then southeast to join the Shannon above Carrick.
- 1 Lough Key Forest Park was the estate around Rockingham House, the King family's grandiose residence. That burned down in 1957, the site was later cleared and 1973 the Moylurg viewing tower was erected. (The best aspect of the view from atop it is that you're not looking at the hideous brutalist tower itself.) Several features of the King era remain, such as the ice-house, old church, gazebo, and tunnels used to bring supplies from the lake wharf. There's a visitor centre and "Boda Borg" adventure space, see Do.
- Islands on Lough Key can be visited by boat trip from the Forest Park Visitor Centre or by hiring a row-boat:
- No boats needed for Drumman's or Drummond Island, as it's connected by a footbridge: it's wooded with a walking trail.
- Trinity Island just west of Drumman's has the ruin of Holy Trinity Abbey, a Premonstratensian priory founded in 1215 over a much earlier monastery. Its monks compiled the Annals of Loch Cé, covering events between 1014 and 1590. Two trees on the island with interlinked branches are said to mark the graves of Una Bhan Mac Diarmid and Tomás Láidir Mac Coisdealbhaigh, two ill-fated lovers, celebrated in the poem Una Bhan. The island has a self-catering lodge.
- Castle Island: the original McDermott's castle was 12th century, and a few medieval scraps remain, but most of it is 19th century prettification by the King family to turn it into a summer-house-cum-folly. It's tumbledown and unsafe to enter, but has been left as a picturesque ruin.
- Church Island near the west shore has the ruins of 12th century Inchmacnerin Abbey. This spot was frequented by UFOs in the 1970s, apparently - see UFO Society below.
- Cloontykilla Castle[dead link] on the east lough shore was part of the Rockingham estate, and built by Nash in 1839 in pseudo-Gothic style. It fell into ruin after the King family moved away but from 1997 has been refurbished (featuring in the TV makeover programme Grand Designs Series 12 Episode 1, first aired 12 Sept 2012). It's intended to open in 2021 as a luxury holiday home and event space, but until then the site is barricaded off.
- 2 Gaelic Chieftain Statue on N4 commemorates the Battle of Curlew Pass in 1599. As part of the Nine Years' War, English forces were marching north against Irish rebels when they were ambushed and defeated here, a rare setback for them. The battle site is 2 km southwest of the statue.
- 3 Lough Arrow is across the watershed north, so there's no navigation from Lough Key. Only a small southern corner of it is in County Roscommon, almost all is in County Sligo. The area is dotted with prehistoric sites, best known being Carrowkeel: see Ballymote.
- Arigna Coal Mine is easier to reach from County Leitrim, see Drumshanbo.
- 4 Drumanone Dolmen is 3 km west of town on R294. It's a portal tomb from 2000 BC, with two sturdy stones supporting a capstone which has partly slid off. Heading west on R294 (which is narrow, with few parking options), look for a derelict cottage on the right shortly after you pass under the railway bridge. From the cottage, a track leads to a level crossing over the railway, and the dolmen is before you in the field, which is private property.
- 5 Dr Douglas Hyde Interpretative Centre, Portahard Church, Frenchpark (on N5 south of Lough Gara), ☏ . M-F 09:00-17:30. Portahard Church, built in 1740, is now a museum depicting the life of Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), the great scholar and champion of Irish language and culture. He founded Conradh na Gaeilge the Gaelic League, and himself wrote many Gaelic poems. He wasn't involved in the independence movement but in 1925 was elected to the Seanad Éireann, the Senate or Upper House, for all of 3 months. Thereafter he kept away from Irish politics and had settled into a genteel academic retirement when in 1938 he was nominated as Ireland's first President. It was a non-executive role, suitable for a cultural figurehead, and he gave his inaugural declaration in Roscommon Irish. His health was poor, he barely survived a stroke in 1940, and he didn't seek a second term. Almost his last official act was to personally visit the German Ambassador and express his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler. He's buried here at Portahard.
- Rathcroghan prehistoric sites are visited from the village of Tulsk 25 km south, see Roscommon.
- Boda Borg within Lough Key Forest Park is an adventure space / escape room series where you solve puzzles or complete tasks to progress. Suitable for teams of 3-5, age 7 and up. Hours and prices for 2021 are not yet posted.
- Miners Way[dead link] and The Historical Trail are two long-distance walking trails across the north of the county.
- Boyle Golf Club 2 km south of town on N61 is a nine-hole course. Twice round is 5105 m, par 68, visitors €20 per day.
- Boyle Arts Festival is held over a week in July, with contemporary art, music, poetry, drama and more. The next is expected to be 15-24 July 2021, tbc.
- O'Carolan Harp Festival is held in July / Aug in Keadue, see Drumshanbo for details.
- Search for UFOs, and especially for the portal somewhere near Church Island on Lough Key that enables them to pass between outer space and the hollow interior of our planet. Betty Meyler (née Mountain, 1931-2010), president, secretary, treasurer and pretty much sole member of the Irish UFO Society, often rowed out there swinging a dowsing pendulum to detect them. (Her kindred spirit the 8th Earl of Clancarty reckoned however that the portals were at the north and south poles.) Her third marriage was to her flying instructor Jack Meyler, and together they ran a guest house by Lough Key, a Fawlty Towers where Jack would harangue German guests with his RAF exploits. Officially the skies above Boyle have been bare of UFOs since Betty's death - suspiciously so, it smacks of a government cover-up - so your sharp observations could be important.
- There's a collection of stores south towards the railway station, with SuperValu open M-Sa 08:00-21:00, Su 10:00-21:00.
- There's an outside ATM at the Bank of Ireland by King House. Centra just south of the station has one within the store.
- Farmers Market is in the courtyard of King House Sa 10:00-14:00.
- The Stairs gastropub near the station is open M-Sa 10:00-21:30, Su 10:00-18:00.
- Clarke's Bar, Patrick St. Good trad pub, but most folk come for the restaurant at the back of the bar.
- Patrick's Well is at the foot of Patrick Street as it leaves Main St.
- Creighton's, Bridge St, ☏ . M-Th 10:30-23:30, F Sa 10:30-00:30, Su 12:30-23:00. Cosy relaxed pub with good bar food.
- Daly's Storehouse is on Quarry Lane just south of the bridge.
- Lough Key Caravan & Camping Park[dead link] is part of the Forest Park Centre and open April-Sept. Caravan €25, tent €12, dogs permitted on lead.
- Linsfort Guest House[dead link] is on Main St.
- Abbey House B&B, Boyle F52 DC65, ☏ . Friendly cosy place in Victorian house within Abbey grounds.
- 1 Rosdarrig B&B, R294 Carrick Rd F52 WO86, ☏ . Splendid comfy B&B on east edge of town with five rooms en suite. B&B double €90.
- Kilronan Castle: see Drumshanbo for this plush hotel in the countryside northeast towards Lough Allen.
As of Dec 2020, Boyle has 5G from Eir, 4G from Three, and a 3G mobile signal from Vodafone.
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- Longford has a fine cathedral and prehistoric sites.
- Carrick-on-Shannon is the junction of several routes on the Shannon waterway network.
- Ballymote prehistoric tombs and Sligo with its cloud-wreathed scarps are the landscapes that inspired WB Yeats.