Cookstown is a town historically in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, but since 2015 part of Mid-Ulster "super-council" area. It's named for Dr Alan Cooke who founded it circa 1620 as an Ulster Plantation town, but for 150 years it didn't get going. Then it grew with the linen industry, acquiring its famously long wide main street, and the railway arrived. The 20th century collapse of textile trades and the sectarian "Troubles" fed upon each other and Cookstown slumped. In the 21st century it's slowly reviving through the Good Friday Agreement peace and as a commuter town for Belfast but remains a work in progress; in 2011 it had a population of 11,599.
Medieval Kings of Tyrone, the O'Neill dynasty, were inaugurated a couple of miles south at Tullyhogue. Notable local people include "Typhoid Mary" Mallon and the politician Bernadette Devlin McAliskey.
See Belfast for long-distance travel routes by air or sea. If you're flying in and hiring a car, there are two Belfast airports, and Dublin Airport is almost as convenient as it's north of the city, you turn straight onto the M1 north. From Belfast follow M1 west to Dungannon then A29 into Cookstown. From the ferry ports at Belfast or Larne it's quicker to join M2 west to Magherafelt then A31. From Dublin branch off the motorway at Newry to follow A28 to Armagh then A29 to Dungannon and Cookstown.
Bus 209 runs from Belfast Europa station via Lurgan, taking 1 hr 40 min to Cookstown. There are five M-F, three on Saturday and two on Sunday.
It's often more convenient to take the hourly Goldline Bus 273 from Belfast to Dungannon (heading for Omagh, Strabane and Derry). From there, Bus 80 runs to Cookstown every hour or two, for a total journey of around two hours.
Bus X4 runs once a day from Dublin Busáras and Airport via Armagh and Dungannon, taking 3 hours to Cookstown, and continuing via Maghera to Derry. The X3 between Dublin and Derry runs via Omagh and doesn't serve Cookstown.
Bus 89 runs twice a day to Magherafelt.
Goldline Bus 278 runs in university term-time, with one bus Su-F from Monaghan via Armagh, Moy, Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Garvagh and Coleraine to Ulster University, Portstewart and Portrush.
1 Cookstown bus station is on Molesworth Street a block east of main street.
Cookstown's sights are scattered widely around the countryside with no public transport. Tullyhogue is a couple of miles walk but you need wheels for the others, eg the bus for Beaghmore and the beetling mill only runs twice a day. Consider hiring a taxi for a few hours, and the driver will know which obscure country lane to turn up, and yarn about how his great-grandmother used to milk the cows there.
National Cycleway 95 runs mostly on-road from Armagh to Dungannon, Cookstown and Strabane, while Route 94 circles Lough Neagh.
- Cookstown main street is the longest in Ireland, 1.25 miles long and 135 feet wide, laid out in the 1790s in an attempt to out-shine Dublin's O'Connell Street. It goes by various names along its length and its buildings are mostly Victorian, springing up when the railway arrived in 1856. Handsome examples along it are Holy Trinity Church and Derryloran Parish Church (both below), the former Courthouse, the First Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church. On Molesworth Street find another Presbyterian Church and the old railway terminus.
- Holy Trinity Church (RC), Chapel St BT80 8QB. Designed by the prolific Irish architect J J McCarthy and built 1858-60, with a soaring West Tower and spire. The interior (much altered in 1981) is dominated by a huge eastern window. The Church was extensively renovated in 2010-2011. Mass is M-Sa 10:00, Sa 18:00, Su 09:30 and 12:00.
- Derryloran Parish Church (C of I) was built in 1822 to a "First Fruits" design by John Nash, but extended almost beyond recognition as the town's population grew.
- Derryloran Old Church and graveyard is half a mile west along Drum Road, junction with Sandholes Road. It was built in 1622 replacing 15th century churches. In the 19th century it was abandoned for the Nash church in town centre.
- 1 Killymoon Castle, Castle Rd BT80 8JY. Closed. Grand mansion on the slopes above Ballinderry River, built 1801-03 to designs of John Nash over the burnt-out ruin of the 17th century castle. It was bought by the present owners in 1922 for the princely sum of £100, and remains a private residence. There's a golf course on its grounds and a castle cafe, Tommy's Kitchen, which is closed in 2020. This building is not to be confused with Killymoon Bouncy Castles, which were not designed by Nash.
- 2 Tullyhogue Fort, Tullyhogue BT80 8UB (2 miles southeast of town). 24 hours. Called a fort, but this bosky mound was entirely ceremonial, with no defensive role. It's best documented as the place where the O'Neill kings of Tyrone were inaugurated, 11th to 16th century, though the earthwork is much older. The new king sat upon Leac na Rí, the royal flagstone, a boulder akin to Scotland's "Stone of Destiny", while his men waved a shoe above his head. In the 13th century the O'Neill court moved to Dungannon but ceremonial shoe-ins continued here to 1585. The Nine Years' War ended O'Neill rule and the English smashed the stone to smithereens (Irish smidiríní, which are even tinier than smiodar, fragments.). Free.
- Donaghrisk walled cemetery is half a mile southwest of the Fort, a circular enclosure in the field far side of B520 Tullywiggan Road. It's the ancestral graveyard of the O'Hagans, chief justices of Tyrone under the O'Neills.
- 3 Drum Manor Forest Park, Drum Rd BT80 8UN (A505 five miles west of town). Daily. Picturesque all year round with shrub, butterfly and Japanese gardens, arboretum, ponds and mixed woodlands, with waymarked trails. The Manor was built in 1868 but derelict by the 20th century, and demolished after 1980. The shell of the ground floor and east tower survive, transformed into a Japanese garden. See Sleep for the campsite here, open mid-March to Oct. Car £4.
- 4 Wellbrook Beetling Mill, 20 Wellbrook Rd BT80 9RY (off A505 a mile west of Forest Park), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Closed until May 2021. Beetling was the last stage in the manufacture of linen, when it was pounded by wooden mallets or "beetles" to tense the fabric and give it a lustrous finish, which should last for the product's lifetime. In the 19th century this was replaced by other methods and Wellbrook, built in 1830, is the last working beetling mill in Ireland. It's in a picturesque wooded glen on the banks of the Ballinderry River, which powers its 16-ft water wheel. Adult £5, NT and children free.
- 5 Beaghmore, Blackrock Rd BT80 9PA. 24 hours. A complex of megaliths dated circa 2000-1500 BC which became buried in bog, and came to light during peat cutting in the 1930s. There are seven stone circles, with low boulders though one is larger and filled with upright smaller stones in a "dragon's teeth" pattern. There are also ten stone rows and 12 cairns. The site is only partly excavated and there's probably more of it still buried. Free.
- 6 Davagh Forest has a mix of woodland, heath and blanket bog. There are mountain-bike trails.
- 7 Dun Ruadh, meaning "red fort", is an unusual burial cairn in a horseshoe ring, probably Bronze Age from 2000 BC. The walls are still six foot high; nowadays a tree grows in the middle. It's on private land on Crockyneill Hill so only approach with the farmer's permission.
- 8 Aghanascrebagh Ogham Stone stands by a lane 1 km southwest of Dun Ruadh. It's not much to look at, but such stones were probably erected 5th - 6th century AD as memorials. The inscription on this one reads ᚛ᚇᚑᚈᚓᚈᚈᚑ ᚋᚐᚊᚔ ᚋᚐᚌᚂᚐᚅᚔ᚜ which (in case your Ogham's a bit rusty) transcribes as "Dotetto, Mac (ie tribe of) Maglani".
- 9 Creggandevesky Court Tomb may be 5000 years old. It's 200 yards west of Loughmallon Road, watch for the signpost, but the farmer may block access if there's livestock in the field.
- 10 Lissan House, Drumgrass Road BT80 9SW. Daily 09:00-17:00. Plantation-era mansion, home of the Staples family 1620-2006. It was greatly extended (and the family financially over-extended) with Georgian and Victorian additions. It became derelict in the 20th C but was made over to a Charitable Trust, restored, and opened to visits from 2012.
- 11 Lough Fea is six miles north of town along B162. It's a reservoir lake, angling is permitted, and there's a firm walking trail around it of 2.5 miles.
- 12 Springhill House, 20 Springhill Road, Moneymore BT45 7NQ (5 miles northeast of town), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Closed until April 2021. This beautiful manor house, built around 1680, was home to ten generations of the Lenox-Conynghams, an early Plantation family. It's been owned by the National Trust since 1957 and has a large Costume Museum in the former laundry. There are extensive woodland grounds.
- 13 Ardboe is a little village on the shore of Lough Neagh. Its main attraction is the 10th century High Cross, the oldest in Ulster, 18 foot tall and elaborately carved. There was a monastery here from the 6th century, founded by Saint Colman, but nothing remains. A mile north at the junction of Annaghmore Rd and Aneeterer Rd is Coyle's Cottage, a 250-year-old fisherman's cottage. It's occasionally been open to visits, but not in 2020.
- Lough Neagh is the large freshwater lake in the centre of Northern Ireland, bordered by five of the six traditional counties. Most of the marinas are on the east (Antrim) side, close to the city of Belfast. On the west shore near Cookstown there is road access at Aughnamullen, Brockagh and Ardboe, but the best facilities are at 1 Ballyronan. This has a marina, a caravan site, a woodland park for strolling, and a couple of pubs.
- Station Square and Molesworth Place are two shopping malls bracketing the bus station.
- Gortalowry is the principal retail area along main street, south towards the river.
- Broadfields Retail Park 200 yards west of main street has big stores such as Tesco.
Who's cooking tonight?
Cookstown, fittingly, was the birthplace of Mary Mallon (1869-1938), better known as "Typhoid Mary". At age 15 she emigrated to the US, and became cook to a series of prosperous New York families. In her wake she left many cases of typhoid fever, some fatal, but herself remained in good health. She was shown to be a typhoid carrier, but she was in denial about this throughout her life, and wouldn't wash her hands. She was forcibly quarantined on North Brother Island NYC for three years, then released under promise of taking up different work. But she soon returned to cooking; after further outbreaks she was re-captured, and spent the remaining 23 years of her life quarantined on the island.
- Mandarin Chinese Buffet, 6 Molesworth St BT80 8NX, ☏ . M-Th 12:00-22:00, F Sa 12:00-23:00, Su 13:00-22:00. All-you-can-eat buffet for a great price, popular restaurant with a great selection.
- Dunleath Bistro, 58 Church St BT80 8QD, ☏ . W-F 12:00-21:00, Sa Su 12:00-19:00. Good value for money restaurant.
- Cookstown Cafe, 19 William St BT80 8AX, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-16:30. Large portions, good value for money.
- White Pheasant, 3A Burn Rd BT80 8DN, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-17:00. Trad home Ulster cooking.
- The Courtyard, 56 William St BT80 8NB, ☏ . M Tu Th-Sa 08:00-17:30, W 08:00-15:00. Efficient central cafe serves no-nonsense grub.
- 1 The Braeside, 221 Orritor Road BT80 9JX (Two miles west of Cookstown), ☏ . M-Th 16:00-00:00, F 14:00-00:00, Sa Su 12:00-00:00. Bar and grill, good Sunday carvery.
- 2 The Tilley Lamp, 111A Mullanahoe Rd, Ardboe BT71 5AX (10 miles east of town), ☏ . Irish restaurant, gets mixed reviews for food and service.
- TIME, 42 James St BT80 8LT, ☏ . F 16:00-01:00, Sa Su 13:00-01:00. Bar, restaurant and night club.
- Oldtown Inn, 12 Oldtown St BT80 8EF, ☏ . Daily 12:00-23:00. Decent pub and food.
- Railway Bar, 63-67 Union St BT80 8NN, ☏ . Su-Th 12:00-23:00, F Sa 12:00-01:30. It'll be the bus you'll be waiting for here nowadays. Agreeable pub with beer garden, young crowd.
- Squealin' Pig (formerly Black Horse Bar), 23 Molesworth St BT80 8NX, ☏ . Th F 16:00-00:00, Sa Su 12:00-00:00. Town centre pub with event space, Lanyon Hall.
- The Belfast House, 3 Orritor St BT80 8BE, ☏ . Bar daily 11:30-01:00. Town centre pub often has live music, has rooms. B&B double £70.
- Mulligans Bar, 33 Chapel Street BT80 8QB, ☏ . Sports bar often has live bands.
- Try also the bars at Royal Hotel and Glenavon Hotel, see Sleep.
- Clearsky Brewing Company produce a small range of ales. The brewery is a few miles south along the road to Dungannon; no tours.
- Drum Manor camping and caravan site (see above) is open mid-March to Oct, £20 per unit per night.
- 1 , 52 Drum Rd BT80 8JQ, ☏ . Well-run mid-range hotel with 62 en-suite bedrooms, Cellar Restaurant, bar, pool and hair & beauty salon. B&B double £130.
- 2 Greenvale Hotel, 57 Drum Rd BT80 8QS, ☏ . Slick modern hotel in a Victorian house, consistently good reviews for food and service. In March 2019 three teenagers died just outside here in the crush of a queue to get into the disco. B&B double £140.
- 3 Royal Hotel, 64-72 Old Coagh Rd BT80 8NG, ☏ . Decent mid-range place, often caters for weddings and funerals, and it's the food that earns the most admiring reviews. B&B double £105.
- 4 Tullylagan Country House Hotel, 40B Tullylagan Rd, Cookstown BT80 8UP (off A29 five miles south of town), ☏ . Slick hotel in 19th century manor house in extensive grounds, comfy with great dining. B&B double £110.
As of Sept 2020, Cookstown has a mobile and 4G signal from all UK carriers, but there are dead areas in the surrounding countryside. 5G has not reached this area.
- Armagh has always been the ecclesiastic capital of Ireland and has two cathedrals.
- Belfast: don't just hurry through its transport hub, it deserves a couple of days to explore.