Boyle, County Roscommon

Mainistir na Búille

Market Square, Boyle

Location in Ireland

Coordinates: 53°58′23″N 8°18′04″W / 53.973°N 8.301°W / 53.973; -8.301Coordinates: 53°58′23″N 8°18′04″W / 53.973°N 8.301°W / 53.973; -8.301
Country Ireland
Province Connacht
County County Roscommon
Elevation 83 m (272 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
  Town 2,588
  Urban 1,599
  Environs 923
Irish Grid Reference G797019
King House - viewing from Pleasure Grounds (Town Park), Boyle

Boyle (/ˈbɔɪl/; Irish: Mainistir na Búille) is a town in County Roscommon, Ireland. It is located at the foot of the Curlew Mountains near Lough Key in the north of the county. Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery, the Drumanone Dolmen and the popular fishing lakes of Lough Arrow and Lough Gara are also close by. The population of the town was 3,000 in 2010 and 5,110 in 2011 including a rural area.


On 15 August 1599, the Battle of Curlew Pass between English and Irish forces was fought in the Curlew mountains during the Nine Years' War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a native Irish force led by Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill (Red Hugh O'Donnell). The English were ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, The English forces suffered heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces were not recorded but were probably minimal. The Queen's principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rated this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Harrington in Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland.

Boyle suffered considerable hardship during the famine years (1847–49). The following quote from the novel Woodbrook is one example: A retired herd, Mick Maxwell, speaking to Thompson about his grandfather during the famine, related the following: 'when his grandfather, the only man strong enough, brought fifty and sixty corpses on a barrow, one by one, two miles from Cootehall near his home to the graveyard at Ardcarne.

Boyle in 1859

Fraser's Ireland describes Boyle as follows: The sessions-house, hospitals, schools, the houses and offices for the agents of the Lorton Estate, the police barracks, Church, Methodist chapel,public garden- remarkable for its number and variety of evergreens, and the preservation of the fine ruins of the Abbey of Boyle, one of the most interesting of all our ecclesiastical structures, mark, in a high degree, the liberality and care of the noble proprietor, the Viscount Lorton. The town is pleasantly situated on the banks of the beautiful river that takes its name, and carries the surplus waters of Lough Gara and Lough Key to the Shannon, and near the foot of the Curlew Hills, which here limit the counties of Sligo and Roscommon, and attain to an elevation of 863 ft. Boyle is one of the principal towns of County Roscommon, and carries on a considerable retail trade in the supply of necessaries for the surrounding district. It contains, in addition to the buildings we have ennumerated, a union workhouse, a branch of the National Bank, and an inn, where carriages and post-horses may be hired. Although the town is wholly the property of Lord Lorton, yet there are long leases of certain portions of it over which his lordship has no control. This we notice to reconcile our general statement with the wretched aspect which these portions of the town present. The large infantry barracks, formerly the residence of the noble family of King, the ancestors of Lord Lorton, is a striking feature, and the remains of the fine abbey, founded in 1148, are very interesting.[7]

Boyle in 1881

By 1881 Slater's directory reported the town had a dispensary, three banks, three hotels and two newspapers, Boyle also had a post office, 40 grocery shops, 25 pubs (sixteen of which were also groceries), 12 bakeries and an assortment of businesses including fire insurance companies, booksellers, ironmongers and hardware stores, butchers, an auctioneer and churches for both Protestants and Catholics.

Boyle in 1917

In 1917, Sinn Féin won their first ever seat in parliament for the constituency of Roscommon North, centred on Boyle, with the election of George Noble Plunkett. Plunkett's son, Joseph Mary Plunkett, had been executed by the British in May 1916 for his part in the 1916 Rising. Michael Collins campaigned on the candidate's behalf, as did Michael O'Flanagan, later to become President of Sinn Féin. A plaque on the Courthouse, on The Crescent in Boyle, commemorates this occasion. This was the first by-election following the Easter Rising of 1916 and it was crucial that the democratic mandate be obtained by Sinn Féin. The election was held during a period of inclement January weather but sufficient supporters turned out to deliver the party a breakthrough into parliamentary politics.

King House

King House is an early Georgian mansion located in the centre of the town of Boyle which was restored in 1989 after years of neglect. The house was built for Sir Henry King (d. 1839) MP, 3rd. Lord Kingston, between 1720 and 1740, whose family were one of the most powerful and wealthy in Ireland. It was subsequently home to Edward King MP (1726–97), first earl of Kingston. The design is attributed to William Halfpenny (d. 1755) who was an assistant to Edward Lovett Pearce. [8]

The large 'U' shaped house may incorporate walls from an earlier 17th c. house which was burnt.[9] It is most unusual in Ireland for the 'big house' to be located in the town, as most houses are situated in a demesne.

Again, it is unusual all of the floors to be vaulted. perhaps, according to Rev. Daniel Beaufort, this is a response to the earlier fire.

Since 1810, when the King Family moved to Rockingham, the house has been used as a military barracks. Throughout the nineteenth century it was the home of the Connaught Rangers, adapted as a barracks for twelve officers and 260 soldiers. On the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the newly formed Irish National Army took possession of the house and it was renamed Dockery Barracks in honour of a commanding officer killed in Boyle during the Civil War.

Roscommon County Council, recognising the historical, architectural and cultural importance of King House, began a restoration project in 1989 following years of neglect. Using skilled artisans and local craftsmen employing traditional techniques and materials, all three floors and the basement have been restored. Of particular note are the main entrance gallery with its tripate windows and original fireplace, the extensive vaulted ceilings on all floors and the main salon which is in use once again as a venue for recitals and banquets. The other rooms in the house are used for temporary exhibitions and these are open to visitors. In The Kings of Connaught exhibition visitors are led through a series of tableaux and encouraged, with interactive pieces, to experience life as it was in the house and in the locality. The displays, ranging all over the floors, cover four main themes: The Kingdom of Connaught - from the earliest recorded times showing the importance of the clans and their kings; The King Family - meet the families who lived in the house from Sir John King who came to Boyle in 1603 to the fascinating accounts of life, both for the family and the staff, at Rockingham Estate (now Lough Key Forest Park); The Restoration - a room left partially restored so that visitors can see the fabric of the house and, with the aid of photographs and models, see the skill and craft employed in the building and restoration; The Military Usage - from 1788 to recent times.

Boyle Abbey

Boyle Abbey - restored gatehouse, centre

The Cistercian abbey was founded in the 12th century under the patronage of the local ruling family, the MacDermotts and is one of the best preserved in Ireland. It was colonised from Mellifont in 1161. The building of the chancel and the transepts with their side-chapels probably began shortly after this date, though the lancet windows in the east gable were inserted in the 13th century. There is a combination of rounded and pointed arches in the transepts and crossing. The existing large square tower formed part of the church from the beginning, though it was raised in height at a later stage. The five eastern arches of the nave and their supporting pillars were built at the end of the 12th century, and have well-preserved capitals typical of the period. Although built at the same time, the arches of the northern side of the nave are different in type, and have differently shaped columns and capitals. The three westernmost arches in the south arcade which have leafed and figured capitals, were built after 1205, as was the west wall, before the church was finally consecrated in 1218. Nothing remains of the cloister, but on the eastern side there are two doorways of c.1200, now blocked up. On the west side there is a two-storey gatehouse, which acts as an interpretative centre. The rest of the buildings surrounding the cloister are largely 16th or 17th century. The Abbey was one of the most important in Connacht, and was invaded by Richard de Burgo, Maurice Fitzgerald, and Justiciar, in 1235. In 1659, the Cromwellians occupied the monastery and did a great deal of destruction. Though mutilated during the 17th and 18th centuries when it was used to accommodate a military garrison, Boyle Abbey is one of the best preserved structures of its type, and attracts many thousands of visitors per year. A restored gatehouse 16th/17th century vintage houses an exhibition. The Abbey is now a national monument in state care and admission is currently free while restoration work is being carried out. There is a Sheela na gig hidden above one of the central Romanesque arches. It can be seen from ground level, just at the top of the column, where the arch begins. Records of monks and abbots working at the Abbey have been kept since the abbey started and this information can be still found today.

Lough Key Forest Park

First Arch Entrance to Rockingham Estate

Situated just off the N4 is Lough Key Forest Park, a parkland area that has been revitalised by an addition of a Visitor Centre and Activity Facilities, including Boda Borg, a puzzle solving activity centre which is a Swedish concept originally unique to Ireland but now has locations in Sweden and plans to expand Worldwide.[10] The park covers 800 acres (3.2 km2), and was formerly part of the Rockingham estate. This was the seat of the Stafford-King-Harman[11] family who at the end of the nineteenth century "owned" over 30,000 acres (120 km2) in north County Roscommon and County Sligo. Rockingham House was designed by John Nash in the early eighteen hundreds for the English landlord John King. It was remarkable due to its dome front and 365 windows. Rockingham House was suspiciously destroyed by fire in 1957, after which it was taken over by the Irish Land Commission. Declared as unsafe in 1970, it was demolished. The tunnels to Rockingham House are still accessible to this day. A viewing tower was built in 1973. In the town park, known locally as the Pleasure Grounds behind King House stood a statue of William of Orange, this was pulled down and destroyed by locals in 1945 with the base of the statue remaining there to this day, reflecting the turmoil of that era of Irish History.[12]

There are many interesting islands on Lough Key. Castle Island is a well-known visual icon of this area. Trinity Island contains the ruins of a chapel, linked to the Cistercian monastery in the town. There are two trees growing on the island with interlinked branches, 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.

Boyle Arts Festival

Boyle Arts Festival is a highly regarded event, considered the best small-town arts festival in Ireland. The summer event has been held since about 1990 and has established an impressive reputation for excellence. The festival has been the winner of several national awards and welcomes new and innovative contributions. Events include a major art exhibition of works by contemporary Irish artists, classical and traditional music, poetry, drama, lectures and children's events.

Places of interest

Abbeytown bridge, Boyle, built in the 12th Century

The 5-arch bridge across the Boyle river close to the Abbey, known as Abbeytown Bridge. Also built in the late 12th Century, it could well be the oldest surviving stone bridge in Ireland. It has been widened but still carries a 5-ton load.

The Drumanone Dolmen is just west of the town. It is a site of Irish and European historic archaeological significance. This Dolmen located outside Boyle, is a fine example of a portal dolmen, and was built before 2000BC. The word "dolmen" is Celtic in origin and means "stone table".

The great capstone, 4.5m x 3m wide, is one of the largest to be seen in Ireland. Drumanone Dolmen has portal stones more than 2m high and a doorstone about 2m high. The capstone is about 4m square and has slipped back to cover the polygonal chamber. The sides of the chamber are each composed of a single stone. It is located in pasture land about 300m north of the Boyle River. This is an excellent example of a Portal Tomb, the chamber structure is fully exposed due to the usual robbing away of the covering cairn. There are two large portal stones, each over 2m high, these are set longitudinally and parallel to the NE-SW long axis of the tomb. There are two side stones, the one to the south has been re-erected, and the western slab has been tilted over by the mass of the slipped capstone, and it is now supported by a steel girder. A small stone sits between the side slabs at the SW, and this may be a remnant of a broken back slab. The capstone is huge, measuring roughly 4.5m x 3.8m, it has slipped back quite a distance from its original position, and has distorted the rear end of the tomb considerably.


Boyle railway station opened on 3 December 1862.[13] Boyle lies on the railway line from Dublin to Sligo, and the N4 Dublin-Sligo main road skirts the town. The town is linked to the River Shannon navigation system via the Boyle canal, the River Boyle and Lough Key. The town was once on the N4 national primary road from Dublin to Sligo but was bypassed in 1999. It is connected to the N4 by the R294 regional road (which also connects it to Ballina, County Mayo) and the N61 national secondary road which links Boyle to Athlone via Roscommon.

Boyle River Bridge

Boyle has a Locallink bus service to Roscommon three times daily.


Boyle is the birthplace of actress Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane in the Tarzan movies), writer Patrick Chapman, Suffragette and women's rights campaigner Margaret Cousins, physician Robert Cryan, and hometown of actor and comedian Chris O'Dowd. O'Dowd filmed segments of his six-part comedy Moone Boy in the town in January 2012, with filming for the second season taking part in 2013. Neville Knott, interior designer and television personality.[14]

Irish orchestral conductor Michael Bowles (1909–1998) grew up in Boyle.

The writer John McGahern grew up near Boyle and Boyle is mentioned in several of his books. In his novel The Dark, a scene is played out in the dining room of the Royal Hotel, overlooking the river.

The UFO society of Ireland was founded in Boyle by the late Betty Meyler. Boyle hosts an annual conference on the subject.

Noted singer John Reilly lived in Boyle. He is credited by Christy Moore as a source of several well-known folk standards, such as 'The Well Below The Valley' (uniquely attributed to Reilly), and 'The Raggle Taggle Gypsy' (not a local song). Cited as an influence by Sinead O Connor and John Hoban, John Reilly features on three albums on the Topic Records label. The John Reilly Music Room was a local music venue for many years. Other local recording artists include the Grehan Sisters, who released two albums on the Transatlantic Records label and have featured on countless Irish music compilations. Christy Moore's first broadcast was as a guest performer on the Grehan Sisters BBC radio series. London-born John Carty is an Irish traditional musician and has lived in Boyle since 2003. He plays fiddle, tenor banjo, tenor guitar and, occasionally, the flute. He is very interested in the North Connacht traditional music style and was declared Irish television station TG4’s 'Traditional Musician of the Year'.

Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, has a holiday home near Boyle, as does Emmy-winning actor Brendan Gleeson.

Shops and services

Boyle offers a wide variety of shops and services to its inhabitants. With many of Ireland's leading supermarket chains, including SuperValu, Centra and Mace having stores within the town, Boyle serves as a commercial centre for surrounding villages, such as Ballinameen and Corrigeenroe. The town is also home to numerous smaller businesses. These include butchers, newsagents, grocery stores, florists and clothes shops, amongst others.[15]

See also


  2. Census for post 1821 figures.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 2011-11-03.
  5. Lee, JJ (1981). "On the accuracy of the Pre-famine Irish censuses". In Goldstrom, J. M.; Clarkson, L. A. Irish Population, Economy, and Society: Essays in Honour of the Late K. H. Connell. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
  6. Mokyr, Joel; O Grada, Cormac (November 1984). "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700-1850". The Economic History Review. 37 (4): 473–488. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1984.tb00344.x.
  7. Handbook for travellers in Ireland, descriptive of its scenery, towns, seats, antiquities etc. by James Fraser. (Dublin, 1859),
  8. "King House, Boyle, Co. Roscommon". History Ireland. September 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  9. Mark Bence-Jones, Burke's Guide to Country Houses
  10. or more specifically here:
  11. Edward Robert King-Harman
  13. "Boyle station" (PDF). Railscot - Irish Railways. Retrieved 7 September 2007.
  14. "Peep beyond Neville's hall door". Irish Independent. 13 January 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  15. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
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