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Ireland Gazeteer

County Westmeath in 1839

Surface, Geological Character, and Hydrography.

The county is for the most part a gently undulating surface, not rising in any part to a very great height. Knock Eyne, or Ion, on the border of Loch Deveragh, is about 850 feet high; Benfore, or Ben of Fowre, near the village of Fowre, not far from Lough Lane or Lene, is 760 feet high.

These, with the other principal elevations, are in the northern part of the county. The whole belongs to the central carboniferous limestone district of Ireland.

There are two small districts, one just round Moate-a-Grenogue, and the other in the same neighbourhood, but rather more to the south-west, which are occupied by the yellow sandstone, a formation consisting of quartzy sandstone conglomerate, of varying grain, which passes into sandstone.

These beds are considered to belong to the same period as the carboniferous limestone, of which series of formations they constitute the lowest members.

The western side of the county belongs immediately to the basin of the Shannon, which forms its western boundary, separating it from the county of Roscommon. Lough Ree, the largest of the series of lakes into which that river expands, is also on the western border.

This noble sheet of water is 15 miles long from north to south, and of a varying breadth, above 7 miles in one part. Its outline is exceedingly broken and irregular, and its surface studded with a number of small islands finely wooded.

Those adjacent to Westmeath are, Innismore, or Inchmore, containing 104 acres, once the site of a monastery; Hare Island, 57 acres, with the ruins of an abbey; Innisturk, or Inchturk, 24 acres: and Innisboffin, or Inchboffin, 27 acres, formerly the site of an abbey; besides a number of smaller islands.

An inlet at the southern extremity of Lough Ree, connected with it by a straight so narrow as properly to constitute it another lake, is almost entirely enclosed within the county.

This subordinate lake, which is about two miles long from east to west, and in one part above a mile and a half wide, contains a large island called Friar's Island, well wooded at its western extremity.

The streams which flow into the Shannon or into Lough Ree are all small. Two of the principal rise about 3 miles west of Moate-a-Grenogue; one of them flows in a circuitous channel north-west into the inlet of Lough Ree: the other flows due west into the Shannon near Long Island, below Athlone.

Another stream, which rises three miles north of Moate, and several other streams in the north-west, flow into the Inny, which joins Lough Ree on the border of the county of Longford.

There are several small lakes on this side of the county; some of these communicate by small streams with Lough Ree; others have no visible outlet. Bogs also are numerous, though none of them are of any great extent.

The central part of the county is drained by streams that empty their waters into several inland lakes, which are connected by small streams with each other, and ultimately with the river Shannon.

The northernmost of these is Lough Sheelin, or Shillin, on the north border of the county, from which lough a small stream communicates with Lough Keinal, also on the border.

From Lough Keinal the connecting stream flows southward, first along the border, separating Westmeath from Longford, and then through the county into Lough Deveragh.

This fine sheet of water extends 5 or 6 miles in length from north-west to south-east, and has a breadth varying from 2 or 3 miles near the north-west end, to little more than a quarter of a mile near the south-east extremity.

The banks are hilly, and some of the loftiest elevations in the county are in the surrounding district. There are plantations or other woodlands on some parts of the shore.

The district north of the Lough, extending as far as Lough Keinal and Lough Shillin, is almost entirely bog, especially the tract through which the connecting stream flows.

Lough Deveragh receives some small streams; and others, including the Glore, which is the outlet of a small lake (Lough Glore), north-east of Lough Deveragh, fall into the connecting stream.

From the north-western extremity of Lough Deveragh another stream flows south-west into Lough Iron, a shallow lake of about 3 miles long from north-west to south-east, and about half a mile broad.

Several streams flow into the connecting stream between Lough Deveragh and Lough Iron or into the latter lake, and carry off the superfluous water of small lakes or bogs.

Lough Glyn on the north-west border toward Longford, and Lough Gar, are thus connected with this central system.

A small brook forms the communication between Lough Iron and Lough Owhel, or Hoyle, 3 miles long from north-west to south-east, and about 1 miles broad. The banks rise gently from the lake, and are fertile and well wooded.

On a small islet in the lake is a rude chapel with a burial-ground, once much resorted to by pilgrims.

A supply of water is drawn from Lough Hoyle for the Royal Canal.

From Lough Hoyle a small stream flows in a winding channel southward past Mullingar into Lough Ennel, 4 or 3 miles long from north-east to south-west, and above 2 miles broad at the widest part. This lake, sometimes called Belvidere, is studded with small islands. A number of streams flow into this lough.

These lakes communicate with the Shannon by two different streams. The Inny flows from the north-western extremity of Lough Iron to the border of the county, which it skirts, and then into the county of Longford, to which it may be considered as chiefly belonging. It flows into Lough Ree.

The Brosna flows from the south-west extremity of Lough Ennel by Kilbeggan into King's County, to which it chiefly belongs. It receives a number of small streams, drains the southern parts of the county, and falls into the Shannon in the neighbourhood of Banagher.

All that part of the county which we have described is included in the basin of the Shannon, though for convenience the central lake-district has been described separately.

The eastern side of the county belongs to the basin of the Boyne. A number of small streams rise on that side of the county and flow eastward into that river: the most important is the Deel, one branch of which rises near Mullingar, and another is the outlet of a small system of lakes near the north-east border of the county.

The lakes of this system are Lough Bawn, the White Lake, and some very small ones on the borders; and Lough Lene, Lein, or Lane, and Lough-a-Deel within the border: Lough Lene, the largest of the group, is about 2 miles long from west-north-west to east-south-east, and nearly a mile broad. Its waters are peculiarly clear, and it contains several islets.

The eastern and south-eastern sides of the county abound with bogs, and some of them are of very considerable extent. The lakes of Westmeath abound in pike and trout: the latter are very fine, and form an important article of food.

This county is among the most picturesque in Ireland. It is considered to be excelled only by Kerry, Fermanagh, Wicklow, and Waterford.