As we move around the county of Roscommon, it is now time that we looked at the county town itself, Roscommon.
The Gaelic original name, is Ros Comáin, ‘Ros’ meaning wood (or grove) and hence St Comáin’s wood. Comáin was the founder, abbot and bishop of Roscommon. The Dominican friary here was believed to stand on the site of the original foundation of St Comáin in the 8th century. However, modern historians claim that the present site of St Coman’s church is where St Comáin established his church, and not the Dominican Abbey. The woods near the monastery became known as Ros Comáin. This is another fine example of a topographic feature being linked with an event from the past, as seen with place like Elphin.
The town is first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters in 777 AD, recording the death of Aedhan, ‘Abbot of Ros Comáin’. In 1837, Samuel Lewis wrote that ‘The town is principally built on the eastern and southern sides of a hill, at the base of which are the remains of its ancient and venerable religious buildings, and its once stately castle … The total number of houses is 581, of which 400 are merely cabins’.
Notable sites in the town are Roscommon Abbey, founded in 1253 by Felim O’Conor, King of Connacht, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and Roscommon Castle, built in 1268 by the Norman, Robert de Ufford. The castle changed hands several times before being burned down in 1690. The Old Gaol was erected in the 18th century, in what is the present town square, and it was here that its most famous occupant, ‘Lady Betty’, the last hangwoman in Ireland, executed her duties.
The sad news is that in 1894 there were 27 Public Houses in the Roscommon town area – where are they now?
In other parts of Ireland, ‘Ros’ can mean a point of land or headland, as in Ros Láir (Rosslare), meaning ‘Middle Promontory’.
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