History of Lough Key Forest Park

History of Lough Key

Lough Key

The area around Lough Key forest park is in Boyle, in County Roscommon

History of the lake

The name Lough Key, derives from the ce’, the druid of nuadha of the silver arm, king of the tuatha de danann who, according to legend, was drowned when the waters of the lake burst forth from earth.

The lake is several kilometres across and contains over thirty wooded islands including Castle Island, Trinity Island, Orchard Island, Stag Island, Bullock Island, and Drumman’s Island. Castle Island has had a number of structures built on it over the centuries. The earliest record dates to 1184, in the Annals of Loch Cé, where a lighting strike is reported to have started a fire in “The Rock of Loch-Cé,” a “very magnificent, kingly residence.” Currently a folly castle built in the early 19th century by the King family stands on the island. Trinity and Church Islands each have the ruins of medieval priories standing on them.

The most famous of the island is Trinity Island

 Trinity Island

In 1228 the monks from Cistercian abbey in Boyle built a church on this Island as by the Cistercian Council that said they had become too gaelicized. The monks brought with them their manuscrips and learning, which under Clarus’ direction these developed eventually into the great manuscripts the Annuals of Lough Key and the Annuals of Connacht.

The monastery was granted protection by the Justiciar or Connacht as it was where he and other Anglo-Norman notables visited it to pray.

After the general suppression of monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536-7, this monastery was granted to the Mac Dermot’s who allowed the canons to remained in occupation, and it appears that they continued to occupy the island until it was confiscated by James I in 1608. The Island is the burial place many bishops and Sir Conyers Clifford, who was the commander of the English forces in the Battle of the Curlews in 1599.

 The Legend of Una Bhan on Trinity Island

Trinity Island is the final resting place of Una Bhan MacDermot and Thomas Laidir Costello. Una Bhan, daughter of Brian Og MacDermot. Thomas Costello fell in love with Una and wished to marry her but her father would not all the marriage as he believed that Thomas as not good enough for his daughter. Thomas was banished from the area and McDermott had his beautiful daughter confined on Castle island.

Una Bhan went into a deep melancholy and then died soon after of a broken heart, she was then buried on Trinity Island.

Thomas got word that his beloved Una has passed away and returned to the area of Lough Key. In his grief, Thomas Laidir would often swim to the island at night to sit at her grave. Thomas contracted pneumonia and realising that he was dying he requested that McDermott allowed him to be buried beside his one true love, Una Bhan. His request was granted and thus the two lovers united in the afterlife.

Tradition says that two trees grow up over the graves of Thomas and Una and that over the years the trees have entwined together forming a lovers knot, standing guard over the graves of the two lovers,

Dr. Douglas Hyde, first present of Ireland, writes of the legend of Una Bhan in his love songs of Connacht published in 1893. Below is an extract from his writing :

“O fair-haired Una, ugly is the lying that is upon you, On a bed narrow and high among the thousand corpses, If you do not come and give me a token, O stately woman, who was ever without a fault, I shall not come to this place for ever, but last night and tonight” (Tomas, on visiting Una’s grave just after her burial) “…O fair Una, like a rose in a garden you, And like a candlestick of gold you were on the table of a queen, Melodious and musical you were going this road before me, And it is my sorrowful morning-spoil that you were not married to your dark love. O fair Una, it is you who have set astray my senses, O Una, it is you who went close in between me and God, O Una, fragrant branch, twisted little curl of the ringlets, Was it not better for me to be without eyes than ever to have seen you?”


The McDermotts ruled this area until the 17th century when it was granted to the King family from England under the Cromwellian settlement. The King family spent their time between the town of Boyle and Moylurg which they renamed Rockingham. One of the large mansions they built was called Rockingham House and was built where the Moylurg Tower now stands.

The famous architect John Nash designed the house in 1809/10. He was the renowned architect responsible for building the Regents Park and Regents Street in London . He has also been credited for building the “Tiara” gate-lodge on the N4 entrance and also the Fairy Bridge on the estate.

The famous landscaper John Sutherland was commissioned to lay out the park. At that time the idea in landscaping was to create a Landscape Park . In other words, the site while specially being designed and placed was also intended to look “natural”.

In 1957 the house was destroyed by fire, believed to have started in the upper basement due to an electrical fault. The state took over the land in the 1950’s and the remaining walls of the house were demolished in 1971. A concrete viewing tower called The Moylurg Tower was built on the site of the house in 1973.

Today, it is still possible to see how the landscape has matured. The Great Lawn surrounds the former site of the house on 3 sides. On the fourth side you can look out to Lough Key where there are wonderful vistas to the islands. Most important is Castle Island , which was rebuilt as a folly during the King family’s reign as one of the largest landowning families in Ireland.


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