Tour Ireland

Lost Villages: Westmeath

One Day

One of these lost famine villages is at Carn, 16 km (10 miles) south-east of Mullingar. Take the R390 west of Mullingar to the village of Killare, then turn south on the minor road to Carn.

There, on the summit of the hill, looking over to the nearby hill of Uisneach, are the foundations of a famine village that was originally built in the early 19th century. In some cases, more than the foundations of houses have been left intact and the ruins of 16 small cottages can be seen. Most are very simple two-room buildings, which had a kitchen and a sleeping area, while several are more elaborate, once inhabited by people a little further up the social scale than labourers. Most cottages of this period were built with mud or stone walls and had thatched roofs, so they haven't survived, but the cottages at Carn were stone built and have survived to a greater degree. So well preserved is the little settlement that even the outlines of the cottage gardens can be made out. Standing in the midst of these ruins, with the elevated situation giving good views of the locality, it's easy to imagine what life was like nearly two hundred years ago.

A decade before the famine struck, a Poor Law Commission report said that only 60 per cent of the labourers and cottiers in the area had constant work and when they were not working, lived on a meagre diet of potatoes and salt. Charles Kelly, who was a pre-famine Justice of the Peace in the parish of Conroy, where Carn is situated, described the clothing of the 100 labourers who lived in the parish as being "very middling, generally frieze". When the potato crop was devastated during the Famine, families in Carn, as well as those in countless other parts of the west and south, had no food for their survival. The famine village of Carn remains today as a bleak testament to the suffering of that long-distant era.

Other example tours:
Battle Sites
Architecture, Old and New Dublin

For further details on other trails: Travellers' Trails: Ireland by Hugh Oram, from Appletree Press.