County Roscommon (Ros Comáin, "St. Coman's wood")


When the county was created in 1565, its name was taken from the major town, Roscommon. Little is known about Coman, the fifth-century saint from whom the name comes. The ruined abbey which dominates the town was founded by the Dominicans in the thirteenth century.

Bounded by the Shannon to the south and east, and by its tributary the Suck to the west, much of Roscommon is very wet, with extensive winter flooding of the lands adjoining the Shannon and many turloughs, underground lakes which rise overground from October to April.

The north of the county was included in the traditional lands of the MacDermots, while the south formed part of the territory of Uí Máine, ruled by the O'Kellys. Roscommon was little affected by the Norman invasion and was one of the counties left to the native proprietors by Cromwell in the seventeenth century. One result was that many of the old ways survived here longer than elsewhere. Another result, by the nineteenth century, was huge overpopulation and abject poverty. The fragile subsistence of the people was shattered by the Famine; in the ten years from 1841 to 1851, the population fell by almost a third, the largest single fall of any county in Ireland, and has continued to fall. Today around 55,000 people live in Roscommon, a drop of 80% from 1841. Looking at the emptiness of the countryside now, it is hard not to feel there are ghosts here.

Surnames associated with the county include McDermott, Beirne, Dockery, McGarry, Duignan, Frain, Regan, O'Gara, Towey, O'Connor, Hester and Hanly. And Grenham.