The Emerald Isle

CHAPTER FOUR THE MIDLANDS Irish Music “Now sweetly lies old Ireland Emerald green beyond the foam, Awakening sweet memories, Calling the heart back home.” —Irish proverb T he Hill of Uisneach, between Mullingar and Athlone in County Westmeath, is considered, at least by local people, to be at the geographical center of Ireland (people living further south near Birr in County Offaly also make the same claim). The famous Catstone on the Hill of Uisneach once marked the point of intersection between the five great provinces (or kingdoms) of ancient Ireland, Connacht, Munster, Leinster, Meath, and Ulster. Present-day Monaghan and Cavan, along with Donegal further west, are the only counties of the old province of Ulster not to have been included in the new Province of Northern Ireland at the time of Partition. Stand on the flat top of this not particularly high hill, which is 620ft (190m) at its highest point, and you can certainly see much of these ancient provinces: on a clear day, it is said that the O’Connell Monument in Dublin’s 150