County Tyrone in Northern Ireland is replete with green pastures, wooded trails, and epic historical and heritage sites. Once the territory of the powerful O’Neill clan, the county still bears the marks of its days as the last holdout of the old Gaelic order in Ireland before the Nine Years War. But it’s not all ancient history either, with Omagh, the county seat, boasting one of Ireland’s most state of the art cultural centers and a nearby extreme adventure park that will ratchet up the nerves of even the most steely visitors. If you’re planning a weekend getaway or just passing through, check out our list of the 10 best places to visit when in Tyrone.
10. STRULE ARTS CENTRE
Situated in Omagh’s Townhall Square, the Strule Arts Centre is the best place to visit if you want to see what is happening in Tyrone’s local art scene today. The center offers art exhibitions, a dance studio, educational classes, seminars, and workshops, as well as a space for live music and theater performances. Pop in to catch an evening show and you might find yourself heading back the next day for one of the many recording or dance classes offered to the public.
9. TODD’S LEAP
If you like a rush of adrenaline with your travels, look no further than Ireland’s premier extreme adventure park at Todd’s Leap in Dungannon. The park offers a high-octane range of activities, including blindfold Land Rover driving, ziplining, body zorbing, paintballing, and a three-story drop zone. And, if one day isn’t enough, you can stay your choice of log cabin or refurbished shipping containers onsite and start fresh another morning.
8. HARRY AVERY’S CASTLE
Harry Avery’s Castle, built around 1320 and named for Henry Aimbreidh O’Neill who died in 1392, is not unique in that it was built for a local chief of a minor branch of the O’Neill clan — minor chieftains of cadet branches of ruling clans frequently built their own castles and keeps from which to govern their territory. What makes it remarkable is that these chieftains, and even the heads of clans themselves, almost universally built their castles of wood and sod, rather than stone. Moreover, this castle borrows heavily from Norman design elements, showing great familiarity with the architectural styles of a group who were more traditionally rivals to the Gaelic chiefs than allies.
7. THE ABINGDON COLLECTION
If you’ve got car lovers in your group when you come to Tyrone, make sure to include a stop at the wonderful Abingdon Collection of more than 2,500 items on permanent display related to classic cars and WWII collected over 45 years as a tribute to the owner’s late father. The collection is separated into two sections, one focusing on WWII machines and the other on classic cars of the 1950s-1970s. Admission free though by appointment only.
6. BEAGHMORE STONE CIRCLES
The seven stone circles that comprise the collection at Beaghmore are among the finest Bronze Age archeological sites in the county. Discovered by a farmer cutting peat in the 1930s, the circles were partially excavated in the 1940s and again in the 1960s, though the full extent of the site is still unknown.
5. GORTIN GLEN FOREST PARK
Whether you’re driving through or taking a weekend getaway, Gortin Glen Forest Park is a great escape. With miles of hiking trails, woodlands, rivers and waterfalls in a largely undeveloped landscape, the park is as enchanting as it is remote. Nearby lakes also offer the opportunity for canoeing, boating, and swimming in a beautifully sheltered environment free from the encroachment of urban life.
4. BLESSINGBOURNE COUNTRY ESTATE
The Blessingbourne Estate and house is a sprawling 550-acre parkland and luxury hotel experience that is not to be missed. Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend with a partner or a long walk in beautifully manicured gardens for a day, you can’t go wrong with stopping by this 19th century Elizabethan-style marvel. The estate is still a working farm and entirely animal-friendly. It even offers stables for guests who chose to being their own horses!
3. ULSTER AMERICAN FOLK PARK
For those looking to reconnect with ancestors who long ago departed Ireland for America, the Ulster American Folk Park is a must-see attraction. The park offers a living museum that takes visitors on a tour of exactly what it would have been like to leave their homeland behind. Costumed characters, traditional food, and many exhibitions are all on offer as you take a tour from a classic Irish thatched cottage to a recreation of an emigrant sailing ship and finally to an American frontier cabin.
2. TULLYHOGUE FORT
Another important site for the O’Neill clan, second only to the Hill of the O’Neill below, is Tullyhogue Fort. The fort, or what remains of it today, is comprised of a circular mound largely overgrown with trees and shrubs. But for centuries this was the place where the chieftains of the O’Neill were crowned, a ceremony so important that it was even depicted on a 1602 map of Ulster. Recently installed informational signs and a recreation of the inauguration stone seat show visitors what the site may have once looked like and every August, a small event commemorates the crowning of the O’Neill chief. The event was started in 1998 by Don Carlos O’Neill, a Spanish descendent of Hugh O’Neill, the last O’Neill chief crowned on the site in 1595.
1. HILL OF THE O’NEILL
The history of County Tyrone is inextricably bound to the history of the famous O’Neill clan, who ruled this area for over 400 years until the beginning of the 17th century following the exile of the old Gaelic order known as the Flight of the Earls. The Hill of the O’Neill is the former seat of the clan chiefs and offers 360-degree panoramic views of seven of Ulster’s nine counties. A visitor center and heritage park will teach you all about the infamous Nine Year’s War that permanently changed Ireland’s northernmost province and expelled the last of the Gaelic chieftains from the country.
Have you visited any of these must-see destinations in County Tyrone? Did we leave your favorite Tyrone attraction off this list? Let us know in the comments below!