Tyrone is one of Northern Ireland’s most stunning inland counties. The largest county in Northern Ireland, it is brimming with scenery such as the majestic Sperrin Mountains as well as ancient forests and winding rivers. Dotted amongst the remarkable landscape are a number of historic sites which attest to the county’s ancient history. Indeed, the county derives its name from ‘Tír Eoghain’, a Gaelic kingdom under the O’Neill dynasty which existed until the 17th century.
Particular historic highlights include the ruins of Castlederg Castle and Castle Caulfield, while more recent history can be explored through the Grant Ancestral Homestead, the ancestral home of former United States President Ulysses S. Grant. A great day out for the whole family can also be found at the Ulster American Folk Park, which allows visitors to step back in time to life in the 18th century.
Here’s our pick of 10 of the best historic sites in County Tyrone.
1. Lissan House
Situated in Cookstown, County Tyrone at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains, Lissan House is a historic house and tourist attraction that was the seat of the Staples baronets. It was built by barrister Thomas Staples in around 1620 on the site of an even more ancient house, using timber, stone and handmade bricks. He also set up ironworks to smelt the ore. In 1628, King Charles I made Thomas Staples Baronet of Lissan and Faughanvale. The estate remained the home of the Staples family from 1620 until 2006, which is the longest known occupation by a single family of a domestic dwelling in Ireland.
As of 2007, Lissan is open to the public, garnering over 5,000 visitors within the first eight days of opening, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ulster. The gardens are a particular highlight, being free and open to the public 7 days a week, year-round.
2. Ulster American Folk Park
Situated outside Omagh, County Tyrone, the Ulster American Folk Park is an open-air museum that features more than 30 exhibit buildings that tell the story of three centuries of Irish emigration. Using costumed guides, living history and displays of traditional crafts, the museum focuses on those who left Ulster for America in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the buildings have connections to local families, and the park itself was developed around Mellon House, which is linked to the Mellon banking dynasty.
Today, the house and outbuildings remain in their original location. Visitors can taste samples of traditional Irish and pioneer American foods, such as freshly baked soda bread and pumpkin pie. The museum also includes agricultural displays and a range of farm animals.
3. The Argory
The home of Mr Bond, the last of four generations of the MacGeough Bond family, The Argory was built between 1820 and 1824. Made of Caledon stone, ashlar blocks and Navan limestone windowsills, quoins and foundations, the interior of the house has remained unchanged since 1900. At the end of World War Two, the house was largely closed up.
In 1979, the family gifted the house to the National Trust, and today, it is open the public. On display are four generations worth of collecting, stunning interiors and striking gardens.
4. Abingdon Collection
Situated in County Tyrone, the Abingdon Collection represents over 45 years of collecting. It is divided into two areas: World War Two, which represents one of the largest collections in private ownership, with over 2,500 items on permanent display, and classic vehicles, which consists of classic cars, motorcycles, die-cast models and military memorabilia.
Admission is by appointment only, but the owner does make an effort to facilitate both individual visitors and small groups. Donations to a cancer charity are encouraged instead of payment.
5. Moy Village
The picturesque village known as The Moy was founded as a plantation settlement in 1764 by Lord Charlemount. Centred around a large, pleasant square, the years the village was the site of one of Ireland’s most famous horse fairs, and many of Wellington’s horses used during the Battle of Waterloo came from there.
Today, ruins of an old fort and Roxburgh Castle can still be seen, and the area is a designated conservation area. It is also the birthplace of the award-winning Irish poet, Paul Muldoon.
6. Castlederg Castle
Castlederg Castle commands a strategic position on the River Derg, a fording point that has been between the O’Neill and O’Donnell Lordships since Medieval times. The ruins are the remains of a Plantation-era fortified house and Bawn, though archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of a 15th-century O’Neill tower house which preceded the Bawn. It seems that the site was largely abandoned after it was damaged during an attack in 1641.
In 1689, the castle was again garrisoned by the settler population, but surrendered to James II’s forces. Afterwards, it fell to ruin. Today, the ruins of the castle consist of a rectangular bawn with square flankers at each corner. It is freely accessible.
7. Castle Caulfield
Situated in Castlecaulfield, Castle Caulfield is a large ruined house that still features substantial remains. Built by Sir Toby Caulfield between 1611 and 1619 on the site of an earlier O’Donnelly Castle, the oldest remaining part of the castle today is the gatehouse which features Tudor-style doorways, gun-loops and murder-holes. The Caulfield arms also appear over the entrance.
The building, which makes for a picturesque visit, was once three storeys high and featured attics, large mullioned windows and tall chimney stacks, as well as cellars, a small court and a medieval-style gate lodge. It was burned during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 but was later repaired and re-occupied by the Caulfields until the 1660s.
8. US Grant Ancestral Homestead
18th United States President U. S. Grant’s great grandfather John Simpson was born in a farmhouse outside Ballygawley, a village in County Tyrone. In 1760, John Simpson left Northern Ireland and moved to Ohio. His great grandson, Hiram Ulysses Grant, was born in 1822, and went on to be elected as President in 1868. He served two terms in office, and embarked on a world tour that stopped off in Northern Ireland, making him the first President of the United States to visit Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The ancestral homestead has been preserved and is now open to visitors all year round. A typical 19th century cottage, the main room is dominated by a large turf fire, while the original mud wall can be viewed in the bedroom. An outhouse displays a Civil War exhibition, and outside is a selection of 19th century farming equipment.
9. Tullyhogue Fort
Also spelled Tullaghoge or Tullahoge, Tullyhogue Fort, meaning ‘hill of youth’ or ‘mound of the young warriors’ is a large mound on the outskirts of the village of Tullyhogue, County Tyrone. It was once a royal power centre which came to historical prominence in the 11th century when it was a dynastic centre and inaugural place for the powerful O’Neill family. The site was abandoned in 1622.
Today, all that remains is a polygonal embanked enclosure, separated from an outer bank by a wide flat space and no outer ditch. It is surrounded by trees. From its hilltop position, it commands wide views of the area that reach for miles.
10. Ardboe High Cross
A national monument dating to the tenth century, Ardboe High Cross stands at the entrance to a cemetery, monastery and a church from the seventeenth century which was founded in 590 by Saint Colman. The monastery, which is believed to have been built in the ninth or tenth century, was destroyed by fire in the twelfth century, and today, the cross is all that remains. The name ‘Ard Boe’ means ‘hill of the cow’, and derives from a legend that the monastery of Ardboe was built from the milk of a magic cow.
At around 18.5 feet tall, Ardboe High Cross is Northern Ireland’s tallest cross, and is the only such cross in Northern Ireland to remain largely original and complete.