WESTMEATH, a county of Ireland in the province of Leinster, bounded N.W. by Longford, N. by Cavan, N.E. and E. by Meath, S. by King's county, and W. by Roscommon. The area is 454,104 acres, or about 709 sq. m. The Shannon forms the western boundary. The average height of the surface of the county is over 250 ft. above sea-level. The highest summits are Knocklayde (795 ft.), Hill of Ben (710 ft.) and Knockayon (707 ft.). A large surface is occupied by bog. A special feature of Westmeath is the number of large loughs, which have a combined area of nearly 17,000 acres. In the norlh, on the borders of Cavan, is Lough Sheelin, with a length of 5 m., and an average breadth of between 2 and 3 m., and adjoining it is the smaller Lough Kinale. In the centre of the county there is a group of large loughs, of which Lough Dereveragh is 6 m. long by 3 broad at its widest part. To the north of it are Loughs Lene, Glore, Bawn and others, and to the south Loughs Iron and Owel. Farther south is Lough Ennell or Belvidere, and in the south-west Lough Ree, a great expansion of the river Shannon, forming part of the boundary with Roscommon. The river Inny, which rises in Co. Cavan, enters Westmeath from Lough Sheelin, and, forming for parts of its course the boundary with Longford, falls into Lough Ree. The Inny has as one of its tributaries the Glore, flowing from Lough Lene through Lough Glore, a considerable part of its course being underground. From Lough Lene the Dale also flows southwards to the Boyne and so to the Irish Sea, and thus this lake sends its waters to the opposite shores of the island. The Brosna flows from Lough Ennell southwards by King's .county into the Shannon. The Westmeath loughs have a peculiar fame among anglers for the excellence of their trout-fishing.
Westmeath is essentially a county of the great Carboniferous Limestone plain, with numerous lakes occupying the hollows. Two or three little inliers of Old Red Sandstone, as at Killucan and Moate, form distinctive hills, about 500 ft. in height. At Sron Hill near Killucan, a core of Silurian strata appears within the sandstone dome. A considerable system of eskers, notably north of Tullamore, diversifies the surface of the limestone plain.
The soil is generally a rich loam of great depth resting on limestone, and is well adapted both for tillage and pasturage. The occupations are almost wholly agricultural, dairy farming predominating. Flour and meal are largely produced. The only textile manufactures are those of friezes, flannels, and coarse linens for home use. The only mineral of any value is limestone.
The main line of the Midland Great Western railway enters the county from E. and passes W. by Mullingar and Athlone. From Mullingar a branch runs N.W. to Inny Junction, where lines diverge N. to Cavan (county Cavan), and W.N.W. to Longford (county Longford) and Sligo. A branch of the Great Southern & Western railway runs from Portarlington (Queen's county) to Athlone, and this and the Midland Great Western main line are connected by a short line between Clare and Streamstown, worked WESTMINSTER, MARQUESSES OF- -WESTMINSTER 549 by the latter company. Water communication with Dublin is furnished by the Royal Canal, traversing the centre of the' county. A branch of the Grand Canal reaches Kilbeggan in the south.
The population (68,611 in 1891; 61,629 in 1901) decreases in excess of the average shown by the Irish counties, and emigration is considerable. About 92% of the total are Roman Catholics, and about 86% constitute the rural population. The principal towns are Athlone (pop. 6617), of which the part formerly in Roscommon was added to Westmeath by the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898, and Mullingar (4500), the county town. Castlepollard and Moate are lesser market towns. By the Redistribution Act of 1885 Westmeath was formed into two parliamentary divisions, North and South, each returning one member, Athlone being included in the county representation. The county is divided into twelve baronies. Assizes are held at Mullingar and quarter sessions at Mullingar and Moate. The county is in the Protestant dioceses of Dublin, Killaloe and Ossory, and in the Roman Catholic dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin, Killaloe and Ossory.
Westmeath was severed from Meath (q.v.) in 1543. The plan for the insurrection of 1641 was concerted in the abbey of Multifarnham, and both in the wars of this period and those of 1688 the gentry of the county were so deeply implicated that the majority of the estates were confiscated. There are a considerable number of raths or encampments: one at Rathconrath is of great extent; another at Bally more was fortified during the wars of the Cromwellian period and those of 1688, and was afterwards the headquarters of General Ginkell, when preparing to besiege Athlone; and there is a third of considerable size near Lough Lene. The ruins of the Franciscan abbey of Multifarnham, founded in 1236 by William Delaware, picturesquely situated near Lough Dereveragh, include a tower 93 ft. in height.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)