County Westmeath is sometimes referred to as “The Lake County” due to the abundance of lakes, streams and other waterways in the county. This inland county is part of the midlands and is in the province of Leinster . It is the twenty-third largest in Ireland and the twenty-second in population. The County name is derived from the Gaelic ‘An Lar Mhi’, meaning west of Meath. The lands were once part of County Meath, but were separated into Westmeath in 1543.
Westmeath’s length is 43 1/2 miles from Athlone to the boundary point southeast of Clon-mellon and it is 26 miles in breadth from the river Inny, near Ballynacarrigy, to the boundary near Rahugh. The area is 710.1 square miles (1,839.0 sq km).
Prior to the arrival of St. Patrick, the count was the gathering place for the High Kings of Ireland. The Normans arrived about 1170 and built many castles and forts. The county was centrally involved in the 1641 rebellion and was active in the Williamite wars. Most of the Irish or Norman landholders lost their land following the 1641 rebellion.
In 1821, the County’s population was 28,819 and increased to 141,300 in 1841. During the Great Famine of 1845-1847, the population decreased until it was 111,407 in 1851. The population continued to decrease to 56,818 in 1926. In 2006, the population was 79,346. County Westmeath is predominately Roman Catholic. In 1891, the percentage of Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist was 92.2%, 6.9%, 0.4% and 0.3%. Overtime, the Roman Catholics percentage has stayed about the same as 91.6% in 2006, while the Church of Ireland, Presbyterians and Methodists decreased to 2.4%, 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively, with other or no religions increasing to about 4.1%.