At the end of Strokestown's main avenue, triple Gothic arches lead to Strokestown Park House. The original 120-sq-km estate was granted by King Charles II to Nicholas Mahon for his support in the English Civil War. Nicholas' grandson Thomas commissioned Richard Cassels to build him a Palladian mansion in the early 18th century. The gardens give some idea of the original wealth. Admission to the house is by a 50-minute guided tour.
The guided tours take in a galleried kitchen with original ovens dating from 1740, a schoolroom with an exercise book of neatly written dictation dating from 1934 (and, according to her red pen, deemed disgraceful by the governess), and a toy room complete with 19th-century toys and funhouse mirrors.
Over the centuries, the estate decreased in size along with the family's fortunes. When it was eventually sold in 1979, it had been whittled down to 120 hectares. The estate was bought as a complete lot, so virtually all its remaining contents are intact.
The walled garden contains the longest herbaceous border in Ireland and Britain, which blooms in a rainbow of colours in summer. Across the six acres there is also a folly, a lily pond and Ireland's oldest glass greenhouse, dating from 1780.
There is a small cafe on-site.
In direct and deliberate contrast to the splendour of Strokestown house and its grounds is the harrowing Irish National Famine Museum, which documents the devastating 1840s potato blight. It concisely shows how the industrial age coupled with the Famine devastated the overpopulated island of 8 million (about 1.6 million more than today).
Exhibits here rise above mere lore thanks to more than 50,000 documents that were preserved from the 19th century and which provide often chilling factual underpinning. Strokestown landlord Major Denis Mahon ruthlessly evicted starving peasants who couldn't pay their rent, chartering boats to transport them away from Ireland. Around half of these 1000 emigrants died on the overcrowded 'coffin ships', a further 200 died while in quarantine in Québec (the cheapest route). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mahon was assassinated by three of his tenants in 1847 (two of whom were publicly hung in Roscommon). The gun they used is on display.
There's a huge amount of information and you can easily spend an hour or more. You'll emerge with an unblinking insight into the starvation of the poor, and the ignorance, callousness and cruelty of those who were in a position to help.