County Tyrone, Northern Ireland Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

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County Tyrone (Tír Eoghain in Irish) is to the West of Lough Neagh. The name means 'the territory of Eoghan', who was a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

The county is represented in three constituencies: West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. It is 3,155 square kilometres (1,218 square miles), the second-largest of the counties that comprise Ulster but the largest in Northern Ireland. It is home to 166,516 people, or approximately one tenth of Northern Ireland's population. The average price of a house in 2004 was £102,959, the lowest of any county in the entire UK.

At the northern end, Tyrone is bounded by County Londonderry. To the west lies County Donegal. To the east lie Lough Neagh and County Armagh and to the south lies Counties Fermanagh and Monaghan.


The north of County Tyrone contains the majority of the second-largest Northern Irish mountain range, the Sperrins; a portion of these mountains is also in southern Londonderry. This range of mountains is made up of metamorphic rocks, schists and quartzites. The original rocks would have been sandstones, mudstones and limestones, but heat and pressure during the Ordovician Period transformed them into what they are today. The tallest peak in the Sperrins is Mount Sawel. At 678m above sea level, it is one of the central peaks of an impressive range of Sperrin Mountains that straddles and marks the Tyrone-Londonderry boundary. From west to east, the peaks are Mullaghclogher (572m), Mullaghasturrakeen (581m), Mullaghclogha (635m), Dart Mountain (619m), Sawel, Meenard Mountain (620m) and Mullaghaneany (627m).

The range lies between Omagh, Magherafelt, Cookstown and Strabane and is about 40 miles from east to west. Gold has been found in the hills, so maybe leprechauns are present in this county! The hills are, however, home to numerous flocks of sheep that graze on the slopes. The southern lowlands of Tyrone are given over to pasture.

The main rivers are the Struhle, Mourne, Derg and Owenreagh. However, these all either feed into other rivers or into Lough Neagh. No river that rises in Tyrone makes sea fall.


Tyrone, like much of Ulster, has a long and distinguished history. The Ulster History Park near Omagh has 14 full-scale reconstructions of monuments and homes from 10,000 years of history. Another Tyrone historical attraction is the Ulster-American Folk Park at Castletown, near Omagh, which shows the history of Ulster emigration to America in the 18th and 19th Centuries, including a reconstructed ship to show what the passage would have been like. However, one can also see examples in situ of Tyrone's history.

Near Cookstown, you will find the Beaghmore Stone Circles. A total of seven circles and rows lead to cairns, dating back to about 1600 BC in the early Bronze Age. There are a total of almost 1,000 standing stones dotted around the county.

There are also a number of fine examples of Irish High Crosses, most notably at Ardboe and Donaghmore. The Ardboe High Cross is all that remains of a 6th Century monastery, though the cross itself dates from the 9th or 10th Century. It stands 5.5m (18 feet) high. It contains 22 sections of biblical depictions. The east face begins with Adam and Eve and goes through Abraham and Daniel. The south side shows Cain and Abel and David slaying both a lion and Goliath. The west face shows scenes from Jesus Christ's early life and the north side shows the Magi and some of Jesus's miracles. However, it is the head of the cross that contains the big message. Carved on the west face of the head of the cross are scenes from the Passion of Christ, with the Crucifixion in the centre, while the east face of the head of the cross bears scenes of Christ's second coming and the Last Judgement. The High Cross at Donaghmore bears similar images, but is shorter, at only 4.8m high.

Tullyhogue Fort, near Cookstown, is the ancient crowning location of the Chieftain of Ulster, on an inauguration stone which was said to have been blessed by St Patrick. From the 12th Century, the honour of Chieftain was held by the O'Neill family. The name of the position therefore became 'The O'Neill'. Tullyhogue Fort was the clan seat of the O'Hagans, who were the stewards of the O'Neill family. A fort has probably been on the site since the Iron Age and from its high position it is possible to see the six counties that make up Northern Ireland. From 1542 to 1608, The O'Neill also held the English title Earl of Tyrone. However, 1593 was the last time Tullyhogue witnessed an inauguration ceremony. In 1602, during the Nine Years War, the English, who were at war with the Chieftain Hugo O'Neill, destroyed the site and smashed the inauguration stone.

In 1771, Tyrone's most famous industry, Tyrone Irish Crystal, was founded in Dungannon. It also has the distinction of the being the first Irish crystal producer. However, the current company, Tyrone Crystal, was founded in 1968 when Father Austin Eustace set up a factory to provide employment for the young people of the area.

Being a border county with a high nationalist and republican presence, Tyrone also had a notorious history during The Troubles. There were many attacks on soldiers, police and civilians and some infamous killings of terrorists as well.

Principal Towns

The county town of Tyrone is Omagh (An Ómaigh in Irish) and this is also the largest centre of population, with 25,000 residents. It grew up around the Abbey, which was founded in 792. The town's foundation dates back to 1610 and is situated at the confluence of the Rivers Drumragh and Camowen, where the resulting river becomes the Strule.

Omagh was the site of O'Neill Castle, which has suffered two fires in the course of its history – a fate the town also shared in 1689 when William III burnt the town and a second time in 1743. However, the worst tragedy to befall Omagh was the 1998 Real IRA bomb in the town centre which killed 29 people: 14 women, six men and nine children, as well as unborn twins one of the dead women was expecting. Some of the dead were Spanish tourists and others had come from Donegal for a day-trip. About 220 others were injured as police evacuated people from where they were told the bomb was, into the area where the bomb was actually located.

Strabane (Srath Bán in Irish, meaning 'white strand') has 13,4456 residents, according to the 2001 Census. It is where the River Mourne meets the Finn to form the River Foyle, which the city of Londonderry straddles further north. Just across the river from Strabane and the border is the village of Lifford. The town once had the dubious honour of having the highest rate of unemployment anywhere in the European Union although it has since recovered. It was the town where the SAS killed three IRA members. The accusations of a British shoot-to-kill policy stemmed from this incident.

Cookstown (An Chorr Chríochach) has a population of 10,646 and was founded in 1609 by a planter called Alan Cooke. It is one of the main centres of the linen industry, as well as being home to something no Ulster fry-up would be complete without: Cookstown Sizzler sausages. During the 1960s and 1970s, these were advertised by a very famous family, the tagline 'The Best Family Sausage' having a double meaning as George Best and his family tucked into this superior product. A landmine just outside the town killed eight Protestant civilians as they returned from work at Lisnally Army Base in a minibus in 1992.

Dungannon (Dún Geanainn) has a population of 11,139 people, who have the distinction of living in an historic capital of Ireland. In the 1600s, Hugh O'Neill, King of Ireland, had his capital there. Dungannon is the home of Tyrone Crystal and a brick-making factory. The Royal School Dungannon was one of the schools chartered in 1608 by James I to ensure 'that there shall be one Free School at least appointed in every County, for the education of youth in learning and religion'.

Coalisland (Oileán an Ghuail) has 4,917 residents and, as the name suggests, was a centre for coalmining. In 1992, four men, all members of the provisional IRA, were shot in the carpark of a Roman Catholic Church in the town shortly after they had been involved in a machine gun attack on an army base.

Castlederg (Caisleán na Deirge) may only have 2,758 residents, but this village on the River Derg boosts a ruined castle and two ancient tombs: the Druid's Altar and Todd's Den.

Sport in Tyrone

Tyrone has twice won the All-Ireland GAA Football Final, bringing the Sam McGuire Trophy up north, once having beaten their neighbours and close rivals Armagh to do so.

They also boast a top-notch rugby team in Dungannon and had two senior football teams, Dungannon Swifts and Omagh Town. Omagh Town had the privilege of playing Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in one season to raise money for the victims of the Omagh Bombing. Sadly, the team announced they were folding at the end of the 2004 - 2005 season.

Sion Mills was the venue of Ireland's most impressive cricketing moments when, in July 1969, Ireland beat a touring West Indian team including Clive Lloyd, who was soon after to become a highly successful West Indies captain. Ireland bowled them out for 25 in the first innings, before scoring 125 for 8 declared. The match was scheduled for two innings in one day; however, if both could not be completed, the winner would be decided on the first innings. The West Indies only managed 78 for 4 before the end of the day in their second innings.

Bespectacled Dennis Taylor started the 1985 World Snooker Final by losing the first eight frames to Steve Davis. However, he pulled it back to trail at the end of the first day 7-9. Early on the second day, the Coalislander drew level at 11-11. Before, Steve pulled away again to take it to 17-15, needing just one more frame to win. The next two fell to Taylor before what is still the second-longest frame of ranking snooker got under way. Taylor was trailing 62-44 with only the last four colours remaining. However, he took the brown with an amazing shot, then a tricking blue and pink to be just three points behind. It was down to the final black. Both players played it twice before Davis gave Taylor a chance which he miscued. He walked away, thinking that the title had gone, but Davis overcut, giving Taylor a second chance and, after his fourth time in the match looking down and out, another chance to win. The pot went in at 12.26am on a Monday and 18.5 million people were still tuned into the BBC watching it.

Famous Figures from County Tyrone

  • The 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, has familial connections to Tyrone and his ancestral home near Strabane can still be visited.

  • Ulysses Simpson Grant, the 18th President, also came from a Tyrone farming background – this time near Ballygawley.

  • The printer of the first copies of the American Declaration of Independence, John Dunlap, was another man from Tyrone, born in Strabane.

  • On 17 April, 1969, 21-year-old Cookstown-born Bernadette Devlin became the youngest-ever female Member of Parliament, when she won a by-election for the Mid-Ulster seat.

  • Thomas James Clarke, who was the first signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, came from Dungannon; he was executed for his part in 1916 Easter Rising on 3 May, 1916.

  • No relation, but also from Dungannon, is Darren Clarke the golfer.

  • Dennis Taylor, who famously kept the nation up to become World Snooker Champion, comes from Coalisland.

  • Aston Villa footballer Aaron Hughes comes from Cookstown. Ivan Sproule of Hibernian was born in Castlederg.

  • Willie Anderson, the Irish rugby player and now coach, was born in Sixmilecross. Dungannon players were also present in the first-ever Irish International team.

  • Comedians Jimmy Cricket and Owen O'Neill both come from Cookstown.

  • For those of you up early enough to see him, Declan Curry, the BBC Breakfast finance correspondent, was born in Strabane.

  • Sam Neill, the New Zealand film actor most notable for his role in Jurassic Park, was actually born Nigel Neill in Omagh.

  • Brian Friel, the playwright of Philadelphia Here I Come!, was also born in Omagh. Flann O'Brien, a satirist and humourist who wrote as Brian O'Nolan (Brian Ó Nuallain) and Myles na gCopaleen, came from Strabane.

  • The novelist William Carleton was born in Prillisk, near Clogher.

  • Fintona is the place whence poets Wilson Guy and John Montague both come.

  • Jimmy Kennedy, who before Lennon and McCartney was the most successful British songwriter in America, was born in Omagh. Fellow songwriter and singer Paul Brady comes from Strabane.

  • Annie Scott Dill Maunder, née Russell was the second wife of Edward Walter Maunder and helped him with his work on sunspot activity. She was born in Strabane.

  • The grandfather of the first man to drive on the moon, James Irwin, came from the small Tyrone village of Pomeroy.

Places of Interest

There are two National Trust properties in Tyrone and both have industrial backgrounds:

Gray's Printing Press in Strabane is an 18th-Century printing press and museum. It was where John Dunlap learnt his trade before emigrating to America.

Wellbrook Beetling Mill, Cookstown is the last working beetling mill in Ireland. Beetling is the use of heavy wooden hammers pounding onto the linen clothe to provide the traditional finish.

Ulster History Park, Omagh, is an open-air look at 10,000 years of Ulster History through recreations of homes and monuments.

Ulster American Folk Park, Castletown, Omagh looks at the history of the emigration from Ulster to American in the 18th and 19th Centuries, through recreations of Ulster, and the ships that transported people and their arrival in America.

Other Places of Interest

  • Tyrone Crystal Visitor Centre, Dungannon
  • The Bog Museum, Coalisland
  • The Linen Green, Dungannon
  • Irish World Family History Services, Coalisland
  • Blessingbourne Carriage and Costume Museum, Fivemiletown
  • Sperrin Heritage Centre, Cranagh
  • Grant Ancestral Homestead, Ballygawley

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