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Westmeath

Skylark Alauda arvensis ©Sue & Andy Tranter

County Westmeath is a county situated in the Irish midlands, also popularly called the "Lake county" in the western part of the province of Leinster. Area: 1,764 km². The county was once part of the ancient province of Meath and later of County Meath. This association ended in 1543 when County Westmeath was created under the Counties of Meath and Westmeath Act.

Westmeath has traditionally been an agricultural economy - particularly associated with high quality beef production and horse breeding. Urban development centred on market centres like Mullingar, Moate, and Kinnegad. Athlone developed due to its critical military significance in the 1500s, as it was located where the main East-West route crossed the Shannon. Mullingar got considerable advantage from the development of the Royal Canal making possible bulk transport to Dublin, and the sea. Both Athlone and Mullingar developed further in significance with the construction of the Irish railway network.

Tourism in Westmeath is centred on its water amenities. The county has lakes such as Lough Derravaragh, Lough Ennell, Lough Lene, Lough Owel and Lough Ree. Both the Grand Canal, and the Royal Canal go through Westmeath, and the Shannon (Ireland's key tourism waterway) has a considerable inland harbour in Athlone.

The development of industry in Westmeath was based on food processing and consumer products. Whiskey production in Kilbeggan, tobacco processing in Mullingar, and the meat trade were prominent. In recent times, the drug company élan has located in Athlone. The district to the East of Mullingar is now part of the commuter belt serving the technology parks on the western side of Dublin, proving popular with people who wish to work in Leixlip, County Kildare.

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