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County Westmeath is located in the Republic, at the centre of the island of Ireland. It was made an official county in 1541, when it was separated from Meath. Athlone and Mullingar are its two main towns, the latter is the official county town. Westmeath is home to a number of large lakes - amongst them are Lough Derravargh, famed site of the legend of the Children of Lir, and Lough Ree, which is part of the River Shannon.
The area was part of the Anglo-Norman conquests and the countryside contains many ruins of towers, castles and mottes from this time. (The town of Moate takes its name from a nearby motte-and-bailey.) Elsewhere is Fore Abbey, the largest group of Benedictine remains in Ireland. With a history dating back to 630AD, the abbey was founded by St. Fechin. The current ruins consist of a 13th century Benedictine Priory, an anchorite cell and St. Fechin's Church.
The county also plays host to an old pot still Irish malt whiskey distillery, dating back to 1757. The old building has recently been restored by the local community and re-opened as Locke's Distillery Museum. The idea of the museum is to show visitors how whiskey was produced in times past and to act as a testament to the distillery's two hundred year operating history, and to the people of the time that worked in it.
The history of the town of Mullingar dates back to the Anglo-Normans, in the 11th century. Through the Middle Ages it was mainly a market town, trading in livestock, wool and linen. In more recent times, the town's proximity to Dublin has ensured its continued growth and prosperity.