Castlerea is the second largest town in Roscommon in terms of population, with 3,055 people recorded in the 2011 census. Its name comes from the Irish 'Caisleán Riabach', which means 'brindled castle' (a castle that is dark and streaked with grey). It can also mean 'King's Castle' from the Irish 'Ri' meaning king.
The area has a fascinating history with European links that go back thousands of years. The O'Connor Clan, last High Kings of Ireland were based at Clonalis House, just outside the town. The family can be traced back to Feredach the Just in 75 AD and is the oldest is recorded European history. The mansion house was built in 1878 and contains approximately 100,000 volumes of family archives in its library.
The Sanford family took over from the O'Connors and also had a huge influence on the area. Theophilus Sanford obtained land, that was taken from the O'Connor clan, as a reward for his efforts during civil wars in England in the 17th century. Under the Sandfords Castlerea House, a distillery, brewery and tannery were built. The distillery was particularly successful, producing over 20,000 gallons of whiskey a year. The family eventually lost its hold on the estate and surrounds in the 20th century and the desmesne is now a public park.
Castlerea has been the birthplace of a number of key figures in Irish history and society. Dr Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland was born in Longford House and Sir William Wilde, noted surgeon and father of Oscar Wilde was also born in the town. More recent notable natives include 'Irish Times' writer John Waters and TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.