Mullingar (An Muileann gCearr in Irish, meaning "the left-handed, or wry, mill") is the administrative centre of County Westmeath, Ireland and the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meath. Local government affairs are administered for the county from the town and county council buildings.
The town was originally named Maelblatha, and takes its modern name from a mill noted in the legend of Colman of Mullingar.
Mullingar now possesses amenities such as libraries, secondary schools, gymnasiums, snooker halls, internet-cafes, an Arts Centre, and railway station. The town had a tradition of cattle-trading up until 2003, when its cattle market was finally closed for development of a mixed commercial and residential scheme called the Market Point.
Mullingar is famous for the neighbouring lakes, Lough Owel and Lough Ennell, which attract many anglers, as well as Lough Derravaragh. Lough Derravaragh is best known for its connection with the Irish legend of the Children of Lir. Having being turned into swans, the four children of King Lir spent three hundred years on Lough Derravaragh before moving to other locations around Ireland. Lough Lene has a reputation for its clear water, historic ringforts, and wind-surfing.
In recent times one of Mullingar's major exports has become the items of pewterware produced by the firm of Mullingar Pewter located near the town. Genesis fine art is also produced locally and sold worldwide - one of its sculpures of the "Pilgrims" dominates the dispensary house at Austin Friars St where once there was an Augustinian Friary.
The town, as of 2006, is the most populated town in the Irish Midlands due in part to its increasing popularity as a commuter town. The current total zoned area within the town and environs is approximately 1,280 hectares, based on the Westmeath County Development Plan 2002-2008. This area therefore, is considerably less than the areas zoned in Athlone and Tullamore.
The town has two newspapers serving the community: The Westmeath Topic and the Westmeath Examiner.
Mullingar's commercial sector has expanded in recent years from just a few shops on the town's main thoroughfares - Oliver Plunkett Street, Austin Friars Street, and Mount Street - to several major shopping areas. There is an out-of-town retail park at Lakepoint (about a mile from the town centre), the Harbour Place shopping centre near the town centre and a new development at the Green - on the site of the former Avonmore and Pennys units.
The town has a mix of local retailers and chain stores (Tesco, Dunnes Stores, O2, Penneys, Lidl, SuperValu, Boots, Specsavers, Lifestyle Sports, Butterfly Kisses, Atlantic Homecare, Marks and Spencer and others). The town also has branches of all the major banks - AIB, Bank of Ireland, Halifax, Ulster Bank, National Irish Bank, Permanent TSB - and branches of First Active and EBS building societies. The town also has one of the country's largest Credit Unions (St Colemans Credit Union).
A Farmers' Market is held in Mullingar every Sunday and a further small market is run near Penneys/Marks and Spencer by The Green.
Other secondary schools include the Christian Brothers School for boys, Loreto College for girls and the Community College which is a co-educational school for boys and girls. The Community College also runs evening courses for adults and awards the FETAC certificates.
The nearby village of Multyfarnham has a boarding school for both boys and girls, Wilsons Hospital School serves many students from Mullingar.
Mullingar contains several industrial estates including Lough Sheever Corporate Park and the Lynn Industrial estate. Two of the towns major manufacturing plants - Penn tennis balls and Tarkett - both closed in the early 2000s causing many job losses. However newer industries have absorbed the job losses - including Capmark, Oakley, P.E.M. Engineering, Trend Technologies, Taconic International, and Mullingar Pewter which are all sizeable operations. The town is also home to a Van Nelle (Ireland) (a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco factory which has provided employment for many years.
Iralco, an automotive component manufacturer, is located nearby in Collinstown continues to provied employment to a skilled work force. The town recently won a €25m Lidl Warehouse and distribution center which will employ between 100 and 150. A new site for the IDA Business Park has been sited aloung the new N52 bypass. A major addition to the towns telecommunications infrastructure - a broadband network - was completed in 2004 - this is expected to increase the areas attractiveness to large multinational companies. Tesco Ireland had wanted to build a superstore in Lakepoint Retail addition to its current store but the local council turned this down.
A new shopping centre anchored by Marks and Spencer and Penneys has opened in the town, known as the Fairgreen Shopping centre. Additional tenants at the centre include UK fashion retailer New Look, Dorothy Perkins and Lifestyle Sports. Some feel a need for more retailers in Mullingar which has leaked millions of Euro of spending power from the area to surrounding retail centres such as Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown. The town's Council has great plans for the town centre with the predominantly retail led 'Central' scheme. It is expected to attract many national and international retailers into the area to capitalize on the town's growing population and its increasing popularity as a location with a high quality of life compared to many busy areas of Dublin.
Mullingar lies near the national primary route N4, the main Dublin - Sligo road, 79 km (49 miles) from the capital. The town is served by Bus Éireann services to Dublin,Athlone (where passengers can catch connecting buses), Sligo, Cavan, Tullamore and Ballina.
The town currently suffers from heavy afternoon traffic partially caused by a lack of off-street parking problem. The town is bypassed and a ring road has been completed in a bid to further alleviate traffic. A new road to Athlone is also in the planning stages.
The Midland Great Western Railway line to Mullingar from Dublin opened in stages from 1846 to 1848, arriving in Mullingar on 2 October 1848. This was to a temporary station, adjacent to the greyhound stadium. The original mainline ran from Dublin (Broadstone Station) to Galway via Mullingar and Athlone, the Mullingar to Galway section opening in August 1851. The present station opened with the branch line to Longford on 14 December 1855.
There were two secondary stations in Mullingar, Canal Crossing cattle bank was on the Sligo Line and on the Athlone Line, Newbrook racecourse had its own station. This was unique in that it was a two platformed station with both platforms on the Down Line.
Nowadays, the line northwest to Longford and Sligo is the mainline, Galway is accessed from Heuston Station via Portarlington and the line between Mullingar and Athlone is currently disused. Mullingar station is served by national rail company Iarnród Éireann's Arrow commuter services to Dublin and InterCity trains to/from Sligo.
The Midland Regional Hospital at Mullingar serves the entire Longford-Westmeath area. A large extension was built in the early 1990s to accommodate the ever-increasing population. A change in government, however, halted investment and the extension lay as an empty shell until late 2006 when funding was finally secured to ensure its completion.
There are several other hospitals in the town: St Loman's, which provides psychiatric services to all of the Irish Midlands; St Mary's, a care centre for older people; and the St Francis Private Hospital.
Mullingar's main tourist attractions are its lakes - Lough Owel, Lough Lene and Lough Ennell - which are popular with anglers - and Belvedere House and Gardens which is heavily promoted for its beauty. The town has several hotels - including the Greville Arms Hotel, Annebrook House Hotel, Bloomfield House Hotel, Newbridge Hotel and the 4 star Mullingar Park Hotel which houses a conference centre.
The town is also known for its connections to Irish author James Joyce, who was an occasional visitor to Mullingar during his youth. Joyce's father, John, was a civil servant posted from Dublin to compile an electoral register of Mullingar and the surrounding townlands. He often stayed in the Greville Arms Hotel.
Columb Barracks is a major military base in the county comprising of the 4th Field Artillery Regiment and the HQ of the 54 Reserve Field Artillery Regiment (Army Reserve) formally the FCA (9 FAR).
The Mullingar Town Band was founded in 1879 by Fr. Polland as a Holy Family Confraternity Band. The local Military Barracks supplied many of the early members who themselves were serving members of the British Regimental bands stationed in Mullingar. Many of the members of these bands settled in the town and joined the band. The Mullingar Confraternity Band remained under the auspices of the Confraternity until the 1940s when it was handed over to a committee who continued under the title of Mullingar Brass and Reed Band. And thus it remained until membership had dwindled to 3 or 4 members in 1957 when the present Director Hubert Magee was asked to take the helm. In 1979 the centenary was celebrated with a membership of 100 - one member for every year of the band's existence.
The band has a dual role of marching band - The Celtic Crusaders - and a concert band which has won some of the top awards in Ireland, Northern Ireland and England. Entirely voluntary, it is maintained financially by membership fees and fundraising. Every four years since 1974 both the Celtic Crusaders and Concert Band attend the International Youth Band Festival in Pumerend, Holland. In 2004 the band completed a successful exchange with the Cardinal Gibbons High School Band, Raleigh, North Carolina and the band travelled to Midsomer Norton, England in July 2006 for the Open European Championships, bringing home four gold medals, including a gold with distinction in the senior concert section for the first time.
When programmed, greyhound track racing occurs upon the Lynn Greyhound track on Friday evenings, beginning at
20:00. For television broadcasting purposes, races are witerlaced with those from Shelbourne Dublin.
The Mullingar Dragons were formed in 2007 and play in the North Eastern Basketball League. In July 2008 a Women's team was added to the already established Men's team.
The Westmeath Civil Defence headquarters are now located in the County Council lands at Cullionbeg just off the N4 at the Castlepollard exit off the Motorway in Mullingar. They operate several vehicles to be deployed as required in Mullingar and Westmeath.