For those tourists contemplating a last minute visit to a part of Ireland where commercialisation and the 'hard-sell' have yet to gain a foothold, who wish to take-in country walks, historic remnants and where nothing much happens or changes and the local population is thin on the ground - then County Tyrone fits the bill.
History lies at the heart of Tyrone, for it is the land of the O'Neills, who ruled Ulster from their seats in Omagh, Dungannon and Cookstown for centuries. Isolated geographically by bog, lake and mountains Ulster, in particular Tyrone, was a key centre of Gaelic resistance to English rule. When Conn O'Neill received the English title Earl of Tyrone in the mid 16 th century he followed Gaelic tradition and chose his youngest son Shane to succeed him. In 1562, Shane O'Neill was summoned to Elizabeth I's court and the two cultures met in mutual incomprehension.
Shane returned to Co. Tyrone, was murdered within 6-months by the MacDonnells and his head sent to Dublin as a mark of loyalty to the English crown. Shane's nephew Hugh O'Neill, partially anglicised, returned from England in 1585 as second Earl of Tyrone, but soon ‘went native'. In 1601, Hugh's Gaelic armies were crushed by Lord Mountjoy at the Battle of Kinsale, and he was forced to sign a treaty compelling him to adopt English laws, language and dress; Ulster was divided into 9 counties and English rule enforced. In 1607, Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone led the Flight of the Earls from Ireland and James I of England filled the power vacuum with ‘plantation' towns throughout Ulster, giving control of Tyrone to Protestant immigrants from England and Scotland. The Great Rebellion of 1641 began in Co. Tyrone with Phelin O'Neill's capture of Dungannon and Cookstown and many settlers were massacred across Ulster by hungry and dispossessed Catholics - this in turn gave Oliver Cromwell justification for his own slaughter of Catholics "the righteous judgement of God". Ulster and Tyrone returned to the control of planters.
The principal scenic attractions of Co. Tyrone are found in the wild and desolate Sperrin Mountains to the north; rich in wildlife the Sperrin range is an ideal place for determined, lonesome walking. Tyrone has no shortage of archaeological remains, stone circles and cairns abound both prehistoric and Celtic, the most remarkable being the Beaghmore Stone Circles in the southwest of the Sperrins.
The county town of Omagh, along with Cookstown, Dungannon and Strabane are the only sizable towns in the county, agreeable enough but not overly attractive. Some of their smaller neighbours, the county's plantation settlements, are more appealing. These include the picturesque villages of Castlederg, Newtonstewart and Sion Mills, as well as the tiny hamlets of the Sperrins.
There are a number of heritage centres around the county celebrating the historic connections between Ulster and America, the most exceptional of which is the excellent Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh.