Offaly (Uibh Fhaili)
Located in the centre of Ireland, parts of County Offaly lie on the banks of the Shannon while other parts are made up of the beautiful Slieve Bloom mountain range.
These mountains provide a welcome diversion in the predominately flat Midlands and, with its blanket bogs and lush forests, offers the ideal environment for a range of activities.
The Shannon river has played an important role in the history of the county. Merchants from Gaule came by boat to sell wine while the Danes travelled along the Shannon until they reached Clonmacnoise.
Clonmacnoise is a medieval monastery founded by St. Ciaran in 545-548. Famous for its scholarship and piety, it thrived from the 7th to the 12th century.
Many kings of Tara and of Connaught were buried there. Today, a group of stone churches, a cathedral, two round towers and three High Crosses remain.
Birr Castle and its one hundred acre demesne is an excellent example of early 17th century architecture. The demesne is a world famous garden, park and arboretum with more than 1000 different species of trees and shrubs and also boasts the giant 72-inch reflecting telescope built in 1845.
The town of Birr, a gentrified estate town, grew up in the shadow of the castle where the Earls of Rosse have lived for almost four centuries.
Birr is famous for its authentic Georgian layout, with houses sporting original fanlights, door panelling and iron railings. Before leaving Offaly, take a trip on the Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway.
The 45-minute tour covers 6 miles of bogland and gives a fascinating insight into the history and development of the Blackwater raised bogs – an area of significant ecological importance.