Birr Castle and Gardens
In 1845 the third Earl of Rosse, William Parsons, built the largest telescope in the world which made the first accurate mappings of the moon. Its outer case is on show at Birr Castle. The telescope had a mirror 72 inches in diameter and remained the largest in the world for around 75 years (the mirror is now in the Museum of Science in London). The fourth Earl, Laurence Parsons was also an innovative scientist and made the first accurate measurement of the temperature on the moon and discovered the existence of spiral galaxies. The Fourth Earl’s younger brother Charles, invented the first steam turbine used in British battleships. The Third Earl’s wife, Mary was also a pioneering photographer. The Earls of Rosse still live in Birr Castle but the 50 hectare grounds which have an artificial lake with a suspension bridge, box hedges and plants from all over the world are open to the public.
Clara Bog, a 655 hectare area of raised bog near Banagher has been preserved by the Office of Public Works and so has not become fuel for the peat burning electricity generation factories of the state run Bord na Mona. Many interesting species of plants can be found in the bog including sundews, (Ireland’s tiny version of the Venus fly trap), bog cotton and orchids. The Bog of Allen which stretches into County Kildare and Boora Bog also cover large areas of County Offaly.
Clonmacnoise Monastic Site
The large Clonmacnoise monastery was one of the most important in Ireland between the 7th and 12th centuries when monks from all over Europe came here to study during the Dark Ages. It was founded by Saint Kieran around 545AD in a pivotal position between the kingdoms of medieval Ireland.
Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway
The Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway run 45 minute train rides on a narrow gauge railway through the Blackwater Bog. The service is run by Bord na Mona, the government run peat burning power station board, who are fast pulling up the remaining turf in the Bog.
Charleville Forest Castle
Asymmetric Georgian Gothic mansion with turrets and a high surrounding wall in grounds with a grotto and forest walks, just outside Tullamore.
Large Norman towerhouse with fortified walls which was stronghold of the McCoghlans, on the edge of Banagher. The private owner run tours of the castle which is decorated with period fixtures from May to September.
Ruins of a monastery founded by Saint Colmcille (also known as Saint Columba), in the 6th century with a high cross, church, graveyard, and ruined mansion near Tullamore. The illuminated manuscript copy of the Gospel, the Book of Durrow was written here and can now be viewed in Trinity College Dublin.
The very ruined 15th century Leap Castle near Birr was a strategic stronghold of the O’Carroll family in the valley which divided Munster and Leinster. It was reputed to be haunted before being destroyed during the Irish Civil War in 1922. The Irish poet WB Yeats was one of many people who wrote about Leap Castle’s smelly ghost.
Slieve Bloom Mountains
Attractive range of hills named the Mountains of Bladhma after the Celtic warrior who hid there, with scenic drives and walking trails. Mount Alderin (1735 feet) is the highest peak and has panoramic views in all directions. Particularly scenic areas of the mountains are at Glenbarrow where there are waterfalls on the River Barrow and the Glendine Park, the Cut Pass and the road from Mountmellick to Birr in County Offaly via Kinnitty. The Slieve Bloom Way is a 35 mile walking trail which completely surrounds the mountain range which starts at Glenbarrow and goes through the scenic Glendine Gap pass (1385 feet). The Slieve Bloom Interpretative Centre is on the N62 near Birr. It also runs activities including canoeing, windsurfing and rock climbing. Birr Riding Centre offers pony trekking.