While County Offaly may not be the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, amidst the heather bogs and along the river Shannon, it has many hidden gems which are well worth the visit. Our Group Air Manager, Vivienne, hails from Offaly and visited many of these tourist attractions while growing up. Below are her top five destinations not to be missed during a visit to Offaly and the surrounding counties.
Offaly's number one tourist attraction is a 6th century monastic settlement along the banks of the River Shannon. Founded by St. Ciaran in 545 AD, it was a great center of learning for nearly 1,000 years and was a virtual city until reduced to ruin in 1552. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th -13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe. The grounds also offer a visitor center with exhibits and guided tours provided.
2. Birr Castle & Demesne
Ireland's oldest inhabited home has been the private residence of the Earl & Countess of Rosse (Parsons family) who still occupy it. Although the castle is not open to the public, visitors are welcome to explore the 100-acre gardens and a six-foot reflecting telescope developed by an earlier Earl of Rosse in 1845. The gardens are filled with more than 1,000 species of trees and shrubs. The horn beam alleys and box hedges are featured in The Guinness Book of Records.
The quaint village of Moneygall, Co. Offaly is home to the ancestors of the forty-fourth President, Barack Obama. Visited by the President in May 2011, the village became a popular tourist attraction in the area. Small but unique, with one church, a post office, five shops, and two pubs the warm and welcoming environment is well worth the visit. A pint of creamy Irish Guinness is to be enjoyed in Ollie Hayes’ Bar, where the president and his wife met the locals, enjoyed some Irish traditional music and even helped to pull a pint.
4. Slieve Bloom Mountains
If the wonder and awe of nature is more of your cup of tea, then a walk up through the hills and hallows of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is not to be missed. Situated in both Offaly and Laois, the picturesque Slieve Bloom Mountains allow visitors to experience and to explore the largest continuous area of upland blanket bog and forestry in Ireland. Highlights include eco-trails, forest paths and a sign-posted walk known as The Slieve Bloom Way. Wildflowers bloom year-round and annual events include the Slieve Bloom Walking Festival and a Storytelling Festival.
5. Tullamore D.E.W Visitor Centre
You cannot leave Offaly without dropping into the Tullamore Visitor Center. It is the second largest Irish whiskey brand in the world, selling more than 750,000 cases worldwide and growing at over 15% annually over the last few years. Set in the original 19th century bonded warehouse, the new visitor center is located on the banks of the Grand Canal. Drop in and get a guided tour, and if eligible try some of Ireland’s finest whiskey.