It’s often easy to overlook County Offaly in Ireland’s midlands, a region rich in history but woefully underrepresented on the tourist maps that tend to focus on the rugged western and southern coasts or the picturesque urban east. But while it may be a little off the beaten path, County Offaly offers some rich cultural experiences and natural splendor. The best part is that you’ll mostly have these sites all to yourself.
SLIEVE BLOOM MOUNTAINS
These mountains lie very near the geographic center of Ireland and rise from the island’s central plains to a height of over 1,700 feet. Though not the tallest in Ireland, they contain one of the most extensive hiking trails in the country and are some of the least explored ranges. With 36 miles of hiking trails, you could spend days wandering around the mountain forests, rivers, and waterfalls. In the fall, the leaves begin to change color and fall, carpeting the ground in beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows. And no matter the season, once you reach the top, the 360º views of the Irish midlands are breathtaking.
CLARA BOG NATURE RESERVE
The Clara Bog is one of Ireland’s most famous natural wonders, and here, a .6-mile boardwalk allows visitors to explore the beauty of the midlands’ terrain. In fact, the bog is one of the best-preserved bog lands in all of Europe, where it is said you can experience 10,000 years of history in as many square kilometers. Visitors will also be able to see the extensive wildlife the bog supports, including dragonflies, lizards, butterflies, a range of small birds, and beautiful wildflowers.
Home of Tullamore Dew, the distillery in the town of Tullamore lies along the southern bank of the Grand Canal in the center of town. The canal itself runs all the way to Dublin and the Irish Sea, and was the favored mode of transportation for Tullamore Dew since the company was founded in 1829. Inside the distillery, visitors are treated to a comprehensive tour that explains the history of the company and whiskey distilling in Ireland, as well as a complimentary tasting at the end of each tour. Afterwards, explore the quaint town of Tullamore itself for a bite to eat, or start walking along the canal, all the way to Dublin.
Birr Castle is one of the grandest sites in County Offaly, comprising 50 acres of gardens, waterways, and a modern science center, where guests can learn all about photography, astronomy, engineering, and more. The science center is internationally famed for its Great Telescope, which has awed visitors since its construction in 1845, when it was the largest telescope in the world, a record it held for the next 75 years!
The gardens have been religiously tended and nurtured over the past 150 years, and include plants and trees from all over the world. Plus, its extensive water features, including a waterfall, rivers, and a lake, offer the tranquility of the sound of rushing streams wherever you turn.
Founded in 544, Clonmacnoise is less a monastery than a ruined city center. Preserved in a state of arrested ruin, the complex is one of the most extensive monastic sites in the entire country, complete with several churches (including a modern chapel), Celtic high crosses, round towers, and a graveyard. For anyone looking for a piece of ancient Irish art and architecture, there’s no better place to visit.
TRAVEL ACCESSORIES FROM SHAMROCKGIFT.COM
Guinness Luggage Tag
The worst thing in the world is watching hundreds of similar-looking bags circle on the airport conveyor belt when you’re already exhausted from a long flight. Guinness is happy to help all traveling beer fans by designing a sleek Guinness luggage tag in the shape of your favorite black beer.
Green Ireland Backpack
Literally carry your love of the Emerald Isle on your back with this Ireland Backpack! This piece comes in a lovely green color and features ‘Ireland’ across the front at the top in a white hand-written script. Dotting the ‘I’ in ‘Ireland’ is a cheerful, hand-scribbled green shamrock.
Black Umbrella With Ireland & Shamrock Print
Stay dry outside on rainy days with some cheerful Irish style with this Black Ireland & Shamrock Print Umbrella. This umbrella comes in a versatile black color that will match with anything, whether it’s with a colorful raincoat, sweater, or jacket. It also comes with a black handle and black strap that is convenient for hanging it out to dry or for storage.
Paddy Bear Travel Pillow
This comfortable travel pillow is adorned with the ever-adorable Paddy Bear. On one side of the pillow, he stands in front of a rustic white sign that reads “Ireland,” ready to welcome anyone with the love of St. Patrick’s Day.