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One of the four counties of central Ireland, which together make up the Irish Midlands, County Offaly nestles between the River Shannon and the Slieve Bloom Mountains on the border with Laois; the Grand Canal flows through the county on its way between Dublin in the east and the River Shannon in the west, and the county is comprised extensively of wetland, bog and peatlands. Over a fifth of the county is made up of peatlands, and the area to the north west of Offaly acts as a flood plain for the River Shannon. As might be expected, such a landscape makes it a haven for wildlife, most notably including the largest Irish population of the Grey Partridge, and it is also a well established conservation area for Wild Trout.
Things to do in Offaly
Tullamore – The county town of Offaly, Tullamore once played host to the World Sheep Dog Trials. Rather bizarrely, the town’s Tullamore Annual Phoenix Festival celebrates the world’s first aviation disaster (the 1785 hot air balloon disaster) with a variety of extreme sports on offer to the braver visitor, including sky diving and hot air ballooning, as well as the more traditional attractions of outdoor concerts, fireworks and street entertainment. O’Connor Park is an important sports stadium, and the ground is regularly used by both Gaelic football and hurling teams.
Charleville Castle – Situated within some of Ireland’s most ancient, primordial oak woods, and bordering the town of Tullamore, Charleville Castle is one of the finest Gothic-style castles in the country. Now run by a charitable trust, the Castle hosts events throughout the year, including music and dance festivals, and various heritage days.
Shannonbridge – Surrounded by an important nature conservation area, known as the Shannon Callows, the village of Shannonbridge takes its name from the dramatic, multi-arched river crossing, which dates from 1757, and connects County Offaly to County Roscommon.
Lough Boora – Archaeology discovered on the shores of the lake dates back more than 8,000 years to the Mesolithic period, and this historically important area now makes up part of the extensive Lake Boora Parklands, which offer visitors more than 50km of walkways, which criss-cross 2,000 hectares of wildlife nature reserve and an innovative sculpture park. The sculpture parklands include pieces by both Irish and international artists, many of the structures specially commissioned, with both permanent and temporary displays; the project also aims at building a strong awareness of the importance of the arts in the local community.
Clonmacnoise – One of the most important monastic settlements in Ireland, due in part to its strategic geographical location, during the first millennium Clonmacnoise was a well established centre of learning for Christianity, as well as being an important site for arts and crafts. The area also enjoys the presence of an amazing range of fine religious buildings and high crosses; these include a Romanesque church and round tower (known respectively as Tower Finghin and McCarthy’s Tower), a fine selection of other churches (Temple Connor, Temple Kelly, Temple Melaghlin, Temple Dowling, Temple Hurpan and Temple Ciarán), O’Rourke’s Tower, three extant crosses and, of course, the Cathedral, which dates from around 909 AD and is the largest of the churches at Clonmacnoise.
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