The Top 10 attractions of County Offaly
2. Birr – A blend of Georgian squares and tree-lined malls, this is a “heritage town” (www.heritagetowns.com/birr.shtml) of well-preserved 18th century architecture. Birr is considered to be in the exact center of Ireland, making it convenient to travel to/from all directions. From August 13-20, the town will be hosting the annual Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival (www.birrvintageweek.com).
3. Birr Castle & Demesne (www.birrcastle.com), Birr – For over 400 years, this property has been the private residence of the Earl & Countess of Rosse (Parsons family) who still occupy it and it is considered to be Ireland’s oldest inhabited home. 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 hornbeam alleys and box hedges are featured in The Guinness Book of Records as the tallest in the world.
4. Historic Science Centre (www.birrcastle.com/historicScienceCentre.asp), Birr – Located in the restored stables of Birr Castle, this museum spotlights Ireland's great contributions to science, from astronomy and photography to the invention of the steam turbine engine. Browse through original artifacts, photographs, drawings, letters, and learn from interactive models, audiovisuals, and interpretative displays. The galleries here show a much-underrated side of Ireland. It's a fascinating place to visit on a rainy (or a sunny) day.
5. Slieve Bloom Mountains (www.slievebloom.ie) – A vast mountain park with 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 including “a carpet of bluebells” in May. Annual events include the Slieve Bloom Walking Festival (May 1-4) and a Storytelling Festival (October12-16).
6. Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre (www.tullamoredew.com/heritage-centre), Tullamore – To learn more about Irish whiskey, take a 45-minute guided tour of this visitor centre, housed in the original Tullamore Dew Distillery on the Grand Canal. You’ll also learn how Tullamore Dew got its name, using the initials of one of the 19th century whiskey-makers (Daniel E. Williams). At the end of the tour, a sample of Tullamore Dew awaits all adult visitors.
7. Lough Boora Parklands (www.loughbooraparklands.com) – This is a vast open bog parkland between Birr and Tullamore, with looped walks, fishing lakes, wildlife sanctuaries, and a 50-acre outdoor sculpture trail.
8. Leap Castle, Clareen – situated south of Birr, this old fortress, once the home of the O’Carroll clan, is considered as “the most haunted castle in Ireland.” It is open to visitors by request (tel. 057-913-1115)
9. Charleville Castle – located about one mile south of Tullamore, this castle is a fine 19th century gothic-revival building set in Charleville Forest. A majestic oak tree on the grounds is the oldest in Ireland. It is the setting each year for the Castle Palooza Music Festival (www.castlepalooza.com). This year’s dates are July 31 & August 1.