Nestled in the midlands of Ireland, far from scenic coasts and mountains, County Offaly is rarely featured in the usual tourist itineraries. It is an off-the-beaten-path destination, certainly, but that doesn’t mean Co. Offaly is lacking in attractions. From castles and distilleries to the birthplace of President Obama’s third great grandfather, there’s an awful lot to see and do in Offaly. Indeed, to travel Ireland without stopping in the Faithful County for at least a day would be a mistake. The county even boast the greatest number of haunted castles in all of Ireland!
The following are our picks for the top five can’t-miss tourist attractions in Co. Offaly.
A 6th-century monastic settlement that has become the main attraction of County Offaly, Clonmacnoise is located beside the Shannon River at an historic crossroads of Ireland. Founded by St. Ciaran in 545 AD, it was a great center of learning for nearly 1,000 years until it was reduced to ruin in 1552 by an English garrison. Declared a national monument in 1955, it contains more than 200 points of interest including 10th century high crosses, a 62-foot round tower, and the grave of Rory O’Conor, last high king of Ireland. The grounds also offer a visitor center with exhibits and guided tours are provided.
Visitor information: www.heritageireland.ie
Tullamore Dew Visitor Center
Tullamore is the county town of Offaly, and Tullamore Dew is one of the most popular whiskeys of Ireland. If you’re a whiskey enthusiast the 45-minute guided tour of the Tullamore Dew Visitor Center, housed in the original Tullamore Dew Distillery on the Grand Canal, is a must. 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.
Visitor information: www.tullamoredew.com
Birr Castle and Gardens
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 most of 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 the tallest in the world.
Visitor information: birrcastle.com
Barack Obama Plaza
This is a funny attraction no matter what way you slice it, but an attraction it is nonetheless! In 2011, President Barack Obama visited the tiny town of Moneygall Co. Offaly, the birthplace of his third great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney. The town was abuzz for some time after, but instead of the town itself reaping the tourism benefits, all of the visitor attention has turned to Barack Obama Plaza, a rest stop just outside of the town.
In addition to a gas station, a Supermac’s, a Spar, and a Tim Horton’s, the plaza includes a tribute to President Obama, his Irish roots, and his most memorable visit.
Visitor information: barackobamaplaza.ie
Slieve Bloom Mountains
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) and a Storytelling Festival (October).
Visitor information: www.slievebloom.ie
Did we leave out your favorite place to visit in County Offaly? Let us know in the comment section!