Hi Everyone. I hope I find you all well as our Virtual Tour of Ireland continues. This week, we arrive in County Offaly in the heart of the Irish midlands which shares a border with 7 other counties. This largely flat landscape is notable for its large expanses of bogland. It was in County Offaly that an Iron Age bog body was found in 2003. Named Old Croghan Man, is now on display at the National Museum of Ireland.
County Offaly Highlights
First up we’re off to the ancient monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise. It dates back to the 6th century and was founded by St. Ciaran. The ruins of a cathedral, 2 round towers and no less than 7 churches still remain. Clonmacnoise also boasts the largest collection of slab grave stones in Europe and some stunning examples of stone Celtic crosses.
2. Leap Castle
So next up we’re off to the first of two castle visits in County Offaly. Leap castle dates back to the 13th century and was constructed by the O’Bannon clan. Today it is owned and occupied by the musician Sean Ryan and has achieved notoriety as Ireland’s most haunted castle. It has featured on TV series Most Haunted and Ghost Adventures. Reported sightings include the Red Lady who walks through the castle with a dagger and two children, Charlotte and Emily, who haunt the spiral staircase.
3. Slieve Bloom Mountains
Although most of County Offaly is flat, the landscape rises upward to the Slieve Bloom mountains, linking the county with neighboring County Laois. The highest peak stands at 527 meters and this is the perfect place for a mountain hike through classic picturesque Irish countryside. If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, you can see high points in all 4 of Ireland’s ancient provinces.
4. Birr Castle
Time for our second castle visit and this one is a real treat. There has been a castle on this site going all the way back to 1170. Today it is the residence of the 7th Earl of Rosse. The beautiful gardens are open to the public and boast the tallest box hedges in the world which are some 300 years old. The wrought iron bridge is the oldest in Ireland and there’s also a beautifully restored telescope which dates back to 1845.
5. Bellefield Gardens
We end our journey in another garden which is an absolute must-see on any trip to County Offaly. Bellefield is listed as one of Ireland’s 10 Best Gardens. It features 2 acres of beautifully planted walled gardens and woodland area with a stunning spring show and one of the largest snowdrop collections in Ireland. Pop along for a garden visit or book into one of their idyllic holiday cottages. A truly blissful place.
As always, it’s great to have your company on the virtual road! Join me next time for a trip to County Laois.
Take care of yourselves and each other,
Slán go fóill!