Located in the geographic centre of Ireland, County Offaly is representative of the heart of the Midlands. It is a peaceful and restorative slice of Ireland, with rolling meadows of colourful wildflowers and windswept bogs, interrupted here and there by the ancient ruins of an abbey, church or fortified settlement from an era long past.
Although County Offaly is largely rural, its smaller towns and village provide all of the amenities most sought after by visitors.
Situated in the basin of the River Shannon, several smaller rivers and streams criss-cross the Offaly landscape as they make their way into Ireland’s largest flowing body of water. The Grand Canal flows through on its way to Shannon Harbour, while the Slieve Bloom Mountains rise along the southern border of County Offaly, adding a sense of drama to the pastoral scenery.
County Offaly Highlights
To experience the wild and beautiful landscape of County Offaly, a visit to Lough Boora Discovery Park is a must. An exploration of these large, family-friendly parklands takes visitors deep into the unique beauty of the Irish Bog, while offering explanation of its deeper value to local people, plants and animals over the centuries. Continue to explore the natural wonders of the Irish Midlands and County Offaly by taking in the secluded beauty of The Silver River Geological Reserve, complete with ancient rock formations and exotic plant life.
There are numerous places to discover County Offaly’s rich history, most famous among them is Clonmacnoise, where ancient ruins of St. Ciaran’s 545 A.D. monastic complex sit at the former crossroads of the entire country. A unique heritage centre tells the story of the complex cultural history of the site. Other ancient religious artefacts can be explored at Rahan and Tihilly, where crosses, slabs and other structures bear the unique markings and carvings of their long gone creators.
Birr Castle Demesne and Science Centre displays the tools used by generations of the Parsons family to study science and engineering. It features beautiful gardens, an historic castle and the National Birds of Prey Centre.
The town of Tullamore is the administrative centre of County Offaly, and is a thriving centre for commerce that offers a retail park, dining and entertainment. It is also home to the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre, dedicated to the historic distilling process of the world famous whiskey of the same name. Visitors can observe distillery in action and taste a sample of the finished product.
County Offaly History
Evidence indicating that humans lived in County Offaly dating back as far as 6000 B.C. has been discovered, much of it during the process of excavation for the man made lakes at Boora Parklands. Various Bronze Age settlements and gold artefacts have also surfaced over the years.
In 1557, County Offaly was officially founded, with more lands added to its boundaries in 1570 and 1605. Originally called King’s County, the name was changed in 1920 to County Offaly in honour of the O’Connor Faly family, who were holders of most of the original property. The name change was a gesture of honor to the region’s Gaelic heritage as the 1919-1921 Irish War for Independence was being waged.
The current population of County Offaly is approximately 60,000. Before the Famine arrived in 1845, there were an estimated 150,000 citizens, many of which were lost to death and emigration.
Popular Offaly Surnames
Charleville Castle, County Offaly by Irish Fireside