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Aran Inspired

Slieve Bloom Mountains

Beautiful, surprising, haunting and peaceful, Ireland's Slieve Bloom Mountains are a hillwalker's paradise. The mountain range forms a broad elongated dome, extending for almost 25km in a north-easterly/south-westerly direction on the Laois/Offaly border, near the centre of the Irish Republic. Rising from a flat central plain, the mountains provide great panoramic views of the surrounding midlands, though the range never exceeds 610m. Now a Government-protected area, the bog-covered Slieve Bloom National Nature Reserve extends some 2100 hectares over the peaks of Arderin (the highest), Wolftrap, Carnahinch, Barna and Knockachorra mountains and the Ridge of Capard.

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This ancient monastic centre was built at the very centre of Ireland, its location was chosen by St. Ciaran in 545 A.D. It is believed that he made his decision based on the site’s strategic location – the crossroads of the country’s road and river system at the time. Before the Vikings invaded, there were no villages or towns in Ireland, and Clonmacnoise was the busiest and most populous settlement in the country. Today, the remains of the intriguing Clonmacnoise monastic complex, often considered the most important religious site in Ireland, consist of the ruins of groups of small, simple churches and burial sites.

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Charleville Forest Castle

The castle is open to the public and is currently funded by a charitable trust under the direction of Dudley Stuart. It occupies 30 acres of land that includes gardens as well as densely wooded areas. The castle building was designed by Francis Johnston, and Charles Bury was the original owner. Johnston was responsible for several classic Georgian buildings in Dublin, including the General Post Office. The exterior of the building is dominated by stately turrets and a flag tower, and features many mullioned windows. A large window located above the main entrance is the focal point of the façade. Inside, the rooms are gigantic, including the dining room designed by William Morris that still bears its original stenciled wallpaper.

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Birr Castle Demesne

Birr Castle in County Offaly is a magnificent old castle that has been the private family home of the Parsons family since the early 17th century. Unfortunately, as it is a private residence, the interior isn't open to the public. You may, however, visit Birr's “demesne” -- an old word used to describe the lands surrounding the castle. Unlike some other castle grounds, Birr demesne is not free, but it is a delightful demesne, particularly if you've got kids.

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Durrow High Cross

The High Cross at Durrow, Co. Offaly, was part of a monastery founded by St. Columba in 553 with aid from Aedh, the son of Prince Brendan. It, along with a holy well, is all that remains of this early Christian settlement. The cross is located just outside the County town of Tullamore, in Offaly.

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Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre

Located in an old warehouse, part of the original Tullamore distillery, this visitors centre shows how a blended Irish whiskey was produced. Tullamore Dew whiskey, and its sister product, Irish Mist whiskey liquer, are well-known throughout Ireland and around the world. Today, the centre is museum rather than a working distillery -- no whiskey is produced in the midlands town that gave it its name (Tullamore Dew is now made in Dublin). Nevertheless, visitors to Tullamore centre will have lots to see -- including much of the original machinery, pots, caskets and stills that were used in the distillation process. The centre is situated alongside the canal, where ships would once be loaded with their cargo of whiskey.

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Gallen Church and Cross Slabs

Gallen priory (church) sits on the original site of a monastery that was established in 492. A group of Welsh monks restored the community after its buildings were burned in 820. They operated a school at this location for many years afterward. Today, there is a church from the 13th century located there, along with a group of rare cross slabs from the early Christian period. The slabs probably date back to the 8th to 11th century. Quite a few of then have been used in the rebuilding of the church, attached to the gables.

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Rahan Churches

 There are two churches on this site, portions of which date back to the 15th century. The first, a roofed church – was originally built during the 12th century, although few of the oldest parts remain visible. It was built in the shape of a cross, but only the center beam survives. The remains contain some striking Romanesque features in the chancel, including an arch that is decorated with ornamental sculptures of heads. The east wall of the chancel once contained an original 13th century window, recently replaced by a modern one. Also during the 13th century, a vault was added, along with a special chamber above the altar.

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Tihilly Church and High Cross

Saint Fintan began a monastery here and then went on to Slieve Margy, leaving the community in the care of a nun called Cera. She died in 670, and records indicate that the monastery also burned during that year. It was rebuilt, and records cite a man named Robbartach as the last abbot to serve in the year 936. Today, a single church survives on the site, made almost entirely of the stones of churches past. A High Cross stands nearby, on a round pedestal, dating back to the 9th century. It features carvings of Adam and Eve and the Crucifixion on the face that points westward. Animal and geometric motifs, as well as interlacing patterns, decorate the remaining panels.

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The Silver River Geological Reserve

 The landscape formations of Silver River Gorge at Cadamstown were formed by the sea and rivers millions of years ago. The name of the river in Gaelic was Abha Airgid, which translates as “the Money River”. It was named from the silver particles that appear downstream from the limestone rock near its source. The area is relatively untouched, and visited mostly by students of geology and botany who come to study the rock formations and rich variety of rare plant life. The Silver River Nature Trail begins at Cadamstown. Parking and picnic facilities are provided for hikers and those who merely want to enjoy the secluded beauty of the reserve.

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