Visiting the Irish Midlands
Wander over vast bogs, magnificent mountains, and wide-open valleys. Visit the quaint riverside towns and villages that dot this beautiful area.
Ireland's Hidden Heartlands
Places to Visit in Ireland’s Midlands Region
Often overlooked in tourist brochures, the Irish Midlands hold some of the country's most heritage-rich attractions, with fine scenery and prices that are often cheaper than in Ireland's large cities. With a hire car in the Irish Midlands, you can access any part of the country, but the following attractions are closest to the Midlands cities of Shannon and Galway.
Clonmacnoise in County Offaly is the site of the oldest Christian church in Ireland. It is situated in the centre of the country, close to the Shannon and to Athlone, Ballinasloe and Counties Roscommon and Galway. Founded by St. Kieran in the sixth century, Clonmacnoise grew to be the country's best-known monastic centres and university towns. This was at a time in medieval history when Ireland was known as the "land of saints and scholars".
The settlement gave refuge and provided learning to religious academics from throughout Europe. Clonmacnoise survived more than a millennium’s worth of raids and invasions, until it was destroyed by English invaders in 1552. Notable ruins include a 10th-century cathedral, several churches, two round towers, three Celtic crosses, over 200 inscribed stones (many of these are pre-Christian) and a 13th-century castle.
Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre
The Birr Castle Demesne, a 120-acre 17th Century park in County Offaly, has been described as "one of the Seven Wonders of Ireland". Its natural delights include exotic trees and plant collections, rivers and a lake, wildflower meadows and the world's tallest box hedges. The castle itself was first built by the Normans in 1170 and rebuilt in 1620 by Sir Laurence Parsons. The building has since been reconstructed and enlarged, but remains within the Parsons family to this day.
Birr Castle is also famous for its Great Telescope, designed and built in 1845 by William Parsons. For over 70 years, it was the largest telescope in the world, and the observatory attracted leading astronomers of that time from America, Australia and Imperial Russia. Today the castle's stables are home to Ireland's Historic Science Centre, which exhibits astronomical instruments, cameras, photographs and photographic equipment relating to the observatory, along with items relating to the pioneering work of other Irish scientists. Since 2003, the demesne has also been home to the National Birds of Prey Centre, where eagles, hawks, falcons and owls can all be seen.
Slieve Bloom Mountains
Those in search of the remote and tranquil beauty for which Ireland is renowned will find it in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Extending for almost 25 km across the Laois-Offaly border, this central mountain region provides panoramic views of the surrounding midlands, despite never rising above a height of 610 metres.
The mountains are architecturally rich as well, with extant settlements from each of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. Pagan and Christian monuments are also found here. Beyond this are Silka Deer, wild goats, foxes, badgers and rare grouse. This is a great place for a rousing walk, but getting here requires an Irish Midlands rental car.
Killykeen Forest Park
Killykeen Forest Park, County Cavan, is a beautiful, 600-acre mixed woodlands park, woven around the lake and islands of Lough Oughter, which in turn forms part of the Erne River system. The park boasts a number of walking and cycling trails of varying length. This is a good area for wildlife watching, with stoat, grey squirrels, badgers, foxes, hedgehogs and rabbits on the scene. Birders find plenty to admire around the lake. Killykeen is four miles west of Cavan town on the Killeshandra Road and is best reached with a hire car in Ireland.
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