- 1 Tullamore the county town has two famous distilleries.
- 2 Clara has a notable bog, in a country which sets the bar high for bogs.
- 3 Clonmacnoise is a medieval monastery complex on the riverbank.
- 4 Shannonbridge as the name implies has a fine bridge.
- 5 Banagher is the largest of the villages on the Shannon riverbank and the main base for boating.
- 6 Birr is the Georgian town that for 70 years was at the leading edge of astronomy.
- 7 Kilcormac church has a 16th century Pieta.
- 8 Kinnitty is a good base for walking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
- 9 Edenderry is a stop along the Grand Canal with a couple of crumbly castles.
- 10 Portarlington is mostly in County Laois but straddles the boundary.
- 11 Moneygall was the ancestral home of a great-great-great grandfather of Barack Obama.
- 12 Roscrea is just over the boundary into County Tipperary but is near Leap Castle.
The county is named for the ancient Kingdom of Uí Failghe which covered much of it. The Normans divided Ireland into shires or counties, but they were repulsed from the midlands to shelter behind the palisades (the "Pale") of Leinster. The Tudors resumed the land-grab, swept aside the old Irish kingdoms, and in 1556 renamed this area "King's County". That king was Philip II of Spain, married to Queen Mary of England: but she died childless, one of the great "what-ifs" of British history. And King's County it officially remains to this day. All sorts of royal names were replaced at Irish independence (Kingstown to Dún Laoghaire, Queenstown to Cobh, and so on); but it's some measure of Offaly's importance that the legislators clean forgot to change this one.
Offaly has the Slieve Bloom Mountains along its southeast boundary but is mostly lowland. Many areas are bog - notably the Bog of Allen - while to the west it's bounded by the flood-prone River Shannon. Agriculture and peat-extraction are traditional occupations. Yet this was no rustic backwater: Tullamore was the unlikely scene of the world's first aviation disaster in 1785. In the 19th century, the Grand Canal stimulated trade. Birr had the world's first automobile fatality in 1869, and its "Leviathan" telescope put it at the leading edge of astronomy for 70 years. The railway arrived in the 1850s and industry developed along it, but the big growth came when motorways put Offaly within commuting range of Dublin. In 2016 the population was 77,961.
Visit Offaly is the county tourist agency.
Trains run from Dublin Heuston via Kildare and Portarlington to Clara and Tullamore, with five or six daily. They continue west to Athlone then branch either to Athenry and Galway or to Roscommon, Castlebar and Westport.
There are direct buses from Dublin to Edenderry, Tullamore, Birr and Banagher.
The Grand Canal starts from Dublin and is navigable throughout; it crosses the county via Edenderry and Tullamore to Shannon Harbour near Banagher. The Shannon forms the western boundary of County Offaly and is likewise navigable throughout from Limerick up to Athlone and Carrick-on-Shannon, with onward canals to Enniskillen, Drumshanbo and Boyle. The Grand Canal is connected to the Barrow Navigation, which runs to Athy, Carlow, New Ross and Waterford. Dublin is also linked to the Shannon by the Royal Canal, but that passes further north near Longford.
Public transport is confined to the corridors described above. The must-see monastic site of Clonmacnoise has no public transport. So you need wheels: the distances are not great and it's not hilly so a bike would do.
There's car hire in Tullamore, but you'll do better to hire from the airport.
If you're in Dublin without a car (and you positively don't want one in the city) then consider joining a day-tour: Bus Éireann is one reliable operator.
- Clonmacnoise is Offaly's top attraction, an extensive monastic complex on the Shannon riverbank.
- Castles: Charleville Forest Castle in Tullamore is a Gothic building surrounded by ancient oaks.
- Bogs and wetlands: Lough Boora west of Tullamore and Clara Bog are two examples. They've been scarred by peat extraction, but that has now ceased.
- Shannon callows are lowlands along the river and its tributaries. Some is wetland, but most is farmland undefended against floods, so it's a distinct semi-wild habitat. A good example is the callows of the Little Brosna south of Banagher.
- What's on? Tune in to Midlands 103 FM or read the Offaly Independent or Offaly Express.
- Gaelic games: Offaly GAA play hurling and Gaelic football at O'Connor Park in Tullamore. There are some 40 GAA clubs across the county.
- Golf: there are golf courses at Tullamore, Birr, Edenderry and Portarlington.
- Boating: the main centre for boat hire is Banagher, near the junction of the Shannon and the Grand Canal.
- Hike: the Offaly Way is a 37 km trail in the east of the county, between Cadamstown and Lemanaghan. It's suggested as a two-day hike heading north, but there's little accommodation along the way and you might break it into several there-and-back strolls. It's low-lying across farm land, no dogs. The trail is little used so you might find some stretches overgrown, muddy and poorly signposted.
- Skydive at Clonbollogue airfield south of Edenderry.
- Kinnitty Castle Hotel has fine dining.
- Otherwise nothing outstanding, bar meals will generally be your best bet.
- Tullamore Dew and nearby Kilbeggan are the county's two whiskey distilleries.
- Kinnitty has Slieve Bloom micro-brewery.
- Moneygall is the ancestral home of 44th US President Barack Obama, and in 2011 First Lady Michelle was taught how to pour a correct pint of Guinness here. The pub reports that it's just about settled by now.