Europe > Britain and Ireland > Ireland > East Coast and Midlands > County Offaly > Tullamore
Tullamore is the county town of County Offaly, and more or less in the centre of Ireland. It's traversed by the Grand Canal, which is navigable by leisure boats from Dublin to the Shannon and beyond. The town is best known for Tullamore Dew whiskey - production moved to Midleton near Cork in 1954, but resumed in the town from 2010.
Tulach Mhór means "great mound", indicating a long-vanished defensive earthwork, and Tullamore like the rest of County Offaly was an Irish territory outside the Anglo-Norman "pale" of Leinster. That changed in 1570 when it became part of the Tudor plantations. The Moore family ousted the O'Molloy clan, building the first version of Charleville Castle, and acquiring an earldom. There were no great battles or sieges here, and little to distinguish the place until on 10 May 1785 Tullamore was the improbable site of the world's first aviation disaster.
Air accident investigation had not yet been invented so documentation is sparse, but it appears to have involved an unmanned hot-air balloon, with lift created by a fire burning in a basket, effectively a giant Chinese lantern. The first manned flight had been in 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris, and balloons were being sent up for amusement and publicity all over Europe. The Tullamore balloon was launched on a breezy day and soon collided with a chimney; its fire took hold of a thatched roof, spread to another and another, until the whole of Barrack Street was ablaze. Some 130 houses were destroyed. There were no fatalities but the loss of so many homes and livelihoods was a disaster. The town shield nowadays depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes, and the story grew that the town centre represents a spate of re-building after the fire, but there was similar urban development all over Georgian Britain and Ireland.
There was clearly no future in aviation, and modernising transport meant canals. The Grand Canal from Dublin reached Tullamore in 1798, a great boost to trade and industry, including the local whiskey distilleries. The canal fell into disuse in the 20th century but has been restored throughout its length for leisure boating. The other legacy industry was peat-cutting: this ramped up in the 1950s to reduce Ireland's dependence on imported fuel, and Boora Bog west of town was one of several exploited. Peat smoke is nice in trace amounts in whiskey but horribly polluting in the kilotons that began to blow west, to fall as acid rain upon the Dutch, and excavation wrecked the wetland environment. This couldn't go on, try as Bord na Móna might to cloak their operations in a green flag, and from the 1980s peat-cutting ceased and the site was reclaimed.
Tullamore has always been the county town, so local government is a significant employer, as is Midland Regional Hospital north side of town. In 2016 the population was 14,607.
The Tourist Office is on Bridge St, open M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 11:00-15:00.
By road from Dublin follow M4 / M6 to Exit 5 at Kilbeggan, then N52 south, and reckon 70 min.
Trains from Dublin Heuston take just under an hour to Tullamore via Kildare and Portarlington. They run every hour or two and continue west to Clara and Athlone then branch either to Athenry and Galway or to Roscommon, Castlebar and Westport, with connections to Ballina. A single from Dublin in 2021 was €12, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets.
Tullamore 1 railway station is 500 m southwest of town centre. There are ticket machines but no staffed desk.
Kearns buses run from Birr via Tullamore to Dublin in the morning, returning in the afternoon. They take about 90 min, with multiple stops in Dublin but not Busáras or the airport. There are seven M-F between 05:30 and 09:30, returning 15:00-18:00; one Saturday and 2-3 Sunday.
Another Kearns Bus 843 plies between Birr and Tullamore once in the middle of the day, and Bus 847 runs once Birr-Tullamore-Maynooth.
Bus Eireann 73 traverses the Midlands, twice M-Sa and once on Sunday, from Athlone to Clara, Tullamore (20 min), Mountmellick, Portlaoise, Stradbally, Carlow, Kilkenny, Thomastown, Ballyhale, Mullinavat and Waterford.
The main bus stop in town is along O'Carroll St.
- "A Boat will leave Dublin on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Ten o’clock, AM: loaded or not the Proprietors pledge themselves to be punctual to the day and hour." - Dublin Evening Post 17 March 1829
Tullamore is on the Grand Canal which stretches from the Liffey at Dublin to the Shannon 30 km west of town, and is navigable throughout. The Shannon links Limerick on the Atlantic with Athlone in the Midlands and Carrick-on-Shannon to the north, whence another canal reaches Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. The Grand Canal also connects with the Barrow Navigation, which heads south through Carlow to New Ross and Waterford on the south coast. Check Waterways Ireland for current status of locks, moorings etc.
The town is small enough to get around on foot. You'll need your own wheels for outlying sites.
Buggy's Coach 835 makes a figure-of-8 around town then round the south-edge retail park.
Practical have car hire in Tullamore, but you'll probably do better to hire from the airport.
There are taxi ranks at the railway station and on William Street. Operators are Mac's Cabs (+353 57 935 1111), DC Cabs (+353 57 953 0500) and Tullamore Taxis (+353 87 996 2264).
- 1 Church of the Assumption, 19 Chapel St R35 CX74. Hard to miss as it is the tallest building in town. This RC church was completed in 1986 to replace the 1906 structure which burned down. There are stained glass windows and giant timber roof beams. The black cross was made from charred fragments of the older church. Free.
- 2 Town Park along Cormac St is a large park with fountains and a large play area for kids. There's a bowls pitch, a skateboard park, and plenty of parking. The graveyard holds two victims of the Battle of Tullamore, fought on 22 July 1806 between the King's German Legion and Irish militiamen. Problem was, they were supposed to be on the same side against Napoleon, but a punch-up led to a mass brawl with 3 deaths and 42 injured.
- 3 Charleville Castle, Charleville Rd R35 AX51 (2 km southwest of town off N52), ☏ . Jun-Aug daily 11:00-17:00. A curious mixture of the grand and the tumbledown. This Gothic pile was built 1800-1812, in the flush of victory over the revolutionary French, with money they didn't have. (One regular visitor Lord Byron would appreciate that situation.) It was occupied on-and-off, fell derelict in the 20th century but was restored from 1973, and this continues. So parts are still a sorry ruin, but there's a splendid facade and interiors, admission to these is by guided tour. It's set in fine oak forests and has often hosted big events and festivals. They've tried to market it as a "haunted house" but the ghostly spectre that most visitors encounter is the website puff for events that folded a decade ago.
- Tullamore D.E.W. Heritage Centre, Bury Quay R35 Y5V0. Closed. This building was a quayside warehouse next to the Old Distillery, which operated from 1829 and prospered from the 1880s under its general manager Daniel E. Williams, he of the brand initials and author of the ad slogan "Give every man his dew". In the 20th century Irish whiskey lost out to competition from Scotch, and the emphasis switched to Irish Mist liqueur. The distillery closed in 1954, with the brand sold and production moving to Midleton near Cork, and the site was re-developed. In 2010 the brand was bought by William Grant & Sons, who built a new distillery on a greenfield site by Tullamore south bypass. Tours continued awhile at the warehouse but these have now closed. From summer 2021 they resume in a new "Tullygate" visitor centre by the modern distillery, so you'll see much more of the production process.
- Offaly History Centre is on Bury Quay next to the former whiskey Heritage Centre. It's nominally a museum, open M-F 09:00-16:30, but is nowadays primary a bookshop.
- 4 Durrow Abbey is a religious complex 7 km north of town off N52. The abbey itself disappeared in medieval times but there are old grave slabs and a High Cross. The present church is circa 1800 and Abbey House is from 1920. The fabulous illuminated Book of Durrow was created circa 650 AD, perhaps not here; it's now on display in TCD Library Dublin along with the Book of Kells. St Colmcille's Well is 200 m east and draws a pilgrimage on the Pattern Day of 9 June. The site is generally free to stroll and is set amid old oak woods (Doire means oak grove, as in Derry). Parts may be closed off as unsafe, and there's been decades of acrimony between owners, developers and the government over maintenance of the site.
- 5 Kilbeggan Distillery (Locke's Distillery), Bridge St, Kilbeggan N91 A621 (10 km north of Tullamore via N52), ☏ , email@example.com. Daily. One of the oldest licenced distilleries in Ireland, from 1757, with its heyday under John Locke from 1843. But in the 20th century pot-distillation struggled, and investors were deterred by a big 1948 scandal to put the whiskey on the black market, with senior politicians implicated. Production ceased when the Locke family firm went bust in 1957. The site was demolished to make pigsties then a depot for mechanical shovels. In 1982 it re-opened as a museum, then in 1987 distillation re-started: the series of owners had always paid the £5 annual fee to maintain the licence. The distillery was modernised in 2010 and is now part of Beam Suntory. Adult €8.
- 6 Rahan is a village 7 km west of town with remains of a monastery from the 11th / 12th century.
- 7 Lough Boora is a peat bog 20 km west of town where peat was extracted commercially 1950-1970, but which is now reclaimed as a wetland and recreation area. The original lough has been drained but extraction created two new lagoons, which have walking trails and hides for bird-watching. "Sculpture in the Parklands" are a series of sculptures dotted around the area. It's free to visit any time.
- 8 Croghan Hill to the east rears up to 238 m, so it's prominent in this low terrain and has wide views. Ascend from Croghan village to its south. On its eastern slope is an old graveyard and the remains of a medieval church, while at its western foot lie the remains of a medieval settlement, church and castle. Old Croghan Man, who died circa 200-300 BC, was found nearby, but was young, tall and high-status when he was tortured and killed: he's now on display in the National Museum in Dublin.
- What's on? Tune in to Midlands 103 FM or read the Offaly Independent or Offaly Express.
- IMC Cinema is within the Bridge Centre in the middle of town.
- Grand Canal has a firm towpath, good for strolling, cycling and fishing.
- Gaelic games: Offaly GAA play hurling and Gaelic football at O'Connor Park, off Arden Rd R421 just north of the canal. The stadium is sponsored as Bord na Móna O’Connor Park and has a capacity of 20,000. It's also the home ground of (and owned by) the town club, Tullamore GAA.
- 1 Aura Leisure Centre, Hop Hill Avenue R35 A594, ☏ . This has a pool, gym and fitness classes. Classes €7-9.
- 2 Tullamore Golf Club, Brookfield R35 YF62 (On R421), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Mature 18-hole parkland championship golf course since 1926. Blue tees 6411 yards, par 70.
- 3 Esker Hills Golf Club, Ballykilmurray R35 CD30 (4 km northwest of town), ☏ . Christy O' Connor Jnr designed championship course of 6619 yards, par 71.
- 4 Kilbeggan Races, Kilbeggan N91 X840 (Exit M6 at jcn 5 for R389), ☏ , email@example.com. National Hunt racing, jumps or chases, usually Friday evening in summer. Adult €13.
- Tullamore Agriculture Show is a big one-day show, with livestock, 700 trade stands for farm equipment and the like, and local food and drink. It's held on the second Sunday in August on Butterfield Estate, Blue Ball, off N52 ten km west of town. The next show is on Sun 8 Aug 2021.
- Castlepalooza was a music and arts festival held 2005-2018 in July at Charleville Castle. It's not happening in 2021 and plans for 2022 are TBA.
- Bridge Centre is the main mall within town. Shops include Dunnes Stores, Vodafone, music shops, clothes and shoe shops.
- Tullamore Retail Park is 1 km southeast of town, on N420 near the junction with N52.
- Tullamore Food Fayre is an indoor Farmers Market held on Kilcruttin Business Park facing the railway station. It's held Sa 10:00-14:00.
- The main eating strip is along High St / William St, and a block west on Patrick St and Main St.
- Sirocco's Italian Restaurant, Patrick St R35 E2K2, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 17:00-22:00. Family-run Italian restaurant, good atmosphere, open-plan so you watch the chef juggling delicious stuff, which turns out to be for the next table.
- Mezzo is a cheap and cheerful place next door to Sirocco, open M-Sa 17:00-21:30, Su 13:00-21:30.
- The Blue Apron, Harbour St R35 V6X0, ☏ , email@example.com. W-Sa 17:30-22:00, Su 12:30-21:00. Modern cuisine with a European influence.
- Captain House, Main St R35 F6W7, ☏ . M-Th 17:00-22:00, F Sa 17:00-23:00, Su 12:30-22:00. Nautically-themed steakhouse, also does fish, pasta and vegetarian options.
- Balcone Italiano is within Bridge House Hotel, see Sleep. It's open M-Sa 17:00-22:00, Su 12:00-22:00.
- Chocolate Brown, William St R35 F6C0, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-17:00, Su 09:30-17:00. Coffee shop with snacks and cakes.
- Jenny's Kitchen, The Mall, William St R35 X7X9, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-17:00. Friendly place for coffee and light bites.
- Hugh Lynch's, Kilbride St, ☏ . M-Th 10:30-23:30, F Sa 11:30-00:30, Su 12:30-23:00. Popular pub near the centre of town.
- Bridge House Bar is within the hotel on Distillery Lane, see Sleep. There's a late bar and music venue.
- The Brewery Tap, 1 High St R35 P761, ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-01:00, Su 12:30-23:00. Central trad pub does good food.
- Tullamore D.E.W. is a range of some half a dozen whiskeys plus limited editions. The standard offering is Original, a blend of pot-still, malt and grain whiskey; some of the latter may be brought in from elsewhere. They produce a ten-year old single malt but the others are blends, with various cask finishes.
- Killbeggan: see County Westmeath for products of the present-day distillery, which stands just north of the Offaly county boundary.
- 1 Bridge House Hotel, Distillery Lane R35 K2T9, ☏ . Good mid-range hotel, very central, good reviews for comfort and service. B&B double €80.
- 2 Central Hotel Tullamore, Main St R35 Y7P1, ☏ . Decent mid-range business hotel near town centre. B&B double €80.
- 3 [dead link] Barony House B&B, Meelaghans (on the R420 Tullamore to Geashill road), ☏ . A cheerful B&B located just outside the town. around €40 per person per night.
- 4 Tudor Lodge B&B, Arden Rd R35 KX31 (1 km north of centre), ☏ . Clean welcoming B&B at north edge of town.
- 5 Annaharvey Farm B&B, Portarlington Rd A0Y5 (R420 five km southeast), ☏ . Nice B&B in an equestrian centre.
- 6 Brookville House, Rahan Rd R95 EH22, ☏ . Comfy B&B beside the Grand Canal. B&B double €75.
- Loughmore Lodge, Clonminch Rd (go on N52 bypass; take N80 exit into town), ☏ , . Nice, old-style B&B.
- 7 Sea Dew House, 5 Clonminch Rd R35 EP40, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean comfy guest house, 5 min walk to town centre. B&B double €100.
- 8 Tullamore Court Hotel, O'Moore St R35 D406 (on R443 coming from N52 bypass), ☏ . Large 4-star hotel with a business conference centre, good service and comfort. B&B double €120.
As of March 2021, town centre has 5G from Eir and Three, but you'll struggle to get a signal from Vodafone.
Tullamore Library is on Bridge Lane at O'Connor Square.
- Birr Castle is 35 km south-west. Walk around the demesne and see the giant Victorian telescope.
- Slieve Bloom Mountains are 25 km south of the town and have many walking and hiking trails.
- Clonmacnoise is an ancient monastery 40 km west on the banks of the River Shannon.
- Athlone is a historic city 40 km north west on the banks of the Shannon.