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Birr, Clonmacnoise, and the rest of County Offaly

Looking at possible additional destinations for our driving tour of Ireland coming up in a few weeks, and a friend knowing our geeky interests suggested Birr Castle, with its reconstructed giant Victorian telescope (the "Leviathan"). That led another friend to suggest that we also visit the nearby early Christian site of Clonmacnoise. Alas, there was apparently no room in our 2019 Rick Steves Ireland guidebook for these sites or the rest of County Offaly, so we're looking for advice. Are these sites worth a detour? What else are we missing in this area that we might want to see? Offaly's page on Wikipedia lists a number of supposed places of interest, but interested in reports from people who've been there. (We're not whiskey people, so the Tullamore Dew distillery would be wasted on us.)

Posted by
552 posts

I visited Clonmacnoise and found it quite interesting so I would say yes. I spent about and a half, took lots of photos, listened to the guide's talk, and wandered around looking at the gravestones. I spent one night in Athlone to rest and catch my breath so I also went into Athlone castle. It's not very big but has an important history due to its strategic location on the river.

Posted by
1579 posts

We visited the Birr estate a few years ago. It was a very pleasant area for a long walk. I wouldn't go out of the way to visit it, but if you are in the area, it's worth your time. I also had Clonmacnoise on the list but DH rebelled - not ANOTHER ruined monastery.

Posted by
760 posts

Hi from Wisconsin,
I am so glad to hear of someone going to these two places.

Birr has what was once the world's largest telescope. How about that. Central Ireland can be a bit flat.

Get Peter Harbison's out of print book National Monuments of Ireland for about $8 on eBay. You sound like some one who would really us this book.

Non-tourist Ireland, that's Birr.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
230 posts

Yes, Clonmacnoise is well worth a visit. We were there on our first trip to Ireland and thoroughly enjoyed it. We also visited Birr but don't remember too much about it. If you have time for only one, I recommend Clonmacnoise.
Have a great trip. We are headed there in 6 weeks.

Posted by
277 posts

Another vote for Clonmacnoise! We were there on a misty Monday afternoon in early October, and there was only a few other tourists there with us. Mom and I walked all over and had a great time! Lots of fascinating chapels and gravestones to take photos of from interesting angles, and the River Shannon alongside just added to the atmosphere.

Posted by
277 posts

Btw, I really recommend going to your local library and checking out the DK Eyewitness Guide to your destination spot before going on a trip. The books are much more comprehensive than Rick’s in the number of places to see and also include detailed maps of the major cities and excellent photos as well as full-page detailed drawn maps of select locations, such as Clonmacnoise. The books are pricey because of their full-color illustrations and photos, but definitely worth checking out of the library for a few weeks.

Posted by
277 posts

One more thing—if you stay in Athlone, check out Sean’s Bar, which has a legitimate claim to being the oldest bar/pub in the world. It’s right behind the castle and has a meter square framed sample of the wattle-and-daub wall found during renovations that dates back to around 900 AD.