County Offaly Welcomes Visitors

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet the locals in his ancestral home of Moneygall alongside First Lady Michelle Obama (L) on May 23, 2011 in Moneygall, Ireland. U.S. President Obama is visiting Ireland for one day at the start of a week long tour of Europe. He will meet with distant relatives in Moneygall and speak at a rally in central Dublin after a concert.
••• Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images

Are you visiting County Offaly? This part of the Irish Province of Leinster has a number of attractions you will not want to miss. Plus some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path. So, why not take your time and spend a day or two in Offaly when visiting Ireland?

  • 01 of 07

    It is most likely that you'll hear about Offaly only by association with Barack Obama or "Biffo" Cowen. Say what? Let's get some facts in first:

    • The Irish name of County Offaly is Contae Uíbh Fhailí, the literal meaning of which is "The Children of Failge" - referring to the semi-mythological local king Failge Berraide (who reigned around 510).
    • Between 1556 and 1920, Offaly was better known as the "King's County" - in honour of King Philip II of Spain (husband to English Queen "Bloody" Mary).
    • The car registration issued in County Offaly has the letters OY on the number plate.
    • The county town of Offaly is Tullamore, other important towns in the county are Banagher, Birr, Clara, and Edenderry.
    • County Offaly measures out at an exact 2,000 square kilometres.
    • The number of inhabitants stands at 76,687, according to the census of 2011.
    • A common nickname for Offaly is "the Faithful County".
    • On a less nice note, Offaly people (like the former...MORE Taoiseach Brian Cowen) are often declared to be Biffos – "Big Ignorant Feckers from Offaly".
    • Then Barack Obama's Irish roots were discovered in County Offaly, so Biffo also became an acronym (or rather a backronym) for "Black Important Fellow from Offaly".
  • 02 of 07

    Though Clonmacnoise is never really on the way, a detour to see this monastic site is worth the time and gas. Situated at an ancient crossroads where the Esker Way and the Shannon intersect, Clonmacnoise is not overrun by tourists. Even on weekends in the summer months, it usually is quite peaceful.

    This and the simply wonderful location make it a worthwhile target for touring vacationers. Getting to Clonmacnoise can be a problem - you will need a good road map and then follow quite small and winding country lanes through Offaly. As the site is next to the Shannon and quite low, you will only spot the towers in the last minute.

  • 03 of 07

    Pride of place in the heritage town of Birr must go to Birr Castle, still in private hands and opposite a handy, albeit extremely ugly municipal car park. Once you enter the courtyard this ugliness is quickly forgotten. An exhibition tells you about the history of the castle, the landscaped grounds and... astronomy.

    The 3rd Earl of Rosse was so taken in by stargazing that he not only studied astronomy, but proceeded to build the world's largest telescope in his backyard. The aptly named "Leviathan" from the 1840s has been restored in recent years and is one of Ireland's most important technical monuments. 

  • 04 of 07

    The Irish Game and Country Fair at Birr Castle is a perfect way to discover life in the Irish countryside (or, at least, the lifestyle promoted for the genteel Irish countryman and -woman.) A great day out anyway.

    The fair is now an annual part of the County Offaly events calendar and well worth a visit. Actual displays change, but you can always expect living history as well as lifestyle shopping. Offaly style. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    If you feel artistic or energetic, head for the Lough Boora Parklands - on the one hand you can find miles and miles of tracks through the (slowly) reclaimed boglands, on the other hand a sprawling sculpture park awaits you. With installations that are positively huge and often thought-provoking (and occasionally overgrown), this is a great visit.

  • 06 of 07

    Moneygall, Barack Obama and all that ... since Obama started running for president, and even more so since he was elected, change has certainly come to Moneygall in County Offaly. The quiet village, up to then mainly known for slowing traffic on the N7, suddenly re-invented itself as the "Obama Homestead". And in 2011, the great man himself arrived... a small village with the usual amenities, some nice houses along the road and a pub with flies the Stars & Stripes. This would be Ollie Hays', where the song "There's No One as Irish as Barack O'Bama" by Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys had its premier in 2008.

  • 07 of 07

    Visiting County Offaly and stuck for something to do in the evening? Well, you could do worse than head out into a local pub (which, by​ default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session, so why not give it a try?

    Most sessions start at around 9:30 pm or whenever a few musicians have gathered. Here are some reliable venues:

    Banagher - "J.J. Haugh's"

    Ferbane - "Tom's Tavern"

    Kilcormac - "Feigherty's"

    Shannonbridge - "Village Tavern"