Offaly lies near the centre of Ireland and its width is crossed by the Grand Canal. The Slieve Bloom Mountains, rising to 1700 feet, lie in the south-east, having lots of picturesque valleys to be explored. In the west, the river Shannon marks the border with counties Galway and Roscommon. The north-east is covered by the Bog of Allen, the rest of the county being made up of level plain, with occasional elevations.
Offaly is a county full of scientific and cultural history. The largest telescope in the world, built in 1840 by William Parsons, III-rd Earl of Rosse, and kept at Birr Castle, made Offaly one of the most important sites for astronomy in the world. It enabled Parsons to make the first sketches of other galaxies and his son, Lawrence, to map the nebulae his father had observed. Lawrence Parsons was also the first man to calculate the temperature at the surface of the moon. His little brother was the inventor of the compound steam engine, that formed the basis for other inventions, such as the modern electrical generator. Their descendants, the present-day Earls, still live in Birr Castle. Being a private home, the Castle is rarely open to visitors, but the Birr Castle Demesne, including both the telescope and the gardens founded by Countess Anne, is open all year-round. The "Formal Gardens" are very beautiful and unique, and contain several species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Countess Mary, of the same family, left her mark on history as well, as a pioneering photographer. Her equipment and darkroom are still on display.
There are many archaeological places of interest in Offaly - high crosses, castles, monastic settlements etc. Offaly is famous for one of the most important historic sites in Ireland - Clonmacnoise. Founded in 545, the Monastery at Clonmacnoise was one of the supreme seats of learning in the country. Artwork in the Celtic style, illuminated manuscripts and the first documented book in the Irish language were created here. The last High King of Ireland was buried here, among his ancestors.
Today, we can see at Clonmacnoise the ruins of a cathedral, eight churches and a pair of round towers, the remains of a 13th century castle, three high crosses including the beautifully decorated "Cross of Scriptures", as well as over 200 marked graves dating as early as the 8th century. Nearby is Clonfinlough Church, which features a huge fallen stone decorated with bronze age art.
Situated as it is at the heart of the country, Offaly has an area of lowland bogs that includes a series of wetlands and parks based on their own ecology. These are nature reserves, with a fascinating ecosystem, of which The Bog of Clara is the most famous. Naturalists are still discovering life here; there's a huge diversity of animals and plants, most of them specially adapted to life in the bogs, that cannot be found elsewhere. Peat is extracted from these bogs, and used as fuel, particularly in Ireland. Not to mention that huge amounts of weaponry, jewellery and everyday objects dating from the Bronze Age have been unearthed here.
Apart from these scientifical delights, the visitor has many other attractions too keep him occupied: golf, fishing, equestrian activities etc. And if he/she wants to get the pulse of a town in Offaly, then Tullamore, the county capital is a good choice, since it is also the home of the Irish Mist liqueur and of Tullamore Dew, one of the most appreciated Irish whiskeys.