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Places to Visit in Ireland's Midlands Region

Clonmacnoise

Places to Visit in Ireland's Midlands Region Tips for Those Landing at Dublin or Shannon Airport from 353 Car Rental.ie.

Often overlooked on tourist brochures, the Irish midlands is the location of some of the country's most heritage-rich attractions, with fine scenery and prices that are often cheaper than in Ireland's large cities. If you hire a car you can access the midlands from any part of the country but the attractions listed below are closest to Shannon, Galway and Dublin airports.

Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise in Co. Offaly is the site the oldest Christian church in Ireland. It is situated in the centre of the country, close to the Shannon and to the towns of Athlone, Co. Roscommon and Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.

Founded by St. Kieran in the sixth century, Clonmacnoise grew to be the country's best-known monastic centre and university town, at a time (during the Dark Ages), when Ireland was known as the "land of saints and scholars". The settlement gave refuge and provided learning to religious academics from throughout Europe. Clonmacnoise survived over 1,000 years of raids and invasions until English invaders destroyed it in 1552. Notable ruins include a cathedral (built 904), several churches, two round towers, three high Celtic crosses, over 200 inscribed stones (many of these are pre-Christian), and a castle (built 1214). Note that the site's interpretive centre gets very busy in the summer and visitors may experience a delay.

Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre

The Birr Castle Demense, a 120-acre 17th Century park in County Offaly, has been described as "one of the Seven Wonders of Ireland." Its natural delights include exotic tree and plant collections, rivers and a lake, wildflower meadows and the world's tallest box hedges.

The castle itself was first built by the Normans in 1170, and rebuilt in 1620 by Sir Laurence Parsons, who built the core of the present castle. The building was since been reconstructed and enlarged, but remains within the Parsons family to this day.

Birr Castle is also famous for its Great Telescope, designed and built in 1845 by William Parsons. For over 70 years, it was the largest telescope in the world and the observatory attracted leading astronomers of that time from America, Australia and Imperial Russia.

Today the castle's stables are home to Ireland's Historic Science Centre, which exhibits astronomical instruments, cameras, photographs and photographic equipment relating to the observatory, as well as items relating to the pioneering work of other Irish scientists. Since 2003, the demesne has also been home to the National Birds of Prey Centre, where eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls can all be seen.

The Slieve Bloom Mountains

If you are searching for that remote and tranquil beauty for which Ireland is renowned, you will certainly find it in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Extending for almost 25km on the Laois/Offaly border, this central mountain region provides great panoramic views of the surrounding midlands, despite never rising above a height of 610 metres.

Architecturally rich - with evidence of settlements from each of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, as well both pagan and Christian monuments - the mountains are also the home of many forms of wildlife, flora and fauna. These include Silka Deer, wild goats, foxes, badgers and other animals. Slieve Bloom is one of the few remaining areas in Ireland where the Grouse - once common throughout the island - can be seen in the summer. Quiet, haunting but certainly beautiful, the region had become popular with walkers, who can follow mapped trails of varying levels of difficulty and distance.

Killykeen Forest Park

Killykeen Forest Park, Co. Cavan, is a beautiful, 600-acre mixed woodlands park, woven around the lake and islands of Lough Oughter, which in turn forms part of the Erne River system. The park boasts a number of walking/cycling trails, ranging in length from 1.5km to 2.8km. Animals that you may spot on this trails include the stoat, grey squirrel, badger, fox, hedgehog and rabbit. Various birds can also be seen, particularly on the lake. These include herons, coot, cormorant, great crested grebe, mallard, moorhen, tufted duck, wagtail, kingfisher, warblers and reed bunting. Killykeen lies four miles west of Cavan town on the Killeshandra Road (R199).