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County Town: Tullamore
Population: 70,868
Area: 1,999 sq km
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The county of Offaly, in the Irish midlands, is a place of contrasts. Here, spectacular mountains rise above acres of low-lying farmland, flower-rich peat bogs, forests and winding rivers. Here, too, the visitor can find complete solitude in breathtaking surroundings, relax over a fine meal, catch a play, enjoy a round of golf or live it up in Offaly's lively market towns amid the gaiety of live, traditional Irish music. The Slieve Bloom mountains, straddling the southern border with County Laois, are endlessly inviting. Visitors may follow mountain trails by foot or on horseback through woodland slopes and leafy glens, past magical waterfalls, tumbling streams and picturesque villages nestling in the foothills. One such village is Kinnitty, whose romantic, 17th Century castle has been restored and opened as a hotel. Guests can hardly miss the High Cross of Kinnitty, a 10th Century relic standing in the hotel grounds. Ancient monuments, buildings and sacred sites are spread across the county, notably the atmospheric Clonmacnoise - the 1,500-year-old remains of a monastic settlement. Families may enjoy a ride to the site on The Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway - "The Bog Train". The six-mile trip from Shannonbridge crosses the Blackwater peatland, part of the immense Bog Of Allen. Holidaymakers also enjoy cruising, sailing, fishing and watersports on the major waterways - the River Shannon, flowing along Offaly's western border, and a section of the Grand Canal. Meanwhile, sightseers flock to the charming Georgian heritage town of Birr, which boasts an imposing castle with huge, award- winning gardens and a science museum. Birr's annual arts festival draws crowds from far and wide, while the county town of Tullamore hosts frequent celebrations, including the week-long Phoenix Festival. Adults may well be tempted to investigate the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre to learn about the local origins of the esteemed whiskey.

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