“In a quiet water’d land stands Saint Kieran’s city fair” are the poetic words used by the Offaly poet T W Rolleston (1857-1920) to describe Clonmacnoise, the monastic jewel in Offaly. One of the country’s most important centers of craftmanship and learning in the medieval period, Clonmacnoise produced a wealth of manuscripts, annals and high crosses. The “water’d land” refers to its location beside the Shannon, which forms the country’s western boundary with Galway and Roscommon. The eighteenth-century Grand Canal divides the county north and south. The Boyne River bounds the eastern part of the county near Edenderry and in the south, the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Most of the county is made up of the lowlands around the Shannon and extensive turf-bog where some of Ireland’s oldest settlement remains dating from around 7000 B.C. were discovered at Lough Boora.
Tullamore, the capital of the county, is famous for its Tullamore Dew Irish Mist liqueur. Birr, an elegant town, is renowned for its giant ‘Birr’ telescope of 1845 with which the Third Earl of Rosse discovered spiral nebulae. Birr Castle demesne now houses the famous telescope and also has gardens and a science center. A monastery, founded by St. Colm Cille at Durrow near Tullamore, was the source of the famous seventh-century Book of Durrow, now one of the greatest treasures in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. During the plantation of English settlers under Mary Tudor in 1556, the county was renamed King’s County after Mary’s husband, King Philip II of Spain. One famous piece of art preserved in Offaly is the beautiful twelfth-century metalwork shrine of St. Manchan in Boher parish church.
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