33 Best Sights in The Midlands, Ireland

Athlone Castle

Fodor's choice

Bold and imposing, Athlone Castle stands beside the River Shannon. A raft of dazzling exhibitions are housed inside this 13th-century Norman stronghold. After their defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1691, the Irish retreated to Athlone and made the river their first line of defense. The castle, which is now more than 800 years old, has played a strategic role in Irish history. Eight exhibition spaces—in the main building as well as the keep and the armory—detail this enthralling chronological story and that of the town from the earliest settlement up to modern trading times. Sculptural forms convey human figures that bring the characters of Athlone to life in an engaging way. They sit cheek by jowl with 3D maps, audiovisuals, and weapons, like a bow and arrow, that allow hands-on experiences for both children and adults. You will feel right at the center of things with the 360-degree view of events of the Siege of Athlone in 1690. It's not your typical Irish fairy-tale castle, but it is fun, and kids especially love the interactive game "How to Capture a Castle." It's hard to beat on a wet day in the Midlands. A fascinating permanent exhibition focuses on the life of the singer John Count McCormack, who was born in Athlone in 1884. Programs from the Dublin Amateur Operatic Society, his papal chain presented to him in 1928, a montage of photographs, and HMV records with his signature song, "I Hear You Calling Me," are on show. Cabinets contain a silver cup from his admirers in Philadelphia and a cup presented by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, New York. McCormack sang in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York opposite Dame Nellie Melba in 1910 and continued to sing at the Met until 1918. During 2019, the first phase of a major €500,000 project to restore the castle walls took place and continuing maintenance work is needed, but this will not affect the opening of the attraction. The castle gatehouse serves as the town's tourist office.

If you are here in summer the castle hosts a two-day medieval fair in the courtyard and upper battlements held in conjunction with the Athlone River Festival. Dates vary (it has been held in June and in August) so it is best to check the website for exact details.

Belvedere House, Gardens, and Park

Fodor's choice

A stately mid-18th-century hunting lodge with extensive gardens, Belvedere House occupies a beautiful spot on the northeast shore of Lough Ennell. Access to the mansion is through the servants' entrance—so you can see what life behind the scenes was like back then. The interiors are a quirky mix of Georgian stateliness and Victorian charm. The noted bow and Palladian windows have great parkland views sloping down to the lake and its islands.

It was built in 1740 by architect Richard Cassels for Robert Rochfort, 1st Earl of Belvedere, and his wife, Mary. She was accused of having an affair with Robert's brother Arthur, which was denied, but she was locked away in the Rochfort's ancestral home at Gaulstown House for 31 years on a charge of adultery. During this time, Robert had considerable work carried out on Belvedere House to make it more homey; one of the most impressive features he commissioned was the rococo plasterwork ceiling by the renowned stucco artist Bartholomew Cramillion. He spent much of his family fortune dotting the gardens of the estate with "follies," including the Jealous Wall, a gigantic mock-castle ruin that served to cover up a view of the adjoining estate, owned by another brother, also hated. It now stands as Ireland's largest folly and is loved by Instagrammers.

You can walk around the 160 acres of the estate and 10 km (6 miles) of woodland trails; some walks take you past the Gothic arch folly. Belvedere rebranded its historical interpretation in autumn 2019 to add interactive panels, audio guides covering both the house and grounds bringing history to life in a new way through illustrated characters, and even talking portraits. In the dining room, for example, you can listen to the commentary of the Wicked Earl, known for his extreme jealousy, hosting a lavish dinner party for his friends. Also on the grounds are a café and four children's play areas, which include a zipline and a fairy garden. At the back of the house, look out for the sculpture of King Malachy, the last High King of Ireland, made from the stump of an old oak tree whose story is recounted in the audio tour.

Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre

Fodor's choice

Summer visitors can join a guided tour of one of Ireland's most elegant stately homes and peer behind the scenes of a previously closed-off world. Although relatively recently constructed, during the great famine in the mid-19th century, this Gothic Revival castle (built around a series of castles since the 12th century---including one that was damaged by fire in 1823) has been the home of the earls of Rosse or Parson family, since the turbulent 17th century. Castle tours, usually given by family members, bring you through the spectacular Gothic music saloon, the library, the yellow drawing room, and reception rooms. Held from May to August, Monday--Saturday, the tours run at 10, 11:30, and 1, and last around 60 minutes. Note that the castle has more than 100 rooms and the tour takes in just a small number of them.

The Parson family continue the tradition of making botanical expeditions for specimens of rare trees, plants, and shrubs to fill the demesne's 150 acres. The formal gardens contain the tallest box hedges in the world (at 32 feet) and vine-sheltered hornbeam allées. In spring, check out the wonderful display of flowering magnolias, cherries, crab apples, and naturalized narcissi; in autumn, the maples, chestnuts, and weeping beeches blaze red and gold. The demesne consists of 4,000 varieties of tree and nearly 40 percent of the plants are of Chinese origin.

If you are joining a house tour, book in advance; allow at least three hours to see everything in the demesne—there are 3,400 plants and 3,860 varieties of trees from 40 countries.

The grounds also contain Ireland's Historic Science Centre, an exhibition on astronomy, photography, and engineering housed in the stable block with the oldest surviving darkroom in the world. The giant (72-inch-long) reflecting telescope, built in 1845, was the largest in the world for 75 years. In 2019, three science galleries were renovated and include a hologram of the third countess of Ross inside the darkroom from the 1800s. There is no public access to the I-Lofar (Low Frequency Array Radio) telescope---a gateway to solar physics beyond our galaxy. Although if you can, request a view reception.

On the grounds. there's also a tree house designed in the shape of a fairy-tale castle with round turrets and Gothic-style windows. It features a huge slide, tree decks lined by a rope bridge, and secret tunnels. Along with the adventure playground, with its giant bouncing pillow and a myriad of child-friendly activities, there is a crafts shop and Courtyard Café.

Recommended Fodor's Video


Fodor's choice

Thanks to its location, this legendary monastery survived almost everything thrown at it, including raids by feuding Irish tribes, Vikings, and Normans. But when a savage English garrison arrived from Athlone in 1552, they ruthlessly ransacked and reduced the site to ruin---one account that "not a bell, large or small, an image or an altar, a book or a gem, or even a glass in a window, was left which was not carried away." A hundred years later more English tribes arrived under Cromwell to cannon-ball the infrastructure. Still, with a little imagination, you can picture life here in medieval times, when the nobles of Europe sent their sons to be educated by the local monks. The monastery was founded on an esker (natural gravel ridge) overlooking the Shannon and a marshy area known as the Callows, a distinctive landscape of shallow waters and grassy meadow land on the river's floodplains, which overflows heavily during wet winters. It was, geographically, the crossroads of Ireland in the very center of the country and The Shannon River---so logistically and strategically, very important.  

Numerous buildings and ruins remain. The small cathedral dates as far back as the 10th century but has additions from the 15th century. It was the burial place of kings of Connaught and of Tara, and of Rory O'Conor, the last High King of Ireland, who was buried here in 1198. The two Round Towers include O'Rourke's Tower, which was struck by lightning and subsequently rebuilt in the 12th century. There are eight smaller churches, the littlest of which is thought to be the burial place of St. Ciaran.

The Nun's Church's chancel arch and doorway is a fine example of Romanesque architecture.

Set in a field on its own, a 10-minute walk from the main site, this serene church is the quietest place to experience some peace. The High Crosses have been moved into the visitor center to protect them from the elements (copies stand in their original places); the best preserved of these is the Cross of the Scriptures, also known as Flann's Cross. Some of the treasures and manuscripts originating from Clonmacnoise are now housed in Dublin, most at the National Museum. A 20-minute audiovisual presentation tells the history of the settlement in English, German, Italian, and French.

Clonmacnoise has always been a prestigious burial place. Among the ancient stones are many other graves dating from the 17th to the mid-20th century. The whole place is time-burnished, though in midsummer it can be difficult to avoid the throngs of tourists. To help control the visitor flow the center requests tourists to book their time slot online and if possible choose a quieter period such as early morning or late afternoon for their visit. There are 30-minute tours every hour during the summer season. The Shop at Clonmacnoise sells books, pottery, crafts, tweeds, and perfumes, and stocks tourist information.

Fore Abbey

Fodor's choice

Close to the shores of Lough Lene is the spectacular remains of Fore Abbey—its structure is massive, and its imposing square towers and loophole windows make it resemble a castle rather than an abbey. Cast an eye over Greek masonry at the entrance to discover a 3-ton limestone lintel carved with cross—believed to have floated into place by the power of prayer. There are Seven Wonders of Fore, which include water flowing uphill, a tree that will not burn, and a mill without a millrace. Number six is an "anchorite in a stone"—a tiny hermitage connected to the abbey by a pathway. It is worth taking time to explore the 3-km (2-mile) looped walk, St. Feichin's Way---which includes his namesake's well. The views across the valley are sublime.

Kilbeggan Distillery Experience

Fodor's choice

It's the whiskey (the Irish spell their traditional tipple with an "e") that brings most people to the unassuming little town of Kilbeggan, home of the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience, the oldest pot-still distillery in the world and the last of its type in Ireland. Established in 1757, it closed as a functioning distillery in 1954, but has since found new life as a museum of industrial archaeology, illustrating the process of Irish pot-whiskey distillation and the social history of the workers. The distillery's original old stone and whitewashed buildings have been carefully tended, and the glorious timber waterwheel has been restored and repainted and is now creaking again. Multiple different types of tours are available. The one-hour Apprentice tour (€15) includes tasting three whiskeys; on the 90-minute Distillers tour (€30), you get to taste all four Kilbeggan core brands: Kilbeggan single grain, Kilbeggan Irish whiskey, Tyrconnell single malt, and Connemara peated single malt. 

If you're looking for a present, the new Kilbeggan single pot-still whiskey—launched in December 2019 at €60—is soft and mellow with citrusy summer fruits, or you could opt for handmade dark chocolate whiskey truffles or fudge in the shop.

Lough Boora Discovery Park

Fodor's choice

This open expanse of once commercial, now exhausted, bog has been restored for a variety of leisure activities, from hiking and cycling to coarse angling and bird-watching (more than 150 species make their home here). When it was first established as a sanctuary in 2001, there were just 11 breeding pairs of gray partridge in the parkland—now there are several hundred of these ground-nesting birds, the last remaining population of them in Ireland. You're unlikely to see them, however, as they spend only one minute of each day in the air. Best of all, Lough Boora is home to one of Ireland's most unique sculpture parks. Along the Sculpture Walk, where golden plovers, lapwings, and starlings may accompany you, 24 large-scale sculptures made from local materials (including glacial stone, water, and willow) have been created by artists influenced by the legacy of the bogs. The result is some of the most creative environmental outdoor artwork anywhere in Ireland. To cite one example, the installation artist Mike Bulfin has turned a rusty old bog train into a cartoonish curve whose image will remain imprinted in your mind long after your visit to this magical place. The most recent sculpture, the Gathering of Stones, features a different type of stone from each of the four provinces in Ireland, creating a ring fort and circular wall. It reflects the Irish diaspora through "emigrant stones" laid out in a cruciform shape embracing people from all corners of the world. A café serves snacks from 10 am to 6 pm. An off-road bike trail runs for 22 km (13 miles). You can choose from five different looped color-coded walks, while guided walking tours run April–September.

Bring your binoculars: bird hides are located throughout the park to provide the opportunities to spy on birds such as golden plover and lapwing.

Lough Key Forest Park

Fodor's choice

A shuttle bus operates from King House in Boyle for the 4-km (2-mile) trip to 350-hectare Lough Key Estate. It’s a natural, nautical wonderland with a scattering of small islands, some with fabulously picturesque ruins, like Castle Island with its 19th-century McDermott’s Castle. It's especially popular with families due to its fairy bridge, ziplines, boat trips, a wishing chair, bog gardens, and a panoramic, 300-meter-long treetop canopy walk. Marked walking and electric-bike trails cut through the park, which was once part of the King family’s estate from the 17th century until 1957, when their Rockingham House was destroyed by a fire. There still remains the shell of stables, and sinister, dark tunnels that lead to Key Lake---designed to obscure the servants from their affluent, fainthearted guests.

Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre

Fodor's choice

Recently moved from its town center location in a bonded warehouse, the visitor center is now located at its modern plant at Clonminch outside Tullamore. Highlights include whiskey tours, tasting sessions, and a whiskey master class. In 2014, a €35 million distillery opened at Clonminch on the outskirts of town, bringing whiskey production back to the area after a gap of 60 years. The company embarked on a €10 million global marketing campaign, and today it's the world's second-largest and fastest-growing Irish whiskey brand—just behind Jameson. It's all a far cry from humble beginnings in 1829 when Tullamore Distillery was founded. It was greatly expanded under the aegis of Daniel E. Williams, whose family became joint shareholders, and his own initials (D. E. W.) were added to the whiskey's name, inspiring the slogan "Give every man his Dew" (which appeared on the bottles for many years). Triple distilled, and made from a unique blend of single malt, pot still, and grain whiskey, it is regarded by connoisseurs as exceptionally smooth. The visitor center shows several short videos on the history of the company and guided tours reflect the aroma aspects of the whiskey alongside infographics panels. The tour includes a 105-minute “behind-the-scenes” visit of the working distillery, an Irish coffee, still house visit, and experiment in the blending lab---where you can “dip the dog” and taste whiskey straight from the cask in the so-called secret warehouse snug. 

Anthony Trollope Trail

This trail, created to honor the celebrated English Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (1815–82), takes in 27 locations throughout Leitrim and incorporates many fascinating topographical spots, including an area along the River Shannon known as Flaggy Bottoms. Trollope, a senior civil servant, was sent to Drumsna in 1843 to investigate the financial affairs of the postmaster. While living there he wrote his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, drawing inspiration from the nearby ruin of Headford House. A leaflet and information on the trail is available from the tourist office in Carrick-on-Shannon ( 071/962–0170). A series of events was held in 2015 to mark his bicentenary and helped rekindle interest in the man who introduced pillar boxes to both Ireland and Britain.

Co. Leitrim, Ireland

Bear Essentials Ireland

Relive your childhood at this fun stop for all ages where you can view the largest collection of teddy bears in Ireland. Each bear is handcrafted in the workshop from the finest mohair. The Silver Bear Centre and gift shop is next door. There's a "Teddy Bear Hospital" on-site, where you can bring your damaged teddy for repair or redesign, and the shop also sells "My First Teddy," a baby bear for infants. Free 30-minute tours of the visitor center must be prebooked.

Bawnboy, Co. Cavan, Ireland
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Tues.–Sat. 9–6, Sun.–Mon. by prior arrangement

Birr Library

In keeping with the historic townscape character, it's worth calling in here to see what ranks as one of Ireland's most spectacular locations for a library. Based in the ground floor of the Birr municipal offices (and a former convent), the building was designed by A. W. N. Pugin and completed by his son Edward in the mid-19th century. The former chapel—which is now the library—has retained the exquisite Gothic-style stone and mullioned, stained-glass windows. Upstairs you will find a facsimile of an early Christian illuminated manuscript, the Gospel Book of MacRegol, also known as the Book of Birr and the Rushworth Gospels, on permanent display. MacRegol was a scribe, bishop, and abbot in Birr. The original manuscript, which is now in Oxford's Bodleian Library, was produced around AD 800 and consists of 169 vellum folios or leaves. The library also offers Internet service and you can pick up some local tourist information leaflets and brochures here, too.

Boyle Abbey

Founded in 1161, this fine Romanesque and Gothic-style abbey is located on the edge of town on the banks of the River Boyle, directly across from the five-arch Abbeytown Bridge, which was constructed in the same era. A glass wall supports the roof, creating an atmospheric glow later in the day. The nave is unusual in that it has a mix of architectural styles, which marks the years of construction and expansion. Animals and figures are intricately carved---and another surprise is the presence of a pagan sheila-na-gig fertility symbol. After the dissolution of the monasteries by invading forces, the abbey was transformed into a military base before becoming a cornerstone of Boyle Castle.

Boyle Abbey, Roscommon, Co. Roscommon, Ireland
sights Details
Rate Includes: €5, Closed late Sept.--late Mar.

Cathedral of Christ the King

The town's largest structure is the Renaissance-style Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King, completed in 1939. Note the facade's finely carved stonework, and the mosaics of St. Patrick and St. Anne by the Russian artist Boris Anrep in the spacious interior. There's a museum in the cathedral, and you can wander through the building anytime the doors are open, knowing you will be restricted when mass is in session.

Charleville Castle

One relic of Tullamore's pre-famine era is found on the southwestern edge of town, where you'll find a storybook neo-Gothic 19th-century castle. Its Flag Tower and turrets rise above its domain of 30 acres of woodland walks and gardens. The Georgian–Gothic Revival house was built as a symbol of English oppression over French and Irish (the French revolutionary forces had become a little too cozy with the Irish locals). In fact, the floor plan is even modeled on the Union Jack. Commissioned by Baron Tullamore and dating from 1812, the castle is a rural example of the work of architect Francis Johnston, who was responsible for many of Dublin's stately Georgian buildings. The interiors are somewhat the worse for wear and parts of the castle, such as the Stairwell Restoration Project (also known as Harriet's Staircase), are works in progress, but the William Morris–designed dining room ceiling has its original stenciled wallpaper with gold leaf. And the building still holds wide appeal: paranormal groups hold investigations in it, filmmakers are attracted to it (castle scenes were used in 2019 for the Netflix comedy The Knight Before Christmas, and for the biographical romantic drama Becoming Jane about the life of Jane Austen), and tourists love to hear the stories of previous owners and its secret passage.

Descended through the Bury family, who eventually lost their fortune and left no heirs, the castle became an orphan in the 1960s and is being slowly restored. The surrounding forest is said to be haunted by the spirits of the ancient Druids. The castle is open all year. In the summer, guided tours leave every 40 minutes between 11 am and 5 pm, and in the winter at noon, 2, and 4 pm, when it is best to call ahead to book.

To reach the castle by car it is a 2-km (1-mile) drive on a rough narrow lane off the main road, so be aware of ramps and potholes along part of it. Look out also for the King Oak in the grounds—estimated to be between 400 and 800 years old—which stands just inside the main entrance.

Clara Bog Visitor Centre

As one of the best remaining examples of an intact raised bog in western Europe, Clara Bog is home to protected wildlife species, including the rare dark tussock moth, the keeled skimmer, a powder-blue dragonfly, as well as two rare midges and a click beetle. Unique bog plants, such as sphagnum mosses and the pink rosemary (Offaly's county flower), can be seen. Clara Bog's visitor center---based in Clara library---provides unique insights into bog ecology and 10,000 years of natural and social history through touch-screen, text, and audiovisuals. The center is staffed seasonally by education guides (call in advance to check on opening hours). A five-minute walk from Clara railway station, Clara Bog is a wet environment (deep pools and quaking surfaces), so dress appropriately and stay on the boardwalk.

Ballycumber Rd., Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland
sights Details
Rate Includes: Closed Nov.--Apr.; May--Sept., closed weekends

Coolbanagher Church

Coolbanagher Church, the familiar name for the exquisite Church of St. John the Evangelist, was, like Emo Court and Gardens, designed by James Gandon. On view inside are Gandon's original 1795 plans and an elaborately sculpted 15th-century font from an earlier church that stood nearby. Adjacent to the church is Gandon's mausoleum for Lord Portarlington, his patron at Emo. The church is open only by advance telephone arrangement.

Emo Court and Gardens

History, architecture, and nature merge in a happy commingling at Emo Court, a quintessential landmark of Irish Palladian elegance and a fine large-scale country house. The house is currently closed to the public---expected to reopen in 2023---although the extensive grounds may still be visited free of charge. The main drive is an avenue lined with magisterial Wellingtonia trees and it is a good introduction to one of Ireland's great treasure-house views. Built in the late 18th century and designed by architect James Gandon—it's thought to be his only domestic work matching the grand scale of his Dublin civic buildings such as the Custom House and the Four Courts. Construction continued on and off for 70 years, as family money troubles followed the untimely death of Emo's original patron and owner, the 1st Earl of Portarlington.

In 1994, stockbroker Cholmeley-Harrison donated Emo House to the Irish nation. The ground-floor rooms have already been beautifully restored and decorated and are prime examples of life on a grand scale. Among the highlights are the entrance hall, with trompe-l'oeil paintings in the apses on each side, and the library, which has a carved Italian-marble mantel. Emo's 55 acres of grounds include a 20-acre lake, lawns planted with yew trees, a small garden (the Clocker) with Japanese maples, and a larger one (the Grapery) with rare trees and shrubs. Other fabulous trees include the Bhutan Pine, the Handkerchief and Blue Atlas Cedar, while walnut trees provide a rich source of food for red squirrels foraging in the canopies. Three of the 10 Irish species of bats have been recorded here: Leisler's bat, the brown long-eared bat and the evocatively named Soprano pipistrelle.

Make time for a 3-km (2-mile) stroll around the attractive lake walkway, which includes two footbridges. Afterward, visit the tearoom serving tasty snacks and light lunches, and the gift shop.

In the café choose from Jeeve and Jericho, black loose tea with a perfumed aroma, or try the Laois Apple Juice, straight from Emo's own orchards.

Heritage House

Remodeled interpretation, time lines, and new infographics were added during 2020 at the Heritage House, also known as the former North Boys School. The displays feature a variety of aspects of Laois life as well as the history of Abbeyleix and the de Vescis, an Anglo-Norman family who, in 1699, came to live at an estate nearby. They were instrumental in building and developing the new town of Abbeyleix in 1770. The school was originally constructed for the education of Catholics (at the other end of the town you'll find the South School, built for Protestants). Hour-long guided walking tours of the town are held in the summer while another tour links the center with new boardwalks at Abbeyleix Bog on the southern outskirts of the town that encompasses a 500-acre area of diverse habitats. Both tours costs €7 which includes admission to the house. Check the website for details of tour dates and times.

Main St., Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Ireland
sights Details
Rate Includes: €5, €7 for guided tour, Nov.--Feb. closed Sun. and Mon.; Mar.--Oct. closed Sun.

Heywood Gardens

The Lutyenses' house, once in the pretty Georgian village of Ballinakill, burned down in 1950 due to an electrical fault, but the gardens, with landscaping most likely attributable to the famed Gertrude Jekyll, are still worth a detour. Guided one-hour tours by prior booking (Monday--Thursday) are available through this gardener's paradise, where a formal lawn flanked by traditional herbaceous borders leads to a sunken Italian garden. Highlights include a rose called Natalie Naples and Johnston's Blue geraniums.

King House

The mannequins that recite the backstory of the King clan haven’t a cheerful disposition, but then again, neither did the family they depict, and many of them have a grim tale to tell in this large, white-painted Georgian mansion. The often brutal, sometimes glorious stories of Connaught chieftains, sibling squabbles, and the tragedy and evictions during the famine are just some of the topics recounted. Many of the props are interactive and child friendly---and Tarzan The Ape Man (1934) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) star Maureen O’Sullivan, who was born in Boyle, has a room devoted to her story. The King family moved to Lough Key until it burnt down in 1957, while King House fell into disuse after it had a stint as an army barracks. The courtyard has a crafts shop, café, and weekly farmers’ market.

Laois Garden Trail

Connecting 10 of the county's celebrated formal gardens and expertly maintained privately owned ones, this driving route promotes the area's horticultural heritage. There's no trailhead for the tour so start the trail wherever you wish and spend as long as you'd like in each garden. Stops include the state-run gardens at Emo Court and Heywood House, as well as Gash Gardens in Castletown, which offers a delightful river walk along the banks of the Nore; the demesne gardens of Castle Durrow, with its glorious scented roses; and the organically managed potager-style kitchen garden of Dunmore Country School, just outside Durrow. For those interested and with time to spare, the Dunmore School also holds one-day gardening courses. There is a charge for only one garden, at Ballintubbert (€10); admission to the others is free.

Maps of the trail are available in Portlaoise Tourist Office based in the Dunamaise Arts Centre in Church Street.

Laois Heritage Trail

Stop by the Portlaoise Tourist Office in the Dunamaise Arts Centre to pick up a map of the Laois Heritage Trail, a signposted, daylong drive on quiet back roads that takes in 13 heritage sites, ranging from Abbeyleix to Emo Court. The circular trail starts in Borris-in-Ossory on the N7.

Some sites along the trail charge an admission fee.

Luan Gallery

The Luan Gallery has created a much-needed municipal space to showcase the work of local artists from throughout the Midlands. Since its opening in 2012, Athlone's cultural status has risen a few notches, and this contemporary visual-arts gallery, idyllically sited on the River Shannon, has been well supported by both townspeople and tourists. While it organizes exhibitions and guided tours featuring both emerging and established local artists, the Luan also draws on the national and international permanent collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

Morrissey's Pub

Don't miss Morrissey's. A working public house since 1775, this is one of Ireland's best-loved drinking emporiums and has a dark, wood-panel interior furnished with antique bar fittings. Customers can warm themselves by an ancient potbelly stove. Until 2005, this establishment still functioned as a shop, and while it retains its stocks of groceries, they are no longer for sale. An evocative time capsule, it serves as a reminder of times when you could purchase a pound of butter, the newspaper, and cattle feed while enjoying the obligatory pint of Guinness. They serve sandwiches in the afternoon, which you can enjoy alfresco at picnic tables at the front of the bar, and pizzas are available into the late evening.

10 Main St., Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Ireland


Coined the “Camelot on the Shannon” by romantic souls, Rindoon was built in 1227 and the population at its height was 1,000 people---a significant town in its day. By the late 13th and early 14th centuries the town was destroyed---and forgotten as the centuries passed.  Today, its town wall, castle, bee bole, medieval hospital, windmill, gatehouse, church, and mill are quite remarkably preserved.

Lisnageeragh, Co. Roscommon, Ireland

Rock of Dunamase

A dramatic 150-foot-high limestone outcrop, the famous Rock of Dunamase dominates the landscape east of Portlaoise. For this reason, it was used as a military stronghold. As far back as AD 140, its occupants kept watch against marauders, and it was fought over in turn by the Vikings, Normans, Irish, and English. Today it's crowned by the ruins of a 12th-century castle, once home to Diarmuid MacMurrough, king of Leinster, who precipitated the Norman invasion when he invited the famed and feared Norman leader Strongbow to Ireland to marry his daughter. Some of the castle's thick walls still stand after it was largely destroyed during the Cromwellian invasion in 1650.

Take the short walk to its summit to enjoy the view of the Slieve Bloom Mountains to the north and the Wicklow Mountains to the south.

N80 (Stradbally Rd.), Portlaoise, Co. Laois, Ireland

Roscrea Castle and Damer House

In the very center of town is Roscrea Castle, a Norman fortress dating from 1314, given by King Richard II to the Duke of Ormonde. Inside are vaulted rooms graced with tapestries and 16th-century furniture. A ticket to the castle gains entry to the adjacent Damer House, a superb example of an early-18th-century town house on the grand scale. The house has a plain, symmetrical facade and a magnificent carved-pine staircase inside; on display are exhibits about local history. The Damer Art Gallery is on the second floor, while on the third the Kelly Exhibition showcases furniture and farm implements donated from a local farmhouse. Guided 45-minute tours are held in spring and summer. Your ticket also includes entry to the restored Black Mills in Church Street, a small museum with local artifacts, of which the star attraction is St. Cronan's High Cross.

Roscrea Country Market

For a real taste of some honest-to-goodness Tipperary home baking, try to catch the Roscrea Country Market, held every Friday 10–1 at the Abbey Hall, for whole-grain scones and breads, apple and rhubarb tarts, fruit and sponge cakes, and homemade jams. Potatoes, vegetables, eggs from free-range chickens, and flowers are also on offer. The market has been running since 1962.

St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church

Sparkling with its restored granite walls, St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church is a striking Baroque ecclesiastical landmark that many come to see. Built in a completely different style from that generally adopted in Ireland, the church opened on June 29, 1937 (the feast day of the patron saints of St. Peter and St. Paul). Repair work on the impressive interior included redecoration of the vaulted ceiling, walls, floors, and pews. Dominating the skyline for many miles around, the twin campaniles symbolize the saints, while the squat copper dome adds to the overall grace of this much-loved building. Look out for the six fine stained-glass windows from the famed Harry Clarke Studios in Dublin. The tribute window to St. Patrick is a riot of glorious color.