Places of interest in the heart of Ireland

Posted by Neil Hand on the 1st of August 2014 at 10:11:42

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Many of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations are located in coastal areas or counties. Think Connemara, Dingle, Dublin, Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, The Burren etc.

There are great things to see and do throughout the island of Ireland, and I’m going to look at some of my favourite attractions and locations in the midlands in this piece.

As touched upon in a recent piece of mine, the Shannon is a major influence over the central regions of the country. The rich, alluvial soil of the river makes the heartland and spine of the country one of the most green and floral throughout the land. If you are keen to see where the expression ‘Emerald Isle’ comes from, and to experience the lush grass between your toes, you should check out some of my picks below:


Carrick-on-Shannon is located in County Leitrim, in Connaught, and is the county-town, or ‘capital’ of Leitrim. As the name of the town indicates, the town is located on the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland. It is one of the most popular locations for pleasure cruises on the river, and has a large marina that’s busy all year round.

The river really dominates Carrick-on-Shannon, its gentle flow influencing the laid-back, leisurely atmosphere of the town. The town is located conveniently 2 hours from both Belfast & Dublin, and just over a 30 minute drive to Sligo in the North West. It’s always been a favourite of mine to stop at for a bite to eat, or a drink (should I have the pleasure of being driven somewhere!) when passing through.


Athlone is generally regarded as the capital of the midlands, and is very much at the heart of Ireland (the geographical centre of Ireland is 8.85km North/Northwest of the town). It lies on the border between Counties Westmeath and Roscommon, but officially is part of County Westmeath. It is subsequently the place where the provinces of Leinster and Connacht meet.

Lough Ree, the largest lake on the Shannon, is a short trip upstream by boat. The size and popularity of Lough Ree amongst those who travel the Shannon means the lake and river send a lot of travellers into Athlone to enjoy its pleasant midlands charm. The town is also very well serviced by public transport, with a good-sized train and bus station. This infrastructure has helped Athlone to become a popular start or finishing point for boating or fishing trips on the Shannon. The town itself is steeped in history, with links to famous Irish King Brian Boru and Norman conquests.

Take a trip to Athlone for a unique Irish experience.


Portlaoise is the County Town of County Laois, and is one of my personal favourite towns in Ireland to visit.

The town stands at a major crossroads between Dublin, Limerick & Cork, and is always a popular rest-stop for people travelling these roads. An important natural feature near Portlaoise worth visiting is The Heath, a vast level plain backed by hills. There is much evidence of Iron Age settlement here, with many Iron Age ringforts on display.

Portlaoise was renamed Maryborough, after Queen Mary of England, in 1557. The town underwent great changes in this period, the legacy of which can be seen in the ruins and architecture of the town. The name Maryborough remained until a few years after Irish independence, when it was changed back to Portlaoise in 1929.

A must-see in Portlaoise is The Rock of Dunamase, the imposing remains of a Celtic fortification located on the edge of town.


Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, is a monastic site built on the banks of the River Shannon, and is a must-see on any tour of Ireland.

The extensive ruins include a cathedral, castle, round tower, numerous churches, two important high crosses, and a large collection of early Christian grave slabs (the last two on display in the excellent site museum).

Clonmacnoise was founded in 548 by St. Ciaran, the son of a master craftsman. The settlement soon became a major centre of religion, learning, trade, craftsmanship and politics, thanks in large part to its position at the major crossroads of the River Shannon (flowing north-south) and the gravel ridges of the glacial eskers (running east-west).

Like nearly all monastic settlements in Ireland, Clonmacnoise was plundered on several occasions by invaders, including the Vikings and Anglo-Normans. It then fell into decline from the 13th century onwards until it was destroyed in 1552 by the English garrison from nearby Athlone.

Clonmacnoise was designated a national monument in 1877 and is now overseen by the Office of Public Works (OPW). Don’t miss the excellent on-site museum, which includes a visual timeline of the site, the original high crosses from the site, and a fantastic collection of early Christian gravestones dating from the 8th through 12th centuries. Guided tours are available as well as audio visual presentations.


Thurles is a beautiful little town located in North Tipperary, and lies in the heart of the Suir valley. Geographically, the area is picture-postcard Ireland. The town is largely surrounded by mountains; the Silvermines to the North West and the Slieveardagh Hills to the South East.

Thurles is known as an important town for GAA, Ireland’s national games, and in particular hurling. Semple Stadium is the second biggest stadium of any kind in Ireland, with only the gargantuan Croke Park in Dublin eclipsing it. The capacity of the stadium is 53,500, around half of which is seated. Due to County Tipperary’s strong hurling heritage and success down through the ages, Semple Stadium is widely regarded as the home of the sport of hurling.

There are many monastic settlements and castles around Thurles, a town that truly wears its identity and history on its sleeve.

Contact us today for help arranging your tour of the midlands and beyond and take advantage of our vast experience of organising vacations in Ireland.

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