Magical castles, mythical mountains and a wonderland of wildlife: explore the secrets of the Grand Canal from the charming town of Tullamore.
Looking out over the Leinster Aqueduct as it crosses the River Liffey in County Kildare, it’s hard to believe this majestic waterway was created by sheer manpower all those years ago. This is the Grand Canal – a glorious 18th century masterpiece that teams with nature, stories and heritage along its 131 kilometres from Dublin city to the River Shannon. Having closed to commercial traffic back in 1951, today the canal is a place of pure pleasure, with slow-moving waters that flow west over the plains of County Kildare through lush woodland and rare bogland, past working farms, and into the heart of some of the island’s most charming towns and villages.
One such town is bustling Tullamore in County Offaly, where grand buildings such as St Catherine’s church rub shoulders with buzzing shops, friendly cafes and gorgeous little restaurants such as the Harbour Street-favourite, The Blue Apron. Linked to Dublin by the Grand Canal in 1798, this is a town of big dreams and compelling characters, from local man Daniel E Williams who turned Tullamore D.E.W. whiskey into an international success story, to the Earl of Charleville and his glorious 19th century gothic-revival castle, nestled into ancient oak woods by the River Clodiagh.
To find out more about the town’s intriguing past, visit the Offaly History Centre and pick up a map or enjoy an audio guide via app of the Tullamore Town Historical Tour. Wandering around the streets here, some of which boast houses dating to the 1740s, you can delve into the history of the town’s barracks, distilleries and a devastating hot-air balloon disaster some 230 years ago.
Tullamore’s laid-back sway makes it an easy place to linger, but head out of town and you’ll discover a gentle landscape that’s a dream to explore both on the water and off it. The even towpath – used for centuries by horses pulling barges – is a go-to for cyclists and walkers, who are drawn to its wildflower-strewn banks, pretty humpbacked bridges and marshy bogland that’s home to herons, moorhens and blue tits. Nature is given free rein in this part of the island, but the Grand Canal Way is also punctuated with fascinating reminders of the past that add weight to a walk here, including crumbling Ballycowan Castle, Lynally monastery, Srah Castle and Boland’s Lock Keeper’s House.
Away from the water, you can change your perspective entirely with a visit to the Slieve Blooms, one of Europe’s oldest mountain ranges, or get a dose of art-meets-nature at the Lough Boora Discovery Centre. You can explore the elegant, architectural wonder of Castletown House in County Kildare or snuggle down with a pint in front of the fire in The Thatch pub in Crinkill.
Gentle strolls or challenging hikes, historical treasures or pub lunches – no matter how you choose to explore, the Grand Canal is sure to work its magic on you.