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Tullamore, is the capital town of Offaly, situated in a central position
in the faithful county. It has many attractions including golfing, walking
tours, fishing, many fine restaurants and and soon to have plentiful accommodation.
(WATCH THIS SPACE!) The town is also the Midlands' central hub for entertainment,
with several nightclubs and most sporting activities well catered for.
Towns in Offaly
Banagher is a picturesque town on the east bank of a shannon crossing.
It is fortified on the Connacht side with a Martello tower and other batteries.
Anthony Trollop was stationed here as Post Office surveyor and he commenced
his first published book The Mac Dermots of Ballycloran (1843-7) here.
The Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, Rector of Banagher, who married Charlotte
Bronte, the authoress of Wuthering Heights died in Banagher in 1906. The
father of Oscar Wilde, Sir William Wilde attended Cuba House school - sadly
the building, once described as the most masculine house in Ireland, no
longer exists. The ruined church and graveyard are on the site of an early
monastery. The shaft of a High Cross from the monastery is in the National
Museum. The Catholic church (1972) is by Robinson, Keefe and Devane and
has a statue of the Madonna by Imogen Stuart
Crank House, Banagher
This house dates from about 1760. It is a two storey, six bay Georgian
townhouse with a bow front and a superb limestone doorway. The building
was used as a residence up to the 19th Century, when a two storey granary
was attached. From 1916 until1946 the house served as a technical school.
In 1989, Offaly West Enterprise Society, a voluntary community group bought
the house and refurbished it. It is listed for preservation in the Offaly
County Council Development Plan (1986). Crank house currently houses Banagher
Tourist Information Point, a craft manufacturing and retail facility, a
coffee shop, an independent hostel and an exhibition area.
Guided Evening Walks
On Wednesdays during July there is a guided tour of Banagher leaving Crank
House at 7pm
Enquiries to Crank House (0509) 51458
Banagher along the Shannon
"Well that beats Banagher"
and the rejoiner,
"And Banagher beats the devil"
are popular well-known sayings associated with this vibrant town, still
a fording place on the lordly Shannon. Impressive fortifications guarding
the river crossing are still seen. "Beannchar na Sionna," according to
local historian Val Trodd, means "the place of the pointed rocks on the
Shannon". A strong tourism presence ha now revitalised Banagher. Angling
and all water sports are very much to the fore. A spacious marina caters
for the ever increasing river traffic, as does a new tourist information
point. Cross the seven-arch bridge to Connacht to detour a little to visit
Clonfert Cathedral, site of St. Brendan's celebrated monastery; the Romanesque
doorway here is superb.
And if you want more monastic treasures Clonmacnoise is with in easy reach.
It is a little further north, tucked between river and bog. Why not approach
it from the river on one of the river buses that cater for say journeys?
Along the river banks the Shannon Callows are the treasure house of the
wild flowers and the bird life. Inland from Banagher the countryside soon
changes from the humps of esker ridges to the "brown desert" or better
still the "brown gold" of the bog lands, a landscape unique in Europe.
Banagher on the Shannon and Birds of Brosnaland both by Val Trodd, will
provide any visitor with hours of pleasurable reading about this picturesque
town, and equally interesting countryside.
North of Lough Derg, the River Shannon has a very shallow gradient and
in parts regularly floods its banks. The restultant wet grassland area,
known as the Shannon Callows is an internationally renowned area for wild
birds and wildlife generally. The area holds one of the largest concentrations
of breeding waders in these islands including Lapwing, Redshank, Sandpiper
and Godwit. Extensive hay meadows hold large numbers of corncrake - one
of the few places in the world where this globally threatened species is
still common. Many species of migrant wild birds are also frequent visitors
while otters, fox and feret mink are common residents. Banagher, Shannon
Harbour, Shannonbridge and Clonmacnoise are excellent places to visit for
wildlife watching on the callows.
Cloghan Castle (Lusmagh)
- A Brief History
History states that St. Cronan established a monastery here in 600, later
thought to have been attacked by the Vikings. The Normans fortified the
remains of the monastery in 1203. The monastery was a cluster of small
stone buildings, which is called a Cloghan in Irish. The Normans built
a defensive wall around the monastery, a part of which still exists. In
1336 Eoghan O' Madden, the greatest chief of the O' Maddens, conquered
the territory of Lusmagh. He is thought to have built the present keep.
The O' Maddens lost the castle in 1595 during a siege which cost 200 lives.
Two companies of towers Cromwellian soldiers occupied the castle from 1651-1683
and built several extensions, including two towers. The castle figured
in the Williamite Wars when the Irish Jacobite Army camped outside the
gate in 1689. A number of gun metal coins, dated 1844, were found on the
site. The estate was 3,200 acres then, but was reduced after the Famine,
and reduced again after 1908. It is set in 70 acres of beautiful park land
with another 80 acres of ancient woodland, which is a wildlife sanctuary.
It is the oldest inhabited home in the country.
Birr, set at the merging of the Camcor and Little Brosna rivers, is an
old market and former garrison town dating to the 1620's. The early monastery
founded in Birr by St. Brendan of Birr produced the Gospels of Mc Regol,
named after the abbot at the turn of the century and now to be seen in
the Bodleian Library in Oxford. In the 16th century the O' Carrolls of
Ely had one of their castles here and this was granted to Sir Laurence
Parsons in the course of the Stuart plantation, c. 1620. Sir Laurence Parsons
built most of the structure of the present castle. The castle was twice
besieged in the 17th century and one of the towers still shows the scars
of the artillery of Patrick Sarsfield, who tried unsucessfully to take
it. The castle still remains the seat of the Earls of Rosse, but as a family
home is only open to the public on special occasions.
The surrounding demesne is open every day of the year, and the gardens
contain many fine trees and shrubs set in a landscaped park with waterfalls,
river and lakes. At the centre is the case of the Great Telescope built
by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1840's. This was the largest in the world until
1917. Rated with five stars in the official list of gardens of Outstanding
Historic Interest in the Republic of Ireland, and double-starred in the
Good Gardens Guide, the Birr Castle Demense has won both Bord Failte's
Special Award and Property of the year Award. To scientists and astronomers,
it offers what was, for over three quarters of a century, the largest telescope
in the world; to classical purists. It offers the formal gardens and layout
including the Box Hedges which figure in the Guinness Book of Records as
the tallest in the world, to gardeners, it offers a collection of over
a thousand different species of trees and shrubs, scientifically numbered
and catalogued; to nature lovers, it offers a park with lake, rivers and
waterfalls, on which you may see swans, herons and kingfishers, not to
mention the wild duck for which the demesne has been sanctuary since time
immemorial; to all it offers a part of our heritage to be experienced,
shared and enjoyed, summer or winter, any day of the year.
Laid out around a lake at the confluence of two lovely Irish rivers,
with waterfalls, fountains and bridges, the Birr Castle Demesne has now
more to offer than ever, with:
-its world famous gardens being further restored, its collection of plants
from all over the world being catalogued, tagged and labelled and educational
trails developed around the trees and shrubs of greatest distinction; -its
latest exhibition "Sugar and Spice", showing every afternoon from 1st May
to 30th September, what has been produced, cooked and eaten in the castle
over the centuries; -its facilities now including a tourist information
office, a coffee-shop, serving lunch as well as tea, and picnic and play
areas in particular beautiful locations; -its detailed brochure being available
in several languages.
- Special events taking place each year include concerts of chamber music
in the castle itself on the second Sunday in June and forth Sunday in August
(i.e. 13th June and 22nd August).
- Open every day throughout the year. 9am. - 1pm. and 2pm. - 5pm. January
- April and October - December. May - September 9am. - 6pm.
Birr itself has graceful wide streets and clean elegant buildings and the
association with the Parsons family is shown in the layout and structure
of this attractive town. Many of the houses in John's Place and Oxmantown
Mall have exquisite fanlight windows of the period. In Emmet Square stands
one of the oldest coaching inns in Ireland, dating from 1747 - Dooly's
Hotel. The name of Galway Blazers was given to the Galway Hunt after a
celebration held in the hotel in 1809 resulted in the premises being set
on fire. The column in the centre of the square dates from 1747 and was
built to carry the statue of the Duke of Cumberland. The statue was removed
in 1915 as it was in danger of collapse. On the Roscrea road, near the
County Arms Hotel is the beautiful gothic-style Catholic church of 1817-25.
Birr is now an officially designated Irish Heritage Town and well
deserves it for its rich Georgian heritage, so carefully preserved. But
it is no museum piece and has a bustle and vibrancy in the old streets,
its hotels, bars and fine restaurants. Six miles south west of Birr is
Clareen near to Seir Kieran, the site of an important monastery founded
by St. Ciaran (not to be confused with his more well known namesake of
Clonmacnoise). This may have been a pagan sanctuary in previous times,
and a prepetual fire is said to have burned there. The site of the monastery
is marked by earthworks, church ruins and early gravestones. There is also
the sculptured base of a high cross. About half a mile south of Clareen
cross-roads are St. Ciaran's Bush and Stone.
Guided Evening Walks
In Birr on Thursday evenings during August Margaret Hogan conducts guided
walks to places of historic interest departing from Dooly's Hotel. Contact
Margaret Hogan at (0509) 20337.
Edenderry is a market town on the Enfield-Tullamore road at the edge of
the Bog of Allen. Immediately south of the town is Blundell's Castle which
was acquired by the second Marquees of Downshire, married to a Blundell.
Most of the town was built by the Downshires, including the Corn Market
(Court House) dating from the 1830's.
There are many border castles in the area around Edenderry, which
stands near the edge of the English Pale, some of which belonged to the
Bermingham family. Three miles north of Edenderry the remains of the medieval
Bermingham church and castle of Carrickoris stand on Carrick Hill. The
road to Enfield crosses Cadbury Hill (4 miles East North East) from Edenderry
where there is a motte. In the 14th century the castle and district were
acquired by the Birminghams, but in the 15th century it was granted to
ancestors of the Duke of Wellington and they built the Tudor-Jacobean stronghouse.
The Catholic Church in Cadbury has two windows by Catherine O' Brien: The
Annunciation and SS Conleth and Brigid (1904).
Sir John Bermingham, Earl of Louth founded a Franciscan friary
in 1325 two miles west of Edenderry in Monasteroris. The overgrown ruins
of the friary, a dovecote on a motte and a small parish church remain there.
A modern cross commemorates Fr. Mogue Kearns and Anthony Perry who were
hanged at Edenderry for their part in the 1798 Insurrection, Remains of
the strong Bermingham castle of Kinnafad which commands a ford of the Boyne
lie three and a half miles North West of Edenderry.
Clara is a market town and once large manufacturing centre where the Moate
- Tullamore road crosses the Brosna river. Clara has had a strong industrial
base derived from textiles since the 1760's. The Protestant church dates
from 1770 and the Catholic church from the 1880's. In the vicinity of the
town are fine houses, mostly built by the Goodbody family in the late 19th
century. The Goodbody family have been associated with the town since the
1820's. Clara bog is a natural heritage area of great importance. It is
one of the largest remaining relatively intact raised bogs in Western Europe,
and provides a unique feature of the landscape and geological interest
stretching over an area of 1600 acres. The bog makes a habitat for unusual
plants such as Sundews, Bladderworts and Bog Rosemary ( the Offaly County
flower). If visiting the bog it is recommended that protective clothing
and waterproof footwear should be worn.
Cloghan a village on the road to Shannonbridge, was once an important cross-roads
village famous for its fairs. Two miles north west on this road are well
preserved (modernised) tower and bawn of Clonony Castle.
Until 1600 most of West Offaly formed the "tuath" or territory of Delvin,
the land of the Mac Coughlans. The Mac Coughlans were renowned castle builders
having castles at Cloghan, Banagher, Raghra (Shannonbridge), Coole (near
Ferbane), Kilcolgan (near Ferbane) and at another dozen sites. Among the
finest of these is the lofty castle of Clonony. Built on a limestone outcrop
and rising to fifty feet it dominates the surrounding landscape. The castle
has many colourful associations and just a few yards from the main entrance
to the castle lies a large limestone slab which bears an inscription telling
us that it was the tombstone of Elizabeth and Mary Bullyn. From the other
genealogical information on this slab we know these people to be relations
of Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII, and also of course, of
Anne's daughter who eventually became Queen Elizabeth I.
In the 1620s the castle was granted to Matthew de Renzi who was born in
Cologne, moved to Antwerp, London and thence Ireland. His relationship
with the Mac Coughlans was curious. Initially he spoke of being ostracised
by them (understandably since they had lost their lands to him) but relations
improved to the extent that de Renzi later learned the Irish language.
His tombstone in Athlone credits him with writing a dictionary in the Irish
In the 1830s, the castle belonged to Edmond Molony, a barrister-at-law.
A description of Colony in 1838 states that Molony was a counsellor who
"was bred to law and retained a very proper veneration for it". He kept
two Flagstaff on the battlements of Clonony which he used for the purpose
of commemorating his professional triumphs. His wife died in January 1839
and was interred in St. George's Chapel in London. The epitaph on her monument
erected by her husband is extremely long, having more than 300 words, including
the immortal lines: She was hot, passionate and tender, A highly accomplished
lady, And a superb drawer in water colours.
Clonbullogue village is one of the best kept in Ireland and is one of the
most successful in the Tidy Towns competition. The Irish Parachute Club
is based there.
Clonmacnois lies on the east of the River Shannon, 4 miles north of Shannonbridge.
After Armagh, Clonmacnois was the most important ecclesiastical centre
in Ireland. Many kings of Tara and Connacht were buried here, as well as
other rulers and eminent people. The monastery was founded by St Ciaran
who came down river from Lough Rea in January 545. Since the founding of
Clonmacnois it has been ravaged many times, by fire, plundered by the Vikings,
the Irish themselves, and the English. It was finally the English in 1552
who made Clonmacnois a complete ruin with all the altars, images, books,
bells and even the glass in the windows carried away as booty.
Clonmacnois at its prime was more than a monastery. It was a monastic
city with houses, workshops and some twelve or thirteen small churches
and oratories. Today there are the fragments of no more than eight churches
left together with two round towers, a cathedral, high crosses, graveslabs
and a 13th century ringwork castle. The last High King of Ireland, Roderick
O' Connor, who died in 1198 was buried here. In this peaceful rural setting
on the banks of the Shannon it is easy to imagine life in the days of the
Vikings and when the nobles of Europe sent their sons to be taught here.
On a sunny summer's day the prospect is quite pleasant, but on a winter's
day with the wind whipping up the Shannon they must have been very tough
to survive such a life. A new interpretative centre is shortly to open
at Clonmacnois which, it is hoped in line with the careful preservation
of the monuments, will enhance the appreciation of this site for visitors.
Guided tours are available throughout the summer and several books
and pamphlets on Clonmacnois have been published.
(north of Daingean)
This extinct volcano which rises to over seven hundred feet above sea level
commands extensive views of the surrounding midland counties. The mound
at the summit is thought to be a bronze age burial place. Bishop Mac Caille
had his church on the side of the hill and he lived around the time of
St. Patrick in the fifth century. The area has strong associations with
St. Bridget and modern historians are now of the opinion that the patroness
of Ireland was born near Croghan hill. The O' Connors of Offaly, the old
gaelic rulers before colonisation and plantation in the sixteenth century,
had one of their main residences here, and it was also the place of inauguration
of their chiefs. Just north of the hill is a holy well dedicated to St.
Daingean Formerly Philipstown is situated on the Grand Canal. When Offaly
was planted in the reign of Philip and Mary, (1557), the centre of the
planted lands became Philipstown, the county town of the King's county.
As the county was enlarged Philipstown was too far away from places in
the south, and Tullamore became the county capital in1833. The court-house
here dates from the 1800's and in the burial ground in the town are the
remains of Lewis Carroll's grandfather, Charles Dodgson.
Ferbane is situated on the Clara-Cloghan road. Half a mile south on the
south bank of the Brosna stands Gallen Priory (now the Convent of the Sisters
of Saint Joseph of Cluny). The priory is said to get its name from St.
Canoc, who was born in Wales and who formed a monastery called Gallen of
the Britons. In the middle Ages the monastery became an Augustinian priory.
The ruins of a 15th century parish church are situated a short distance
south if the convent and an early carved slab and cross-slabs are displayed.
In fact, at Gallen and Clonmacnois are a large number of early Christian
slabs - Offaly has some 400 of the 1,000 recorded. Six miles north of Ferbane
are the remains of Doon Castle, with a carved figure called a sheela-na-gig.
Five miles north east on the Ballycumber road lies Lemanaghan, where the
remains of a Romanesque church and an early slab mark the site of a monastery
founded by St. Manchan. Traces of St. Manchan's house can be found north
of the church, whilst to the east of the church is St. Manchan's Well,
from which a causeway leads to the "abbey". The "abbey" is an enclosure,
traditionally the cell of St. Manchan's mother, St Mella. Legend has it
that the stone between the well and "abbey" is where mother and son met
every day without speaking to each other. The shrine of St. Manchan's is
in Boher Church.
Geashill is a neat village on the Tullamore-Portarlington road. Early Anglo-Norman
occupation is indicated by the presence of a motte, but in the later Middle
Ages the district was first held by the O' Dempseys and the O' Connors,
and then by the Fitzgeralds, Lords of Offaly. Near the Protestant Church
are the remains of the castle which was held in 1642 by Lettice Fitzgerald
against her cousin Lord Clanmaliere.
Kilcormac is a small town on the Tullamore-Birr road, at the foot of the
Slieve Bloom mountains. There is a missal preserved in Trinity College,
Dublin, which belonged to a 15th century Carmelite priory in the town.
The Catholic Church dating from the 1860's is one of the first of the smaller
churches in the country and unusually contains memorials to local Catholic
gentry some of whom had strong European connections.
There's a treasure here well worth breaking a journey to stop off
and see, it is the 16th century Pieta which is kept in the parish church,
just off Main Street. The Pieta is a statue of Our lady holding the body
of Jesus after he had been taken from the Cross. The scene was a very popular
subject for sculptors in the in the middle ages in Europe, the most famous
one that exists to this day id by Michaelangelo in St. Peter's in Rome.
But the Kilcormac Pieta is different, being carved from a block of solid
oak and measuring 5 ft. x 3 ft. It is a very beautiful carving and is thought
to be the only one of its kind and era in Ireland. It is a subject of great
devotion in the area and the wonderful story of its survival, which was
passed on by word of mouth for generations was finally written down by
a former parish priest of Kilcormac, the late Father Andrew Shaw.
It is thought that the Pieta is of Spanish origin and according to tradition,
it was donated to the parish by a rich lady in the 16th century. It was
placed in the parish church, which at that time was in Ballyboy, about
1 mile from Kilcormac. There it remained until 1650 when Oliver Cromwell's
army was reported approaching from the direction of Cadamstown. Everyone
gathered up their possessions and prepared to flee to the woods when two
women thought of the Pieta. They rushed to the church, tool the Pieta outside
and buried it in a heap of rubbish. Later, under the cover of darkness,
a number of men brought it out and re-buried it in a bog, where it was
to lie for over sixty years. Had the Pieta not remained safely preserved
in the bog for those years, it is unlikely that it would have survived
to this day. During the years of persecution, the churches in Kilcormac
and Ballyboy were reduced to ruins.
To return to the Pieta, it is thought that sometime between 1700 and
1720, only one man remained alive who knew where it was buried, and according
to tradition, he was carried on his deathbed to point it out. The carving
was carefully recovered and when it was examined it was found to be in
perfect condition. It was then placed in the church that had recently been
built in Kilcormac, the whole parish was overjoyed to have their valued
Pieta among them again. It almost left the parish some years after that
when a priest, who was moving to Borrisokane , took it with him! However,
the parishioners brought it back and it has remained in the parish church
of Kilcormac to this day. So if you travel through Kilcormac some day,
call into the church and see for yourself this wonderful sculpture.
The town of Kilcormac (Cormac's Church) where the oak-carved Pieta now
rests was called Frankford for some 400 years before reverting to its ancient
title. Frankford would appear to relate to Francis Magawley who founded
the town on a ford across the Silver River. When travelling on the road
to Kilcormac make a detour to visit Rathlihen Cemetery, a pre Famine graveyard
and medieval church ruins which are well worth a visit. Turn left off the
main road about a mile from Blueball towards Mountbolus. The road to Rathlihen
is signpost on the right hand side. Take great care going down the lane
to the graveyard as it is very narrow. The graveyard has been brought to
its present beautiful condition by Mrs Daly of Ladywell. Three miles north
west of Kilcormac, excavations in Lough Boora uncovered the earliest known
traces of human activity in the Midlands. These dated from about the 8th
millennium B. C.. Stonework which was discovered indicated a temporary
fishing and hunting community.
Killeigh is a very pleasant village of historical importance situated on
the Tullamore-Mountmellick road. This 6th century foundation was the chief
church of east Offaly for almost a thousand years and the earthworks now
remaining do no justice to a once royal centre. In 1433 all the learned
and artistic people of Ireland gathered together at a festival given by
Margaret O' Carroll of Offaly. The Franciscan friary was looted by Lord
Deputy Grey, who stole the organ and windows from the church in the 530's.
The cemetery adjoining the church of Ireland church off the village green
commemorates old Offaly families, including the O' Connors, O' Dunnes,
O' Molloys and O' Dempseys.
Kinnity is situated on the Birr - Mountmellick road. To the south and east
rise the Slieve Blooms, which are full of beautiful scenery and have well
signpost routes. Kinnity is worth a day trip for its pleasant ambience,
historic sites and village pubs. The Protestant Church has a curious stone
in the porch inscribed with a cross and contains stained glass windows
by Catherine O' Brien and Ethel Rhind. One and a quarter miles to the north
east is Castle Bernard, which was formerly the property of the Department
The castle is believed to be by the Pain brothers and dates from the 1830's.
It was destroyed in the "Troubles" of the early 1920's and rebuilt such
that the interior has little to offer. There is a shaft of a High Cross
on the terrace with figure carvings including a Crucifixion on one face,
and an Adam and Eve on the other. This could be a relic of a monastery
founded in Kinnity in the 6th/7th century. One and a half miles north north
west of Kinnity on the north of the Camcor is a fragment of the head of
a High Cross which could be from the monastery founded by St Barrind in
the 6th century. Beside it is a Norman motte.
Rahan lies west of Tullamore and was the site of St Cathach's monastery.
Carthach or Carthage was one of the principal founders of Irish monasticism
and are ruins of two churches with Romanesque detail. The Jesuit retreat
house and former boarding school of Tullabeg, once on a par with Clongowes,
is now closed and the premises have been converted into a nursing home,
together with accommodation. There is a driving range and a 9 hole golf
course in the grounds. Whilst in this area it is worth travelling to Pullough
in order to see the bog oak fittings in the local church. The altar, ambo
and tabernacle are constructed from bog oak made by local Celtic Roots
company and stained glass windows on the altar are beautiful. One is known
to be by Harry Clarke, but the other is unsigned.
Shannonbridge is situated on the on the Cloghan - Ballinasloe road and
is a fortified river crossing with a small well preserved, early 19th century
fort built to secure the Connaght bridgehead. On the opposite side the
Shannon is joined downstream by the River Suck. This area is renowned for
bream, rudd and hybrids and has outstanding potential for the coarse angler.
The town is well known for its bars and music. Whilst in Shannonbridge
go for a tour on the Clonmacnnois and West Offaly Railway, which will take
you in a luxury train coach on a five and a half mile guided tour on the
Blackwater Bog, This gives a golden opportunity to discover many aspects
of Ireland's peatlands and is a must for visitors who want an authentic
Shannon Harbour - this village developed after 1800 as the terminus of
the Grand Canal through the Irish midlands. Now a somewhat sleepy village
with its old canal hotel in ruins, it has received a new lease of life
from the growth of pleasure traffic in the canal since the 1970's. Writing
in the late 1960's, James Pope Hennessy, biographer of Trollope, recorded
his impressions of Shannon Harbour which are perhaps true of other villages
too! "Shannon Harbour is by no means the only place of romantic beauty
in the immediate neighbourhood of the Shannon at Banagher. A little to
the south of the town a canal passes through the Victoria Lock, which,
like the town bridge, was constructed in 1843. Save for an occasional canal-boat,
this lock and its immediate surroundings are so unfrequented that even
fishermen do not trouble to go there.
Here the banks of the canal and of the Shannon itself sustain a vegetation
so rich and wild, so tangled and impenetrable too, that you are reminded
if the tributary of the Niger at Old Calabar or Bonny, or of the tropical
setting of the mountain torrents of Jamica and Dominica. Only the swans
or the geese in flight, the meandering presence of a donkey and her inquisitive,
velvet-snout foal, or the enthusiastic barking of a collie dog, pleased
perhaps to see a stray human being at last, remind you that you are in
Mullingar isn't too far away......