Now that we are all locked down in our various counties I miss my occasional trips to Offaly to visit old friends. I keep an eye on local news on line and love the Tullamore Tribune and the Offaly Express. I was dismayed the other day to see a report on the Express that Offaly ranked lowest in Ireland on a Liveability Index! What in the name of Heaven is a Liveability Index!! I decided to look into it all a little further. Seemingly a father and son (with obviously too much time on their hands!) decided to rate every county in Ireland on four (4!!) parameters. One criterion was natural amenity which they assessed by developing ‘a unique method of ranking the natural amenity of a particular area using the percentage of each area covered by water and mountains and attributed as urban’ (Leinster Express 16 Jan 2021 Lynda Kiernan). Having spent so many happy years in Offaly I would certainly disagree with the findings and would challenge that duo to explain them fully! The very fact that Offaly is not covered with water and mountain makes it one of the most attractive counties in Ireland. Offaly’s unique landscape is one of peace and tranquility. The wide open stretches of bog covered with the most wonderful heathers and gorse throughout the year make it a joy to behold in any season. A mid 19th century saying that when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season is certainly true of midland scenery!
Our peatlands are an important part of our Irish heritage and culture and Offaly plays such an important role in the story. There are the wonderful Lough Boora Parklands, Turraun and Finnamore Lakes which showcase the reclaimed bogs and the many natural treasures of Offaly. One can spend days in this mid Offaly heaven enjoying the wide and wild expanses of countryside where a bird sanctuary gives you a glimpse of so many of our feathered friends. Also in Boora, as one walks the enchanted ways of early Ireland one can also enjoy the most modern of European sculpture set in an open landscape . The outdoor museum here is a monument to our contemporary artists and a fitting tribute to all of our ancestors who lived on and managed the bogs of Ireland. Hopefully the new Just Transition project signifying the demise of Bord Na Mona will be positive for the area.
Another treasure is Clara bog with miles of open countryside inviting you to contemplate early settlers who lived in the area and examine the beautiful flora and fauna there. This is one of the best remaining raised bogs in Europe and with nearby Woodfield bog it has been said that you can experience ten thousand years of history in ten square kilometres. I would love to walk Liveability father and son around that a few times! One only has to move a few miles in any direction to find early Christian settlements. One of these is St Manchan’s shrine, Boher. This shrine is a 12th century reliquary and is said to have been commissioned by Turlough O Connor, High King of Ireland. In the church where this shrine is housed you will find magnificent stained glass windows by the internationally renowned Harry Clarke. Durrow and Clonmacnoise are both internationally famous early Christian sites which are also within a 10k radius. Croghan Hill, not too far away, is another beloved Offaly site and is said to be an extinct volcano. If mountains and lakes are still needed the lovely Slieve Bloom mountains are to the south of the county and the intrepid Liveability pair can find the Clear Lake, if they wish! There is also Charleville lake near Tullamore and many more waterways throughout the county.
Urban settings and proximity to a city were also mentioned by our father/son duo as a parameter for their Index. Offaly is the most ideally suited county to access all parts of Ireland. It is so centrally located and equidistant from Dublin and Galway. Excellent rail and road services mean that both cities are little more than an hour from Tullamore, Offaly’s principal town. Edenderry to the east is even nearer to Dublin while Birr and Banagher to the west of the county have easy access to Ballinasloe and Galway.
House prices and sunshine were the other two factors to be examined in determining liveability! I really cannot comment on house prices as I have not lived in Offaly for a long time. In terms of sunshine, I would urge the authors of the report to co-opt the Carlow weather forecaster or the Donegal postman to help them with their thoughts on the matter. Suffice to say that while living in Offaly I enjoyed many a glorious day strolling the banks of the Grand canal, having picnics in Birr castle gardens, Clononey castle, Kinnitty , Cadamstown and Charleville demesne to mention but a few beauty spots. The sun certainly shone on all my summers there!
More important than all those amenities are the people of Offaly who are among the friendliest and kindest I have ever met. When I worked in the hospital in the early seventies I was never without a friend or companion to go for walks or to the cinemas. There was always a group to go to the Harriers, the Central or the carnival in Daingean! I always felt very much part of the community and ‘blow –in’ was as much a term of endearment as a tease. I am proud to say many of us are still very much in contact and we are looking forward to a reunion in the Bridge House and Court Hotel when this pandemic is over! I just hope we don’t run into that pair who wrote the Liveability Index!