The O’Connor clan first became the King of Connacht back in 1049 when Aedh O’Connor defeated the King of Connacht in battle at the time. O’Connor went on to build a castle in the town of Tuam, and this became a stronghold for the O’Connor’s for years to come, and today, is the perfect starting point as you retrace the steps of Ireland’s last King.
Turlough O’Connor was one of Connacht’s most famous kings, ruling for 50 years from 1106 to 1156. Turlough kept Tuam as his stronghold in Connacht with the town becoming the central town of Connacht during both Turlough and Rory O’Connor’s reign. It was also briefly an area of significant importance for Ireland from 1128 – 1156 when Turlough O’Connor was the High King of Ireland. While visiting Tuam, there are two locations in particular to explore – St Mary’s Cathedral and the Chair of Tuam. The first cathedral on the site of St Mary’s was founded by Turlough O’Connor in the 12th century to symbolise Tuam as a seat of an archbishop following the Synod of Kells in 1152. The High Cross of Tuam is located in the cathedral, while the remains of a cross shaft dating back to the 12th century can also be found.
Next up is the Chair of Tuam, a monument which is located at the ancient site of Rory O’Connor’s Castle in Tuam. The castle is believe to have been founded in approx. 1171 by King Rory, while the Chair of Tuam was unveiled in 1980 by the Archbishop of Armagh. Other attractions to check out in Tuam include the Mill Museum and Temple Jarlath.
From Tuam, head north to Mayo and the town of Cong. Here you will find Cong Abbey, the abbey at which King Rory O’Connor spent his final years in solace, and where he was initially led to rest following his death. Cong Abbey was originally founded by Turlough O’Connor, and during his final years, Rory constructed new buildings on the site. Other locations to consider visiting in Cong include The Quiet Man Museum and the stunning Ashford Castle.
Once you have finished visiting Cong, head back south to Galway exploring the banks of Lough Corrib on your travels. This was a key area for the O’Connor clan for centuries, with many key buildings believed to be strategically built around it. Lough Corrib is the largest lake in Ireland, offering several great viewpoints and walks should you want to explore the area on foot as you go. The towns of Oughterard and Moycullen are worth stopping in as you travel to Galway City, with Aughnanure Castle a particular highlight. Make your way towards Galway City where you can call it a day.
Finish your day by visiting Galway City, one of the most popular cities in Ireland. You could easily lengthen your stay in Galway to spend more time in the city, and even explore the stunning Connemara area and the rugged Galway coast (view our 4-day Bay Coast itinerary for more information). Begin your tour of Galway City by visiting the Medieval area and Lynch’s Castle. From here, make the Latin Quarter your next stop, with the Spanish Arch and Eyre Square popular with tourists and visitors alike. If you’re looking to enjoy the famous Galway nightlife, this is a great place to start.
Other attractions to consider visiting in Galway City include the Galway City Museum at Galway Harbour and Galway Atlantaquaria, Ireland’s National Aquarium. The city’s museum will take you back to the 12th century and the medieval period allowing you to find out more about the role of both Turlough and Rory O’Connor in shaping the city, county, and indeed the province of Connacht. Call it a night in the city and get ready to set off to explore Offaly in day two.
As you depart from Galway consider making a quick stop in the coastal towns of Salthill or Oranmore before making a quick pit stop in Athenry as you head east towards Offaly. Here you can check out sites including Athenry Castle and Athenry Priory. From Athenry, head south towards the popular town of Birr, and discover the role this area played in Irish astrology during the mid 19th century.
Home of the Great Telescope, Birr Castle was an area of scientific importance during the 19th century. Much of this was down to the development of the Great Telescope in the 1840s by the 3rd Earl of Rosse. When built it was the largest telescope in the world, attracting visitors from far and wide. Today, this impressive telescope remains a big attraction to people visiting Offaly. Birr Castle itself is an impressive building, while the stunning gardens and adjoining Science Centre ensure you have plenty to see and do. If you’re travelling with kids, Birr Castle is home to Ireland’s largest tree house. Take some time exploring Birr Castle and Gardens before heading into Birr to explore the town.
If you’re a fan of castles, Offaly is home to many famous castles to explore, so from Birr consider heading south towards The Leap, and Ireland’s most haunted castle, Leap Castle. From Birr, head south and make a quick stop in the town of Moneygall. Conveniently located off the main M7 motorway to Limerick, Moneygall has gained fame in recent years as the ancestral home of former U.S. President, Barack Obama. Obama is believed to be a descendant of Falmouth Kearney who left Ireland for America in 1850. Visit the Barack Obama Plaza where you can discover more about this story, and about the former president’s trip back to Ireland, and Moneygall in 2011.
From Moneygall head north to one of Offaly’s undoubted highlights, the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise. Founded by St. Ciaran in the 6th century, Clonmacnoise was an area of huge religious importance for Christians from the 6th century, with many Irish kings thought to be buried here. Among the kings buried at Clonmacnoise are Turlough O’Connor and his son Rory O’Connor. While Rory is believed to have originally been buried at Cong Abbey, his body was moved to Clonmacnoise in 1198 where he was buried near the altar. Clonmacnoise has several ancient buildings on the site including round towers, high crosses, a cathedral and several churches. It is also home to the largest collection of graveslabs in Western Europe.
From Clonmacnoise make your way towards the town of Tullamore where you can choose to visit the popular Tullamore Distillery should time allow. Tullamore is located near the town of Athlone, considered by many to be the modern centre of Ireland. From here you are well placed to venture east towards the historic locations of the Hill of Uisneach and the Hill of Tara, two ancient locations famed for the crowning of many Irish High Kings.
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