To the east of Birr, straddling the Offaly–Laois border, rises Slieve Bloom, the “mountain of Bladhma”, named after an ancient Connacht warrior who sought refuge here. Although it extends only for about 20km across and down, the massif provides welcome relief from the flatness of the Midlands and a refuge for wildlife including bog plants such as the insect-eating sundew, and birds including skylarks, kestrels and the rare peregrine falcon. The waymarked 77km Slieve Bloom Way describes a heavily indented circuit of most of the range, before passing underneath the highest point – Arderin (527m), which means, rather hopefully, the “height of Ireland”; shorter, signposted walks are detailed on the very useful website, wwww.slievebloom.ie. OS map #54 covers the whole of Slieve Bloom, while East West Mapping (wwww.eastwestmapping.ie) produces a useful 1:50,000 map-guide to the waymarked trail, available from local bookshops. For something more organized, get in touch with the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Co-operative at the community centre in Kinnitty, who run a walking festival over the bank-holiday weekend in early May and guided walks every Sunday afternoon thereafter until November.
The best base on the Offaly side of the mountains, within walking distance of the Slieve Bloom Way, is the charming village of KINNITTY, which huddles around a triangular green that’s traversed by a tiny stream.