Gardaí have begun a murder investigation after a woman was attacked and killed along the canal bank in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

The woman, who was in her early 20s, was attacked at around 4pm this afternoon.

A man in his 40s has been arrested in connection with the incident.

It is understood the woman was local and was exercising along a well-known recreational route between Boland's Lock and Digby Bridge, Cappincur when she was attacked and fatally injured.

The stretch is within walking distance of Tullamore town and is regularly used by walkers, runners and cyclists.

An area along the canal between the town centre and Boland's Lock has been sealed off.

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The woman's body has been removed from the scene and the State Pathologist has been notified.

The scene will remain preserved overnight pending the arrival of forensic specialists from the Garda Technical Bureau.

The arrested man is being detained at Tullamore Garda Station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act and can be questioned for up to 24 hours.

Gardaí believe at this stage it was a random attack and do not believe the victim and the man in custody knew each other.

They will not have an indication of the cause or the extent of the woman’s injuries until the State Pathologist arrives and conducts a preliminary examination.

An incident room has been established at Tullamore Garda Station under a Senior Investigating Officer. A family liaison officer has been appointed and is liaising with the victim's family.

Gardaí are appealing for anyone with any information on this fatal assault to come forward.

In particular, gardaí are appealing to anyone who was in the Cappincur/Canal walk area of Tullamore before 4pm to contact them at Tullamore Garda Station on 057 932 7600, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111, or any garda station.

The Minister for Justice has said that her thoughts are with the family of young woman killed in the attack.

In a post on Twitter, Helen McEntee appealed for anyone with information to contact gardaí.