County Laois

County Laois

This is a midland county in the province of Leinster that you may pass through on tours of Ireland.

It covers 664 square miles and has a population of around 60,000.

It is dominated by an expanse of agricultural land , and the county is bound to the east by the Castlecomer plateau and the River Barrow. To the northwest it is bound by the Slieve Bloom Mountains and to the west by the River Nore.

Portlaoise is the county capital and is situated near the Rock of Dunamase. This is a natural out crop topped by a fortress belonging to the twelfth century king of Leinster , Dermot MacMurrough.

The town has one of Ireland’s top security prisons. This is not to be seen on any Ireland tours …. I hope !!!

Other main market towns include Portarlington , Mountmellick , Abbeyleix , and Mountrath.

Abbeyleix is  designated a Heritage Town , and is one of the finest examples of a planned estate town in Ireland.

There are over one thousand historical sites and monuments in the county , some dating back over six thousand years !!!!!

These include the pre-Christian settlement at the Heath near Portlaoise , the fifth century monastery founde by Saint CComdhan at Killeshin , Norman and Medieval castles such as Bellaghmore and Lea.

Emo Court is a large neoclassical estate house , which was begun about 1790 by James Gandon. A real hidden gem !!

After the arrival of the Normans , the territory of the county was divided among seven clans.

Following the fall of the Fitzgeralds of Kildare in 1534 , the O’Moores and O’Connors became sworn enemies of the English government and began raiding the Pale.

During the reign of King Edward v1 , both families were driven from their land and the reign of Queen Mary , Laois became known as Queens County. The town of Portlaoise was established as the fort of Maryborough.

But British plantation failed in the sixteenth century due to bad planning and fierce Gaelic resistance.

The eighteenth century , however , was a period of colonial consolidation , with Maryborough growing as an administrative center.

The population was HALVED from 159,930 in 1841 to 73,124 due to the Potato Famine. That just shows the real affect of that disaster.

In 1920 Maryborough became Portlaoise and the county was renamed Laois at the end of the “War of Independence”

Interesting history……