Places to Visit in Laois
Located in the Midlands of Ireland and in the province of Leinster, County Laois sits at a point furthest away from the shores of the sea than any other county on the island. The economy and landscape are mostly agricultural in nature, and County Laois contains plenty of woodlands, scenic mountains, beautiful outdoor gardens and manor houses, as well as historic ruins and antiquities from centuries past.
The outdoor beauty of Ireland is represented here in County Laois at its finest. The most popular activities for visitors and residents alike include golf, fishing and horse riding and competitions.
The Slieve Bloom Mountains represent an invigorating challenge to walkers and hikers. This very isolated, but at the same time intensely beautiful chain of mountains encompasses a government-protected nature reserve. The lonely forests, glens and hillsides are treasure troves of medieval religious artifacts, along with passage graves and stone formations dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Step into the Irish past when huge estates fueled the economies of entire villages by visiting Georgian Era Abbeyleix, a small but picturesque manor town. Its historical buildings include a fully stocked antique grocery store that offers an operational adjoining pub.
Portolaise is the County Town and administrative centre. It has been known as the fortress of the region for centuries. Today, it is a centrally located area for visitors who come to embark on the popular Laois Heritage Trail. Many visit the historic attractions and enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing and golf by day, and then enjoy the restaurants, pubs and performances at the Dunamase Arts Centre by night.
Exceptional gardens located in County Laois can be found at Emo Court, an estate open to the public near Portarlington, as well as at Heywood Gardens near Ballinakill, which features a rare Italian sunken garden.
Mountmellick is the home of the uniquely patterned variety of lace of the same name. The local museum displays examples of the popular Mountmellick Lace and tells the story of its origins and claim to fame.
Ancient history comes alive in County Laois at the Rock of Dunmase, which was featured in the writings of Phoenician sailing merchants. The rock has been occupied by a succession of fortresses over the centuries, and the ruins visible to today’s visitors are those of a 12th century castle that once stood on the 150 foot high landmark cliff. Also of interest is the High Cross at Durrow, a remainder from the 553 A.D. monastic settlement founded by St. Columba.
County Laois in its present boundaries was originally named Queens County in 1556. In the years following the War of Independence, the name was changed to Laois.
Twice in its history, English plantation was attempted here, but success was limited by continuous attacks of the O’More clan, whose lands were taken in 1556 by the Earl of Sussex. Attempts at plantation occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. French Huguenots arrived in the 1690’s and settled in the area, along with the Quakers who inhabited Mountmellick.
Common surnames in County Laois include Kelly, Moore, Doran, Dunn, and Dempsey.