Abbeyleix is one of the finest planned estate towns in the country with spacious tree lined streets, picturesque period houses. Situated in the Heart of Ireland on the main Dublin Cork road, the town was founded by the de Vesci Family in the mid eighteenth century near the site of a 12th century Cistercian Abbey. Visit the award winning exhibition centre, “Heritage House” which depicts local settlement – the rock of Dunamase, the largest Norman stronghold in Ireland, the local Cistercian Abbey, the de Vesci Family development. View the interior of the recreated Abbeyleix Carpet Factory which made carpets for the Titanic. Visit the 1800s period Sexton House, Abbey Sense Gardens, Heywood Gardens, Donaghmore Workhouse Museum and Emo Court.
Home to St Canice’s Monastery dating from the sixth century. Also of interest is Aghaboe House and Adam de Hereford’s motte.
This is a late eighteen-century well kept village which grew on the crossing of two important county roads. It has access to attractive countryside and performs well in the annual Tidy Towns Competition.
Ballaghmore Castle (1480) the chief seat of the Mac Gillpatricks (Fitzpatricks) Lords of Upper Ossory. Strategically placed on the Bealach Mor, the great road to Munster. Partially restored it in the 1830s. Ely was murdered by a tenant, and the castle was neglected. It was bought by the present owners in 1990 and restored. It has many very interesting features including a rare devilish sheila-an-gig on the front south facing wall, and outstanding views from the battlements. Visitors are given a guided tour, and are made very welcome. Nearby is a very small church, said to be a converted school house. It is open to the public all year. It is beautifully kept with tiny galleries, and a sexton’s house at the back. North of the castle on Kyle Hill is the legendary Brehon’s Chair.
Located just outside Carlow town and on the N80 road to Portlaoise is Ballickmoyler. The river Barrow and nearby forest walks provide distractions for the nature lover.
An example of a seventeenth-century market town. The ruins of Ballinakill Castle are of a late seventeenth-century castle built by the Dunnes (but never inhabited) on the site of one destroyed by Cormwellian troops under Fairfax. The configuration of streets round the large rectangular square is eighteenth-century. The town’s entrance from Abbeyleix is marked by two trees known as Toll Trees where a toll was paid by visitors to the town. The town had important fairs, a brewery, woollen and tanning factories.
Originally Old Ballybrittas was a cluster of houses near the church and castle of O’Dempseys at Cloneyhurk. New Ballybrittas grew as a village along the new Dublin-Maryborough-Limerick road in the 18th century. About 500 metres south-east of the village is the remarkable Hiberno-Romanesque Rathdaire Church. Designed by J.H. Fuller with a facade modelled on Saint Cronan’s in Roscrea, it was completed in 1890 at a cost of ?8000 to the philathropic Cornelia Adair, who had it built in memory of her father-in-law and her husband, the much-vilified landlord John George Adair. Nearby is the ruin of Bellgrove or Rathdair House, their luxurious home.
As part of the Slieve Bloom Drive, Ballyfin is a much visited little village. Nearing the village the mid-nineteenth century tower faces you, this is part of Ballyfin House, the grounds of which may be visited.
Ballyroan was a prosperous Norman centre in the thirteenth century. Two Norman moated sites are nearby. Part of ruined former O’More Castle can be seen in the main street. Ridges and trenches east of the village contained iron mines in the seventeenthcentury. An important staging post on the Dublin-Cork coach road in the eighteenth century, it was caustically described by the traveller Arthur Young. The Catholic Church has many attractive features.
Borris In Ossory
Originally a cluster around the ruined fifteenth-century Fitzpatrick castle, the village grew along the eighteenth-century coach road and depended on the woollen trade. North of the village is Kyle or Cluain Ferta Molua, the site of a monastery founded by St. Lugaid or Molua who came from Limerick and died in 609. It was an important centre of learning in the seventh-century and home of Laidcend mac Baith-Bannaig whose works on biblical commentaries survive in manuscripts all over Europe.
This Georgian Village was built around a triangular fair green. In 1182 Hugh de Lacy built a castle here for Robert de Bigarz, and it became a centre of an important Norman borough. Only fragments of the castle now remain. South of the village in Churchtown are the ruins of a medieval church. The mill on the Nore is destined for conversion into the clubhouse for the Mountrath Golf Club. Castletown preforms well every year in the Tidy Towns competition.
Clonaslee is a largely ninteenth-century village. Nearby the village are the ruins of Brittas House, an 1869 gothic mansion set in the remains of grounds still containing exceptional specimens of trees, shrubs and plants. About 3km south are the ruins of Castlecuffe, Sir Charles Coote’s early seventeenth-century fortified dwelling. The Church of Ireland church (1814), which dominates the village has been purchased by the community and is being renovated as a visitors centre.
The most important monastery of ancient Leix. Founded by St. Fintan (d.603), its location on the Slige Dala (road of the assemblies) ensured its importance in early medieval Ireland. It enjoyed the patronage of the O’Mores, descendants of the Loigis kings, into the sixteenth-century. It was the monastic home of Oengus the Celi De (see Coolbangher). The Book of Leinster or Lebar na Nuachongbala started life here before moving to Oughaval near Stradbally. Today there are two graveyards the ruins of an early church, and a recently fallen penny tree.
Donaghmore was originally associated with an early medieval church, and then with an early Norman fortification. It became an extensive industrial complex in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A short distance northwest is the headquarters of Donaghmore Co-Op, once a workhouse, and now housing a museum which is open to the public during the summer months.
Durrow was originally a Norman borough town. In the seventeenth-century the Ormonds made it part of Kilkenny. It was returned to County Laois in 1846 by Act of Parliament. Perhaps one of Durrows finest features is the suite of buildings around the Green under the gates and battlemented wall which in turn enclose a tastefully designed modern primary school and the important ‘castle’ (1713-32), one of the last large pre-Palladian houses to be built in Ireland, and which was designed by its owner William Flower. Portlaoise was returned to the county in 1846 by Act of Parliament. It is a planned estate village, developed under the patronage of the Viscounts Ashbrook.
Mountmellick was founded in the seventeenth-century. From the start, it was a town of great prosperity dominated by the enterprise of the Quaker community and later served by the Grand canal. A Business Park/Enterprise Centre in the town houses a Quaker museum and exhibitions. Mountmellick is a pleasing town with a fine square and architecturally impressive houses, shops, and ecclesiastical buildings.
Mountrath was founded by Sir Charles Coote in the seventeenth-century around a triangular green on the left bank of the White Horse River. The town took its present shape in the eighteenth-century. It was an important centre for iron, brewing, cotton and tanning. The principal public buildings date from the early nineteenth-century. The Mountrath Development Association has done much to improve the visual image of the town.
Founded in 1666 in a bend of the Barrow River by Sir Henry Bennett, Lord Arlington. After the Jacoite wars, the lands were given to General Rouvigney, Earl of Galway who established a thriving colony of French Huguenots in the town: separate chapels and schools were built for the English and French. Along with education (eventually 16 schools) the town became a centre for silversmiths and banking. Rouvigney sold his estate to the London Hollow Sword-blade Company, and from them it passed to the Dawson family until the late nineteenth-century. The town has Georgian, Huguenot and Victorian architecture of exceptional quality. An annual French Festival is held in the town.
Portlaoise is a prosperous commercial centre, principal town and administrative centre of the county. Until independence in 1922, it was known as Maryborough. In the 1556 Act of Parliament, which claimed Leix and Offaly for the crown, the Fort Protector (as it was known) was named Mary Burgh. A settlement grew in and around the fort. From that period of the fort, the visible remains are parts of the walls, a circular tower, possibly the old Saint Peter’s Church, the street pattern in the centre and a network of tunnels. The present town was laid out in the eighteenth-century, and the principal buildings date from then or later.
Rathdowney takes its name from the rath or ring fort which until 1840 was at the end of the town square near the Church of Ireland church. It was a thirteenth-century Norman manor. It developed as a town in the early nineteenth-century with brewing as the main industry until 1966. In 1966, Perry’s Brewery was converted into a successful meat processing plant.
Its origins are at least early Christian. There was a parochial church throughout the medieval period: recently a sheila-na-gig was discovered in the graveyard of the Church of Ireland church. Rosenallis grew as a village when like Mountmellick it became a Quaker colony and linen centre. Less than a mile out of the village on the Mountmellick road is a beautiful “Society of Friends Rosenallis Burial Ground”.
Stradbally was originally a community associated with the monastery, Mon au Bealing founded in the 6th century by Saint Colman Mac Laoighse. The Normans dominated in the 13th century. The Franciscans came in 1447, but the village in 1550 was still a small cluster of cottages. Its present form was established by 1740, slowly extending along the Maryborough-Carlow road and around the square towards Stradbally Hall, the home of the Cosby family under whose patronage and influence the village developed. The annual Stradbally Steam Rally organised by the Irish Steam Preservation Society at the beginning of August on the bank-holiday weekend is justly famous. There is also a Steam Museum opposite the 1870s labourers cottages.
Timahoe takes its name from teach mo – Chua Mochua’s House. Saint Mochua established a monastery here in the seventh-century. Burned in 1142, it was re-founded by the O’Mores. The twelfth-century Round Tower with its impressively decorated romanesque doorway is all that remains of the original monastic foundation. It came under the control of the Normans (Ballinclough motte and bailey nearby was built by Hugh de Lacy). There was a monastic community here as late as 1650. East of the village is the ruined little fifteenth-century church of Fossy
Vicarstown is an attractive port on the Grand Canal, a useful base for walking, cycling, boating and fishing. Buildings of interest include the 1860s Grattan School and Grattan Lodge which were built in 1882 by Henry Grattan’s granddaughter (Lady Pauline Grattan Bellew).