Laois county is home to the Slieve Bloom mountains and a large number of castle ruins. You’ll need to drive down country roads to enjoy the true beauty of the county and seek out the ruins. Just follow the heritage trail signs to make the most of your time. Laois Attractions
Abbeyleix is a heritage town laid out in the 18th century as a model village. Historic buildings include a market house, a bank, a church and a museum, Heritage House. Sextons House is a furnished cottage dating from the mid 19th century.
Donaghmore, west of Abbeyleix, has a famine museum in a restored workhouse. Besides history displays on the famine, the museum includes an agricultural section.
Gortnaclea Castle, off the E20 west of Abbeyleix is a five storey tower house in a field. The ruins of Kilbreedy Castle, east of Donaghmore and Castletown date from the 16 or 17th century.
Another nearby castle, Grantstown, also east of Donaghmore, in a field just southwest of Grantstown Lough, is a five storey circular tower. South of Errill village and south-west of Donaghmore, Ballagh Castle is a 16th century 5 storey castle with surviving details including fireplaces.
Clonburren Castle, on farmland near Harristown south of Donaghmore, rises 50 feet in the air. Four storey Garranmaconly Castle, just north-west of Donaghmore shows off part of a spiral stair and fireplaces.
Ballinakill, south of Abbeyleix, is a 17th century market town, the site of woolen factories and a brewery. Ballinakill also has the ruins of a castle, a village square, and two toll trees—once visitors paid a toll here to enter the town. The Heywood Gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and consist of lakes, a woodland, and gardens.
Also south of Abbeyleix is the planned estate village of Durrow with its buildings around a green. An 18th century pre-Palladian house masquerades as a castle. The village is a good starting point for a number of walks. South-west of Durrow 15th century Cullahill Castle (near the village of the same name on the R639), was a five storey tower house attacked by the Cromwellian troops in 1650.
North of Abbeyleix is the urban centre of Portlaoise, the largest town in the county. Portlaoise was once named Maryborough, after the Maryborough Heath, north-east of the town on the N7. It’s an important archaeological site and battle place. On the heath are iron age ring barrows, bronze age ridges, and an ancient assembly house. Clonreher Castle, in a farmyard north of Portlaoise, was four storeys high and had a cellar, loft and hall.
The ruins of Morett Castle, on private land near Portlaoise, are scant. Only the east wall and south-west corner remain. It was a four storey FitzGerald tower house built c1580. Another four storey ruin, Cloncourse Castle, off the R445 road to Portlaoise has surviving chimney stacks and gables.
The Rock of Dunamase, east of Portlaoise, is a 200-foot high limestone outcrop with the ruins of an early pre-Norman fortress and medieval village. It was pillaged by the Vikings in 842. In 1650 Cromwell’s troops laid waste to the site.
Ireland Steam engine aficionadas will want to visit the Stradbally Steam Museum in the village of Stradbally on the N80 east of Portlaoise. The museum houses a collection of steam, fire, and farm engines. On occasion a narrow gauge steam railway rides are offered in the grounds of Stradbally Hall.
The ruins of 6th century Stradballey Abbey lie just outside Stradbally. South of Stradbally, off the N80, Tullomoy is a ruined four storey 17th century castle with fireplace remains.
West of Portlaoise, near Ballyfin village, is Ballyfin House, a neo-classical country home of 1821, now a college. Within the grounds are a grotto, a lake, and an old rectory. Aghaboe Abbey ruins are situated nearby at Ballacolla.
The Georgian village of Castletown is home to fragments of a castle, medieval church ruins, and a village green. Gash Gardens have a grotto, waterfall, lily pond, herbaceous and alpine plants, stream garden, hydrangeas, old fashioned roses, and a geranium collection. South-east of Castletown on farmland is Shrule Castle, a 16th century, four storey tower house. Remains of fireplaces can be seen. South-west of Athy and north-east of Castletown on a minor road is Ballyadams Castle with two turrets and an adjacent three storey 17th century house.
Just on the western border of the county is Ballaghmore castle. It was partly destroyed by Cromwell, then restored in 1836 when gold was found hidden in the 30 acres of grounds. It was restored again in the 1990s after being used as a granary. On one of the walls is carved a Sheela-na-Gig, a pagan fertility symbol supposed to ward off evil. Although used for rental parties, the castle is open for viewing by guided tour. South-east of Ballaghmore and Borris-in-Ossory is a 17th century fortified tower, Grange More.
North of Portlaoise on the N80 is Mountmellick, sited on the Owenass River. The town once housed woollen mills and a sugar beet factory. Visit the Tourist Information in a refurbished grain mill, located on four acres that overlook the river. It houses an historical exhibition and a restaurant, and you can pick up a heritage trail leaflet. Lace lovers will want to have a look at the local collection.
Clonaslee, near Mountmellick, is a 19th century village with the ruins of Brittas House, an 1869 Gothic mansion. There’s a visitor centre in the church. Nearby are the ruins of 17th century Castlecuffe Castle, a fortified house. The ruins consist of 50 foot high chimney stacks and parts of the gable ends.
Continuing north, off the N7 is Emo. The village has an 18th century inn, a fake gothic Catholic church, and Emo Court House (1790—designed by architect James Gandon) and Gardens. Lakes and woodland walks as well as a guided tour of the house can be enjoyed.
Near Emo, at Coolbanagher, is a late 18th century Gothic style church, another James Gandon design. A mausoleum and ruins of a monastery and a four storey tower, Coolbanagher castle, are of interest.
Portarlington on the north-east county border is graced with good quality Georgian, Hughuenot, and Victorian architecture. The village puts on an annual French festival in recognition of its French Hughuenot ancestry. The remnants of a Norman castle, Lea, are just east of Portarlington. It, too, suffered at the hands of the Cromwellian forces.
Abbeyleix Heritage Museum
At north end of Abbeyleix in stone building on N8
Tel. 0 57 873 0059
Tel. 0 57 873 9628
South of Errill village, west of Rathdowney
Off the N7 Dublin to Limerick road between Borris-in-Ossory and Roscrea
Tel. 0 505 2145
Web: Castle Ballaghmore
Tel. 0 85 850 5876
Web: Ballintubber Garden
Near village of Ballylinan, south-west of Athy, on minor road
Near Clonaslee, on the R422
Clonburren, near Harristown
On farmland, south of Donaghmore
Off the R445 road to Portlaoise
North of Portlaoise, in farmyard
Coolbanagher, in grounds of private house
Off N8 near village of Cullahill
Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum
Tel. 0 505 46315 or 0 86 829 6685
Emo Court House and Gardens
Emo, off the N7 Kildare-Portlaoise road
Tel. 0 57 862 6573
Near Garranmaconly/Knock crossroads
North-west of Donaghmore and just south of the E20
Tel. 0 57 873 2247
Off the E20 west of Abbeyleix
Grange More Castle
South-east of Borris-in-Ossory
West of Ballycolla and east of Donaghmore, off the E201, in a field just southwest of Grantstown Lough
Tel. 0 57 873 3563
Irish Fly-fishing and Game Shooting Museum
Attanagh House, Attanagh
Tel. 0 57 87 36112 or 0 86 315 3088
Minor country road north-east of Rathdowney
East of Donaghmore and Castletown
Killeshin Monastic Site
Killeshin, just off R430, west of Carlow town
Tel. 0 57 862 1178
Three km east of Portarlington, on private land
Off the road to Monasterevin beside river Barrow
Tel. 0 57 862 1178
Monicknew, Mountrath, off R445, near Dysartbeagh
Tel. 0 57 866 0831
Tel. 0 57 862 4525
Tel. not given
Rock of Dunamase
N80, four miles out of Portlaoise to Carlow
Tel. 0 57 862 1178
Tel. 0 502 31653
South-east of Castletown off the N80, next to farmhouse
Stradbally Steam Museum
The Green, Stradbally
Tel. 0 57 864 1878 or 0 86 389 0184
Web: Irish Steam Preservation Society
Timahoe Round Tower
Center of Timahoe village
Near village of Timogue
Tel. 0 57 862 1178
Just off N80 on farmland
County Laois Tourist Information Offices
Tel. 0 502 24525
Open: year round, Mon-Fri, 9am-noon and 1-5pm
Maes Final Lawlor Ave, Portlaoise
Tel. 0 57 862 1178
Email: Portaloise Tourist Information Office
Photos courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Slieve Bloom mountain River Barrow by Kevin Higgin; Abbeyleix main street, Donaghmore village, Donaghmore Workhouse Museum, Durrow village green and St Fintan church, Aghaboe Abbey, Mountmellick near town centre, Emo church by Sarah777; Abbeyleix church by Liam Murphy; Ballinakill College entrance gate by Kevin Higgins; Portlaoise Grattan St by Jonathan Billinger; Stradbally by Dylan Moore; Stradbally Abbey by Liam Murphy; Coolbanagher Castle, Gortnaclea Castle, Kilbreedy Castle, Grantstown Castle, Ballagh Castle, Clonburren Castle, Garranmaconly Castle, Cullahill Castle, Clonreher Castle, Morett Castle near Portlaoise, Cloncourse Castle, Rock of Dunamase gatehouse of outer ward, Dunamase Castle, Tullomoy castle, Shrule castle, Ballyadams Castle, Grange More Castle, Castlecuffe Castle, Emo Court statue, Coolbanagher Castle, Lea Castle by Mike Searle
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