Portlaoise or Port Laoise (pronounced "leesh") is the county town of County Laois, in the south midlands of Ireland. It's a large town that acts as a transport hub for the region and is within an hour's travel of Dublin.
The town grew up from the 16th century as Maryborough, named for Queen Mary, when the Tudors established a fort, ousted the Irish rulers the O'Mores, and colonised the area with "Plantations" of loyal English settlers. Growth was slow because of Irish counter-attacks, but the town developed industry and was a stop along the Dublin - Limerick highway. The railway arrived in the 19th century to put it within an hour or so of Dublin. At independence it was renamed Portlaoise and became a hub for several state agencies, eg the Post, and there's a large maximum security prison. This means that there's plenty of accommodation and similar amenities aimed at business and commercial travel rather than tourism. The town itself has limited attractions but is close to sights such as Rock of Dunamase and the Slieve Bloom mountains. In the 21st century Portlaoise grew rapidly as a commuter town for Dublin, and in 2016 the population was 22,050.
The Tourist Office is at Lyster Square, just off Main Street facing the shopping centre and bus stop. It's open M-F 10:00-17:00.
Trains from Dublin Heuston run hourly from 06:30 to 22:00. Commuter trains take 70 min, with stops at Dublin Park West & Cherry Orchard, Clondalkin, Adamstown, Hazelhatch & Celbridge, Sallins (for Naas), Newbridge, Kildare Town, Monasterevin and Portarlington to terminate at Portlaoise. Inter-city trains take 45 min, stopping only at Portarlington; they continue south to Ballybrophy (for the branch line to Roscrea and Nenagh), Thurles, Limerick or Cork, or west to Tullamore, Clara and Athlone, where they branch either for Galway or for Roscommon and County Mayo. See Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets. To and from Dublin, have your ticket made out for city centre not Heuston, as this saves a couple of euros on the connecting tram fare.
1 Portlaoise station is north side of town centre.
Dublin Coach 726 (aka N7) runs hourly round the clock from Dublin Airport via Red Cow LUAS stop, Naas, Newbridge, Kildare Town and Monasterevin, taking two hours to Portlaoise. On race days it also stops at Curragh racecourse near Kildare. A single from the airport is €10.
From Dublin city centre take a tram or local bus to Red Cow, or Dublin Coach M7 or M9, and change.
Bus Éireann 73 traverses the midlands from Waterford via Thomastown, Kilkenny, Carlow and Stradbally to Portlaoise, continuing to Mountmellick, Tullamore, Clara and Athlone. It's twice M-Sa and once on Sunday.
Local Link Bus 834 runs four times M-Sa from Roscrea, taking a hour.
The 2 main bus stop is by the shopping centre and variously called James Fintan Lalor Avenue, Link Road or Blue Bridge. It's just a turnaround, not a bus station.
By road from Dublin follow N7 / M7 to Monasterevin (junction 14) then R445 / R424 west.
From Dublin follow N7 / M7 all the way. The first section as far as Naas has not yet been upgraded to motorway.
The town is compact, but you need wheels for the outlying sights.
Car hire is available from Practical Car Hire +353 57 862 2048.
Bicycle hire is available from Michael Kavanagh Cycles at 3 Railway St. Race Right and Halfords do repairs, parts and sales but don't hire.
- 1 Maryborough Fort survives only as a corner tower on Fitzmaurice Place and a couple of sections of wall. It's been adjoined to modern buildings and you can't go inside.
- Captain James Fitzmaurice (1898-1965), who gives his name to the square, was co-pilot on the first east-to-west transatlantic flight, in Bremen a Junkers W 33. On 12 / 13 April 1928 they flew overnight from Baldonnel near Dublin to Greenly Island off Quebec. Gloop! - so they'd flown all that way from Ireland just to find themselves in a bog, which wrecked the aircraft. The Fitzmaurice memorial is shaped like an aircraft wing, though Bremen didn't flop at quite such an angle.
- 2 Ridge of Maryborough Graveyard is perched atop an esker, a small but steep hillock. The church has gone but the graveyard contains various 18th-to 19th-century headstones and tombs.
- 3 4th Leinster Regiment Great War Memorial comemmorates the 17 officers and 160 men of the regiment who died in the First World War. It's in Memorial Park, a narrow green strip at the junction of Church St and Ridge Rd.
- 4 Old St Peter's Church is a fenced-off ruin on Railway St. It was built around 1556 as an RC church, but when Catholic Queen Mary was succeeded by Protestant Queen Elizabeth, it smartly changed denomination. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, is said to have preached here on three occasions and to have declared it an elegant church, but it fell into ruin from 1804 when the new St Peter's was built on Market Square. Those within its graveyard include Bartholomew Mosse, founder of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, and the highwayman Jeremiah Grant (see Drink). You'll have to make do with squinting through the wrought iron gate on the street.
- 5 James Fintan Lalor is the statue outside County Hall, the boxy modern building at the junction of Abbeyleix Rd and the boulevard now named for him. Lalor (1809-1849) was primarily a writer advocating for land reform; his poor health gave him little scope for public speaking or physical revolutionary activities. "We hold the present existing government of this island and all existing rights of property in our soil, to be mere usurpation and tyranny . . . " and after his early death (probably from TB) the Great Famine reinforced his point. The next generation of republicans (such as Michael Davitt, James Connolly, Pádraig Pearse and Arthur Griffith) took his argument to its logical conclusion: that cruel and unjust land tenure was the inevitable result of imperial rule over Ireland.
- 6 Rock of Dunamase, Aughnahilla (6 km east of town on N80). 24 hrs. A limestop outcrop rearing up 45 m from the plain, with the ruins of Dunamase Castle. Ptolemy's map of 140 AD marks Dunum hereabouts, which may or may not indicate Dunamase, but it's an obvious spot for a stronghold. The first known settlement is the 9th century monastery, but it wasn't fortified nearly enough, as the Vikings made two murderous raids upon it. It may then have lain unoccupied for some decades before becoming a bastion of Diarmait Mac Murchada or MacMurrough, king of Leinster. He was deposed in 1167, supposedly for abducting the wife of the king of Breifne (which was 15 years earlier, while they'd already deposed him once 35 years ago). MacMurrough had obviously failed to read the stirring words of James Fintan Lalor, because his next bright idea was to bring over a large Anglo-Norman army to reclaim his throne. Norman eyes lit up at what they found, and centuries of occupation followed; amongst their many fortifications they built up Dunamase into the stone castle you see today. But the Irish successfully counter-attacked, and by 1350 the castle was derelict, though Cromwell smashed it some more in 1650. Free.
- 7 Stradbally straggles along N80 towards Carlow. Stradbally Hall is an Italianate pile built by Lanyon in 1860. It's a private residence with no tours, but often hosts horse riding and other events - see below for the Woodland Railway, Steam Rally and Electric Picnic.
- 8 Colt 1916 Memorial is on N77 towards Abbeyleix, 6 km south of town. Colt refers to the nearby village not the revolver, but the plaque commemorates the first shots of the Easter Rising. An order calling off the rising failed to reach many, so on the evening of Easter Sunday 23 April 1916, the Laois Volunteers acted on their orders from Patrick Pearse to sabotage the railway, to prevent British reinforcements being sent towards Dublin. They included a railwayman, so they succeeded while similar attempts that night failed; later a train derailed at the spot. Another railwayman had challenged them but was chased away by three gun shots, confirmed as the rising's first, as the Good Friday capture of Casement and the German arms shipment were effected without gunfire.
- 9 Timahoe has the remains of St Mochua's monastery. These are scrappy except for the splendid Round Tower, built in the 12th century and 30 m tall.
- 10 Great Heath Barrow is 6 km NE of town by Exit 16 of M7. Barrows are common prehistoric burial structures and probably had other ritual purposes. This one is a ring barrow, a low mound surrounded by a concentric ditch with an external bank. It's the most visible of several nearby burial structures; what it most looks like is a golf hazard.
- 11 Morett Castle is the forlorn stump seen from M7 as you approach town. It was built for the Fitzgeralds circa 1580 and abandoned in the 18th century. It's on private land and hardly worth seeking out in the back lanes.
- 12 Emo Court: see Portarlington for this grand mansion, which is closed for restoration until 2022.
- 1 Dunamaise Arts Centre, Church St R32 W93P, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Box Office Tu-Sa 10:00-17:00. This contains a theatre, exhibition space, and cafe.
- Odeon Cinema is a multiplex on Church St.
- Gaelic games: Laois GAA play football and hurling at O'Moore Park, capacity 22,000, on N77 half a mile south of town centre. Laois unusually are a "dual county" with a strong showing in both sports.
- 2 Roll 'n Bowl, Clonminam Business Park, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Entertainment centre with ten-pin bowling, indoor soccer, mini golf, Laser Quest shooting game, bumper cars, roller skating disco, teddy bear making, a play area and arcade games.
- 3 Portlaoise Leisure Centre, Parkview, ☏ . 25 m swimming pool, plus 10 m teaching pool and kiddy-pool. Plus gym, Astro turf pitches and a playground.
- 4 Portlaoise Golf Club, Abbeyleix Road, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Parkland course, blue tees 5124 m, par 69, visitor round €15.
- 5 Heath Golf Club, Greatheath R32 WR52, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 18-hole golf course on heathland, so it's sometimes described as "inland links"; blue tees 6118 m, par 71. With pro shop, driving range, restaurant and other facilities. Visitor round €20.
- 6 People's Park is south side of town on R426 Timahoe Rd. There's an outdoor gym, children's play area, artificial lake and wildlife reserve.
- 7 Togher Wood is popular for walking, jogging and birdwatching. From the M7 / N77 junction wind around Portlaoise Plaza to take the lane crossing south over the motorway.
- Stradbally Woodland Railway is a 914 mm / 3 ft gauge railway on 1 km of track at Stradbally Hall, with miniature steam and diesel locos. It's only open on summer public holiday weekends and hasn't run since 2019.
- Rock Inn Vintage Rally is on the May Bank Holiday weekend. The next is probably 30 Apr - 2 May 2022, tbc.
- Laois Rose Final is an old-style beauty contest. It's normally alternate years in June in the Midland Park Hotel but the 2020 event was deferred to August 2021. The winner gets to try out for the Rose of Tralee later in August.
- Gordon Bennett Classic Car Rally, open to vehicles of 30+ years, is based in Portlaoise and circles through Kildare, Stradbally, Athy and Carlow. It's held in June over the Bank Holiday weekend. The next is probably 3-6 June 2022, tbc.
- Heartlands Rally is a motor-racing event in June. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021, and arrangements for 2022 are tba.
- Old Fort Quarter Festival is at the end of June, with live music, street market and festival and suchlike. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021; the next is probably 25-26 June 2022 but tba. It nowadays includes the Celtic Con comedy festival.
- Stradbally Steam Rally is held on the August bank holiday at Stradbally Hall on N80. The 2021 event was cancelled so the next is probably Sun 31 July - Mon 1 Aug 2022, tbc.
- Electric Picnic is a music festival at Stradbally Hall. It's usually on the first weekend in September, but in 2021 is postponed to 24-26 Sept.
- World & National Ploughing Championships are next held at Ratheniska, 3 km west of Stradbally, on 15-18 Sept 2021.
- Laois Shopping Centre occupies the block south of James Fintan Lalor Ave by the main bus stop. Tesco Extra is open daily 07:00-22:00, and there's a 24-hour Revolution Laundry.
- Kyle Shopping Centre is the next block south, anchored by Dunnes Stores (who have another store north on Green Rd).
- Portlaoise Retail Park is at junction 17 of M7 with Abbeyleix Rd N77. It's the place for homeware and sportsware and has Midway Food Court. Maldron Hotel is also here, see Sleep.
- Other small retail strips are Parkside (south on Abbeyleix Rd, with SuperValu), Conniberry Junction southwest, and Gandon Court north up N80 in Kilminchy.
- Centra on Dublin Rd and on Mountmellick Rd have ATMs and are open 24 hours.
- Antiques: Dunamase Antiques is at 60 Main Street. The Store Yard is an emporium of architectural salvage and other vintage and retro furnishings, west side of town on Kea-Lew Business Park.
The main eating strips are along Main Street, in Fairgreen north edge of town, and Kilminchy east edge.
- Market Square and Main Street has a slew of inexpensive places. They include Laois Kebab, Mezza Pizza and The Pantry on the square, La Lola at No 37, LANA Asian street food at 40, Mayur Indian at 47 (below), Nino's fish & chips at 49, Thanh Loi at 51, Bull Lane cafe corner with 61, Best Choice Burger at 77, Chocolate Brown coffee shop at 93 and Golden Grill fish & chips at 98.
- Mayur, 47 Main St R32 VRX8, ☏ . M-Sa 17:00-23:30, Su 15:00-23:00. Reliable central spot for Indian food.
- Portlaoise Chinese, 2 Church Avenue (just north of Main St), ☏ . Tu-Su 17:30-00:00. Serves a wide range of Chinese dishes, gets mixed reviews.
- Malik's and Royal Garden are takeaways at the foot of Dublin Rd, a block beyond Main Street.
- Laoise Shopping Centre, main bus stop and surrounds have Caffe Latte, Rafters Cafe, Apache Pizza, Supermac's, Emperor's House, Mizzoni's Pizza and Eddie Rockets.
- Insomnia is a well-regarded coffee shop in Kyle Shopping Centre, the block south of Laois Shopping Centre. It's open M-Th 08:00-17:00, F Sa 08:00-18:00, Su 11:00.
- Brew Cafe up Dublin Rd is handy for the two hospitals (and, come to think of it, the prison). It's open M-Sa 09:00-17:30.
- Marie's Cafe is within Dunne's Stores, north up Green Rd, open M-Sa 09:00-17:00.
- Midway Food Court is at Abbeyleix Rd, N77 at junction 17 of M7 two km south of town centres. Lots of budget outlets. It's next to Maldron Hotel.
- Kelly Lou Cakes is a bakery on Kealew Business Park with a cafe. They have a larger outlet with more menu choice in Parkside Shopping Centre, opposite the GAA grounds on Abbbeyleix Rd: this is open M-Sa 09:30-17:00, Su 10:00-16:00.
- Francesco's is a traditional Italian chipper, with one outlet in Kilminchy and the other at Fairgreen - both next to O'Gorman's restaurants.
- Kelly's Steakhouse, Jessop St R32 YP99 (within Midlands Park Hotel), ☏ . W-Sa 17:30-22:00, Su 14:00-21:00. French bistro- and steakhouse, gets good reviews for food and service.
- 1 The Bay Tree, 8 Hynds Square, 8 Main St R32 X662, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-17:00, Su 10:00-17:00. Specialising in coeliac-friendly cooking with menus clearly marked. Gluten-free bread is baked every day. They serve a wide selection of desserts which are also gluten free. Standard diets are also well catered for. They also have a branch in Athy.
- 2 The Bog Road (O'Gorman's), De Vesci Court, Fairgreen Village, ☏ . Bar and restaurant. They also run O'Gorman's east edge of town.
- 3 Mulhall's Restaurant, Kellyville Park R32 Y429 (Upstairs over Supervalu), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M-Sa 08:00-18:00. Comfy place for breakfast, lunch and afternoon bites.
- 4 Mezbaan Restaurant, Dublin Rd R32 N9DD (opposite Portlaoise Hospital), ☏ . Daily 17:00-22:30. Serving great Indian food, all meat is Halal.
- 5 O'Gorman's, Kilminchy Village, ☏ . Daily 12:00-23:00. Bar and restaurant, they also run Bog Road at Fairgreen.
- Indian Prince, 16 Kilminchy Court (by O'Gorman's), ☏ . M-Sa 17:00-23:30, Su 15:00-23:30. Reliable Indian northeast edge of town.
- 6 Treacy's Bar & Restaurant, The Heath R32 X803 (R445 by golf club), ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-21:00, Su 10:00-21:00. Pub in thatched cottage, established in 1780 and run by the Treacy family all these years. Good scores for trad food and service.
- Market Square has Liam Casey's, Square Bar, Welcome Inn, EJ Morrissey (below), Manhattan Mixer, Maggie May's and Peigs.
- E.J. Morrisey, 15 Market Square. Trad pub, large bar with lots of snug corners. But in a break with tradition they now have food and live TV sport.
- 1 Jeremiah Grant Bar & Eatery, 64-65 Main St R32 DX07, ☏ . Su-Th 12:00-00:00, F Sa 12:00-01:00. Pub with three bars, decent food, and decor themed for Jeremiah Grant (1785-1816). Evicted from his farm, Grant turned to rustling; he was jailed but escaped three times. Then he became a highwayman, but was captured and publicly hanged across the street from the pub.
- Main Street also has Sally Gardens, Funky Munky, Shelley's (beneath Funky Munky), the tiny Bergin's, Grellan Delaney's, Ryan's, Kavanagh's (below), Ramsbottom's and Hume's.
- Kavanagh's Bar & Venue (The Wren's Nest), 28 Main Street R32 EP2K, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Th 10:30-23:30, F Sa 10:30-00:30, Su 12:00-23:00. Ground floor is a trad pub with TV sport, first floor is a comedy club and live music venue.
- Charter Bar & Eatery is within Midlands Park Hotel, see Sleep. It's open daily 08:00-00:00.
- 2 The Rock Inn, Dublin Rd (3 km northeast from centre), ☏ . Bar and lounge. Popular for groups and parties.
- 3 Deadman’s Inn, Ballyfin, ☏ .
- Late night places are Manhattan Mixer on Market Square, and Lilly's Bar, Grellan Delaney's and Caesar's Card Club along Main St.
- Ballykilcavan Brewery is 2 km east of Stradbally on R428 towards Athy, tours available.
- Greenfield Global is a small chemical factory west edge of town; among many other things, they produce alcohol which is mixed into familiar spirits for drinking. No tours, but just so you know where your pricey, artfully marketed drink is really coming from.
- 1 Laois County Lodge B&B, Dublin Road R32 XW77, ☏ . Friendly B&B opposite hospital. B&B double €80.
- 2 Maher's B&B, Rathleague, ☏ . €45-90.
- 3 Midlands Park Hotel, Jessop St R32 KV20, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Good mid-range business hotel and conference centre. They have a leisure club with pool and bars and restaurants. B&B double €100.
- 4 Maldron Hotel Portlaoise, Midway, Abbeyleix Rd R32 HKN3 (by Junction 17 of M7), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Modern business hotel with leisure centre, handy for motorists. It's next to Portlaoise Retail Park with Midway Food Court. B&B double €90.
- 5 Killeshin Hotel, Dublin Rd R32 TYW7 (2 km east of centre), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Good business hotel with leisure club and pool. B&B double €80.
- 6 Town Hotel (formerly O'Loughlin's), 30 Main St R32 XA43, ☏ . Under new name and owners since 2020, this is a decent central place for food and accommodation. B&B double €90.
- 7 Ivyleigh House, Bank Place, Church Street R32 TD36, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Splendid friendly B&B between town centre and railway station. B&B double €120.
- 8 The Gandon Inn, Emo R32 A256 (by jcn 15 of M7), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. An 18th-century coach house designed by James Gandon who also designed Emo Court. Impressive building with lots of character and good restaurant.
- 9 Glamping Under The Stars, Cullenagh R32 WP7V (off R427), ☏ . Upscale glamping in tranquil country surrounds. Double tent €150.
- 10 Ballyfin Demesne (Ballyfin House), Ballyfin R32 PN34 (10 km NW of town on R423), ☏ , ✉ Info@Ballyfin.com. Very upmarket country house hotel at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, great comfort and service. They have a spa and activities. No children under 9, assistance dogs only. B&B double from €1100.
As of June 2021, Portlaoise has 5G from Eir and Vodafone, and 4G from Three.
- Abbeyleix has lost its abbey, but instead has a bog, and the Heywood Gardens.
- Mountmellick is the main access for the north slopes of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
- Athy on the navigable River Barrow has old castles and churches.