County Laois Information
County Laois in the province of Leinster is part of the Irish Midlands, and it used to be known as Queen's County. The landlocked county is rich in architectural and archeological heritage. Portlaoise is the county town and accommodation options are plentiful there.
Laois is accessible by train using the Dublin-Cork line, with stops at Portarlington, Portlaoise and Ballybrophy and by bus from Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny and some other counties, while the Aircoach company offers services to Dublin Airport. The annual music and arts festival, Electric Picnic, is held in Stradbally, and regularly makes Europe's top ten festivals lists.
The closest airports are those in Dublin (53 miles from Portlaoise), Cork (109 miles) and Shannon (86 miles).
Mountains & Gardens
Mainly located in County Laois, though shared with Offaly, the Slieve Bloom Mountains have their highest peak at Arderin (527 m). They are easily accessible via the M7 past Portlaoise and straight to Mountrath, at the foot of the hills. It is easy to reach Clonaslee village and Glenbarrow waterfalls from there, by taking one of the abundant scenic trails, where red grouse are common. Picnic facilities are also provided.
Some of the oldest mountains in Europe, the Slieve Bloom were once the highest in the continent. It is said that on a day of clear skies, one can see several Irish counties from its highest points.
There are many marked long and short trails and eco walks around the mountains, featuring historical sights, bogs, moorland and hillside walks. The longest are the demanding Slieve Bloom Way and Offaly Way, but many shorter loop walks are also available.
The famous Glenbarrow walk goes downhill, past two ancient walls, into the forest and along the river.
The beautiful Heywood Gardens in Ballinakill feature lakes, woods and architectural heritage. Dating back to the early 20th century, the imposing main gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a famous architect at the time.
Heritage & Atttractions
- The Rock of Dunamase refers both to an actual rock and the ruins of a castle. The Rock stands 46 m high, offering a strategic position with a view up to the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which made it a defensive asset in the past. The Rock dates from the 9th century. After a Viking attack and possible abandonment for a couple of centuries, the castle was built in the 12th century.
The castle ruins are easily accessible, and they offer fabulous views from the top of the hill where the Rock was once positioned.
- Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum in Portlaoise offers guided tours that tell the story of the great famine, how it came about, and it consequences. It is a unique experience for those interested in Ireland's history. Exhibits include a large collection of ancient tools and artifacts.
- Emo Court in Emo village is a majestic neo-classical mansion designed by James Gandon, who also designed the Custom House and Kings Inns in Dublin. It was built in the late 18th century as a private house for the first Earl of Portarlington.
- Castle Durrow, a one hour drive from Dublin has been converted into a luxurious Country House Hotel. It features pleasure gardens, riverside and woodland walks and a top class restaurant. Once a pre-Palladian design family home, it was built by Capt. William Flower in 1716. Guided tours of the formal gardens are provided, and the place also functions as a Wedding Venue.
- Mountmellick Museum celebrates the local art of embroidery and the Quaker heritage of Mountmellick town. Located on the banks of the Owenass river, the museum has been open to the public since 2003.
- Ballyfin House is located in a scenic spot at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The fully restored Regency mansion has recently been transformed into a hotel featuring only 15 rooms. The estate consists of 600 acres of parkland, including gardens, grottoes, a lake and lush woods. A medieval-style tower from the 19th century and the walled gardens are among its most interesting sights
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