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Title: Portlaoise  
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Subject: County town, Republic of Ireland, Counties of Ireland, Mary I of England, International E-road network, Leinster, Kilkenny, County Laois, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, John Redmond
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Port Laoise

View of James Fintan Lawlor Avenue from the late blue bridge

Coat of arms
Location in Ireland

Coordinates: 53°01′51″N 7°18′03″W / 53.0309°N 7.3008°W / 53.0309; -7.3008Coordinates: 53°01′51″N 7°18′03″W / 53.0309°N 7.3008°W / 53.0309; -7.3008

Country Ireland
Province Leinster
County County Laois
Dáil Éireann Laois-Offaly
EU Parliament East constituency
Elevation 139 m (456 ft)
Population (2011) 20,145
Irish Grid Reference S465986

Port Laoise or Portlaoise /pɔrtˈlʃə/, historically also known as Maryborough from 1557 until 1929,[1] is the county town (capital/administrative centre) of County Laois in the Midlands region of Ireland. The population in 2011 was 20,145.


The site where the present town is situated is referred to in the Annals of the Four Masters as Port Laoighisi during the 16th century. The present town originated as a settlement around the old fort, "Fort of Leix" or "Fort Protector", the remains of which can still be seen in the town centre. Its construction began in 1548 under the supervision of the then Lord Deputy Sir Edward Bellingham in an attempt to secure English control in the county following the exile of native Celtic chieftains the previous year. The fort's location on rising ground, surrounded to the south and east by the natural defensive barricades of the River Triogue and an esker known locally as 'the Ridge', greatly added to its strategic importance.

The town proper was established by an act of Parliament during the reign of Queen Mary in 1557. It was named Maryborough and the county was named Queen's County in her honour. The area had been a focus of the rebellion of Ruairí Óg Ó Mórdha, a local chieftain who had rebelled and had lost his lands, which the Crown wanted to be settled by reliable landowners. For the next fifty or so years, the new English settlers in Maryborough fought a continual, low-scale war with the Gaelic chieftains who fought against the new settlement.

In 1570, a charter of Queen Elizabeth I raised the town to the rank of borough. This allowed the establishment of a Corporation of the Borough, a body which consisted of a burgomaster, two bailiffs, a town clerk, and a sergeant at arms, as well as various other officers, burgesses and freemen. Until the Act of Union took effect in 1801 and the abolition of its franchise, the town returned two members to the Irish Parliament. The Corporation itself existed until 1830.

Sheffield House was a Queen Anne mansion sited about two miles from Portlaoise on the Timahoe side. It was for many years the seat of the Cassan family but is now a ruin.

In 1929, a few years after the foundation of the Irish Free State, the town was renamed Portlaoighise (later simplified to Portlaoise) and the county was renamed County Laois. A number of other towns in the Free State also reverted to their Irish (or anglicised Irish) names during this period.

Local government

Port Laoise Town Council is an elected local government body which is mandated under the Local Government Act 2001 to provide civic leadership and a forum for the democratic representation of the community. Responsibilities include amenity support, operation of the Litter Act, contribution to tourism development, event licensing, arts support, etc. The Town Council executive comprises nine elected Councillors, headed by the town mayor. The current mayor is Matthew Keagan. The current make up of the Town Council is three Fine Gael, two Sinn Féin, two Fianna Fáil and two Independent members.

The town forms part of the seven member Portlaoghaise Local Electoral Area for elections to Laois County Council. This includes both the urban Port Laoise area and surrounding rural areas.

Portlaoise is twinned with Coulounieix-Chamiers in the Dordogne département of France.

Places of interest

  • An 800-year-old hill-top castle at Dunamase
  • A large Georgian estate home designed by James Gandon and surrounding gardens at Emo
  • Access to the Slieve Bloom Mountains and Forest Park
  • A 12th-century Round Tower in Timahoe.
  • Portlaoise Golf Course on the Abbeyleix Rd.


The town has long been a major commercial, retail, and arts centre for the Midlands. Until the early 20th century, the main industries of the town were flour milling and the manufacture of worsted fabric. Since their respective declines, the government has been one of the major employers in the town: the maximum-security Port Laoise Prison, which houses the majority of the Irish Republican political prisoners sentenced in the Republic, the Midlands Prison, and the Department of Agriculture are all large-scale employers in the town.

The National Spatial Strategy for Ireland has identified Portlaoise as an ideal location for an inland port. This designation encourages the town to focus on the growth of distribution, logistics and warehouse uses, which ties in well with its strong transport connections.

Retail spaces includes the Dunamaise Arts Centre which comprises a cinema, performance space and exhibition space, the Portlaoise Leisure Centre, Laois Shopping Centre, Kyle Centre, Parkside Shopping Centres and a retail park on the Timahoe Road. The town hosts the regional finals of the Rose of Tralee (festival) in June and the Halloween Howls Comedy Festival on the October bank holiday weekend. It is also home to Electric Picnic which takes place the first weekend in September every year.

Portlaoise is one of Ireland's fastest growing towns with a 37.9% increase from 2006 to 2011. It has a large immigrant community (30% of total population) mainly from Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Latvia.

Portlaoise has the highest percentage of people under the age of 18 in Ireland. Due to rapid population growth due in particular to immigration from Eastern Europe especially Poland and Slovakia and it's location in the commuter belt Portlaoise boasts some of the countries best services. These include a new fire station and a large swimming leisure complex. Portlaoise has 3 new secondary schools and 5 new primary schools (2 upcoming). Controversy has raged however about the new primary schools as all 5 will be built on the eastern side of the town leaving the west side with one school. West Portlaoise has a large immigrant community and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country making this decision controversial locally.


  • Portlaoise stands at a major crossroads in the Irish roads (major roads to Dublin, Limerick, Cork) network although construction in the 1990s of the M7 motorway, which bypasses the town, has reduced traffic congestion in the town centre.
  • The town has a railway station served by intercity trains between Dublin and Cork and by Dublin commuter services. Maryborough railway station opened on 26 June 1847.[2]
  • Córas Iompair Éireann opened a new rail depot south-west of Portlaoise town centre in March 2008 (officially opened on 25 July 2008). The depot provides a high quality maintenance and servicing facility for the 183 new intercity railcars and some facilities for outer suburban railcars serving the Kildare Route.
  • Bus Eireann operates an intercity service between Dublin and Cork/Limerick which calls at Port Laoise.
  • The town is the terminus for Dublin-Portlaoise coach services operated by Dublin Coach. The bus stops at both Stops on James Fintan Lawlor Avenue, Portlaoise Hospital and also at Kilminchy


Since early 2008 Portlaoise has been the Irish base of Self Help Africa, formerly Self Help Development International, the Irish development agency engaged in implementing long term rural development programmes in Sub-Sahara. Established at the time of the Ethiopian Famine of 1984, Self Help is the chosen charity of the Irish Farmers Association.


  • Portlaoise RFC is the local rugby club, based just outside the town, at Togher.
  • Portlaoise GAA is the local Gaelic Athletic Association club and the most successful GAA club in Leinster.
  • Portlaoise AFC is the local soccer club, based at Rossleighan Park.
  • Port Laoise Leisure Centre has a 25m pool, a gym, a FIFA-approved 2* Astro pitch, a soccer pitch and large children's playground.
  • Subway Portlaoise is based at St Mary's Hall.
  • Portlaoise Golf Club is based at an 18-hole golf course on Abbeyleix Road.


See also

  • List of towns and villages in Ireland


External links

  • Photographs of contemporary Portlaoise plus photos of, and documents relating to, old Portlaoise.
  • Website of the local arts centre, The Dunamaise Centre, which incorporates a theatre and art gallery
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