North-east Laois is a land of undulating terrain and shining waters, where the sudden height of the Slieve Bloom Mountains to the west contrasts dramatically with the lower-lying plain. In the middle of this rich agricultural country sits Port Laoise, once Fort Protector, a military post surrounded by wild country and hostile clans, but now a dignified county town populated by a welcoming people.

Portlaoise, the county town,was once called Maryborough. In the reign of Phillip and Mary it was fortified as part of a plan to subdue the local chiefs, the O'Mores, but nothing remains apart from the outer wall of the tower.

A great fort, the Fort Protector, was built here in 1547 to guard the English settlers from the Irish and as a garrison which served to oust the warlike local O'Moore clan. In the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-8) the O'Moores were dispossessed and sent to County Kerry, and replaced by the English. The town was renamed Maryborough and the county Queen's County until 1920. Little remains of the original fortification. Today Port Laoise is the county town and an ideal place from which to explore the area.

Areas around Port Laoise

Four miles (6 km) to the east is the prominent Rock of Dunamase. On its summit is a ruined castle which was a fortress of the twelfth-century King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough. It was the scene of many conflicts in the centuries after the Anglo-Norman invasion, and was demolished in 1650 by the Cromwellians.
A mile (2 km) further to the east is Dysart, the birthplace of Dr Bartholomew Mosse, founder of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Seven miles (11 km) east of Portlaoise is Stradbally, birthplace of the historian John Conor O'Hanlon. The Stradbally Steam Museum may be visited in the town. Timahoe, 5 miles (8 km) south of Stradbally, has a well-preserved round tower.

At Killeshin, near to the border with County Carlow, was the site of the first monastery founded by St. Diarmuid in the 6th century. A beautiful Hiberno-Romanesque doorway and a very old tombstone are the main features remaining. Nearby is an old motte and bailey called Castlequarter, said to be the ruins of a Norman fortress. The water reservoir for Carlow town is a little way up this hill and from the summit wonderful view of the surrounding countryside may be seen.

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to RTC Carlow

<A HREF="../staff/staff.html#AK>AK 30th November 1995