History always stays in the places where incidents take place. Books help in learning about the past countries. However, nothing beats the thrill of being somewhere that history happened. Ireland is one of the terrific countries that bears an amazing tales to tell. There are more than a few cities that are worth visiting. Laois is one of the counties that you should definitely pay a visit to. Before heading there, you need to learn about the place. That is exactly why we are here. We will help you learn about the history, culture, and tourist attractions of the county.
The History of Laois
Well, the Irish language is not that easy. So, before we get started about the history, let’s talk generally about the county. First, the pronunciation of Laois is actually “Leesh.” Yes, it is weird, but that is just how it is. The city lies in the southern part of Midlands Region. Besides, it is located in the province of Leinster as well. Before being named Laois, people referred to it as Queen’s County. There is definitely a whole story behind that fact. However, after the medieval kingdom, Loigis, the county’s name took its modern version.
Let’s get deeper into the past of Laois County, long before the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It was time when the country was referred to as Gaelic Ireland.
The Neolithic Period
The Neolithic Period of Laois started in 4000 BC and remained all the way to 2500 BC. It was the time when the first farmers of Ireland took place. They used to live in the forests that covered most of the county. However, they managed to clear those heavy forests. Since they were actually farmers, they planted their own crops and harvested them. Well, if those farmers were the ones to clear the forests, how people lived before?
Well, the forests of Laois were actually heavy. There, hunters and gatherers resided long before the Neolithic Period. They are deemed to be the first people of the city, in fact. Hunters survived through those forests by gathering nuts and fishing through the rivers. Their diet was so basic that it consisted of nuts, berries, and fish.
The Bronze Age
The Bronze Age existed around 2500 BC, by the end of the Neolithic Period. During that age, most of Ireland’s population inhibited Laois County. People at that time produced golden objects, weapons, and other tools. You can find a standing stone along with a ring fort that dates back to the Bronze Age. Visitors still observe those monuments until those modern days. Besides, there are also the remains of their hill forts at Skirk, Clopook, and Monelly. Legends and history profess that the county witnessed the ritual killing. However, that ritual actually took place several centuries before the Bronze Age. The body of Cashel Man is one of the popular things to observe there. It remains as an indicator of the cruel rituals that once existed.
The Celtic Iron Age
The Celtic Iron Age is actually the period that people also refer to as the pre-Christian period. It was a few years before the arrival of Christianity. However, it is more accurate to be the Iron Age, for it was Ireland’s very first time to know iron. That metal entered the country through the bloody weapons that different groups used to win the lands over.
The Christian Age
Finally, Christianity was introduced to Ireland. At that time, religious communities started forming. It was the role of holy men and women to found those communities in Laois for the first time. Saints founded their own monastic habitations as well. That included Ciaran of Saighir; people used to call him The Elder. The reason behind such a name was the existence of another Saint called Ciaran as well. However, the latter was younger and he was the saint of Clonmacnoise. The Elder had actually founded his monastic in the western Slieve Bloom Mountains. He was actually known to be the first bishop of Ossory. St. Ciaran was also deemed to be Ireland’s first bishop even before St. Patrick, so they say.
Later, the monastic base of the Church was moved away. That was when the Synod of Rathbreasail started constructing new Irish districts back in 1111. Unfortunately, the wooden buildings of the early Christian churches were gone for good. The strong ties to Rome escorted to new religious orders that included replacing the wooden buildings with new stone monasteries.
The Norman Invasion of Ireland
One of the biggest events in the history of Ireland was the Norman invasion. The invasion started in 1169 and lasted until 1171. That unfortunate incident had greatly affected Laois since it was an important part of the Kingdom of Leinster. Thanks to the Normans, Laois had come in terms with mottes; they’re wooden towers that sit over earthen mounds. Over and beyond, they build more than a few stone castles. They were even the reason that most of the towns of the county exist right now. Those towns had actually started off as Norman divisions. They now developed to become towns.
The Revival of the Gaelic Community
The Normans had seized almost everything in the county. Even the castle that sits on the Rock of Dunamase was taken by Strongbow, a Norman warrior. Before that, the castle belonged to Aoife, an Irish princess. She had the castle as part of her dowry during her marriage. The Normans stayed in Ireland for many years. They had power over most of the lands of Laois; even the best of them. On the other hand, the Gaelic community was limited to the forests and mountains. Most of them stayed in the Slieve Bloom Mountains throughout the years of the invasion. But that was only until the early 14th century. It was the time when the Gaelic society began to flourish once again thanks to the chieftains of Laois. They managed to force the Normans to withdraw and hand the lands over.
The Culture of the County
Laois is known to always have a festival to celebrate. There are so many festivals that take place throughout the year and on an annual basis. Let’s take a look at all the festivals held in the county every year.
The Rose of Tralee
This festival is popular all over Ireland and most of the world’s Irish communities still celebrate it. Ireland holds this festival every year in the town of Tralee. The show is inspired from a ballad that belongs to the 19th century. Mary Ballad that what it was called. In fact, Mary was very beautiful; legends claim that people called her the Rose of Tralee. The name was a sign of how beautiful she was. Moreover, the words of the song was a produced art of William Pembroke Mulchinock. According to legends, he was a Protestant; a wealthy one in fact. He fell in love with Mary O’Connor who was a humble maid that served his own parents.
The Festival Practices
The Rose of Tralee takes place in August. Women from all over Ireland enter a contest in which one of them gets to be the Rose. In fact, women do not get chosen according to their appearances. On the contrary, the factors that qualify a woman to be the Rose are based on personality. However, the chosen one should actually resemble the lyrics of the song. She also must be a great role model and Irish presenter all around the world. The woman that qualifies as the best one to serve as an ambassador for the festival wins. The festival takes place on two different levels, locally and internationally. All of the Irish counties participate and only one Rose wins. The same goes for the international one except that she gets chosen from around the world.
Check out the lyrics to The Rose of Tralee Song.
Here is one more arts festival that takes place in Laois every year, Electric Picnic. This festival is a musical one that includes more electric music than any other Irish festival. It all started in 2004 at Stradbally Hall in County Laois and has been going on since then. The Festival Republic and Pod Concerts are the organizers of the event every year. People have been enjoying this festival so much and it has added greatly to the tourism in Ireland. The Electric Picnic Festival was one of the Best European Festivals in 2010 by Vote.
People also voted that the atmosphere at the festival is quite relaxing and positive. They enjoy the services provided including food and sleeping through the long weekend. In fact, the festival used to take place only for a day and that was it. However, the second year of the festival, things have developed to be a long weekend instead. People want longer times to relax and enjoy the offers of the festival. These offers usually include a cinema tent, massages, bean bags for relaxation, and other fun activities. There is also the Comedy Tent that Gerry Mallon usually performs.
B.A.R.E in the Woods
It is usually called BARE Festival. The letters actually stand for Bringing Another Righteous Event. It is another music festival that Ireland celebrates every year at Garryhinch Woods in Laois, starting from 2014. This festival features acts from all over the world, nationally and internationally. It includes Moscow Metro, Sounds of System Breakdown, The Vincent, New Secret Weapon, Phantom, Corner Boy, Elastic Sleep and more. At the Irish Festival Awards, this festival, in particular, won the title of the Best One Day Festival in 2017.
Top Places to Visit in Laois
Besides the amazing festivals that take place every year, there are so many places of interest in the county. Check out this list.
Ballyfin Demesne is a 600-acre estate where several powerful families built their homes for several generations; one after another. Among the families that resided there were the O’Mores, the Crosbys, the Poles, the Wellesley-Poles and the Cootes, respectively. Since the Cootes were the last owning family, the present standing building belonged to them. Sir Charles Coote built it with the help of some prevalent architects who designed it themselves. Those architects included William Vitruvius Morrison and Richard Morrison. The building served as a school for long years. In 2011, it was transformed into a country house hotel.
Many legends also claim that the warrior, Finn MacCool used to live on this site. MacCool is actually one of the most prominent warriors in Irish mythology. Even the name “Ballyfin” literally means the fair town or the town of Fionn. The latter is the older version of the warrior’s name. Over and beyond, the village consists of many hills and forests to walk around.
Castle Durrow is a country house that exists in a town named Durrow, apparently, in County Laois. It belongs to the 18th century and owns formal gardens that were popular back then. Laois actually has more than a few country houses. However, this one is, in fact, one of the fines ones around. Colonel William Flower was the builder of the house. He built it in 1712 as a family home. The ownership of the house remained for the Flower family until 1922. For some reason, they had to forcefully sell the house and leave Ireland to return to England.
Mr. Maher of Freshford was the next owner of the house until the Land Commission took over it. The house stayed empty for several years, but in 1929, the town transformed it into a school. In the late 90’s, Peter and Shelley Stokes purchased the building and transformed it into a luxurious castle. It is now what is known as the Castle Durrow House Hotel. People from all around the world usually visit the magnificent site while being in the county.
Emo Court is a large neo-classical mansion. It is found in a site close to the village of Emo in Laois. James Gandon was the architect who designed the mansion in 1790. He did that after John Dawson ordered him to. Dawson was the first Earl of Portarlington. The building includes a large dome, sash-style windows, a hipped roof, and pavilions. Gandon also designed other buildings in Dublin, including Kings Inns and Custom House. Emo Court remained inhabitable for so many years, for Gandon was actually busy working on other projects. Now, it contains a house along with several gardens. During the 90’s, the Irish state gained ownership over these properties and the Office of Public Works manages them.
Rock of Dunamase
The Rock of Dunamase is a rocky ridge that sits in the townland of Park in Laois. During excavations that took place in the 90’s, archaeologists stated that the Rock date to the 9th century. The first settlement of the rock was an early Christian one. That settlement was actually the one that the Vikings plundered back in 842. Some legends claim that the Vikings of Dublin attacked the site in 845. However, nothing mentioned whether they took over the site or not. It holds a defensive stronghold that dates back to the early Hiberno-Norman Period. This stronghold actually overlooks the Slieve Bloom Mountains. According to some archaeological excavations, the ruins that the place holds belonged to the Dunamase Castle. The latter was constructed in the 12th century.
The Arrival of the Normans
In the late 12th century, the Normans arrived in Ireland and took Dunamase as their fortification. Dunamase also happened to be the site in which the King of Leinster, Diarmuid MacMurrough, kidnapped O’Rouke’s wife. O’Rouke was the King of Breifne; with the assistance of his family and the O’Conner, they escorted MacMurrough to leave. At first, he left Dunamase, but then he left all of Ireland for good. MacMurrough had to hand Dunamase over to Strongbow, the Norman warrior. He also gifted him with his daughter, Aoife, for marriage.
The Marshal Family
The Marshal Family inherited the castle after Strongbow. Later, William Marshal managed to become the Regent of England. The Marshal family remained with the same status for years after the death of William. He actually had five sons and all of them were his successors, so he had power for long years. However, he also had five daughters who received the lands in 1247. Eva was one of his daughters, she took Dunamase and later her daughter was the heir. Eva’s daughter, Maud, married Roger Mortimer, making the Mortimer the seizers of the castle for many years. However, the Mortimer inheritance was terminated after Roger was accused of disloyalty.
Roundwood House is one of the most popular hotels in Laois. You will surely come across this name while booking in Irish hotels. The hotel is set near the Slieve Bloom Mountains. This amazing country house belongs to the 18th century. It is one of the significant buildings in the history of Ireland. You will definitely have an amazing warm experience. The rooms are cozy with all the antique furniture presented. Besides, there are many bookshelves and paintings that keep the rooms full of life and history. You can enjoy the incredible gardens around the house while reading a nice book or grabbing something from the café.
The Slieve Bloom Mountains
We have already mentioned this place during reciting the great history of the county, right? Well, the Irish community used to stay in those mountains during the Norman invasion. Those mountains are almost 530 meters in height. In fact, this height is not considered that high, but the mountains are quite widespread. They take up a fairly large size. The mountains stretch from the North West, at Rosenallis, to the south-west in Roscrea. They create a link between two Irish counties, Offaly and Laois.
Here comes the fun part. People visit those mountains not only for the magnificent scenery but also for the fun activities. Through the years, the country established walking trails that are loop-shaped and extend to about 85 kilometers. There are different heads trails as well. They are divided into Clonaslee, Forest Car Park, Glenafelly, Kinnitty, Slieve Blooms, Cadamstown, Glen Monicknew, and Glenbarrow. In those walking trails, you will realize that there are three different colours that code the easiness of the trails. The red colour indicates the most difficult trails, the blue is moderate while the green is the easiest. At the Rosenallis, you can enjoy the scenery along with the Glenbarrow waterfalls that are just a few miles away.
Stradbally is located in County Laois. It possesses Stradbally Hall which is a quite large house that the Cosby family owned. This Hall has always been a host for many Irish events, including the National Steam Rally. Besides, the Electric Picnic Arts and Music Festival are always held there even since its beginning back in 2004.
Timahoe Round Tower
Timahoe is actually a village that sits in a vast valley. There are several houses around the village and they are built around a large central green. People refer to those houses as Goosegreen. Moreover, the facilities that exist around the village include a community hall, the church, and a recycling area. Back in the 7th century, Saint Mochua built a monastery in the village. Legends claim that the church was burnt down several times until the O’Mores renovated it. Anyhow, here is the story of the Round Tower of Timahoe. It was built in the mid-12th century to be one of Ireland’s finest towers. The tower is located near the centre of the village. It is around 30 meters in height, so it is easy to see from a distance.