Main Street, Portlaoise
|Elevation||139 m (456 ft)|
|Irish Grid Reference||S465986|
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. Though the early fort and its surrounding settlement had been known by a number of names, such as Governor, Port Laois, Campa and Fort Protector, the new town was named Maryborough (IPA [ˈmarbrə]) and the county was named Queen's County in Mary's honour. In about 1556, Portlaoise acquired its first parish church—Old St Peter's—situated to the west of Fort Protector. Although first built as a Catholic church, thanks to Queen Mary's reestablishment of Roman Catholicism, the church was used for Protestant services after the accession to the English throne of Mary's half-sister, Elizabeth.
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. The town was burnt several times by the end of the sixteenth century.
Portlaoise was granted a market in 1567, and then 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.
In 1803-04, a new Church of Ireland church was built to replace the Old St Peter's and was the first building to be erected on the new Market Square. The building is attributed to architect James Gandon. Other notable buildings constructed in Portlaoise in the nineteenth century included the now-destroyed French Renaissance-style Town Hall on Market Square; the Court House on Main Street, built in 1805; the County Gaol built in 1830 to a design by William Deane Butler; and the neo-classical St. Fintan’s Asylum, built in 1832 on the Dublin Road.
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.
The town forms part of the Portlaise Municipal District Local Electoral Area for elections to Laois County Council. This includes both the urban Port Laoise area, Abbeyleix and Ballinakill and surrounding rural areas. Portlaoise's Town Council was abolished in 2014.
- 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.
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 include 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.
Portlaoise is one of Ireland's fastest growing towns, with a 37.9% increase in population from 2006 to 2011. It has a large immigrant community (30% of total population) originating mainly from Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Latvia. Portlaoise is known for having one of the highest percentages of black residents in the country. The mayor, Rotimi Adebari was the first person of African descent to become mayor in Ireland.
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 its location in the commuter belt Portlaoise boasts some of the country's best services. These include a new fire station and a large swimming leisure complex. Portlaoise has three new secondary schools and five new primary schools (two upcoming). Controversy has raged however about the new primary schools as all five 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.
- 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 Éireann 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 which is at James Fintan Lawlor Avenue, it also stops at Portlaoise Hospital and Kilminchy.
- Europcar offer a car rental location in Portlaoise.
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. Hon da Town
- Portlaoise AFC is the local soccer club, based at Rossleighan Park, and has many unsuccessful graduates in the national league and cup competitions.
- Port Laoise Leisure Centre has a 25m pool, a gym, a FIFA-approved 2* Astro pitch, a soccer pitch and large children's playground.
- Portlaoise Golf Club is based at an 18-hole golf course on Abbeyleix Road.
- Sean O'Rourke - RTÉ journalist and broadcaster
- James Fitzmaurice – aviation pioneer.
- Pat Boran – poet and radio presenter.
- Bartholomew Mosse, the founder of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin
- Stephen Hunt – association football player, was born in Portlaoise in 1981.
- Pádraig Mac Lógáin – the only two-time President of Sinn Féin owned a pub on Main Street.
- Robert Sheehan – actor (Misfits, Love/Hate).
- Zach Tuohy – an Australian Football League player for the Carlton Football Club
- John Murray, Doireann Ní Bhriain (12 February 2014). Pronunciation. John Murray Show (RTÉ). Event occurs at 18m55s–19m45s.
- Port Laoise, Placenames Database of Ireland.
- Census for post 1821 figures.
- Lee, JJ (1981). "On the accuracy of the Pre-famine Irish censuses". In Goldstrom, J. M.; Clarkson, L. A. Irish Population, Economy, and Society: Essays in Honour of the Late K. H. Connell. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
- Mokyr, Joel; O Grada, Cormac (November 1984). "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700–1850". The Economic History Review 37 (4): 473–488. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1984.tb00344.x.
- "Maryborough station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 3 November 2007.
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