When you think of the beauties of Ireland, you very likely think of the rugged beauty of the west, or the awe-inspiring coastline of the north. Even the fairy tale mountain ranges of the south. You’d be forgiven, then, for forgetting about some of our midland counties. Namely Laois. The population of this unassuming county has exploded over recent years, with infrastructure placing it firmly on the commuter belt. But easy roads and attractive house prices are far from the only thing this modest county has to offer. Below is a list of the top five attractions in Laois just waiting to be explored.
5. Emo Court
Surrounded by rolling fields and working farmlands, Emo Court and Demesne truly is a gem of a historical house. With construction beginning in the 1700s for the 1st Earl of Portarlington, the house took many years before it was inhabitable though it has quite the claim to fame; it was designed by James Gandon, whose other works include Dublin’s Customs House.
The house itself is open for tours from April to September, and it is a study in neo-classical magnificence for any discerning architect buffs out there. And guided tours are available at a fee. Apart from the house itself, the surrounding woods, along with the formal gardens, which are open all year round, and beautiful lake walk, make Emo the perfect place to spend an afternoon. And of course, the tea rooms are a definite plus!
4. Rock of Dunamase
Settled 150 feet above the flat land below, between Portlaoise and Stradbally is the mightily impressive and vastly interesting Rock of Dunamase. The site itself was discovered to be a 9th-century Dún or fort. Dunamase Castle was then built on top of the dún ruins as a Norman stronghold in the 12th century. But the history is not what attracts locals time and time again to the spectacular ruins. Kids and adults alike will enjoy rambling over the fallen stone and explore the many nooks and crannies left by the ancient buildings. And a leisurely climb to the top will afford you some of the best views the county has to offer.
3. Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum
Reasonably priced and well worth a visit, number three on our list is Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum. Located close to Aghaboe Abbey, which is great for a free, quick stop, the Museum does a wonderful job of telling a huge, if humbling part of Irish history. Guides will tell you all about what life was like for the people forced into such workhouses during the Potato Famine, and as an added educational bonus, there is a farm-equipment museum on-site, filled with interesting agricultural antiquities. Open Monday to Friday all year long, and for seven days during summer months, this place is a great example of the perseverance of the Irish spirit in the face of terrible hardships.
2. Heywood Gardens
A place of truly remarkable beauty, you will be hard-pressed to find prettier gardens than those found at Heywood. Heywood House itself is no longer standing and is now the site of a community secondary school, but the formal gardens, commissioned in the early 1900s, and the Romantic Landscape Parklands, commissioned much earlier in the 1700s are more than enough of an attraction.
The grounds are simply full of fascination historical delights, among them an obelisk, a mock-castle folly, and a small bathing house, the outside of which can be seen on a walk around the parklands. The more structured Lutyens Gardens are named for their prominent architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens and are an example of some of his best work in Ireland.
1. Glenbarrow Waterfall and Ridge of Capard
Sitting comfortably in first position is the truly spectacular Glenbarrow Waterfall, and Ridge of Capard. Walkers from all over the country descend time and again on the Slieve Bloom Mountains to take advantage of the many walks available, and they are never disappointed.
The wooden boardwalk of the Ridge of Capard will afford you some of the most breath-taking views you’re likely to see, and the Glenbarrow Waterfall walk is truly magical, with glorious forest walks leading to the waterfall itself. Dotted with spectacular picnic spots, you would be forgiven for imagining yourself in the land of the fair-folk as you take in the natural beauty of this little piece of Eden in the midlands of Ireland. So, there you have it, folks. Our top five things to do in County Laois. Do you agree with our list? Any suggestions of your own? Let us know!
Do you agree with our list? Any suggestions of your own? Let us know!