The largest town and county seat of County Laois, Portlaoise was formerly called Fort of Maryborough and founded in 1556 by Queen Mary. The town’s name was officially changed to Portlaoise, which in Gaelic means “Fort of Laois,” in 1922.
The name is derived from the town’s historical reputation as the fortress or protector of the surrounding area. Portlaoise is widely known as home to a huge maximum-security prison that housed several very high profile members of the IRA in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
The Laois Heritage Trail begins here, featuring 13 popular heritage sites that can be visited by driving the scenic rural roads that crisscross security prison that housed several very high profile members of the IRA in the county.
Portlaoise often serves as a centre for vacationers who have come to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Irish Midlands. The area offers much in the way of outdoor activity, including spectacular fishing, horseback riding, hiking trails and golf venues.
The main street is under extensive development and has become a gathering place filled with pubs and restaurants. The Dunamaise Arts Centre is housed within an old jail and features ongoing exhibits of the visual arts, as well as theatrical productions and concerts.
The defensive nature of historic Portlaoise can still be seen in the remains of old walls scattered around the area, as well as a surviving round tower.