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Aran Inspired

Slieve Bloom Mountains

Beautiful, surprising, haunting and peaceful, Ireland's Slieve Bloom Mountains are a hillwalker's paradise. The mountain range forms a broad elongated dome, extending for almost 25km in a north-easterly/south-westerly direction on the Laois/Offaly border, near the centre of the Irish Republic. Rising from a flat central plain, the mountains provide great panoramic views of the surrounding midlands, though the range never exceeds 610m. Now a Government-protected area, the bog-covered Slieve Bloom National Nature Reserve extends some 2100 hectares over the peaks of Arderin (the highest), Wolftrap, Carnahinch, Barna and Knockachorra mountains and the Ridge of Capard.

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Emo Court and Gardens

One of Ireland’s most beautiful treasures lies near the village of Portarlington. This national gem is known as Emo Court and Gardens, and is a fine example of the traditional large country house in the neoclassical style. Construction began in 1792 from a design by the brilliant James Gandon, celebrated architect of the Four Courts, Custom House and O’Connell Bridge in Dublin. It is said that Emo Court is his largest domestic work, and the only one to compare in scope to the contributions of his civic projects. Work on the house continued on and off for nearly 70 years before it was completely finished.

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Ballaghmore Castle

Built in 1480 by the MacGiollaphadraig / Fitzpatricks of Borris-in-Ossory, this small but beautiful castle is nestled in picturesque Irish countryside. It is located in County Laois, on the Bealach Mor (Bay-lock More), or the road to Munster. For many years, Ballaghmore Castle, which is situated on 30 peaceful acres, was long used as a granary, having severely ravaged in 1647 during Cromwell's invasion of Ireland. In 1990, the castle was privately purchased, restored to much of its former glory, and is today open to the public, and rented out to visitors.

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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.

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The village of Mountmellick is located on the Owenass River. Historically, it was an important centre for woolen mills and sugar beet processing. But Mountmellick is probably most well known for its lace, and its distinct style of embroidery identified by the following: Large floral designs taken directly from nature, Fringed edges and button holed pieces, Closed designs In the later nineteenth century, the Mountmellick style of embroidery was popularly used in children’s clothes, aprons, and ladies wear.

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St. Mochua, who is said to have died in 657, began the monastic community at Timahoe. The 96 foot high round tower is the only surviving evidence of any religious community that operated on the site. It dates back to the twelfth century, and is one of the largest in the country, as well as the biggest in diameter. The Round Tower has a very attractive Romanesque doorway, situated far enough above the ground that the use of binoculars is necessary to view the intricate details of the carvings. Visible images include figures of heads with interwoven hair.

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Morrissey's Pub, Abbeyleix

Morrissey’s Pub a has been in operation since 1755 and is a much-loved attraction in the small, historic town of Abbeyleix, County Laois. Inside, the pub has a charming atmosphere, and retains it original antique fittings and authentic 19th century Irish period décor. Wooden partitions are used to create lots of snugs and other sections, and the walls are covered in historic Irish memorabilia and other bric-a-brac, from antique bicycles to old Irish advertisements. In winter months, a potbelly stove keeps visitors warm. On busy days, the chatter gets loud -- while it is a tourist attraction, Morrissey's remains a friendly old Irish pub.

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Heywood Gardens

The beautifully landscaped Heywood Gardens are the most outstanding attraction of Ballinakill, a small Georgian village just south of Abbeyleix in County Laois. The park is actually the estate of mansion that no longer stands, called Heywood House, which was engulfed in flames in 1950 and demolished to make way for a school. Its gardens, nevertheless, remain a delight. There are actually two sets of gardens at Heywood -- the outer sprawling rustic park and woodland was constructed in the 18th century; the smaller formal Italianate gardens, which would have stood directly in front of the house, were constructed in the early 1900s.

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The Rock of Dunamase

A short distance from the town of Portlaoise, in dramatic contrast to the surrounding flat countryside of most of County Laois, rises the Rock of Dunamase, with its ancient castle on top. The “rock’s” natural attributes – in fact it is a 150-foot high limestone cliff – made it the perfect spot to erect a fortress. In ruins since the 17th century, a climb to the summit nevertheless reveals broken, but still recognizable portions of walls, towers and gates, from what was once a very large and complex palace-like structure.

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The small Georgian style town of Abbeyleix was built in the 1800’s to accommodate the servants associated with the nearby estate of Viscount de Vesci. It exudes the atmosphere of elegance befitting a manor house. The tree-lined streets contain some buildings from the 1850s, with shop fronts and stone cut buildings unmistakably Irish in style. Later buildings from around 1900 include the Market House and the Hibernian Bank. There was once a carpet factory located here whose claim to fame was weaving the carpets for the Titanic.

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