The town of Portlaoise has long-running status as a major commercial, retail, and arts centre for Ireland’s Midlands. A vibrant town with shops, pubs, restaurants and accommodation options, it’s the county capital of Laois on the main roads from Dublin to the south and southwest.
The Heath, a great level plain in the Midlands backed by low hills, has been a place of great importance since the bronze age and is liberally scattered with Iron Age ring forts. It was a meeting place of major roads through Ireland and, by the 16th century several castles had been built, including one nearby in Portlaoise.
An invasion of the region under Queen Mary of England and her husband King Philip of Spain led to the development of a settlement there, which they called Maryborough. It retained that name until it reverted to its old title of Portlaoise following independence.
Recent years have seen its transformation from a rather sleepy town, with too much traffic, into an exciting and rapidly growing centre, with branches of all the best shops, fascinating local sources of crafts. A good locally sourced food scene and the splendid Dunamaise Arts Centre (established in 1999) with its theatre and art gallery cement Portlaoise as a town truly worth experiencing.