Portlaoise (older spelling Portlaoighise; former name Maryborough: in Irish Port Laoise a shortening of Port Laoighse), is the county town of County Laois in the midlands of Ireland. The name is Irish for "Fort of Laois", and properly ; however, a more anglicised pronunciation of "Port Laois" (/pɔrtˈliːʃ/) is common. The population in 2006 was 14,275.
The site were the present town is situated is referred to in the Annals of the Four Masters
as Port Laoighisi during the 1500s. 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. It was renamed Maryborough, and the county of Laois was renamed Queen's County, in Mary's honour. The following year, the fort was garrisoned in response to the threat posed by the O'Mores, the native chieftains of Laois; for the next fifty or so years, they waged a continual, low-scale war of aggression against the inhabitants of the town, who were mostly English in origin.
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 in 1801 and the abolition of its franchise, the town returned two members to the Irish Parliament. The Corporation itself existed until 1830.
Portlaoise Town Council
is an elected local government body, and mandated under the Local Government Act 2001
to provide civic leadership and a forum for the democratic representation of the community. Responsibilities include amenity support, operation of the Litter Act, contribution to tourism development, event licensing, arts support, etc.
The Town Council executive comprises nine elected Councillors, headed by the town mayor. The current mayor is Willie Aird.
Portlaoise is twinned with Coulounieix-Chamiers in the Dordogne département of France.
The town has long been a major commercial, retail, and arts centre for the Midlands. Until the early twentieth 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 Portlaoise Prison
, which houses the majority of paramilitary prisoners sentenced in the Republic
, the Midlands Prison, and the Department of Agriculture are all large-scale employers in the town. This number is expected to increase further under the planned decentralisation of government departments from Dublin.
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.
Significant nearby local tourist sites include the ruins of an eight hundred year old hill-top castle at Dunamase
; a large Georgian estate home designed by James Gandon
and surrounding gardens at Emo
; the town of Mountmellick
, the site of a notable Georgian
square; and the Slieve Bloom Mountains
and Forest Park; a 12th century Round Tower in Timahoe
Within the town itself, the former jail has been transformed into an arts centre comprising a cinema, performance space and exhibition space.
Portlaoise is the hometown of aviation pioneer James Fitzmaurice
. The well-known poet Pat Boran
was also born and grew up in the town. In addition. Portlaoise was the birthplace of Bartholomew Mosse
, the founder of the Rotunda Hospital
Since early 2008 Portlaoise has been the Irish base of 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 is twinned
with the town of Coulounieix-Chamiers