County Laois (pronounced “leash”—yes, really) is commonly referred to as the “most landlocked county in Ireland.” There are other counties in Ireland whose borders don’t touch the coast, so what makes Laois the most landlocked? Not only is it landlocked, but so are all of its bordering counties—it is the only county of Ireland’s 32 where this is the case, as the country is so small and its coastline so erose.
The county is small, but home to many beautiful monuments to Ireland’s storied past, including castles, round towers, and elegant manor estates. Laois is rich not only in historical sites but also in contemporary arts and culture. Throughout the year, it plays host to numerous festivals, including the National Plowing Championships, the Rose of Tralee Regional Finals, and Electric Picnic, a massive celebration of music, art, and theater.
ENJOY PANORAMIC VIEWS AT THE ROCK OF DUNAMASE
The Rock of Dunamase is an impressive sight in itself—the rocky crag juts up 150 feet above an otherwise level plain near the town of Portlaoise. Atop the outcrop sit the ruins of a 12th century castle, which was part of the dowry belonging to Aoife of Leinster when she married the Norman conqueror Strongbow. The peak also offers an excellent vantage point of the surrounding area, which made it a desirable location for ancient fortresses. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day, you’ll see views of the Slieve Blooms, the Timahoe Round Tower, and even the Wicklow Mountains!
TAKE A HIKE UP THE SLIEVE BLOOMS
Slieve Bloom Mountains connect County Laois with neighboring County Offaly, and the rolling range offers stunning views of woodlands, waterfalls, and the surrounding farmland. Extreme weather has worn down the highest peaks from 12,000 feet to 1,700 feet today, but you can still catch glimpses of the highest points in Ireland’s other four provinces (provided, of course, you manage to get a rare sunny day!). The range contains an impressive network of trails designed for everything from taking a leisurely walk to cycling and horseback riding, so no matter your preferred way of moving through nature, opportunity awaits.
LIVE LIKE AN EARL (FOR A DAY)
In 1790, John Dawson, Earl of Portarlington, commissioned Emo Court, a massive neo-classical mansion on a large estate of gardens and parkland. The property was not completed until 1870, and until it was sold in 1920, was the second-largest walled estate after Phoenix Park, with an area of 11,150 acres. For much of the 20th century, the Jesuits utilized the property as a novitiate. Now Emo Court is property of the Irish state, and visitors can tour the house to learn about its history from construction through the present day and wander its 86 acres of landscaped grounds.
BRUSH UP ON FAMINE HISTORY AT THE DONAGHMORE WORKHOUSE MUSEUM
Even after the deadliest years of the Famine, many of Ireland’s poorest were forced to seek governmental relief, which led to the construction of workhouses. The Donaghmore Workhouse was built in 1853 and provided a refuge (of sorts) to roughly 1,200 people—about 10% of the local population at the time. Authorities maintained the barest standards of living in the workhouse and enforced stringent disciplinary standards, meting out harsh punishment for the slightest infraction. Today, the Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum gives guests an in-depth look at the hardships many faced in the 19th century while interrogating its own legacy of inflicting greater suffering on those who sought refuge here during the Famine.
ADMIRE IRELAND’S MOST ELEGANT ROUND TOWER
Anyone who has visited Ireland and seen a medieval round tower can attest it is a stunning sight. The Timaohoe Round Tower, constructed in the 1100s, reaches to nearly 100 feet in height and is larger than 55 feet wide at the base. It is also an example of especially exquisite artistry—the main doorframe is decorated with Romanesque-style carvings of human heads featuring flowing hair and beards. It is unclear why the monks chose such a detailed motif, but whatever the reason, the ornamentation makes Timahoe one of the most notable round towers in Ireland.
ROCK OUT TO HOZIER AT IRELAND’S GLASTONBURY
Late every summer, the small town of Stradbally (population: 1,807 according to the 2016 census) swells by nearly 50,000 people who flock there for the Electric Picnic festival. What started as a one-day outdoor showcase of music, comedy, theater, and visual arts in 2004 is now a weekend-long extravaganza that many consider Ireland’s answer to Glastonbury. Past musical headliners have included the Arcade Fire, Björk, The Cure, and Kendrick Lamar.
This year, The Strokes, Hozier, The 1975, and Florence and the Machine top the bill, and tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes, but be sure to mark your calendars for 2020!
Have we left anything off this list that you can’t miss in County Laois? Have you done any of these iconic activities? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!