Near the heart of County Laois, the rich farmland south and west of Portlaoise is one of Ireland's undiscovered gems. Golf, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding are traditional sports here, and the development of the Grand Canal for recreational purposes is adding to the area's attractions. Explore the pretty villages and romantic, ivy-covered ruins by car, follow one of the many hiking trails, or drive the Garden Trail.

Portlaoise's name is derived from the Irish for "Fort of Laois" and refers to the town's strife-filled history. In terms of its architecture, it's rather eclectic—it feels as if bits of other towns were picked up and dropped randomly onto the site. Once best known for having Ireland's highest-security prison, which housed the IRA's most notorious members during the 1970s and ’80s and still looms over the town, Portlaoise is undergoing a renaissance. The main street, which once formed part of the main Dublin–Cork road, is now largely given over to pedestrians; pubs and restaurants are flourishing; and the thriving Dunamaise Arts Centre, where the Portlaoise tourist office is also based, adds an extra dash of culture. In 2020, the town embarked on a large biodiversity project which saw 5,000 trees planted along with shrubs and pollinator-friendly flowerbeds on roadside verges and hedegrows with the aim of making Portlaoise "A Town in a Garden."

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Fodor's Essential Ireland 2020

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