(IRISH INDEPENDENT, December 4th, 2015)
Come on The Town! When those mighty men of the Portlaoise senior GAA football team run out on to O’Connor Park in Tullamore this Sunday afternoon to face Ballyboden St Enda’s in the Leinster club final they will have an unlikely fan in Manchester United football boss Louis van Gaal willing them on.
Okay, fan is stretching it a bit, but when Portlaoise supporter Catherine Doyle was in Old Trafford recently, she got the angular Dutchman to shout out the familiar call for her native town’s football team, long the kingpins of Laois football. Van Gaal even attempted his best Irish Midlands accent as he bellowed out “Come on de Tow-en“ into Catherine’s phone.
With our without van Gaal’s support, The Town has been doing just fine in recent years – on all fronts.
The commercial and administrative centre for Laois County, according to Census figures, Portlaoise is the fastest growing big town in Ireland, with the 2002 population of 12,127 shooting up to 18,270 by 2011. With a large emigrant population, mainly from eastern Europe and Nigeria, it is a cosmopolitan place now, and was even the first town in Ireland to elect a black mayor – Rotimi Adebari in 2007.
The rising population is also mirrored in the plethora of schools either recently built or nearing completion. By this time next year, there will be five new-build primary schools in operation, and three new secondary schools. The main creeds and none are represented, with the primary schools including a gaelscoil, an Educate Together and the Church of Ireland Maryborough NS, and two convent schools and the CBS in the process of amalgamating.
Portlaoise’s central location, excellent motorway and rail and bus networks and high employment rate have proven hugely attractive for both foreign nationals and commuters, who are also attracted by house prices well down on those in nearby Kildare, and of course Dublin.
Even with a 25% rise in prices since last year, one can still get a decent three-bedroom semi for around €125,000.
Despite the Port in the name, Portlaoise is an inland town with no port, the name deriving from the Irish “Portlaoighise’, or fort of Laois.
The town was established as a fort in 1547 by Lord Deputy Sir Edward Bellingham, for Queen Mary, as part of a military campaign to subdue the troublesome O’Moores of Laois and the O’Connor’s of Offaly. Giolla Patrick O’Moore and Brian O’Connor were finally defeated and brought under arrest to England. Their lives were spared but their lands were confiscated.
The early fort was variously known as Port Laois, Campa and Fort Protector, but the town which began to grow around its walls, was renamed Maryborough, for the queen. Laois was to be known as Queen’s County. The town would not be named Portlaoise until after independence in 1922.
Portlaoise is dominated by Main Street, bookended by Market Square to the west and Lower Square in the east. The construction of an inner relief road, James Fintan Lalor Avenue, facilitated the southern expansion and development of the town. The opening of Portlaoise By-Pass in 1997 has meant the removal of 65% of through traffic and travel time to Dublin was reduced with the opening of the Heath-Monasterevin section of motorway in 2004.
The town is on the M7/M8 (Cork and Limerick motorways) National Motorway Network, while the N80 runs through Portlaoise and provides access to Carlow, Waterford and Rosslare in the south east, and to Tullamore, Mullingar and Athlone to the west and northwest.
The presence of two prisons, the high security Portlaoise prison for Special Criminal Court cases and prisoners linked with subversive crime and the medium-security Midlands Prison beside it, has meant maximum security of employment for the town, which also has two hospitals, the Midland Regional and St Fintan’s psychiatric hospital, the Department of Agriculture, an ESB training centre, an An Post mail centre and a main Eircom centre.
The Odeon cinema branch on Church Street drew national attention last year when Kimye, aka Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, on their honeymoon in Ireland, took in a screening there.
Surprisingly, for a pair so used to public performance they didn’t call into the impressive Dunamaise Arts Centre, a performance and exhibition space, or work out at the Portlaoise Leisure Centre, with its gym and swimming pool.
There were no sightings either at the Portlaoise Farmers Market which takes place on Fridays on Market Square.
Portlaoise is quite the sporting town and besides the GAA team, who play at Pairc Nua Uí Fhaoileán, the 27,000-capacity O’Moore Park, on the N80 (Abbeyleix Road), is the home of the Laois GAA teams.
The women’s Portlaoise Panthers basketball team play in the Premier League, while the local soccer club, Portlaoise AFC field three senior men’s teams a women’s team, and boys and girls teams all the way up to U18s.
Portlaoise rugby club, are doing well in Division 2A of the Leinster League
Golfers have the 18-hole parkland Portlaoise Golf Club on Abbeyleix Road and the challenging Heath course, which incorporates two natural lakes. The Heritage Championship Golf Course at Killenard is also close by.
Limerick is just an hour’s drive away, and Cork and Dublin both just 90 minutes away by car. All the main retailers are here, including Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Dunnes, SuperValue, Argos, TK Maxx, Halfords, Heatons, Shaws and Ken Blacks Toy Store. They are mainly housed in the Laois Shopping Centre, on James Fintan Lawlor Avenue, and the nearby Kyle Shopping Centre, anchored by Dunnes.
Food and drink
Portlaoise wouldn’t be known as a culinary mecca, but there a number of decent eateries. The Indian Prince restaurant in Kilminchy Court, just outside the town, does a lovely Chicken Jalfrezi and Butter Chicken Masala, but if it’s good regular pub food you are after, Treacy’s bar and restaurant, in The Heath, just north of the town, and notable for its impressive original thatch roof and beautiful old linen-pine bar counter, also hits the spot.
O’Gorman’s in Kilminchy does good Thai food, while Seasons, on Market Square, is always popular.
Kavanagh’s, on Main Street, has a traditional pub on the ground floor and its first floor space is a comedy club, live music venue, meeting room and function room for hire all rolled into one
Lethean, on Main Street, across from the Dunamaise Theatre, also has a live venue. The last Friday of the month is Rock Night, while the last Sunday is Open Mic night for Portlaoise wannabe performers.
Beside the primary schools mentioned, Portlaoise will soon have three new secondary schools, the VEC school on Mountrath Road, and Presentation Convent and the CBS on the Borris Road.
According to Neala Dunne, a director at Sherry FitzGerald Hyland, while sales are back to boom time figures, prices aren’t. “But,” she notes, “an average three-bed semi last year would have gone for €100,000 and this year it would go for €125,000.”
At the lower end, one still won’t get much for less than €125,000, even if a one-bed apartment would go for €65,000.
At the higher end, the Dublin road is always popular, and Dunne’s firm recently sold a three-bed bungalow on the small Grenville development for €200,000.
Seamus Browne REA has priced their three-bed bungalow in need of work on Ballyfin Road at €85,000; Sherry FitzGerald Hyland is seeking €160,000 for the three-bed mid-terrace 2 Marion Court; and Elite Estate Agents wants €350,000 for the five-bed detached property at Ballytegan.
- Central location
- Good value in house prices
- Well served for sporting and entertainment amenities
- Controversy surrounding maternity services at the Midlands Regional hospital
- Lack of restaurants
- Number of derelict sites close to own centre.
- Lack of car parking at train station