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Portlaoise's attractions and things to do

Portlaoise may not have the well-oiled tourist infrastructure of Dublin or even Limerick – though many would say that’s part of its appeal. Regardless, there are a few museums in town, along with a sprinkling of tourist attractions in the immediate countryside. The Rock of Dunamase is famous in its own right, and draws tourists from other parts of Ireland. Just outside of town, the Slieve Bloom Mountains make for a scenic afternoon drive.

The following are amongst the leading visitor attractions in Portlaoise:

Rock of Dunamase

The primary tourist attraction in this region is located 6 miles outside of Portlaoise, with signposts visible on the N80. Standing on a rocky outcropping overlooking the town are the ruins of Dunamase Castle, which date to the 12th century. In the space of about 200 years, the castle was completely destroyed, so these ruins have been part of the local landscape for centuries. A few arches are still standing, but the real attraction is the view of the town and the Slieve Mountains visible from this outpost.

Dunamaise Arts Centre

This modern centre for the arts offers a comprehensive selection of events, film screenings and exhibits throughout the year. Offerings vary depending on the time of year, so it’s best to check in to see what’s on while you’re in town. Visit the Dunamaise Arts Centre website for details.

Portlaoise Downs Town Park

Commissioned in 1999, the centrally located town park is near ‘The Downs’. This is an ecological park, and most of the planting involved native species. Since then, a variety of native wildflowers have also grown up. The park features a manmade lake crossed with pedestrian footbridges.

O’Moore Park

Home to the Laois Gaelic football and hurling teams, O’Moore Park dates to 1888. This is a popular pitch, and it’s often used as a neutral stadium for teams from elsewhere in Ireland. With that in mind, visitors have ample opportunity to catch a Gaelic football match while in town. Consult the Laois GAA website for details on upcoming matches.

Slieve Bloom Mountains

These rolling, green mountains amble through the countryside around Portlaoise, and they links County Laois with County Offaly. Those who have a rental car in Portlaoise can easily make a day trip or even a weekend outing of visiting the mountains. Along the way, visitors enjoy spectacular views over the Irish midlands. Hiking, cycling and horseback riding are all popular activities here.

Kilvahan Horse Drawn Caravans and Adventure Farm

This restored working farm is a charming attraction located outside of the Portlaoise city centre in Coolrain. The farm itself offers full facilities, including picnic gardens, a children’s play area and a pet-zoo with sheep, pigs, goats, llamas and miniature ponies. There are even a camel and zebra in the mix. However, the highlight is the horse-drawn caravan experience, which allows visitors to tour the countryside in old-world fashion, stopping off at country pubs and rural farmhouses along the way. Caravans are fully equipped for overnight outings, and renting one out involves some training before setting out.

Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum

This famine museum is housed in the old workhouse and tells the story of who lived (and often, died) here. Exhibits explore the socio-economic conditions that prevailed here in the countryside during the Great Famine. During this time, 10 per cent of the local population had to take refuge here. Period farm implements are among the artefacts on display. Tours are self-guided.

Irish Fly Fishing and Game Shooting Museum

The exhibits in this fishing museum span 300 years’ worth of fishing and hunting in Ireland. The museum occupies the Attanagh House, a restored and adapted farmhouse. Exhibits include a variety of vintage rods and reels, guns, tools and fishing tackle. Preserved specimens of birds and fish are also on display.

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