Donaghmore (Co. Laois / West)
Donaghmore is very pretty, with an attractive old bridge and several interesting buildings, including a Norman fortification and an early medieval church.
The village was the setting for Barry Devlin’s 1994 film All Things Bright And Beautiful.
Donaghmore Workhouse, paid for by a levy on local property owners, was built in 1853 in belated response to the Great Famine, and deliberately made as grim as possible so that only paupers who had lost all hope would seek refuge there. Although many of the poorest of the area had already perished or emigrated, about 1,200 people (10% of the local population) applied for entry. (Photo – www.heritagecouncil.ie)
Couples and families were split apart according to sex and age. Inmates wore rough workhouse uniforms, worked at menial tasks during the day, ate their meals in silence and slept on straw and rags in huge dormitories with primitive communal slops tubs.
The workhouse closed in 1886. During the War of Independence, the “Black and Tans” used the buildings as a barracks.
The local farmers’ Co-op has restored the original waiting hall, kitchen and dormitories, and also opened an interesting Agricultural Museum.
Castletown House is a beautifully restored early C19th family home and working beef, suckler cow and sheep farm with excellent and reasonably priced B&B facilities.
Donoghmore is within easy reach of Borris-in-Ossory on ByRoute 9.
Rathdowney & Errill (Co. Laois / Southwest)
Rathdowney (Ráth Domhnaigh) derives its name from an ancient mound (levelled in 1830 and found to contain thousands of human bones but no skulls) and Domhnaigh (“Sunday”), a term which usually indicates a church (perhaps founded by / associated with Saint Patrick, who is said to have passed through this area regularly), but in cases such as this might equally be a form of Daghda, the name of a chieftain.
The area is known to have been inhabited as far back as 3,500 BC and is mentioned in historical writings as early as 874 AD and 909 AD.
The town was developed in the C19th around Perry’s Brewery, which operated until 1966, but is now best known for Rathdowney Shopping Centre.
The town square contains the Croppy Grave, the cobbled burial site if an insurgent in the 1798 Rebellion who is said to have been hanged on the same spot.
St Andrew’s church (CoI) has an imposing tower and steeple dominating the square.
James Pearson (1822 – 1900), born in Rathdowney, was a private in the British army’s 86th Regiment of Foot during the “Indian Mutiny” of 1858; for his gallantry in the face of the enemy at Jhansi and Calpee he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
John Moyney (1895- 1980), another native of Rathdowney, fought as a Lance-Sergeant in the Irish Guards in Belgium during WWI, and was also awarded the Victoria Cross.
John Maher‘s novel The Luck Penny (Brandon 2007) is set in Rathdowney in 1849. It is loosely based on the life of the Cork born Co. Down Church of Ireland minister Dr Edward Hincks (1792-1866), best known as a leading Assyriologist and one of the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform.
Rathdowney shares its name with a small town founded in 1832 at the base of the McPherson Range in southeastern Queensland, Australia,
Rathdowney is not far from Johnstown (Co. Kilkenny) on ByRoute 7.
The Bog of Erill is the site of an annual day-long summer festival.
Errill is a beautifully landscaped village set around a leafy green called the Diamond.
Errill’s ruined late medieval church has a round-headed south window thought to be part of an earlier church / monastery, originally founded by Saint Kieran the Elder.
The trunk of an inscribed cross bearing a coat of arms, erected in memory of Florence Fitzpatrick and his wife in 1622, has been relocated from the graveyard to near the National School.
Dowling’s pub is a famous traditional music venue.
Ballagh Castle stands south of Errill village. (Photo by Mike Searle)