County Laois, surrounded by other counties without any seacoast, is the “most landlocked” county in Ireland.
(Motto: “In Partnership with the Community”)
The region was already part of the kingdom of Ossory by the C1st AD, and was divided roughly into seven parts, ruled by “The Seven Septs of Laois”: O’More (O’Moore), O’Lalor, O’Doran, O’Dowling, O’Devoy (O’Deevy), O’Kelly and McEvoy.
According to the Rev M Comerford‘s Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin (1886) “The princely family of O’More was descended from Lughdaidh Laighis, a famous warrior in the latter end of the first century, [grandson of] Conall the Victorious, chief of the Red-branch Knights of Ulster“. The king of Leinster, Cuchorb, made him commander of the forces then fighting the men of Munster; two great battles took place, “one at Athroan (now Athy), and the other at Cain Thine onMagh Riada (now the Heath of Maryborough), in both of which, after great slaughter on both sides, the troops of Leinster were victorious, and …. pursued them as far as Beallach More, near Borris-in-Ossory. Cuchorb being thus reinstated in his kingdom, chiefly through the valour of his General Lughdaidh Laighis, conferred on him an extensive territory”
Important Christian monastic communities were established between 550 and 600 AD; their wooden edifices gradually gave way to stone monasteries and churches from the C12th as religious orders with strong ties to Rome replaced the older quasi-independent “Celtic” church institutions.
In particular, the Cistercian Abbey founded by Conor O’ More in 1183, initially manned by French monks, was officially dedicated to “Beata Maria de Lege Dei,” and commonly known as the “Abbey de Lege / Lex De,” easily confused with the Irish “Mainistir Laighise” to become “the Abbey of Leix”. Its lands, at one stage extending as far as County Dublin, all came to be called Leix by the Crown authorities in Dublin Castle. After King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries, the lands passed through the hands of Thomas “Dubh” Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond (“Black Tom”), to subsequent holders and claimants.
The O’Moores and others put up fierce resistance to the Normans, and the region remained largely untamed until the C16th. It was formally shired in 1556 under Queen Mary I as Queen’s County, administered from Fort Maryborough now Portlaoise.
Queen’s County was the target of two Plantations. The first occurred in 1556, when Lord Deputy Thomas Radclyffe, soon to become the 3rd Earl of Sussex, dispossessed the O’Moore clan and attempted to replace them with English settlers who were nominally Roman Catholic (although few of them clung to the Old Faith when it became an issue). A protracted guerrilla war left only a few small isolated English communities clustered around garrisons. These were expanded and / or replaced during the C17th by a new influx of English Protestants. Some Quakers settled in Mountmellick in 1659, and a group of French Huguenots were given refuge in Portarlington in 1666. Much of the land was enclosed during the C18th, and industries developed in and around the urban centres.
The Great Famine devastated the county, and workhouses could not cope with the number of destitute people seeking shelter, many of the poorest to emigrate or die. Crop failures in the second half of the C19th led to increasing levels of debt, and tensions between landlords and tenants worsened. Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell travelled through Laois recruiting for the Land League. From 1880 to 1881, the Land War convulsed the region, and the county’s workhouses filled up again until the Land Acts brought relief to small farmers.
In 1914 the INV (Irish National Volunteers) recruited many local members, some of whom followed Home Rule MPs’ advice at the outbreak of WWI to join the British Army fighting the Germans in Flanders, where a significant number lost their lives.
Others became active Republicans, participating in IRB operations and the IRA campaign during the War of Independence; a few opposed the Free State government during the subsequent Civil War. This period is interestingly analysed in Michael Rafter‘s The Quiet County (2005).
Both the county and its capital were renamed following a competition held in 1920.
County Laois is .