Hidden Gems in Co. Laois Part 1

Tour Guiding Course with Laois Partnership

It was a frosty January morning when I headed out to County Laois to meet my fellow budding tour guides from the “Tour Guide Training Program” with Laois Partnership.

For 10 weeks we learnt a lot about history, dealing with customers and legal issues. We got on a field trip to Dublin to look over the shoulders of professional guides and finally we were here to do it ourselves. We all had to pick a monument, site or tour to show off our knowledge in front of each other and to get assessed.

I arrived at Cullahill Petrol Station and six enthusiastic guides got on my minibus.

Cullahill Mountain

Vincent led the way up a snowy mountain and told us about the life and hardship for farmers of times past on the hill.

The existence was simple and harsh with no running water, no toilet, no electricity.

After a short walk across snowy fields and a little climb we were rewarded with a stunning view into Co. Laois and Co. Kilkenny.

After a quick visit to the ringfort and bit of local folklore we slowly headed to our next stop:

Donaghmore Workhouse

Only about 20mins away we reached the grey walls of the former workhouse of Donaghmore. At first glance it reminded me of a prison camp.

Stepping inside I thought my first impressions were wrong when I saw all the lovely reconditioned machinery in the agricultural museum. It really brought the past to life and we also learnt that not so long ago eggs and even living chicken and turkeys were posted abroad.

Walking upstairs the uneasy feeling returned. Hayley and Liam explained that on arrival entire families were divided into boys, girls, women and men. No contact was allowed among family members and strict discipline was to be obeyed. People had to prove their destitution and even had to give up their clothes.

It’s hard to estimate how many people passed through this institution as the records are not complete.

The facilities were built for 400 persons but according to evidence there were more than 600 people living and working here at one time.

Although so many souls passed through the gates and the workhouse was active for about 30 years (1853 – 1886), little is known about it as it was considered as shameful to be an inmate. In some peoples’ mind there is still a stigma attached to it and the taboo is only lifted slowly.

Aghaboe Abbey

our next stop led us to the impressive medieval Aghaboe Abbeywhere Eileen told us all about the turbulent times of its past.

As I grew up on the Austrian border in Germany and spent a good few school trips in Salzburg I was fascinated by this connection between Aghboe and the St. Virgilius or Virgil as he is known in Bavaria and Austria. Virgil or St. Feargal as he is known in Ireland was the abbot in Aghaboe in the 8thcentury before he became Bishop of Salzburg.

Walking through the grounds we learned that the adjacent Church of Ireland was in fact part of the abbey before the reformation. What I found remarkable was that the cemetery is mixed and Catholics and Protestants are buried side by side.


The cultural and religious mix continued in Mountrathas Joy and Caroline explained. I was never here before but it seems to be a busy enough town and the people are very friendly. I was impressed by St. Fintans’ Church with it’s stained glass windows.

Caroline explained the importance of the Bridgedine convent for the education of the girls in the adjacent boarding school.

We encountered rare wildlife on the River where once stood a brewery.

A house built in the late 1700 still stands tall.

Slieve Bloom

from the lively town of Mountrath it was only a 20 min drive to the Slieve Bloom Mountainsand we felt as intruders in a peaceful and tranquil wilderness. The snow did its bit to prevent us from going on top of the mountain but nevertheless, the scenery was stunning.

Mick was such a well of information about working in the bog, the woods and the mountain in days gone by and pointed out that the trees were all imported saplings and seeds from North America and Canada. As it turned out they are not suitable for the native bog as the roots are acidic and discolour the water, the stone and the surroundings.

It was an enjoyable day – I didn’t know there’s so much to do and see here in Co. Laois.

Did you know that Co. Laois is the only county in Ireland that is surrounded by counties that don’t border the sea? Check it out for yourself: Co. Carlow, Co. Kilkenny, Co. Tipperary, Co. Offaly andCo. Kildare.

Considering that there were only 5 stops today I guess we didn’t even scratch the surface. For more information please contact Bianka on 087 6509880 or book here:

Click Here to Book Online

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