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Portarlington, County Laois

Portarlington, historically called Cooletoodera[2] (from Irish: Cúil an tSúdaire, meaning "nook of the tanner"), is a town on the border of County Laois and County Offaly, Ireland. The River Barrow forms the border. The town was recorded in the 2016 census as having a population of 8,368.[1]

Portarlington train station
Portarlington train station
Portarlington is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 53°09′36″N 7°11′24″W / 53.160°N 7.190°W / 53.160; -7.190Coordinates: 53°09′36″N 7°11′24″W / 53.160°N 7.190°W / 53.160; -7.190
CountyCounty Laois & County Offaly
66 m (217 ft)
 • Urban
Time zoneUTC±0 (WET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+1 (IST)
Eircode routing key
Telephone area code+353(0)57
Irish Grid ReferenceN540125
Island of Irish Rail 1906


Blackhall Bridge

Portarlington was founded in 1666, by Sir Henry Bennet, who had been Home Secretary to Charles II and to whom that King, on his restoration, had made a grant of the extensive estates of Ó Díomasaigh, Viscount Clanmalier, confiscated after the Irish Rebellion of 1641. After some difficulties, the grant passed to Sir Henry Bennet of all the Ó Díomasaigh lands in the King's and Queen's Counties, and on 14 April 1664 he was created Baron Arlington of Harlington in the County of Middlesex. So great was the anxiety of these new settlers to efface all ancient recollections in Ireland, that the Parliament of Orrery and Ormond enacted that the governor and council should be able to give new English names instead of the Irish names of places; and that after a time such new names should be the only ones known or allowed in the country. In accordance with this enactment the borough created in Cooletoodera (Cúil an tSúdaire), received the name of Port-Arlington, or Arlington's Fort.[3]

Huguenot settlement 1694Edit

Following the failure of Henry Bennet's English colony, Port Arlington was re-established with the settlement of Huguenot refugees following the Treaty of Limerick:

Unique among the French Protestant colonies established or augmented in Ireland following the Treaty of Limerick (1691), the Portarlington settlement was planted on the ashes of an abortive English colony.[9]

Fifteen or more Huguenot families who were driven from France as religious refugees settled on the ashes of Bennet's colony, and the settlement was unique among the Huguenot settlements in Ireland in that the French language survived, being used in church services till the 1820s and continuing to be taught in the town school.

... and till within the last twenty years divine service was performed in the French language. In the RC divisions Portarlington is the head of a union or district, called Portarlington, Emo and Killinard ...[10]

The Protestant Bishop of Kildare came to Portarlington to consecrate the new French Church, 1694.[11] To the present day one of the town's main thoroughfares is still named 'French Church Street', with the original French church (1694) situated just off the market square.[12][13]

The relationship to the French influence with Portarlington is celebrated every July with the Festival Français de Portarlington.

Lea CastleEdit

On the outskirts of the parish lies Lea Castle. The remnants of a Norman castle built in 1260 by William de Vesey. It changed hands many times during its history. For example, it was burned by Fionn Ó Díomasaigh's men in 1284, rebuilt by de Vesey and given to the king, burned along with its town by the Scots army in 1315, burned by the O'Moores in 1346, captured by the O'Dempseys in 1422 and then lost to the Earl of Ormond in 1452, used by Silken Thomas Fitzgerald as a refuge in 1535, mortgaged to Sir Maurice Fitzgerald in 1556, and leased to Robert Bath in 1618. It was used by the confederates as a mint in the 1640s rebellion until Cromwellians blew up the fortifications by stuffing the stairways with explosives. The castle was never used as a fortification again.

Treascon Mass Rock lies just outside the town in an area known as Treascon. This mass rock (Carraig an Aifrinn in Irish) is located within a wooded area, and is a large stone used in mid-seventeenth century Ireland as a location for Catholic worship. Isolated locations were sought to hold religious ceremony, as Catholic mass was a matter of difficulty and danger at the time as a result of both Cromwell's campaign against the Irish, and the Penal Laws of 1695, whereby discrimination and violence against Catholics was legal.

The rebellion of 1798 resulted in several local men from Lea castle, being apprehended and subsequently put to death by hanging in the town's market square. A memorial in the shape of a Celtic cross with the rebels details was commissioned and erected in 1976. The memorial stands close to the perimeter wall of the French church in the market square.

Rotten boroughEdit

Two borough minute books have survived and in the National Library of Ireland Ms 90 for 1727–1777, and Ms 5095 for 1777–1841; they reveal the limitation of freemen, and increasing control by the Dawson-Damer family, the Earls of Portarlington.[14] Imperial political democratic practices were responsible for turning Portarlington into a perfectly rotten borough. The reason was to preserve the planters positions politically and economically. Below is an extract that shows that a corporation of 15 people was solely responsible for the persistent re-election of perfect strangers to parliament to represent the other 2800 people.

Prior to the legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland, this borough sent two Members to the Irish Parliament; since 1800 it has returned one to the Imperial Parliament, and so close has been this corporation, that for 50 years previous to the last general election, the nominee of the Dawson family, commonly a total stranger to the borough, was always returned without a contest. According to the Parliamentary Returns of May 1829 and June 1830, the number of electors, resident and non-resident, was 15; that is, all the members of the corporation.[15]


The Spire

Portarlington is split by the River Barrow. With County Offaly on the north bank and County Laois on the south Bank. The town is mostly flat, with some slight street undulations. The town was partially built on the river's flood plain. More recent drainage improvements has resulted in fewer floodings to areas close to the town.[citation needed]

Crossing the river into County Offaly, the land becomes marshy and wet with extensive peat bogs. These peat bogs are broken by some glacial hills, one such hill is called Derryvilla Hill. These hills have been used for gravel and sand production.[citation needed]

The southern end of the town is dominated visually by another glacial hill, know locally as Corrig. This hill is topped by a stone structure or spire. This spire was built the latter half of the 19th century. Next to the spire is the town's water supply reservoir. The reservoir uses the gravity afforded by the hill to supply water to the town below.

The land on the south side of town is well drained and rises slowly towards the hill of Corrig. This land is agriculturally productive and market farming is practiced here.[citation needed]


1841–1881, the population of Laois, which was then called the Queen's County, halved from mass emigration and starvation, in spite of the fact that the county (and most other counties) increased food production throughout the period.[citation needed]

The county suffered badly during the Great Famine (1845–47); the county's population dropped from over 153,000 in 1841 to just over 73,000 in 1881.[citation needed]

Famine graveyards are known locally.

The population of Portarlington (and its environs) has risen by 50.1% from 2002 to 2006:[16]

  • 1821 ...2877
  • 1831 ...3091
  • 1991 ...3221
  • 2002 ... 4001
  • 2006 ... 6,004 (Portarlington South, Laois - 4,395) & (Portarlington North, Offaly - 1,609)
  • 2011 ... 7,788 (Portarlington South, Laois - 5,847) & (Portarlington North, Offaly - 1,941)[17]


Portarlington is a focal point of the Irish railway network, being situated on the junction for services to the west (Galway, Mayo), the south (Cork, Limerick, Tralee) and the east (Dublin, Kildare). Portarlington halt opened on 26 June 1847.[18]

Due to the rail service there is a very limited public transport by road. As of January 2017 only one intercity bus service operates direct to Dublin. Now operated by JJ Kavanagh and Sons, (replacing "Silver Dawn" who had run it for approximately 20 years)[citation needed] this service serves UCD once a day up and return.[citation needed] There is a local-link town service operated by Slieve Bloom Coaches linking Portarlington with Portlaoise and also with Tullamore.[19]

An additional private operator, Dublin Coach (known locally as 'the green bus' due its livery) operates an hourly service to Kildare Village Outlet via Monasterevin. From Monasterevin there is an hourly, 24 hour, service to Dublin Airport via Kildare Town, Newbridge, Naas and Red Cow Luas Station. Services from Kildare Village Outlet are available half-hourly direct to the Red Cow Luas Station and Dublin city centre. A weekday service by JJ Kavanagh and Sons via Portarlington en route to NUI Maynooth University and Institute of Technology, Carlow. This service operates during college term only.[citation needed]


Coláiste Íosagáin is the main secondary school in Portarlington.[20] The school, which is located on the Offaly side of the border, has numerous ongoing programmes including Transition Year, Leaving Cert Applied and Leaving Cert Vocational Programme.

There are three Primary Schools,all located on the Laois side of the border.

There is also a third level education college providing various courses suitable for post-secondary pupils as well as adult education courses en route to university.

Dirty Old Towns RTÉ TV ProjectEdit

In 2012 RTÉ chose Portarlington as the focal point for the TV show Dirty Old Towns. The town was filmed extensively over a number of weeks as the local people, under the eye of presenter Dermot Gavin, changed what was becoming an eyesore into what has become a more colourful town. The show ran for 6 weeks with a lot of focus in each episode on the work carried out by local people and businesses. The show's producers remarked on the response to the call and the effort put in by all to see the town transformed. One of the additions to the town was along the banks of the River Barrow where large red-painted letters spelling "L I F E" were erected. The original spelling was "L I V E" however when travelling from the Offaly side of the town it looked like the word "E V I L". Other additions to the town have been two all weather soccer pitches which were Football Association of Ireland sanctioned for soccer schools. An old run-down building along the main street is under development as a boxing club, a conference hall and perhaps even a temporary cinema.[citation needed] The People's Park has been re-developed with new attractions for the children of the town. Old shops have been redecorated and closed premises repainted. The old French School on the banks of the river had been neglected for many years and with help from Dulux paints and the local Lions Club it had a facelift. The exposure from the TV show had an effect on the town, making it much more colourful and welcoming.[citation needed]

Events and cultureEdit


The People's Museum, situated within the Catholic Club on Main Street in Portarlington is small but holds many different exhibits ranging from local memorabilia to a Bronze Age Celtic dagger.

Portarlington, its Savoy cinema (now closed) and the nearby Lea Castle appeared in the 1993 Irish film Into the West. The town is also mentioned in Christy Moore's song Welcome to the Cabaret, featured on his 1994 album 'Live at the Point.

Outdoor pursuits of angling and hunting are available.

Cuisine in the town is varied with pub grub, Chinese, Indian and several fast food restaurants.

Festival Français de PortarlingtonEdit

A French festival, Festival Français de Portarlington, takes place annually in mid-July. The festival typically runs over a weekend, and includes live music, dance, sport, history, food and a parade. The French influence in Portarlington is celebrated with French street entertainers as well as French musicians playing on the opening day.[citation needed]


Portarlington Sports Clubs
Club Sport League Venue Established
Portarlington Mud Dogs American Football Irish American Football League The Dog Pound 2007
Gracefield GAA Gaelic Athletic Association Senior Football Championship Gracefield 1920
Portarlington Gaelic Athletic Association Senior Football Championship McCann Park 1893
O'Dempsey's GAA Gaelic Athletic Association Senior Football Championship The Old Pound 1951
Gracefield FC Soccer [CCFL] Botley Lane 2009
Portarlington RFC Rugby Union Leinster League Lea Road 1974
Portarlington Kestrels Basketball Club Basketball Superleague Coláiste Íosagáin 1996
Arlington F.C. Soccer CCFL Castle Park 1967
Portarlington Town F.C. Soccer CCFL Coláiste Íosagáin 2012
Portarlington Lawn Tennis Club Tennis Laois League Division 2 Station Road 1954
Heritage Golf Club Golf N/A Killenard
Portarlington Golf Club Golf N/A Garryhinch 1908
Portarlington Taekwondo School Taekwondo N/A Portarlington Business Park 2010
SBG Portarlington Mixed Martial Arts N/A Riverside Business Park 2017
Portarlington Angling Club Fishing N/A

Notable peopleEdit

  • Peter Burrowes (1753–1841) – Irish barrister and politician.
  • Richard Pennefather (1773–1859) leading Irish judge, went to school in Portarlington.
  • Edward Carson, Baron Carson (1854–1935), Irish barrister, politician and judge, went to school in Portarlington.
  • John Wilson Croker (1780–1857) politician and essayist, creator of the term Conservative for the British political party, went to school in Portarlington
  • Feargus O'Connor (1794–1855) Chartist leader, went to Thomas Willis's school in Portarlington and attempted to elope with the headmaster's daughter.
  • Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) Prolific writer and satirist, wrote large part of his famous work Gulliver's Travels in Woodbrook House in Portarlington.[21][22]

International relationsEdit

Twin towns – Sister citiesEdit

Portarlington, as designated by Sister Cities International is sister city to:

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b "Sapmap Area - Settlements - Portarlington". Census 2016. Central Statistics Office Ireland. 2016. Archived from the original on 12 January 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Portarlington / Cúil an tSúdaire". Placenames Database of Ireland. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  3. ^ Rev. M Comerford Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin Vol 2 (1883).
  4. ^ Census for post 1821 figures.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Northern Ireland Census of Population". Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  7. ^ Lee, JJ (1981). "On the accuracy of the Pre-famine Irish censuses". In Goldstrom, J. M.; Clarkson, L. A. (eds.). Irish Population, Economy, and Society: Essays in Honour of the Late K. H. Connell. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
  8. ^ Mokyr, Joel; O Grada, Cormac (November 1984). "New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700–1850". The Economic History Review. 37 (4): 473–488. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1984.tb00344.x.[dead link]
  9. ^ Hylton, Raymond Pierre (1987), "The Huguenot settlement at Portarlington, 1692–1771", in Caldicott, C.E.J.; Gough, Hugh; Pittion, Jean-Paul (eds.), The Huguenots and Ireland : anatomy of an emigration : [proceedings of the Dublin Colloquium on the Huguenot Refuge in Ireland 1685–1985, 9th–12th April, 1985, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin], Dun Laoghaire: Glendale Press, pp. 297–315
  10. ^ A Topographical dictionary of Ireland Page 465 Samuel Lewis – 1837
  11. ^ Raymond Hylton Ireland's Huguenots and their refuge, 1662–1745: an unlikely haven Page 194 2005 "The Bishop of Kildare did come to Portarlington to consecrate the churches, backed by two prominent Huguenot Deans of ... Moreton held every advantage and for most of the Portarlington Huguenots there could be no option but acceptance ...
  12. ^ Grace Lawless Lee The Huguenot Settlements in Ireland 2009 Page 169
  13. ^ Raymond P. "The Huguenot Settlement at Portarlington, ...
  14. ^ See also John S. Powell, The Portarlington maces and its borough history 1669–1841 2011
  15. ^ Inquiry held 21, 23, and 24 September 1833, before John Colhoun and Henry Baldwin
  16. ^ "Demographic context" (PDF). Offaly County Council Development Plan 2009 – 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 October 2008. Retrieved 28 June 2008.
  17. ^ "Table 5 Population of towns ordered by county and size, 2006 and 2011" (PDF). CSO. 2011.
  18. ^ "Portarlington station" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Retrieved 5 September 2007.
  19. ^ "Portarlington". Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  20. ^ "Coláiste Íosagáin - Secondary School in Portarlington, Co. Laois, Ireland". Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  21. ^ "The house that begat Gulliver's Travels is not for the little people". Independent News & Media. 8 July 2007.
  22. ^ "Jonathan Swift's Works - Gulliver's Travels". 16 December 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • Dempsey, Karen (2017), "Lea Castle, Co. Laois: the story so far", The Castle Studies Group Journal, 30: 237–252  
  • Goode, P.J.: O'Dempsey Chronicles
  • Huguenot Society of London: Registers of the French Church of Portarlington, Ireland. Publications, vol. 19. 1908, reprinted 1969.
  • Mathews, Ronnie: Portarlington, the inside story, ISBN 0863350275, 1999.
  • Mathews, Ronnie: Portarlington, the old town, a collection of facts, images and stories from the past. 2012.
  • Powell, John Stocks: Huguenots planters Portarlington, ISBN 0951629921, 1994
  • Powell, John Stocks: Portarlington 1800–1850 the combined registers of Portarlington, Lea ... ISBN 9780953801091, 2012.

External linksEdit