Port Laoise or Portlaoise , historically also known as 'Maryborough'
from 1557 until 1929, is the county town of County Laois in the Midlands
region of Ireland. The population in 2011 was 20,145.
The site where the present town is situated is referred to in the Annals of the Four Masters as Port Laoighisi
during the 16th century. The present town originated as a settlement
around the old fort, "Fort of Leix" or "Fort Protector", the remains of
which can still be seen in the town centre. Its construction began in
1548 under the supervision of the then Lord Deputy Sir Edward Bellingham
in an attempt to secure English control in the county following the
exile of native Celtic chieftains the previous year. The fort's location
on rising ground, surrounded to the south and east by the natural
defensive barricades of the River Triogue and an esker known locally as
'the Ridge', greatly added to its strategic importance.
The town proper was established by an act of Parliament during the reign of Queen Mary
in 1557. It was named Maryborough and the county was named Queen's
County in her honour. The area had been a focus of the rebellion of
Ruairí Óg Ó Mórdha, a local chieftain who had rebelled and had lost his
lands, which the Crown wanted to be settled by reliable landowners. For
the next fifty or so years, the new English settlers in Maryborough
fought a continual, low-scale war with the Gaelic chieftains who fought
against the new settlement.
In 1570, a charter of Queen Elizabeth I raised the town to the rank of borough.
This allowed the establishment of a Corporation of the Borough, a body
which consisted of a burgomaster, two bailiffs, a town clerk, and a
sergeant at arms, as well as various other officers, burgesses and
freemen. Until the Act of Union took effect in 1801 and the abolition of its franchise, the town returned two members to the Irish Parliament. The Corporation itself existed until 1830.
Sheffield House was a Queen Anne mansion sited about two miles from
Portlaoise on the Timahoe side. It was for many years the seat of the
Cassan family but is now a ruin.
In 1929, a few years after the foundation of the Irish Free State, the town was renamed Portlaoighise (later simplified to Portlaoise)
and the county was renamed County Laois. A number of other towns in the
Free State also reverted to their Irish (or anglicised Irish) names
during this period.