Mountmellick (Co. Laois / North)
Mountmellick (Móinteach Mílic – “the bog reclaimed from the marsh”) (pop. 4500) is a pleasant town on the Owenass River, with one of the finest Georgian squares in Ireland. (Photo – JP Moser)
Mountmellick town was founded in 1657 by a group of Dissident Protestants led by William Edmundson, Ireland’s first Quaker, an associate of George Fox, widely regarded as the founder of the movement. The first settlers established a tannery, and other industries followed. Prominent families included the Beales, the Bewleys, the Dennys, the Goodbodys, the Jacksons, the Newlins, the Pims, the Richardsons, and the Thompsons.
The memoirs of Robert Goodbody (1781 – 1860) provide fascinating insights into the area during his lifetime.He mentions seeing John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, in Mountmellick in 1789.
The 1798 Rebellion saw 11 participants in the fighting at Monasterevin hanged at the local barracks on the authority of one Major Leatham.
By the early C19th Mountmellick was thriving, and turned into a boomtown with the 1836 construction of a branch of the Grand Canal (since filled in). Nicknamed “little Manchester”, it had a population of 8000 and no less than 27 major employers, ranging from breweries to textile mills and glass works.
The Great Famine saw factories close with massive job losses as food prices rose by 300%. The Workhouse built in Irishtown in 1839 for 800 had more than 1500 inmates at the height of “Black ’47”. Cholera, typhus and fever reduced the population of Mountmellick by more than a third. Several previously wealthy Quaker families spent so much time and money on countrywide relief efforts that they faced ruin, and were forced to emigrate to America (notably Pennsylvania), Australia and New Zealand.
The first sugar beet factory in the UK was opened in Moutmellick by Samuel Sheane in 1851.
Mountmellick Embroidery became one of the most popular forms of lace needlework during the C19th, and although no longer produced commercially, still has enthusiasts in the town and all over the world. (Read more here).
The Quaker Museum has original pieces of this craftwork on display. It is housed in the old grain mill converted by the energetic Mountmellick Development Association into a Business Park/Enterprise Centre.
There is still a Quaker population in the town, and a Meetinghouse of the Society of Friends.
St Paul’s church (CoI), erected c.1820 and remodelled in 1860, has been described as “a monument of historical and architectural characteristics“.
Mountmellick Courthouse, erected c. 1839, was renovated in 1998, and now houses a good local library.
Mountmellick’s Masonic Lodge on Church St was constructed c.1870. Quite a few local Anglican gravestones bear Masonic symbols.
St Joseph’s church (RC)m erected in 1878 to replace an earlier structure, has several impressive interior features.
Although the Prebyterian church (1855) on Patrick St is currently derelict and up for sale, the small Prebyterian community is proud of its 300-year history and now uses the Gideon Ouseley Memorial Methodist church (1880) on Parnell St.
An enjoyable local Heritage Trail takes in Mountmellick’s numerous well-preserved examples of Georgian and Victorian residential architecture.
Interesting burial grounds in the vicinity include the Rosenallis Quaker cemetery, aka the Friends’ Sleeping Place, just northwest of the town, and Graigue / Craigue, site of a former Roman Catholic chapel.
(Photo by eoghan&ruth)
Mountmellick is bizzarely proud of its massive artificial Christmas Tree.
The town has 16 pubs, some serving food, and a range of reasonably-priced eateries (Irish, Chinese, Thai, Indian).
Accommodation in the town is available at the Mellick Inn pub, a peculiar U-shaped edifice (1820) on Patrick St, and Farrell’s B&B on O’Connell Square.
Sheane House, a splendid country house built c.1830, has lovely gardens. The main house and mews are available together or separately as self-catering accomodation.
Mountmellick was the birthplace of Fine Gael politician Oliver J Flanagan (1920 – 1987), lauded as “one of the cutest of cute hoors in the history of the Dáil“, who campaigned against “the Jew-Masonic System“; he remarked in his 1943 maiden speech that “one thing that Germany did…..was to rout the Jews out of their country” and urged the Irish government to follow suit. His votes doubled in the next election, and he remained a TD until his death.
Mountmellick is within easy reach of both Portlaoise on ByRoute 9 and Clonygowan on ByRoute 11.
Ballyfin (Co. Laois / Central)
Ballyfin (Baile Fionn – “Town of Fionn”) is a small village and parish in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The parish is mainly made up of scattered farms. Many of the buildings date back to the Georgian era.
According to legend, Fionn Mac Cumhaill was raised here, and ate the Salmon of Knowledge from a local stream.
Ballyfin House is an exceptionally magnificent Georgian neoclassical mansion. (Photo – Cornerstone Construction)
It stands on the site of an ancient castle built by the O’Moore clan, granted by Queen Elizabeth I as a reward for his services to Patrick Cosbie, who constructed a new castle on the lands, but this was pulled down after the Restoration by the Pole family, who installed a more modern house on its site.
The Pole house was extensively redesigned and altered in 1778, involving Sir Richard Morrison, and improvements were made to the appearance and beauty of the grounds by planting woods and sinking an artificial lake.
When Sir Charles Coote bought the estate from William Wellesley Pole in 1812 he rebuilt the original house with the help of the next generation of the same architectural firm, William Vitruvius Morrison. The Coote family motto “Coute que Coute” (“Cost what it may”) was liberally interpreted, and the results were truly spectacular.
Main Hall (Photo – Cornerstone Construction)
Completed in 1826, it has a very impressive Grand Saloon, Grand Staircase, Gold Room and Library. Interior features include parquetry floors, vaulted ceilings, marble columns and ornate plasterwork. The fine wrought iron conservatory was added in 1855 by Richard Turner, who also designed the Palm House at Kew Gardens in London and the glasshouse at the National Botanical Gardens at Glasnevin in Dublin.
Long run as a school by the Patrician Brothers, who for a religious order proved unusually good caretakers, the mansion has been restored to something approaching its original glory by a Chicago businessman named Fred Krehbial, who bought the property in 2002 and spent $50 million renovating it as a hotel, finally opened in 2011.
Ballyfin Demesne was chosen as the Top Resort in the World in June 2012 by the prestigious luxury magazine, the Robb Report. See Article.
The church of St. John the Baptist (CoI) was built in 1792 by William Pole.
There are many beautiful walks quite nearby, e.g. to the Cathole Falls.
Ballyfin is .