New life for Portlaoise's medieval church thanks to local Tidy Towns group

Pat Somers

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Pat Somers

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Old St. Peter’s Church Portlaoise selected by the Heritage Council under 2017 Adopt a Monument Scheme

Old St. Peter's Church, Portlaoise

Old St Peter’s Church Portlaoise selected by the Heritage Council under 2017 Adopt a Monument Scheme

One of the oldest buildings in Portlaoise has been chosen for the 2017 Adopt a Monument Scheme run by the Heritage Council.

Old St Peter’s Church on Railway Street is part of the medieval town centre, dating back to the mid 16th century. It was a place of worship for both Catholic and Protestant religions, with the tower being all that remains.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, is said to have preached there. Buried in the adjacant graveyard is Laoisman Rev Dr Robert O'Lalor, hung drawn and quartered in 1607 in Maryborough prison, after refusing to convert to Protestantism and become Archibishop of Armagh.

It will now be central to a plan for enhanced presentation of Portlaoise's history. The Portlaoise Tidy Towns group had applied for the programme, which had over 50 applications.

Chairperson of Portlaoise Tidy Towns is Jerry Lodge.

"The overall objective is to conserve the historic fabric of the church tower and graveyard, to recreate a place of peaceful reflection within the busy town centre," he said.

He acknowledged the assistance of Laois County Council in the preparation of the proposal.

"We look forward to working with the Heritage Council, Laois Heritage Society, Downtown Portlaoise and all community groups to bring this historic gem to a level where this cemetery will be open for visits at selected times to the local population, visitors, all school students and other community groups. Our Tidy Towns group wish to invite comments and suggestions from all parties to see how best we can conserve this wonderful historic asset," Cllr Lodge said.

St Peter's is one of seven sites chosen. Ian Doyle is Head of Conservation at The Heritage Council.

"While it was originally planned to have just four new sites join the Scheme, we received over 50 applications from community groups across Ireland. The energy and enthusiasm of the seven groups shortlisted made it impossible to choose between them. Each of the sites are unique and represent important aspects of Ireland’s heritage. We are really looking forward to working with the community in each area to uncover the stories of their local archeological and heritage site," he said.

The other sites chosen include; Kilbarron Castle, County Donegal; Mountbellew Walled Garden, County Galway; St. Molaing’s Millrace, St. Mullins, County Carlow; Earlshill Colliery and Powder House, Slieveardagh, County Tipperary; Kilfinane Motte, County Limerick; Knockboy Medieval Parish Church, County Waterford

The Adopt a Monument Scheme offers communities expertise, mentoring and support to help them to care for their local heritage, work collaboratively to develop and understand the story of their locality. The Scheme first began in 2016 with six community groups ‘adopting’ their local monuments, with mentoring, training and specialist expertise provided by the Heritage Council and experts from Abarta Heritage.

"The seven sites chosen for 2017 will benefit from extensive training, mentoring and specialist advice. One of the key components of the Scheme and one which makes it so unique is the development of positive partnerships between communities and heritage specialists, which helps to ensure the sustainable future of their monuments," added Doyle.