Laois Life Q&A with Tom Phelan - read more about Tom and the launch of his latest book about growing up in Mountmellick here.
What's your idea of a perfect day or weekend in Laois?
A walk around the lake in Emo Park. Dinner in the Hare's Corner in Mountmellick and then onto Heywood Gardens in Ballinakill.
Who has made the greatest contribution to Laois in your lifetime and why?
Oliver J. Flanagan, T.D., and his son, Charlie. Oliver put Laois on the political map from the saddle of his bicycle in the 1940s while he canvassed for votes in Laois and Offaly as a young man. Laois people loved him and were proud when the carpenter eventually became Minister of Defense. Charlie Flanagan, T.D., has headed three ministries in the government and is internationally known and respected.
What is your first Laois memory?
Chasing hens in our farmyard while believing I could catch one if I poured salt on its tail.
What's your favourite part of the county and why?
Slieve Bloom Mountain: jaunting along at twenty miles an hour on the narrow roads all over the mountain and watching the scenery changing with every turn of the road.
What's the biggest challenge facing the county?
I can only answer that question as a tourist because I left the county over fifty years ago. Laois has many places that appeal to certain niches of the tourist business, but when I mention the county in the U.S., not a lot of people have heard of it. So there’s a challenge for those trying to improve the county’s economy. There are several beautiful villages in the county--e.g., Timahoe, Abbeyleix, Stradbally. Emo has a wonderful park and a church designed by Gandon, and the Rock of Dunamase is nearby. The county has ruins of monastic settlements, as well as the ancient and historic town of Portlaoise. There’s excellent walking throughout the county, as well as in the Slieve Bloom. And of course there is Mountmellick Lace, which is an art as well as a craft, and could have the same international standing as Waterford Crystal if promoted properly.
If you had the power to change one thing about Laois what would it be?
Since Portlaoise is in a strategic situation on the Dublin/Cork/Limerick carriageway, motorists break their journeys to use the public lavatories in Portlaoise. If the condition of public facilities reflects a town's civic pride, then Portlaoise is lacking. Most tourists would get back in their cars, drive to the next town to use the loo, and perhaps spend some money there.