Demolition of Portlaoise historic public space underway
Demolition of the plaza at Fitzmaurice Place in Portlaoise got underway this week with plans to develop a public park at the site.
This is the first stage of works to transform Fitzmaurice Place from a generally unused area to a green public park with a public viewing platform inside the Old Fort Protector tower.
Director of Services at Laois County Council, Kieran Kehoe, outlined the latest on the work.
“We are commencing the demolition of the existing plaza in order to prepare the ground for the new approved enhancement scheme. We are also commencing the works to the wall itself in the next week or so,” he said.
Laois Heritage Forum has said the site will be cleared under supervision as there are a number of protected structures in the area.
“The site will be cleared under supervision of an archaeologist and conservation architect. This will be followed by new landscaping and paving, with a performance area. While this is going on, the historic Wall of the Fort will receive a face-lift from a specialist in historic stonework."
Laois County Council received a €185,000 grant from the Heritage Council and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the Historic Towns Initiative to carry out the work.
The work at Fitzmaurice Place, Church Avenue, Church Street and Railway Street Portlaoise includes landscaping, re-location of car parking, undergrounding of services, conservation and installation of public access to Fort Protector.
The project funded will see the transformation of Fort Protector and Fitzmaurice Place at the historic core of the town, over several phases.
The first phase of work involves the redevelopment of Fitzmaurice Place as a public park, demolition of a flat-roofed concrete structure within the north eastern corner of the Fort and construction of a timber viewing platform in the round tower of the Fort. Grounds will also be resurfaced in the area.
Fitting a new gate in the existing opening in the Fort wall on Tower Hill side and new parking spaces and public lighting along by Tower Hill are also in the first phase of the development.
Phase two will involve the removal of telegraph poles and overhead wires on Tower Hill and Railway Street and replacement with new lamp standards.
Repaving of Tower Hill and Railway Street will also be carried out as well as repairs on the fabric of the Fort walls.
See a picture of the planned future look of Fitzmaurice Place below.
According to the Architectural Heritage Assessment: “The space has not proven successful. It is too large for its intended use, being at the edge of the town centre, and the profile of the site as two large expanses linked by curving steps obscures the view of the Fort Protector when approached from the Ridge Road”.
The public park is being redeveloped to increase its amenity value from a place to pass through to a constantly used public space. The park will consist of four equal tiers stepping up to the Fort wall.
The long planter and stepped seating, which obscure the Fort wall from view, will be removed.
The top tier will be a long green space extending the full length of the Fort wall.
The remainder of the site will comprise of three further tiers, with a small performance space on the middle tier, and stone sculptures relocated from James Fintan Lalor Avenue.
Parking spaces at Church Avenue will be relocated away from the Fort Wall to Tower Hill and an area at the bottom tier of the park. The total number of spaces would remain as existing. Street lighting to Church Avenue and would be renewed.
The Fitzmaurice Monument is to be moved to the bottom tier. This will give it greater prominence from Tower Hill and would give focus to the lower part of the park as a balance to the Fort.
A circular timber viewing platform will sit within the round bastion of the Fort Protector as a public viewing position inside the Fort to allow the public to gain a better appreciation of the Fort.
In the planning document the ‘Argument for Enhancement of the Public Space’ outlines the reasons for the development.
“A well conserved and appropriately presented Fort Protector would be a unique heritage site. Few towns in Ireland have a history so closely bound up with the Tudor conquest of this country. Currently there is only limited awareness, at national or even local level, that the name ‘Port Laoise’ refers to a physical structure, and the central role of the town in the Laois-Offaly plantation is not properly appreciated. The development of Fort Protector and its surroundings as a heritage site would create a direct link to that history. Enhancement of Fitzmaurice Place, Tower Hill and Railway Street would be the first step in placing a new focus on the Fort Protector. It can fundamentally change the standing of the Fort within the town, and as a consequence can improve the perception of Portlaoise as a historic place.”
No notice has been given for any road closures in the area yet.