The major new renovation of Fitzmaurice Place has sown the seed for an improved quality of life for the people of Portlaoise and is part of a larger plan to bring retail and heritage together in the town.
Crowds gathered as the €830,000 project, which took around 10 months to complete, was unveiled on a Friday in July.
Filled with wildflowers, trees, grass spaces and benches to sit with a performance area in the centre, the park area has exposed the historic Fort Protector wall.
Minister Charlie Flanagan officially opened the revamped Fitzmaurice Place.
“I want to offer my congratulations to everybody involved in this fine project. I believe it is important to acknowledge the need to work together on ensuring that we have an attractive town and a town with an adequate quality of life.
“We spent a lot of time in this town over the last 15 or 20 years building houses. We need to ensure now having built those houses that we move towards a higher quality of life.
Bringing the history and heritage of Portlaoise to the fore and packaging it with retail and a busy town centre is the way forward for booming business in Portlaoise, said Laois County Council CEO, John Mulholland.
“The Fitzmaurice Place project is just the beginning of a two-stage plan to revitalise the 16th Century Fort and the public realm around it.
“The conservation of Old St Peter’s Graveyard and the conservation and re-use of the former Presentation Convent also form part of the plan to regenerate the historic core of the town,” he said.
Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, Willie Aird, said the park was 'sewing the seed for Portlaoise and Laois' to be enjoyed for generations to come.
Laois Heritage Society knew and valued the fort, and in 2015 with help from the Heritage Council and Laois County Council, they started work on a Conservation Plan for the Fort.
The work that has been done includes masonry of south wall and round baston of 16th century Fort Protector, removal of mass concrete remains of mill below Fitzmaurice Place and upgrading of the public realm (paving, lighting, seating, planting and layout) to architects’ specifications at Fitzmaurice Place.
The project also included pollinator-friendly planting and landscaping with wildlife in mind, and the installation of a new performance space with lighting and power.
The site is further enhanced by the installation of two different artworks – there is a new position for the “Eitilt” Sculpture by John O’Connor, commemorating Col Fitzmaurice and the first East West Transatlantic flight, and the installation of “Instruments” by Mary McGinty – representing bronze-age weaponry - from James Fintan Lalor Avenue to a new setting in front of the Fort wall.
Cash has been granted under Project Ireland 2040 for the second phase of this project, which involves conservation of the masonry of the Fort Wall on Tower Hill and Railway Street, and the extension of the public realm improvements.