A MAGNIFICENT mural reflecting the rich history of Portlaoise has been unveiled at one of the town’s most important heritage sites.
The colourful panorama at Old St Peter’s graveyard in Railway Street was designed and installed by artistic Coláiste Dhún Masc students, as part of the Creative Ireland programme in Laois.
The impetus for the ‘Walls Project’ came from the late cllr Jerry Lodge and the Portlaoise Tidy Towns Committee, following graveyard conservation works that began in 2017 with the aim of opening the site to the public as a ‘pocket park’, creating an oasis of peace and reflection in the busy town centre.
The striking mural, which was developed in partnership with both Laois Arts Office and Heritage Office, has greatly enhanced the landmark site, which dates back to the mid-16th century and the beginning of the plantations.
Laois County Council’s heritage officer Catherine Casey says the Walls Project aims to inspire interest in the heritage and archaeology of both town and county for the next generation. Old St Peter’s is included in the newly announced urban regeneration funding for the historic core of Portlaoise and is part of the greater Fort Protector project.
Ms Casey explains: “There has been a lot of focus on Fort Protector in recent years and we are delighted with that, but the fabric of the Fort, built by the English planters, is just one part of the original story of Portlaoise. We wanted to use this mural as an opportunity to commemorate the people the Fort was built to keep out – the Gaelic tribes led by the O’Moores.”
The heritage officer points out that the location of Old St Peter’s, just outside the walls of the Fort, makes it a perfect place to remember the people who were outside the walls.
The mural depicts Rory Óg O’More and his wife Margaret O’Byrne, a member of the famed O’Byrne clan of Wicklow, together with wolves, wolfhounds and the iconic Rock of Dunamase in the background.
Ms Casey paid tribute to Creative Ireland and particularly to the Heritage Council, whose ongoing support for Old St Peter’s she said has been “crucial” over the past few years.
According to arts officer Muireann Ní Chonaill, who co-ordinates the Creative Ireland programme in Laois, it is hoped that further projects will similarly enhance streets and sites in towns and villages throughout the county.
Old St Peter’s Church is one of the town’s oldest buildings and is believed to have originally been constructed around 1556, when Portlaoise – then known as Maryborough – was developed as a Plantation Town under the orders of Queen Mary Tudor.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is said to have preached in Old St Peter’s Church on three occasions and described it as “one of the most elegant churches in the whole Kingdom”. Among those interred in the historic graveyard are Bartholomew Mosse, the visionary founder of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital and the notorious highwayman Jeremiah Grant, known as Grant the Robber.