Abbeyleix, Co Laois
Abbeyleix is a town that moved. Originally it was a settlement that grew up around a Cistercian Abbey starting in the 12th century. However in 1790 the local landowner, the 2nd Viscount de Vesci, decided the town was not suitable for his tenants, and so he commenced the planning and building of an entirely new town.
The town you see today is entirely the fruit of that project, and it is one of the best examples of a planned estate town in Ireland.
The de Vesci family still live in nearby Abbeyleix House, a fine building, designed by James Wyatt, with magnificent gardens, though the house is private and the gardens only occasionally opened to visitors.
Main image: Abbeyleix Heritage House by Kman999
It’s a pretty village, which was in the past spoiled by the unending traffic that flowed through on the busy main Cork-Dublin road that bisected it. The opening of a motorway which bypasses the town has restored its integrity and made it a much more pleasant place. Abbeyleix is now an excellent place to get off the motorway for a break on your journey.
What to See in Abbeyleix
Possibly the thing that makes a stop in Abbeyleix most worthwhile is a pub, Morrisey’s, on the main street. This is a true gem, owned by the same family since 1775 and apart from some renovation in Victorian times, little changed either inside or out over the centuries since.
There is no music or gimmicks here, its a place for conversation around the pot bellied stove accompanied by a pint of Guinness or a cup of tea, both brews for which Morrisey’s is renowned.
Abbeyleix Heritage House is a cut stone building dating from 1884 which was once a boys school and is now a small museum and heritage centre. Exhibits chart the history of the de Vesci family and tell the story of the town and of how it was planned.
There is also an interesting exhibition about the Abbeyleix Carpet Company, which was established by the de Vescis in 1904 and supplied carpets to high end stores like Harrods in London and Marshall Fields in Chicago as well as to the Titanic.
A memorial to the 3rd Viscount de Vesci stand at the entrance to the town from the Dublin side and in the town centre there is a memorial to the 2nd Viscount, which was built by public subscription.
Neither is a particular attractive monument, though in earlier times at least the latter one had a practical use as a water trough for horses.
There is a very elaborate bank building along the main street which once also served as home to the bank manager.
Both the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland churches are worth a quick look for those interested in church architecture.
Just a short distance outside the town on the Ballinakill Road is Heywood Gardens, an Itaianate garden designed by Edward Lutyens.
Things to do and places to see in or not far from Abbeyleix.