The Slieve Bloom Mountains link County Laois with County Offaly, running from southwest Roscrea to northwest Rosenallis. There are several walking trails on the mountains, ranging from easy to very challenging. From some of the trails, you can walk all the way to Glenbarrow waterfalls, a few miles away from Rosenallis. Red grouse can be found in large numbers on these hills. On a clear day, one can view the highest points of Ireland's four ancient provinces.
This awe-inspiring mountain range is not considered very high globally, but it is quite tall by local standards. Its highest point is Arderin at 527 meters, though the range was once Europe's tallest, towering 3,700 meters above the countryside. Weathering broke it down over time to its current height. These mountains, along with a range in France, remain the oldest in Europe.
If you want to stay in the area, this mountain range is easily accessible from Ballyfin Demesne, several hotels in Portlaoise, the Heritage Hotel, The Killeshin Hotel, and many others.
The Rock of Dunamase is essentially a rocky outcrop over a flat plain. It holds the ruins of Dunamase Castle, which was once a defensive structure dating back to the Hiberno-Norman era. Masc Fort, a Christian settlement built in the 9th century, was the first to arrive on the rock. It was abandoned after being pillaged by the Vikings, who killed the abbot of Terryglass there. Three centuries later, the castle was erected on the site. To enjoy the sights in this magical, historical area, you could pick any of the hotels in Portlaoise.
If you do decide to stay in Portlaoise, be sure to look in on Timahoe Village as well. Saint Mochua is said to have built the monastery here in the 7th century. In 919, a church was burned here, while a murder took place in the doorway of another church a century later. The church was burned down in 1142, but later rebuilt by the O'Mores. Following that, a monastic community existed here up to 1650. The church currently on the site includes a 15th-century chancel arch that once led to the altar but has now been blocked. The Round Tower in the center of the village was built in the 12th century, but its cap was rebuilt in the 19th century. Considered one of Ireland's finest towers, it is 30 meters tall and still mostly in its original condition. The deep doorway located high off the ground, facing the church doorway, features elaborate Romanesque decorations. With four rows of decoration, two before and after a narrow vaulted space, it is a unique sight. Human heads with intertwined hair decorate the tops of the doorway's pillars.
Emo Court, found near Emo Village, was designed in 1790 by James Gandon, the famous architect, for the first earl of Portarlington. It is a neoclassical mansion featuring spacious, symmetrical rooms. As Gandon was working on many projects simultaneously, construction on the mansion spanned many years, and unfortunately, the earl who commissioned it died without ever seeing it finished. His successor employed new architects to finish the building, but he too died while it was still under construction. He did have a chance to live in the finished sections of the building though. The third earl to take over the building managed to complete it within his lifetime. In 1860, it looked very much like it does today.
Although Gandon's influence can be seen in its basic structure, the building is ultimately the result of the efforts of a number of architects. Wars and rebellions continued to plague the area though, so the house was ultimately abandoned and the land mostly distributed to local farmers. The Jesuits acquired the property in 1930. One of them was the famous Father Francis Browne, who photographed the Irish people and landscapes. While the Jesuits made some major changes to the interiors to make way for a chapel and assembly room, they did save the house from the fate of disrepair that so many others like it from the era have suffered.
If you'd like to live near the site, you should book a room at The Gandon Inn, which allows easy access to the mansion.
The major landmark hotels in the area are Castle Durrow and Ballyfin Demesne. However, Ballyfin, as a private residence, does not enable you to wander over to the property.