OUR TOWN c. 1850 - 2000

St Peter's Church was built to replace the 16th-century Old St. Peter's, the ivied tower of which - home to rooks and pigeons - still stands in the neglected churchyard between Church and Railway Streets. It was the first building to be erected (1803-4) on the Green (Commons) of Maryborough and remains a jewel in the town's architectural crown. Its obelisk spire was designed by the eminent architect James Gandon who was also responsible for Emo Court and the Customs House in Dublin.

The Green - which gave us the name of today's Green Road - was a large area stretching along the side of Coote Street (or Mountmellick Road as it was known at the time). In the 18th century, it was a popular venue for horse racing, duels (In his Personal Sketches of His Own Times, Sir Jonah Barrington gives a graphic - and hilarious - account of one such encounter involving his grandfather and a neighbour of his) and hurling matches. The story goes that there was such a crowd at one of these matches that local butchers and bakers ran out of meat and bread. But it wasn't all fun and games: In 1731, for instance, the Assembly of Maryborough passed a bye-law stating that no Papist could graze cattle or sheep on the Commons1 and, on April 10 1777, a Patrick McCann was executed there for robbing a house "of plate and cash to a considerable extent". Despite such sectarianism and occasional bloodshed, the Green was a valuable civic amenity lost to us today through wheeling and dealing which saw most of it become the property of Lord Castle Coote, Henry Parnell Esq. and other local gentlemen.

Children's rhymes and songs may not enjoy the same literary reputation as Mr Barrington's recollections, but very often, they had serious, sometimes sinister origins totally unknown to the children who loved flinging them about. One old gentleman recalled how, almost a century ago, local sectarianism was reflected in the jingle he and his friends used to shout into the grounds of St Peter's:

"Proddy Proddy, ring the bell, Poke the divil outa hell..."

During her visit to St Peter's in September 2004, President Mary McAleese planted a tree at the main gates. The tree was a gift to the church from the Town Council which was represented on the day by the Mayor of Portlaoise, Councillor Kathleen O’Brien. In 2007, the church undertook the restoration of the steeple which was showing serious igns of weathering. The restoration was celebrated with a special ceremony in January 2009 which Rev Hilary Dungan, the Church of Ireland vicar, described as a thank-you to the people of Portlaoise and anyone who supported the restoration project. St Peter's, incidentally, has excellent acoustics and has been the venue for various performances. It also holds a copy of the eight volumes of Ireland's Memorial Records (1923) which contain the names and details of all the 49,647 Irishmen who died in World War I. Only one hundred sets of this beautifully bound and decorated treasure were produced, and it should be a source of great pride to all of us that a church in our town has one in its care.


1 The same Assembly also decreed that no inhabitant of the town could keep pigs on the street except on Fair Days. This decree made to reference to the religious denomination of the errant porkers.


And so, with apologies to James Joyce, our street - past baker, jeweller, takeaways and barber, the curve of Morrison's courthouse and the corner of Miss Fortune; through the square where once the millrace ran; down Bridge Street to SS Peter & Paul's; from the dying river, past Pepper's Lane, Lyster's Lane, Bull Lane, twenty public houses, the perfect hands of Mary and the Church of Ireland spire - by a commodious vicus of recirculation, has brought us back to Market Square's triangle and environs.