County Laois

From hiking in Europe’s oldest mountains to snapping photos at Ireland’s quirkiest festivals and museums… landlocked Laois has plenty to please

You’ve got to love a place brazen enough to stage a festival simply called: “Howya” (aka Ireland’s Festival for Friendships). Short for “How Are Ya”, Howya is an Irish greeting that can be replied to in two ways: 1) “Grand” (meaning not too bad) or 2) “Not Too Bad” (meaning grand).

Up to 10,000 punters attend the event every August, it also includes the Durrow Scarecrow Festival (its highlight is the All-Ireland Scarecrow Championships).

Laois has a long tradition of niche festivals. One of the granddaddies is its annual Steam Rally. Held every August, the festival sees majestic steam machines oiled up and paraded before the crowds. And the Stradbally Steam Museum is just a short distance away.

More electric than scary

If steam and scarecrows aren’t your bag, try the Electric Picnic. A boutique festival held every September at the 18th-century Stradbally Hall, it’s as famous for its eclectic music line-up as its food and hot tubs, teepees, gourmet grub and family campsites.

Or what about the vintage fishing and shooting paraphernalia at the Fly-Fishing & Game Shooting Museum in Attanagh, the only museum of its kind in Europe?

The waters and the wild

Anglers will find sweet temptation outdoors, too. Try coarse fishing in Laois’s lakes or casting for brown trout or specimen coarse fish in the River Barrow, which every year produces more official award-winning fish that any other single Irish fishery. 

The Barrow rises in the Slieve Bloom Mountains – the oldest in Europe along with France’s Massif Central – and although pummeled over the millennia from a height of 3,700m to just 527m today, the Slieve Blooms are full of nooks and crannies. It’s just ripe for exploration, from the cascading Glenbarrow Waterfall to the 84km-long Slieve Bloom Way.

The Slieve Blooms host walking festivals throughout the year, but if you visit in October, another quirky festival – the Slieve Bloom Storytelling Festival – offers the perfect excuse to park the boots for a while and let some yarns, tales or poetry wash over you. 

Rock stars

The Electric Picnic Festival may bring some of the world’s biggest rock stars to little county Laois, but one that remains year-round is the Rock of Dunamaise. Normans spotted in this limestone outcrop the perfect place for a fortress.

The 12th-century base was included in the dowry of the King of Leinster’s daughter when she married the Norman Lord Strongbow. Its ruins and views leave little doubt as to why.