Laois (pronounced "leash"), one of Ireland's 12 land-locked countries, is usually mentioned together with Offaly, as they occupy the central plain of Ireland, a flat plain having as lowest point "The Bog of Allen". Laois (Leix, or "Queen's Country") has many quiet and beautiful places, away from the main road from Dublin to Cork or Limerick. In the north-western part of the county, the Slieve Bloom Mountains rise to 1,734 feet (Arderin peak).
The county is thus a place to go for the outdoor activity seeker, who can either have long walks through the charming countryside or go for one of the sporting attractions of this county, which include fishing, hunting, shooting, cycling and golf. There are several notable gardens to see, and also equestrian facilities for every level. For those who love mountain scenery, the waterfalls and valleys of Slieve Bloom are a true delight.
Laois has pleasant towns and villages, with fine houses of notable architecture. The towns or villages associated with the Quakers or Huguenots are particularly interesting. The two main towns of Co. Laois are Portlaoise and Portarlington, the former originally named "Maryborough", after Queen Mary.
Laois is also home to one of the finest Celtic fortifications in Ireland - The Rock of Dunamase. The rock is 150 feet tall and it was known even to Ptolemy, who included it in his map of the world in 140 AD and named it "Dunnum". Nowadays, it is topped by a succession of ruins that are thousands of years old. Since it constituted an ideal defensive position, the Pre-Celtic bronze age settlers fortified it first, and only after them, the Celts themselves, with their king Laois Ceann Mór, after whom the county is named. Today, it is the castle of the Mac Murrough clan (13th century) that lies in ruins there. As most prehistoric monuments do, the Rock of Dunamase has a legend built around it, too ��" that of Bandog, an unearthly dog, said to be guarding a treasure buried deep inside the rock.
Country of legends and myths, Laois still preserves the myth of the Banshee ("Bean Sidhe" means "fairy woman"), one of the most popular Irish Myths. A Banshee is usually a beautiful young woman, with white or green hair and red eyes, dressed in rags, said to be the messenger of death; it is thought that she is heard crying by a member of the family of the soon-to-be deceased. In other areas, Banshees are thought to be the restless spirits of women who died in childbirth and who remain attached to the members of their families, guarding their souls.
In fact, for the people who believe in ghosts, Laois may prove to be a fascinating place, since there are also caves that have their own ghost story: the cave at Clopook, for example, said to be the home of a spirit that sucks the life out of men's bones, or the caves at Luggacurren, sheltering musical spirits, whose tunes are said to be heard from time to time.
The people of Laois are good-humoured and hospitable, and there are numerous place to stay across the county, as well as places to eat and pubs ("Morrisey's Bar" in Abbeyleix, on the road from Dublin to Cork, is known for its classic atmosphere, being a sort of a relic of bygone days).