Portlaoise is the principal town and administrative centre for the county of Laois. Originally named Fort of Leix, in 1557 the town was re-named Maryborough in honour of Queen Mary. The first building to be erected on the Great Green of Maryborough (now Market Square) was the Church of Ireland church dedicated to St Peter. It was completed in 1803 and was a replacement for the old Church of Ireland church in Tower Hill which had been built in 1560. It was consecrated in 1804.
The church of St Peter Portlaoise (courtesy www.gandonproject.com)
There are a number of Gandon drawings for churches in the National Library of Ireland. One of them is for the steeple at St Peter's Portlaoise; no part of the church except for the facade and the tower is attributable to Gandon.
The steeple is at present undergoing extensive repairs due to damage caused by weathering over two centuries. This shows in every part of the structure - the stones, the surrounding roof and the lightning conductor. It is hoped that work will be completed in 2009: "Because it is an historic and protected building, specialist work will be required at every stage" (the late Gordon Roche, treasurer, St Peter's). For detailed information on the repair work, please go to www.gandonproject.com.
At the top of the steeple St Peter's (courtesy www.gandonproject.com)
Inside the church, there are beautiful stained glass windows from the Harry Clarke workshop, and one particularly of note is by Alfred Ernest Child, teacher of Harry Clarke and founder member of the world-renowned stained glass workshops An Túr Gloine.
There is also a copy of the volumes which contain the names and details of every Irish soldier - almost 50,000 - killed in World War I.
The most famous rector of the church was the Rev Thomas Mosse, chaplain to King William of Orange in Ireland, and father of Bartholomew Mosse, founder of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. There is an impressive memorial to him in the gallery of the church.