Portarlington, County Laois has featured here on a couple of previous occasions (see A Boarded Up Boarding School « The Irish Aesthete and On the Market « The Irish Aesthete). In both instances, astonishment was expressed that so many historic buildings in what could be a jewel of a town – and a magnet for tourism in Ireland’s Midlands – were being left to fall into ruin. In Andrew Tierney’s 2019 guide to Central Leinster, Portarlington is politely described as ‘once elegant’, thereby only gently suggesting the place’s chronic decay and shabbiness. As mentioned previously, the town takes its name from Sir Henry Bennett, Baron Arlington, who was granted land here in 1667 by Charles II and created a settlement on his property. However, it was only at the end of the 17th century, after Portarlington had passed into the hands of Henri de Massue, second Marquis de Ruvigny (subsequently Baron Portarlington and Earl of Galway) that the town really began to prosper. The marquis was a Huguenot and, like many other members of his faith, had fled France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Spending much time in this country, he encouraged his co-religious to move to Portarlington, which soon became an important centre, not just for trade, but also for education; a considerable number of schools were established in houses around the town. However, the schools have long-since gone, and so too has all evidence of the town’s prosperity.
Today’s pictures show the former Rectory on Portarlington’s Main Street. Although a considerable part of the town’s population in the 18th century was Huguenot, the Church of Ireland also had a presence here, as evidenced by this building, constructed around 1780, although somewhat altered a century later. Of five bays and two storeys over basement, its significance is indicated by the fact that the house has been slightly set back from the road, the door approached by a flight of stone steps. At some date, either late 19th or early 20th century, a small pavilion or kios, was erected in front of and linked to the southern part of the building. In due course, the rectory was used as offices while the kiosk served as a local branch of Allied Irish Bank, until it was closed down in October 2012. Since then, it would seem that the entire site has sat empty and left to fall into its present state of appalling dereliction; part of the rear of the old rectory has collapsed, its condition not helped by the demolition of the adjacent building to the immediate north. Last year, the former rectory was placed on the derelict sites list and this may have been responsible for the owners, a County Monaghan-based development company, to apply for conversion of the property into a series of flats, with the additional construction of a three-storey block to the rear. On the other hand, the same company was previously granted permission for almost the same conversion in June 2019, and since then things have only grown worse. A death of Main Street: this is a sad state of affairs, but one now typical of Irish cities and towns in the 21st century.