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Rathdowney or Rathdowny (Irish: Ráth Domhnaigh) is a town in southwest County Laois, Ireland. It lies some 32 km southwest of Portlaoise in the Irish Midlands, at the point where the R433 regional road from Abbeyleix to Templemore is crossed by the R435 from Borris in Ossory to Johnstown. The R433 provides access for Rathdowney to the Dublin-Cork M8 Motorway, while the R435 links the town to the Dublin-Limerick M7.
Rathdowney is named after a nearby ringfort, or ráth, which was levelled in 1830. This ráth is mentioned three times in the Annals of the Four Masters:
- 874 Flaithri, son of Maelduin, Lord of Rath-Tamhnaighe (Rathdowney) died
- 909 Maelpadraig, son of Flaithri, Lord of Rath-Tamhnaighe, died
- 1069 Gillamoula, grandson of Bruaideadh, Lord of Rath-Tamhnaighe
The settlement of Rathdowney has existed since at least the 9th century. Historically it forms part of the Kingdom of Ossory and today it remains part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ossory, as such Rathdowney is not historically part of Laois. The present-day county of Laois is a modern administrative construct.
The Croppy’s Grave located in the town’s central square is the still visible cobbled grave of a croppy revolutionary hanged and buried there in 1798. The site also contains a recent memorial.
The town was raided at least once by anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War of 1922 to 1923.
Queen Victoria passed through Rathdowney during her first visit to Ireland in 1849 and in a letter to her maternal sibling Princess Feodora of Leiningen about the visit to Ireland she described passing through a town assumed to be Rathdowney by historians as “a quaint village, surrounded by hills” and went on to describe it as “an idyllic small town”.
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