It’s one of the most architecturally interesting towns in Ireland. Nearby is the early Georgian Roundwood House. Contemporary architect John O’Connell says, “Roundwood is so intact. It’s like a doll’s house.” There’s a reddish terracotta rendered multi pointy gabled three storey with attics house in the centre of the town partially concealed behind a cobweb of telegraph wires on Patrick Street overlooking the River Whitehorse. It looks late 17th century or at youngest early 18th century. “That is where the Cootes, the local landowners, used to live,” John explains, “before they came into money and moved to Ballyfin.” Mountrath has that beautiful planned look to it: three identical villas grace the Abbeyleix road and another three jazz up the Portlaoise road. The Earls of Mountrath, family name Coote, made sure of that. The first historic monument to hit you if you are idling time pre Ballyfin is St Peter’s Church, the stone walled beacon of Protestantism. It’s an early 19th century cruciform. Samuel Lewis records in his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland that the Earl of Mountrath donated the site in circa 1796 and the church was consecrated in 1801, before being enlarged 31 years later.
Samuel Lewis describes the town as follows, “This place, called also Moynrath, or the ‘fort in the bog’, became, in the beginning of the 17th century, the property of Sir Charles Coote, who, although the surrounding country was then in a wild state and overspread with woods, laid the foundation of the present town. In 1628, Sir Charles obtained for the inhabitants a grant of two weekly markets and two fairs, and established a very extensive linen and fustian manufactory, which in the war of 1641, together with much of his other property here, was destroyed. His son Charles regained the castle and estate of Mountrath, with other large possessions, and at the Restoration was created Earl of Mountrath, which title, on the decease of Charles Henry, the 7th Earl, in 1802, became extinct. The present possessor is Sir Charles Henry Coote, Premier Baronet of Ireland. The town, which in 1831 contained 429 houses, is neatly built, and has been the seat of successive manufactures; iron was made and wrought here till the neighbouring woods were consumed for fuel, and on its decline the cotton manufacture was established; an extensive factory for spinning and weaving cotton is carried on by Mr Greenham, who employs 150 persons in the spinning mills, and about 500 in weaving calicoes at their own houses; the average quantity manufactured is from 200 to 250 pieces weekly. Stuff weaving is also carried on extensively; there is a large brewery and malting establishment, and an extensive oil mill; and the inhabitants carry on a very considerable country trade.”