The earliest record of Durrow dates back to 546A.D. when the village – then called Dervagh, was the site of a monastery, founded by St. Columb. The earliest recorded church in the village was in 1155 when records show that a raiding party led by O’Loughlin burned the church at Darmhagh-Ua-nDuach (Durrow in Odagh, or Castle Durrow) to the ground.
By the mid-13th Century an urban tradition had been established as Durrow (then called Deverald) became a Norman Borough Village and was granted an urban constitution to attract settlers. In 1245, the village was given the right to hold a week long fair in the third week of July and a market every Thursday.
Parish maps show that in the mid 17th Century, Durrow was a parochial hamlet with eight ‘surrounds’ and was owned by the powerful Ormondes. By 1659 a total of 105 families lived in the area. Sir William Petty’s 1685 Map shows that there was both a Catholic and Protestant Church in the village. The Catholic Church – which probably consisted of mud walls with a thatched roof, stood on the site of, or close to, the old Courthouse (now the FCA Barracks). Under the Ormonde Family, Durrow was annexed to County Kilkenny and was only returned to County Laois in 1846 by an Act of Parliament.
The physical form of the village as seen today, largely results from the great influence of Viscount of Ashbrook, William Flower, M.P. for Portarlington and local landlord who, throughout the 18th Century oversaw the construction of a planned estate village.
In 1708 Flowers was granted title of the lands by the Duke of Ormonde. Works started with the leasing of vacant plots around the village for the construction of new houses. The leases of these properties were for a period of 21 to 41 years and were extremely prescriptive, setting out the exact location or plot on which the house was to be erected, the dimensions of each building and the amount of money to be spent on each building. The buildings had to be completed within 3 to 5 years. Flowers personally oversaw the laying out of the market place and the construction of the three storey buildings on the north of the square for his Welsh and English estate managers.
The construction of the Castle was started in 1716 and completed some 16 years later. Flowers also extended his estate gardens, erected the Castle walls and created the existing avenue approach to the Castle. From the early 18th Century the village was serviced by mail coaches travelling between Dublin and Cork. The Red Lion Hotel – which had been constructed circa the 1790’s, was the resting stop for this service. In 1842, this service was replaced by Bianconi’s long-cars, which travelled between Mountmellick and Kilkenny daily.
The Old Stone bridge of Durrow was built in 1788 replacing an existing wooden bridge over the Erkina River. An earlier bridge – dating back to the mid 1600’s, had stood 500 metres up river. The late 18th Century also saw the construction of the Catholic Church on Chapel Street (on the current site of the Old Courthouse now in use by the FCA). The 19th Century saw the construction of many distinctive buildings including a Courthouse, the Castle Gate Lodge and the Obelisk (in the Castle grounds).
The 1831 and 1841 Census recorded populations of 2,911 and 2,977 persons respectively. By that time there were six schools in the village and it was described as a ‘small market and post village’ containing an infantry barrack, inn and posting establishment. From the mid 19th Century the flour bolting ‘Mill at the Course’ was operated by the Delaney family. Although the mill changed hands, it operated successfully until it closed in the mid 20th Century.
Changes in the village throughout the 20th Century are closely linked to national political influences and trends. During the population peak of the early 20th Century, many civic facilities were provided in the village. In the early 1900’s a Village Hall was built on Patrick Street and a concert hall, billiard room and reading room were developed on this site. The hall was built using Durrow brick and had three white windows, a large entrance door and a large side entrance gate fronting directly onto the street. This building was later demolished in 1976. The first Garda barracks in the village was first located in a building on the north side of The Square and later this was moved to its current location on Old Chapel Street.
In conclusion, the function of the settlement has changed greatly from its early monastic origins, through the great influence of the local landlords – the Flower family, and the strategic importance of its location on the coachline.
Now, the village has a primarily residential function with the vast majority of residents commuting to work in nearby county and regional centres such as Portlaoise and Kilkenny. This trend is likely to continue, with a resultant pressure for new housing.