Above picture Carlow rowers
Carlow Town (Ceatharlach – “city of the lake” / “four lakes”), aka Catherlough until 1721, stands at the confluence of the Rivers Barrow and Burrin; tradition has it that the junction once formed four lakes.
Graiguecullen is on the western side of the River Barrow, and is thus technically in Co. Laois. Popularly referred to as Graigue, it belongs to the old Civil Parish of Sleaty, and its correct full name was Sleatygraigue until 1922, when it was renamed in memory of Fr Hugh Cullen, a much-loved local priest who died in 1917.
The combined urban entity of Carlow / Graiguecullen & Environs has grown rapidly in the last few years, and is now largely a commuter dormitory satellite for DUBLIN. Carlow’s old streets are bustling and friendly, with something of the feel of a university town. Live music is played in many of the town’s pubs.
The grassy quays and the huddle of warehouses beside the River Barrow evidence the pivotal role Carlow had for the commerce that long used this waterway. Ceatharlach Moorings is a fine modern marina below the lock. Unfortunately, the town is still subject to frequent flooding.
Carlow Castle was once one of the most impressive Norman castles in Ireland. Built between 1207 and 1213 by Strongbow‘s successor William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, on the site of a motte erected by Hugh de Lacy in the 1180s, it appears to have been directly inspired by French examples, notably Nemours (Seine-et-Marne), completed in 1180, and may be the earliest example of a four-towered keep in the British Isles.
In 1361 King Edward III appointed his son Lionel, Duke of Clarence, as Lord Lieutenant of the County of Catherlough. Lionel moved the Exchequers to the Castle and spent £500 on the building of the Town Wall, now vanished.
An army personally led by King Richard II was defeated locally by Art McMurrough Kavanagh, Gaelic king of Leinster in the late C14th, reducing English impact on the region for over a hundred years.
The castle was captured by James FitzGerald in 1494, again by Silken Thomas in 1535, and changed hands a number of times before being purchased by Donough, Earl of Thomond in 1616. It fell to the Kilkenny Confederates in 1642 but was later returned to Thomond after being taken by Cromwellian troops under General Ireton in 1650, hastening the end of the Siege of Waterford and the capitulation of that city.
Only the western wall and two towers now survive, the remainder having been accidentally blown up in 1814 by “a ninny-pated physician of the name of Middleton” who leased the building for use as a lunatic asylum and “applied blasts of gunpowder for enlarging the windows and diminishing the walls, and brought down two-thirds of the pile into a rubbishy tumulus in memory of his surpassing presumption and folly“.
Graiguecullen Bridge, linking Carlow Town with Graiguecullen, is one of the oldest and lowest bridges spanning the River Barrow. The attractive five arched stone structure was completed in 1569 and widened in 1815, when it was renamed Wellington Bridge.
St. Mary’s church (CoI) dates from 1727, though the 59 m (195 ft) tower and spire were added in 1834. It is the third church in succession to St Mary’s Abbey, founded nearby in 664 AD by Saint Comgall. The interior retains its traditional galleries and there are several monuments, including some by neo-classical architect, Sir Richard Morrison.
A few years ago some interesting documents reportedly came to light locally, which appeared to indicate that a significant proportion / majority of the populace of the county capital had signed some kind of Oath of Allegiance or declaration of Protestantism in the C18th. The documents mysteriously vanished before they could be analysed.
St Patrick’s, Carlow College (founded 1782 and opened in 1793) was the first ecclesiastical college in Ireland, and nowadays runs humanities courses in conjunction with TCD.
Carlow Town & the 1798 Rebellion
The 1798 Rebellion saw an unsuccessful attempt on 25th May by the local United Irishmen to oust the Crown troops garrisoned in the town, who were informed in advance of the plan. The rebels were mown down or roasted alive as the houses where they sought refuge were torched, and by the end of the day the smouldering ruins were littered with charred corpses.
A government “mopping up” followed, during which a character who became known as “Paddy the Pointer” helped to identify surviving insurgents by riding around the town and pointing at them, whereupon they were summarily hanged.
640 rebels and civilians were buried in a pit at the stone quarries near Graiguecullen, known as the Croppy Hole, marked by a monumental cross. The events of 1798 are also commemorated by a John Behan sculpture / fountain called the Liberty Tree in the town centre.
The former Presentation Convent (c. 1820) on College St has been refurbished to house the the Carlow County Museum, operated by the Old Carlow Society, together with the local Tourist Office, County Library and Archives. The old convent chapel is beautifully preserved.
Killeshin church (CoI), Graiguecullens’s confusingly named Anglican parish church on the Ballickmoyler Road, is a Gothic Revival edifice designed by John Semple, erected c.1827.
Carlow’s graceful Courthouse was designed in 1830 by William Vitruvius Morrison, funded by the Bruen family of Oak Park. It is based on the Temple of llissus in Athens; a Crimean War cannon guards the entrance. Locals claim there was a mix up with the plans and that Carlow got Cork’s Courthouse and Cork got Carlow’s, but such stories are common all over Ireland.
The Cathedral of the Assumption (RC) an impressive Gothic edifice completed in 1833 to a design by Thomas A. Cobden, and partly funded by the principal local landlord, Colonel Henry Bruen of Oak Park, a staunch Tory who had supported Catholic Emancipation in 1829 (this was the first Cathedral to be erected in Ireland after that date). The spire is based on the Beftroi tower in Bruges, as is the magnificent lantern. The founder, James Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, is commemorated by an impressive memorial sculpted by John Hogan (1839). An ornate oak pulpit carved in Bruges (1899) is now preserved in the old convent chapel of the Carlow County Museum.
Carlow Railway Station (1846) is served by the Dublin / Waterford Intercity train.
Carlow town did not suffer as much as some parts of the county during the Great Famine. However, various epidemics in the second half of the C19thtriggered another famine which reduced the regional population by about 20,000 people.
Carlow Town Hall, designed by the church architect William Hague in 1884, was originally the town’s main trading centre.
The modern Regional Technical College, built in 1970 on the site of the former Carlow Union Workhouse, caters for a large student population.
Carlow’s VISUAL Arts Centre & George Bernard Shaw Theatre, in the grounds of Carlow College, opened in 2009, just in time to coincide with the Recession. Perhaps unfairly, it is widely regarded as something of a white elephant.
Carlow Little Theatre is quite famous, putting on several plays and shows every year, notably during the annual Eigse festival in June.
The Carlow Brewing Company, a highly regarded microbrewery, is housed in The Goods Store, a superb old stone building which in days gone by was the scene of the unloading of provisions for the town traders. The beautifully restored and converted bar area overlooks the main brewing area and the brewing and fermenting vessels. Tours of the brewery are available by appointment.
County Carlow Military Museum, housed in a late C19th church on the Athy Road, features a wide range of exhibits relating to Carlow military history, including Irish UN Peacekeeping in Congo, Lebanon and Somalia, the Carlow Militia, Carlow in WWI and an exhibition about Captain Myles Keogh of the 7th US Cavalry, killed with General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, whose horse Commanche became a national hero as the only survivor of the event.
Carlow Town Park is an attractive amenity linked by a pedestrian bridge across the River Barrow.
Oak Park (Painestown)
Oak Park, property of the Bruen family from 1775 (when they bought 6000 acres from Sir Beauchamp Bagenal) to 1954, is now the headquarters of the State agricultural research body Teagasc.
Oak Park House is a splendid Georgian mansion erected c.1760 and remodelled c.1835 for Colonel Henry Bruen MP by William Vitruvius Morrison, who also designed the impressive Triumphal Arch at the entrance to the demesne. The C18th farmyard and stable block are interesting. (Photo – www.buildingsofireland.com)
Since 2006 the beautiful mature woodlands beside the artificial lake on the estate have been landscaped with colour-coded loop paths, picnic areas and other amenities.
Hermitage Gardens are charming old world gardens set within a backdrop of mature trees and surrounded by stone walls. They are divided into specific areas, each with a distinct planting and colour scheme.
Carlow Guesthouse is located just outside the town and has a lovely garden.
The Dolmen Hotel on the eastern bank of the River Barrow, has several acres of mature gardens. Luxury options include self-catering lodges.
The Barrow Way and the Slieve Margy Way are two long-distance walking trails in the area.
The Carlow Regatta is run every June by the Carlow Rowing Club
Carlow Heritage Week, due to take place on the third week of August 2012, will feature activities ranging from fairs, night time bat walks, wildlife tours and lectures to music recitals, historical re-enactments and outdoor pursuits.
East of Carlow Town
Palatine is a rapidly growing commuter community. Its origins date to 1711, when some twenty German Rhine Palatinate refugee families were installed adjacent to the estate of Benjamin Burton. The settlement was called Palatinestown, and according to a traveller writing in 1780 “the industrious settlers had transformed bog-land into fertile ground“; however, the families soon scattered or emigrated to North America. Today the name of the village and the survival of surnames such as Keppel and Young (Jung) in the county are the only reminders of the Palatinate presence in Co. Carlow.
Browne’s Hill / Browneshill Dolmen, aka the Kernanstown Cromlech, dates back to c.2000 BC. It is a granite portal tomb is of huge proportions; the massive capstone, weighing over 130 tonnes, is believed to be the largest in Europe. The location, setting and purpose of this structure have been the subject of conjecture for centuries, and have been invested with a rich overlay of myth and legend. Most likely it marks the burial place of an ancient chieftain.
Bennekerry Dolmen, situated on the Hacketstown Road, is another major local landmark.
Duckett’s Grove, the mansion was designed c.1825 by Thomas A Cobden for John Davidson Duckett, when the noted Anglo Irish family’s estate covered more than 12,000 acres in five counties. The last male heir died in 1908; his widow lived in the house until 1912.
“Duckett” was occupied by the IRA for a time during The Troubles of 1918 – 22; they used it as a training camp, and also as a refuge.
Although burnt by unknown arsonists in 1933, the remaining towers and turrets give this enchanting structure a fairy-tale air. Carlow County Council plans to “stabilize” the ruin.
The walled gardens and a cleverly designed pleasure ground and lawned areas immediately adjacent to the mansion have been splendidly restored to their original state and are open to the public.
The castellated entrance, designed by John MacDuff Derick in 1853, is one of the most elaborate gateways in Ireland, comprising many battlemented towers and two great archways leading to two distinct drives. The principal archway features a portcullis surmounted by a very large armorial bearing. The structure is said to have been originally multicoloured.
South of Carlow Town
Tinryland (Tigh an Raoireann – House of the Chieftain) is a rural district of historical and archaeological interest. A Heritage Trail (Finder Map available in the village) takes in the locations of many burial sites, churches and castles.
Killogan Graveyard, where the ancestors of Walt Disney and several members of the Butler family are buried, features a small ringed / wheeled granite cross, found buried in the summer of 1892. As the probable location of Clonmelsh Monastery, this ancient site may have strong associations with the Patron Saint of Luxembourg and one of the patron saints of Germany.
Clonmelsh Monastery has been strongly urged as the Abbey of Rathmelsigi / Rath Melsigi, which although of historical importance has not been securely located; according to the Venerable Bede it was in Connacht, and traditionally it has been identified as Mellifont Abbey in modern County Louth.
Saint Egbert of Iona (639-729 AD), a Northumbrian monk, spent many years at Rathmelsigi, over ten of them training a group of fellow countrymen as missionaries to Friesland (now part of the Netherlands).
Saint Wilibrord / Willibrord (c. 658-739 AD) was consecrated in Rome in 695 AD by Pope Sergius III as Bishop of the Frisians; establishing his see at Trajectum (now Utrecht), he was active in the area now called the Benelux countries, where many parish churches are still dedicated to him. His tomb is located in the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Echternach, where every year thousands participate in the Dancing Procession held in his honour on Whit Tuesday.
Saint Swithbert / Suitbert (d. 713 AD) laboured chiefly in North Brabant, Gelderland, and Cleves. After some years he went back to England, and in 693 AD was consecrated in Mercia as a missionary bishop by Saint Wilfrid of York. He returned to Frisia and fixed his see at Wijk bij Duurstede on a branch of the Rhine. A little later, entrusting his flock of converts to Saint Willibrord, he proceeded north of the Rhine and the Lippe, among the Bructeri, or Boructuari, in the district of Berg, Westphalia. This mission bore great fruit at first, but was eventually a failure owing to the inroads of the pagan Saxons; when the latter had conquered the territory, Swithbert withdrew to a small island in the Rhine, where he built a monastery and ended his days in peace. He died at Suitberts-Insel, now Kaiserswerth, near modern Düsseldorf. He is considered a patron saint of Germany.
Other English monks who spent time at Rathmelsigi included Saint Adalbert of Egmond, Saint Botolph and Saint Chad of Mercia. In the controversy over the keeping of Easter, Rathmelsigi accepted the Roman Easter.
Bede wrote that the monks of Rathmelsigi were almost all carried off by the plague of 664 AD.
Linkardstown is the site of an ancient grave excavated in 1943 and found to comprise a polygonal stone chamber paved with stones sloping upwards and inwards, containing a single skeleton and some pottery, believed to date from as far back as 3700 BC. This was the first burial plot of its kind found in Southern Ireland, and thus of major archaeological significance.
Linkardstown church is in ruins, but its C18th stone baptismal font now stands in the grounds of St Joseph’s church in Tinryland.
The sites of two medieval Kavanagh strongholds are atmospheric. Only a fragment remains of Ballyloo Castle, built by Art Og Kavanagh of Pulmonty, who died in 1417. His descendants, the Kavanaghs of Ballyloo, remained in residence until dispossessed by the Cromwellian confiscations 200 years later. Another branch of the family lived in C15th Graiguenaspideog Castle: it is said that on some nights music, singing, laughter, and the clinking of crystal glasses could be heard very clearly amidst the castle ruins.
Tinryland and Linkardstown are close to Nurney on ByRoute 6.
Milford Mills on the River Barrow were established in 1790 by the Alexander family, commemorated by the local bridge. The mill on the east bank, known as Strong Stream Mill, has had a number of different functions over the years. Once used to grind wheat and also as a sawmill, it was employed in the 1890s as a generating station for electricity. Nearby Carlow was the first town in Ireland to have electric street lighting. Today the mill is again generating electricity.
Milford is also a good place to see wildlife, including herons, wagtails, dippers, kingfishers and otters. In season, salmon run the weir on their way to spawn upstream in the tributaries of the Barrow.
Milford is near Leighlinbridge on ByRoute 6.
West of Graiguecullen
Clonmore (Co. Laois)
Clonmore is a village a little way to the west of Graiguecullen.
The churchyard, which is cut in two by the road, contains interesting remains. On the north side of the road is a beautiful and excellently preserved High Cross, on the south side a fine cross fragment; both are designated National Monuments.
Killeshin (Co. Laois)
Killeshin (Gleann Uisin) (pop. 1300) is a rural village overlooking the picturesque River Barrow Valley.
A monastery was founded at the foot of the Killeshin Hills in the late C5th by Saint Comghan and Diarmait mac Siabairr, a saint of the local Uí Barraiche family. Killeshin takes its name from Uisin, an abbot of the community, which remained an important centre of learning until 1041, when according to the Annals of Tigernach it was “despoiled by the son of Mael na mBó, the oratory/wooden church was broken, and a hundred people killed, and seven hundred carried off, that is, in revenge for the burning of Ferns by the son of Brian and Murchad mac Dunlainge, and in revenge for his brother, Domnall the Fat“.
The Killeshin church on the monastic site dates largely from the C12th, although some parts show evidence of later rebuilding. It is mainly noted for a beautifully carved Hiberno-Romanesque doorway, one of the finest in the country, erected c.1155. The low reliefs, thought to have been painted, show zoomorphic motifs and faces as well as characteristic knotwork (influenced b Scandinavian art). An inscription reads: ORAIT DO DIARMAIT RI LAGEN – ‘a prayer for Diarmait, king of Leinster’, almost certainly Dermot McMurrough.
No trace remains of the 105ft Round Tower that once stood next to the monastery; believed to have been the tallest in Ireland, it was demolished by an C18th landowner who was afraid that it might collapse and injure his cattle.
Killeshin was the birthplace of William Dargan (1799 – 1867), widely considered the father of Irish railways. A statue of him stands outside Dublin’s National Art Gallery, which he helped to establish.
Killeshin is within easy reach of Ballickmoyler on ByRoute 7.
Oisín House & Park is a scenic rural amenity and conference centre run by the local Development Association, who have kept alive a local Dancing Board and House Dancing tradition with weekly set dancing classes and monthly ceilis all year round, plus organised crossroads dancing on summer Sunday afternoons. The Park is over 1000ft above sea level, with impressive views across Co. Carlow to the Blackstairs and Wicklow Mountains. From up here at night Carlow Town and the surrounding housing estates look like a vast metropolis!
Rossmore Forest is a hillside Coillte plantation.
Rossmore was one of many small coal mining communities in the area.
The Rossmore Plateau is the eastern part of the Castlecomer Plateau, nowadays a sort of forgotten no-man’s-land between Counties Kilkenny, Carlow and Laois, famed for its anthracite coal mines from the C17th until the mid-C20th. Without coal there would have been little settlement in this area.
Ballyhide is popular fishing spot on the River Barrow. In particular, the stretch of river where the small canal rejoins the Barrow, locally known as Lanigan’s Lock, is well known for trout fishing and was a very popular swimming spot, although Laois County Council have posted signs warning of the dangers of the water here.
A walkway known as the Barrow track runs from Milford, downriver of Ballyhide through this area and into Carlow Town.
The Black Castle / Rochfort’s Castle is a burned out mansion at the foot of the hill overlooking Ballyhide. This was the home the Rochfort family, who owned much of the lands in the area. The mansion was torched during the War of Independence. Although there is some dispute and little evidence as the identity of the arsonists, one story is that the local IRA Flying column burned out the Rochforts out in alleged revenge for the eviction of a woman who couldn’t pay the rent when her husband died. Another story is that her sons burned the house and kidnapped the two Rochfort children.