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Communing with Nature in County Carlow

If you cross the river Barrow at Wellington Bridge, to the West of Carlow Town, and drive to the ridge of Killeshin,  you get an overview of the vast expanse of The Barrow Valley  and County Carlow stretching out before you. The scholars say the Gaelic word for Carlow meant the place of the quadrupeds.  The Great Irish Elk once strode proudly here-the surviving antlers attest to that. Red Deer roamed freely on this plain, and cattle, the currency of our ancient civilization, abounded.

To-day the same Barrow valley, termed “champagne land” by the chroniclers, is still uncluttered and unspoilt.

It still allows the visitor to commune with nature , at a safe distance ,of course. You can still observe the bright-coated cattle in the fields, experience the proximity of horses in their paddocks and enjoy the age-old miracle of being healed while leaning on a gate and absorbing the fresh green of pastures, or the honeyed hues of ripening grain. On hills and slopes the sheep leave their lanolin-rich wool on fence and hedgerow  to be plucked by weary walkers to soothe tired feet and aching soles.

This is County Carlow, the hidden Ireland , a green Ireland of country roads and winding lanes, of tow-paths and waterways, of mountain trails and forest tracks which lead the visitor through a hinterland of neat friendly villages and well- ordered small towns to ancient monastic sites and archaeological wonders from another age.

The Barrow Way, the great eco-spine of Carlow, stretches   48k from Carlow town to St.Mullins and is one of Ireland’s most rewarding rambles!

In County Carlow one can commune with Neo-Lithic ancestors at the Browneshil Dolmen. One can marvel at the enterprise of the Norman war-lords who constructed castles on the river at Carlow and Leighlinbridge, or in the meadows at Ballymoon!  One can salute the alchemy of ancient craftsmen who smelted metal in the sacred circle of the Ring-fort outside Tullow, or surmise why Ballon Hill is the foremost Bronze –Age burial site in Ireland. At Knockscur one can see aboriginal rock-art,  at Ardristan, The Holed Stone ,associated with Niall of the Nine Hostages, and at Clonmelsh. the ruined monastery where from 678 to 690. St.Willibrord ,Patron saint of Luxembourg,pursued his studies, before being sent by his home Church at York as a missionary  to the Friesians.

It’s worth following up another international connection in atmospheric Old Leighlin  where St.Lazarian on his return from Rome held a Synod  in 630A.D. to discuss the alignment of the Celtic Church with Rome on the matter of the date of Easter. The Church of Ireland Cathedral on the site of the older monastery incorporates elements of the 13th century Norman building. There is a holy well nearby. Lazarian studied at Holy Island off the Isle of Arran and Old Leighlin is proud of this Scottish connection.

The celebrations in Bobbio in Italy this year to mark the fourteenth hundredth anniversary of the death of St Columbanus further highlight Carlow’s European connection. Columbanus was born in 615 A.D. in Myshall on the Carlow /Wexford border, in the shadow of Mount Leinster, the annals say. His contribution to Eurpean culture was immense .He is honoured in France,Switzerland and Italy. A 6th century Carlow man and Ur-European!

One of the most dramatic scenic drives in County Carlow begins in the village of Myshall and takes one across the hip of Mount Leinster to the Nine Stones. It  affords a stunning aerial view of the Myshall plain, dotted with comfortable homesteads, sheltered by the mountain and surrounded on three sides by gentle slopes, chequered by centuries of cultivation. Mount Leinster  with its labyrinth of forest pathss and hill trails deserves  a day to itself!

From Mount Leinster it is a short drive to beautiful and historic Borris seat of the Kavanagh Family whose ancestor Dermot so impressed the Normans as to the beauty of Carlow that they stayed for 800 years ! Beyond Borris and Ballymurphy one can enjoy the dappled splendour of the Black Stairs Mountains as one drives to St Mullins, the  unspoilt jewel in Carlow’s crown. Strategically set in a saucer of hills and surrounded by a delightful dispersed village, the monastic enclosure holds together sixteen hundred years of local and regional history.

Nearby is a Norman motte and a field away a most intriguing Holy well .Below the monastic site at the weir, where tidal waters from the sea  meet the freshwaters of the Barrow,  is one of the most important twaite shad fishing locations in Europe. The whole place exudes geodetic energy and a compelling sense of calm.

For a county of only 900square kilometre Carlow offers in close proximity a marvellous range of outdoor activities for walkers ,cyclists, watersport enthusiasts, pony trekkers, paragliders, anglers and golfers . Garden lovers have Altamount Gardens, the Great Gothic pile at Duckett’s Grove and historic Huntingdon Castle in the charming village of  Clonegal. Rathvilly and Hackettstown point eastward towards the dramatic Wicklow hills . The dreamy stretch of waterway at Bagenalstown is a mecca for  canoeists and waterfowl enthusiasts .

For those who like comfort after exercise County Carlow has first –class hotels and farm-house accommodation. There are friendly pubs and excellent eateries right across the country where one can rub shoulders with sports heroes and personalities such as Cheltenham  ChampionTrainer, Willie Mullins and Grand Slam Rugby hero Sean O’Brien. For culture buffs and art enthusiasts there is Visual in Carlow Town and the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, while every town has its traditional Irish music session or is within 15 minutes of one.

County Carlow has so much  to offer. Commune with nature here! Commune with our friendly people! Make County  Carlow your tourist destination in 2015.! Beidh Fáilte romhat!

by Caoimhín Ó Néill, Sagart

 

 

A Rich Cultural Heritage Written Deep into the Landscape

Experience a variety of heritage attractions throughout Route 1, Route 2 and Route 3 such as Brownshill Dolmen just outside Carlow, the very famous Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, the Dunbrody ship in Co. Wexford and and of course, Kilkenny Castle. If you want to see what rural life in is really like in the South East,take a trip to the scenic village of Inistioge or visit the charming Barrow-side village of St. Mullins.

Carlow Route 1

Carlow Route 3

Carlow - Ceatharlach

A jewel of a county with a wealth of scenery and history – from rich pastureland and colourful mountains to the deep and historical Barrow River Valley. Everywhere in the landscape is the resonance of her ancient pre-Celtic past. A county of green, vibrant colours, whose welcoming people are much given to outdoor and sporting activities, such as gentle river cruising, golf or even hang gliding on Mount Leinster.

Carlow Town marks the meeting of the Barrow and Burrin rivers, a point which was believed to be once made up of four lakes, hence the gaelic name, Ceathar Loch, or Four Lakes. The main towns in the county are Bagenalstown, Sir Walter Bagenal's 18th century attempt at replicating Versailles, Borris, a handsome estate town, full of charm and heritage and home to the MacMurrough Kavanagh family, former Celtic Kings of Leinster, Leighlinbridge, gold medal winner in Europe's Entente Florale in 2001, an attractive town with a beautiful arch bridge, said to be one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe, Tullow, ancestral home of the famous Wolseley family - of motor car fame -and the picturesque and historic village of St. Mullins.

Attractions around Carlow

Activities around Carlow

Festivals and events around Carlow

Carlow Town, Carlow - Ceatharlach, Ceatharlach

Carlow stands at the confluence of the Barrow and Burrin rivers. Tradition has it that the junction of the two rivers once formed four lakes. The name ' Carlow ' means Four Lakes.

The ancient town of Carlow is a bustling centre with great shopping, fine restaurants and first-class accommodation. Carlow has a well-earned reputation for lively festivals throughout the year, including the internationally renowned Eigse Arts Festival, 10-day extravaganza featuring visual arts, theatre, performance, comedy, dance, literary events and more.

While the river remains an important focus for the town, with a long established Rowing Club and annual regatta, other influences include an international student population, a thriving arts and craft community, a long and lively tradition of Irish language use and culture.

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