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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 civilisation, abounded. Today 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.

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 48km 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 Brownshill 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.

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 viewing point. 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 paths and hill trails deserves a day to itself!

From Mount Leinster it is a short drive to beautiful and historic Borris, seat of the McMorrough 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 Blackstairs 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. International connections abound throughout the county – in Clonmelsh Cemetery, close to Tinryland, Walt Disney’s ancestors are buried. St. Willibrord who became Patron Saint of Luxembourg pursued his studies at nearby Killogan. Another connection can be found in atmospheric Old Leighlin where St. Laserian on his return from Rome held a Synod in 630 A.D. to discuss the alignment of the Celtic Church with Rome on the matter of the date of Easter. St. Columbanus’ close connections with Carlow and Myshall are being celebrated this year with a dedicated Columban Way walk. He is widely recognised as Ireland’s first great European.

For a county of only 900 square kilometres, 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 Altamont Gardens, the great Gothic pile at Duckett’s Grove and historic Huntington Castle in the charming village of Clonegal. Rathvilly and Hacketstown point eastward towards the dramatic Wicklow hills. The dreamy stretch of waterway at Bagenalstown is a mecca for canoeists and waterfowl enthusiasts.

There are friendly pubs and excellent eateries right across the county where one can rub shoulders with sports heroes and personalities such as Cheltenham champion trainer 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. 

Make Carlow your holiday destination in 2020. Beidh Fáilte romhat.