History of Carlow

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County Carlow is often referred to as the “Dolmen County” on account of Brownshill Dolmen, or the “Barrowsiders” on account of the river Barrow.

The name Carlow is an anglicisation of the Irish language name “Ceatharlach. The first part of the name derives from the Old Irish word “cethrae (“animals, cattle, herds, flocks”) which is related to “ceathar (“four”) and therefore signifies “four-legged”. The second part of the name is the ending -lach

Some believe that the name should be Ceatharloch (meaning “quadruple lake”), since ceathar means “four” and loch means “lake”.

The Carlow county area has been settled for thousands of years, evidence of human occupation extends back thousands of years, the most notable and dramatic prehistoric site being the Browneshill Dolmen – a megalithic portal tomb just outside Carlow town.

Several Early Christian settlements are still in evidence today around the county. St Mullin’s monastery is believed to have been established around the 7th century, the ruins of which are still in evidence today. Old Leighlin was the site of one of the largest monastic settlements in Ireland and the location for a church synod in 630 AD which determined the date of Easter. St Comhgall built a monastery in the Carlow area in the 6th century, an old church building and burial ground survive today at Castle Hill known as St Mary’s Abbey.

Carlow was an Irish stronghold for agriculture in the early 1800’s which earned the county the nickname of the scallion eaters. Famine wiped out a lot of the population, cutting it in half.

Carlow Castle was constructed by William Marshal, Earl of Striguil and Lord of Leinster, 1207-13, to guard the vital river crossing. It was also to serve as the capital of the Lordship of Ireland from 1361 until 1374. This imposing structure survived largely intact until 1814 when it was mostly destroyed in an attempt to turn the building into a lunatic asylum. The present remains now are the West Wall with two of its cylindrical towers. The bridge over the river Barrow – Graiguecullen Bridge, is agreed to date to 1569. The original structure was largely replaced and widened in 1815 when it was named Wellington Bridge in celebration of the defeat of Napoleon’s army by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in June of that year. The bridge was built across a small island in the river and a 19th-century house was constructed on the bridge – this was for a time occupied by the Poor Clares, an enclosed religious order who still have a convent in Graiguecullen. Another convent belonging to the Presentation Order of nuns now houses the County Library and beautifully restored, newly opened Carlow County Museum. The Cathedral, designed by Thomas Cobden, was the first Catholic cathedral to be built in Ireland after Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Its construction cost £9,000 and was completed in 1833. Beside the cathedral, Saint Patrick’s College dates from 1793. The College, was established in 1782 to teach the humanities to both lay students and those studying for the priesthood. There are still many old estates and houses in the surrounding areas, among them Ducketts Grove and Dunleckney ManorSt Mullin’s today houses a heritage centre.

In 1703 the Irish House of Commons appointed a committee to bring in a bill to make the River Barrow navigable, by 1800 the Barrow Track was completed between St. Mullin’s and Athy, establishing a link to the Grand Canal which runs between Dublin and the Shannon. By 1845 88,000 tons of goods were being transported on the Barrow Navigation. Carlow was also one of the earliest towns to be connected by train, the Great Southern and Western Railway had opened its mainline as far as Carlow in 1846, this was extended further to reach Cork in 1849.  Public supply of electricity in Carlow was first provided from Milford Mills, approximately 8 km south of Carlow, in 1891. Milford Mills still generates electricity feeding into the national grid.

Following independence in the early 1920’s the new Irish Free State Government decided to establish a sugar-processing plant in Leinster, Carlow was settled on as the location due to its transport links and large agricultural hinterland, favorable for growing sugar beet.

The town is recalled in the famous Irish folk song, “Follow Me Up to Carlow”, written in the 19th century about the Battle of Glenmalure, part of the Desmond Rebellions of the late 16th century. In 1650, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, Carlow was besieged and taken by English Parliamentarian forces, hastening the end of the Siege of Waterford and the capitulation of that city. During the 1798 rebellion Carlow was the scene of a massacre of 600 rebels and civilians following an unsuccessful attack on the town by the United Irishmen, known as the Battle of Carlow. The Liberty Tree sculpture in Carlow town, designed by John Behan, commemorates the events of 1798. The rebels slain in Carlow town are buried in the ‘Croppies Grave‘, in ‘98 Street, Graiguecullen.

The Liberty Tree in Carlow town.

Towns of Carlow

Ardattin Village is a picturesque country village south of Tullow near the river slaney. A local beauty spot is Aghade Bridge.

Bagenalstown on the River Barrow was founded by Walter Bagenal in the 18th century, who had visions of mirroring the city of Versailles, in northern France. The re-routing of the main road frustrated his grand plan. He left enough however for visitors to enjoy this very pretty town with its handsome stone public buildings, riverside walks, picnic tables and picturesque lock.

The Blackstairs and Wicklow mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the pastures and cornfields, the winding country roads and traditional, stone-cut cottages and farmsteads round this charming rural village. Aghade bridge, a beautiful viewing spot over the River Slaney, is nearby. Rathoe village, in the northern part of the parish, lies 6km from Ballon, Kellistown and Tullow. Saint Patrick’s church, in Rathoe village is a wonderful example of 19th century craftmanship and is well worth a visit.

A beautiful untouched village full of charm and heritage nestling in the foothills of the Blackstairs mountains. Many original shop fronts remain, and O Sheas, a great oldtime bar cum grocery cum hardware storeBorris House – the hereditary home of the mc Murrough-kavanagh family, is openm for Tours by arrangement. There is also a fabulous viaduct in the village along the old railway line. The lovely wooded Valley of the River Barrow is ideal for walks. For Golf enthjusiasts Borris golf club, a nine holecourse, is a must.

Carlow is fast establishing a growing identity as the Celtic Centre of Ireland, present day Carlow offers a warm and welcome face to visitors. Tranquil Saint Mullins is a tiny settlement, located in a picturesque river valley. This year marks the 1,300of the death of Saint Moling who with his own hands carved out the channel for the winding watercourse still visible today.Near the town of Carlow, tiny Sleaty Church is the reputed place of origin for perhaps Ireland’s oldest manuscript, the Life of Saint Patrick. The two rivers that run through Carlow are, the navigable Barrow and the fish rich Slaney.

Beautifully located on the Carlow – Wexford border is the village of Clonegal. This marks the joining of the Slaney and Derry rivers. The Wicklow Way passes close by.

Cluain Mor Meadhoc in Irish, which means “Mogue’s large meadow” is situated in the scenic north-east corner of Co. Carlow and is called after St. Mogue who founded a religious community here and built a monastery about the year 530 A.D. Clonmore is noted as being one of the earliest ecclesiastical parishes in Ireland along with Ardfert, Killaloe and Clonmacnoise and is described as one of the most hallowed places connected with early Christian times. The area is noted for its historical interest and photogenic landscapes. One of its most famous items includes the triple bullaun stone, a large natural stone in situ with three hallow scooped out and used for pounding ingredients in pre-historic times.

Hacketstown nestles the distinctive Eagle Hill, overlooking the River derreen. Surrounded by woodlands and farmland, the village is a gateway to the higher Wicklow mountains to the east and the beaches of Wexford to the south.

Leighlinbridge is a historical village on the river Barrow. A strategic tower known as the Black Castle was first built here in 1181 and so was one of the earliest Norman fortresses. Leighlinbridge is a pretty village where the well known Lord Bagenal Pub and restaurant is situated. On Sundays throughout the summer fishermen from the local club can be seen in competition of the banks of the river. At Old Leighlin, 4 km west of leighlinbridge Street Lazerians Cathedral is built on this site of an old monastic church founded in 632 AD.

At the foot of Mount Leinster the little village of Myshall has as a backdrop the famed Blackstairs Mountains. Many fine views may be had in the district and perhaps one of the best is from Corrabut Gap (56.9 m). The remains of Myshall House is in a beautiful demense near the village. Also in the village is a fine memorial church. Nearby at Rathnageeragh is the remains of a castle.

Pleasantly situated in central Carlow with splendid views of Killeshin Hills. Ideal touring centre.

The tiny village of Rathvilly became a by-word amongst Ireland’s Tidy towns and Villages winners when they won the All Ireland title for Ireland’s tidiest town on three occasions. On the outskirts of the village is reinforced earthworks or motte which dates from ancient times. The village has a commanding view of the surounding countryside with the mountan ranges of Lugnaquilla, the Blackstairs and the Slieve Blooms in clear view.

Tullow, the main town in the east of the county, is a centre for anglers fishing the Slaney and other nearby rivers. In the market square stands a statute of Father John Murphy, the insurgent leader, who was captured near Tullow and executed in the Market Square on 2 July 1798.