Rathvilly (Co. Carlow / Northeast)
Rathvilly (Ráth Bhile), an old barony bordering modern Counties Kildare and Wicklow, gave its name to a roughly co-extensive parish and a village on the River Slaney.
Rathvilly Mill, a corn mill founded c.1750 on the banks of the River Slaney, was restored and converted to residential use c.1975, and until recently was charmingly run as The Watermill Restaurant / B&B by Enrico Tononi and family. The stream wheel, installed c.1830, is still in reasonably good condition.
Rathvilly Bridge, a six-arch hump-back structure spanning the River Slaney, dates from c.1800.
Rathvilly village (pop. 1000), featuring a historic market square and picturesque stone houses, has won Ireland’s annual National Tidy Town Competition several times.
St Mary’s church (CoI) on the ouskirts of the village is a handsome edifice with a fine tower and steeple, surrounded by extensive grounds containing graves dating back several centuries.
St Patrick’s church (RC), designed by William Hague, was opened in 1893 and “liturgically reordered” in 1980.
A Monument honours Kevin Gerard Barry (b.1902 in Dublin) who spent much of his childhood in Rathvilly, before studying medicine at UCD: his 1920 execution (for murdering three British soldiers) was used by Sinn Féin to whip up anti-British sentiment to fever-pitch throughout the country and abroad, probably turning the tide of the War of Independence.
Rathvilly also has two good equestrian centres.
Lisnavagh House & Gardens
Lisnavagh is thought to derive from Lis na Bhfea – “beech tree enclosure”. The estate has belonged since the C17th to the Bunbury family, who claim descent from Baron St Pierre, an aide to William the Conqueror during his 1066 invasion of England.
Thomas McClintock Bunbury,2nd Lord Rathdonnell, was at one stage the holder of the most land in Ireland, spread over the greatest niumber of counties. In 1921 he was one of only 15 members to attend the first (and third last) meeting of the Senate of Southern Ireland, boycotted by Nationalists and abolished by the Irish Free State in 1922. As President of the Royal Dublin Society, he was involved in the difficult negotiations involving the take-over of Leinster House by the new Oireachtas.
The current owner is Thomas Benjamin McClintock Bunbury, 5th Baron Rathdonnell. The 1000-acre property is still run as a working farm by William and Emily Bunbury, who live on a house on the estate. Another member of the family is the acclaimed travel writer and chronicler of the Anglo-Irish community, Turtle Bunbury, who runs the excellent annual Irish Hstory Festival at Lisnavagh evety May.
The Gothic Revival style mansion, considered one of Daniel Robertson’s finest works, was reduced to a third of its original size and electrified in 1952. It features four handsome reception rooms, including an oak-panelled library, and is filled with antique furniture, family portraits, curios and memorabilia.
Lisnavagh Garden (Photo – bigeoino)
The beautiful gardens, laid out by the same architect, were restored years of neglect during WWI and WWII by Lady Rathdonnell. Over 12 acres of pleasure grounds include a spectacular American Garden, the mature Irish Yew Walk, a walled garden, rock gardens, magnificent rhodedendrons and other exotic shrubs and seasonal flowers, amid “an ambience guaranteed to soothe even the most jaded of nerves“.
The period farmyard (also by the genial Scot) was in its time at the forefront of Irish agricultural technology. Nowadays much of the land is taken up by woods, including oaks, chestnuts and other hardwood trees, ethically harvested within the Lisnavagh Timber Project.
The estate grounds and gardens are popular for wedding receptions, film shoots, corporate events etc., for which marquees (including big Mongolian yurts) are available for hire with catering facilities.
The only accommodation option currently offered involves exclusive hire of the main house and gardens for a minimum of 3 days.
The splendid rath / mound from which Rathvilly probably derived its name is thought to have formed a link in a series of earthen forts which included Eagle Hill, Clonmore, Tullow and Castlemore. It is traditionally associated with the chieftains of Hy Kinsella, in particular Crimhthann, king of Leinster from 443 AD to 483 AD, who was baptised with his family c.450 by Saint Patrick at a nearby Holy Well. However, others think the hillock in the townland of Tobinstown is actually a Norman motte.
The Irish word bile referred to a large tree held in veneration, usually where chiefs were inaugurated, or games celebrated. A great insult was for one tribe to cut down the ceremonial tree of another. Such a tree must have existed in Rathvilly.
Haroldstown Dolmen stands near the bank of the Derreen River at Acaun Bridge. The chamber is more spacious than most portal-tombs, and was the residence of an entire family in the C19th; gaps between the side-stones were wind-proofed with turf and mud, and the resulting dwelling was probably as snug as any of the tiny cabins occupied by peasants around the time of the Great Famine. (In the Philippines, hundreds of poor people live in the tombs of former Grandees in Manila’s old Spanish cemetery).
Haroldstown House is a modern B&B on a farm with exotic pigs and ponies.
Hacketstown (Co. Carlow / Northeast)
Hacketstown (Baile Haiceid) (pop 2000), historically known as Baile an Droichead / Ballydrohid, is a photogenic town with an old Fair Green, located on an eminence between the River Derreen and the source of the River Derry in the southern foothills of the Wicklow Mountains.
During the 1798 Rebellion, according to Lewis (1837), Hacketstown “sustained two attacks from the insurgent forces, one on the 25th of May, which was successfully repulsed by the yeomanry and a detachment of the Antrim militia; the other on the 25th of June, when a body of insurgents, amounting to several thousands, advanced against it at five in the morning. The garrison, consisting of 170, mostly yeomen, marched out to meet them, but, after a few volleys, were obliged to retreat, the cavalry by the road to Clonmore, and the infantry, 120 in number, into the barrack, where they maintained their position throughout the day behind a breastwork in the rear of it. The town was fired in several places by the rebels, who, after various ineffectual attempts to force an entrance to the barrack and a garrisoned house by which it was flanked, retreated, and in the night the garrison retired on Tullow“. According to Slater’s Directory of Ireland 1881 the village “sustained two attacks from the insurgents, the first was unsuccessful; the second drove the King’s troops from the town, which was then set on fire by the rebels, after which they retreated. Captain Hardy was killed in this attack, and was buried in the churchyard, where there is a monument to his memory“.
The church of St John the Baptist (CoI), built c. 1780, was renovated 1820 with the addition of its stone tower decorated with crenellations and pinnacles. The interior, remodelled c. 1875, retains its early pews, communion rails, pulpit, group of wall monuments, balcony and open truss timber roof.
St Brigid’s church Hacketstown, with Lugnaquilla in the background. Painted by Joan Doyle.
St Brigid’s church (RC) was constructed by Fr John Blanchfield in 1803 to replace a temporary thatched chapel on the Fair Green, which had doubled as a threshing shed for local farmers. The cut granite tower was added by Fr Patrick Morrin (PP 1836 – 1855). Noteworthy features include a restored Victorian-era baptismal font and a fragment of a C17th stone cross, all that now remains of the original place of worship on Church Hill.
Hacketstown also has a Christian Evangelical Centre.
Hacketstown has won several awards in recent years for the hard work that has gone into improving its appearance.
Surrounded by woodland and farmland, the village is the starting point of a several walks, including a Sli na Sláinte route.
Eagle Hill with its distinctive silhouette topped by a cross, commands superb views; from the easily accessible summit, most of County Carlow can be seen spread out like a relief map. (Photo by Jonathan Billinger)
Clonmore (Co. Carlow / Northeast)
Clonmore, where Saint Mogue is said to have founded a monastic community, is tiny village with a remarkable wealth of sites and items of antiquity.
Clonmore Castle, now a atmospheric ruin, was originally a late C12th / early C13th fortress of roughly coursed granite rubble, extensively remodelled and extended over the centuries as it changed hands. It was captured in 1518 by Gearoid Óg FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare; fell to the Earl of Ormond in 1598; and was finally taken by Cromwellian forces under Colonel Hewson in 1650. Much of the castle’s material has been removed for local construction projects over the years.
St John’s church (CoI), built in the late C18th, has well-kept grounds featuring a number of early gravestones, a beautiful unfigured High Cross and a great triple Bullaun Stone.
The local Holy Well, associated with Saint Mogue, has been considerably altered.
Killoughternane is the location of a roofless ruin of a small early church of simple design, built on the site of a late C5th AD edifice attributed to Saint Fortchern.
Kilquiggin & Rath (Co. Wicklow / Southwest)
Kilquiggin / Kilquiggan was quite a heavily populated area before the Great Famine. Several of the local roads and laneways were constructed as employment schemes designed to provide work for the needy, notably the Union Road to/from Kilcavan Gap and the road from Kilquiggin Chapel to the Mullinacuffe road. From 1846 until the turn of the century, huge numbers emigrated to America. Some of those families paused on the road just above Young’s Bridge and took a look back at the Wicklow hills. This spot became known as the Gate of Tears, as it was their last look at their native county.
Cottage Garden Herbs at Ballyconnell comprises a 1-acre ornamental garden with an extensive range of wonderful smelling culinary and medicinal herbs, very attractive to butterflies.
Rath Gall / Ruthgail is an extensive C8th BC hill fortification in an excellent state of preservation. The site was intermittently in use from the Neolithic to the post-medieval periods. 1970s excavations by Professor Barry Raftery of UCD brought to light the sophisticated technology used by the Late Bronze Age inhabitants of the area when making their spears, swords and shields. Within the surrounding landscape are prehistoric barrows, early medieval ringforts and enclosures. Knockeen hillfort, directly across the road to the north, has not been investigated. Rathgall is situated in the medieval cantred of Ofelmeth, which included most of the baronies of Rathvilly and northern Shillelagh.
Rath Wood is a 185-acre Coillte forest containing a variety of tree species including beech, oak, sitka spruce, norway spruce, birch, douglas fir and alder. It is home to red deer, rabbits, mink, foxes, pheasants, jays, songbirds and dragonflies. Serene woodland trails offer gentle walks for all ages from a short leisurely wheelchair accessible path to the longer looped Molloy Walk. The entrance to this forest is from Rathwood Home and Garden World’s carpark.
Kilquiggin lies between Shillelagh on ByRoute 4 and Tullow (Co. Carlow) on ByRoute 6.
Aghowle (Co. Wicklow / Southwest)
Aghowle / Aghold (Achad-n-abhall – ”Field of the Apple Trees”), an otherwise unremarkable hill, was where Saint Finian is said to have commenced building a church in the early C6th. He left his cloak on a rock, but the wind blew it to a different spot. After this had happened three times Finian decided that he was meant to erect his church where the wind had deposited his cloak, resulting in the construction of Aghowle church across the valley from the hill.
The well-preserved and architecturally interesting ruin now visible is of a C12th church, which was used for Anglican worship from the Reformation until 1716, when it was moved to its present site, and is now a National Monument. Nearby there is an unfinished granite cross and a water font.
St Michael’s church (CoI) was constructed in 1716, extended in 1814 and renovated in 1894, when fund-raising activities included “an evening of musical entertainment at Shillelagh by Mr. Percy French“. It is still in regular use.