Bagenalstown / Muinebeag (Co. Carlow / West)
Bagenalstown / Muinebeag (Muine Bheag – “Small Grove / Thorn Thicket”) (pop. 2800) is a rapidly growing but still attractive town on the River Barrow, commonly referred to in local speech as “Muinebeg”. There are some lovely stone-cut buildings, a restored drawbridge, a picturesque lock and pleasant riverside paths.
Bagenalstown (Photo by Ynes Éire).
The Bagenal Family of Dunleckney
Nicholas Bagenal, an Elizabethan adventurer from Staffordshire who came to Ireland under very different circumstances from his brother Ralph Bagnall, bought the Barony of Idrone from Sir Peter Carew in 1585.
His son Dudley, constable of Leighlin Castle, fell out with the powerful local Kavanagh family over some stolen cattle, and had Murtagh Kavanagh killed along with a servant; in retribution, the Kavanaghs killed Dudley and his followers.
Dudley’s only son died young, and the land passed to a relative, Walter Bagenal, who built the first bridge over the River Barrow at the Royal Oak, called Bagenal Bridge (demolished in 1936 to be replaced by the present structure). He was executed in Kilkenny in 1652 after a “falling out” with Cromwell.
Sir Beauchamp Bagenal (1735 – 1802) said by many of his contemporaries to be “the handsomest man in Ireland”, was a legendary rake, womaniser and hard drinker. Sir Jonah Barrington wrote that on his coming-of-age European Tour he “had performed a variety of feats which were emblazoned in Ireland, and endeared him to his countrymen. He had fought a prince, – jilted a princess, – intoxicated the Doge of Venice – carried off a Duchess from Madrid, – scaled the walls of a convent in Italy – narrowly escaped the inquisition at Lisbon – concluded his exploits by a duel in Paris; and returned to Ireland with a sovereign contempt for all continental men and manners, and an inveterate antipathy to all despotic Kings and arbitrary governments.” Over the years his fun-loving lifestyle forced him to sell most of his 30,000-acre estate to defray an ever-increasing burden of debt.
He was an MP for Carlow (1768 – 1783), a member of Henry Grattan’s party and a strong advocate of Catholic Emancipation. To celebrate the Irish Parliament’s legislative independence in 1782, Sir Beauchamp held a review of Irish Volunteers at Dunleckney. The festivities went on all night, and an observer remarked that the next day :”—the park was like a field of battle, strewed over with prostrate bodies—”.
He is best remembered as a duellist. He fought Chief Secretary Colonel Blacquiere in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in 1773, shooting off some of his hair and the fur on his hat. In Carlow his favourite venue was a local cemetery, where he could lean against a headstone when taking aim at his opponent (he was lame of one leg, the result of a duelling wound).
His most famous home engagement was against his young cousin Beauchamp Harvey Bagenal (later executed for his role in the 1798 rebellion). Barrington recounted that when they met on “the field of honour” Harvey’s shot provoked a roar: “You damned young villain! you had like to have killed your godfather – yes, you dog, or your own father, for anything I know to the contrary. I only wanted to try if you were brave. Go to Dunleckney and order breakfast. I shall be home directly.”
In a 1795 encounter with a neighbour over some pigs, Beauchamp requested leave to fight sitting in his armchair, and that the duel take place in the afternoon: “Time was that I would have risen before daybreak to fight at sunrise, but we cannot do these things at 60. Well, heaven’s will be done“. The neighbour was badly wounded and Bagenal’s chair was shattered, but he escaped unhurt.
His son Sir Walter Bagenal (1762 – 1814), briefly a Westminster MP, was the landlord responsible for the present layout of Bagenalstown. He envisaged a New Versailles with fine streetscapes and classical buildings, but ran out of money before he could realize his ambition. He died without male issue.
The family home was inherited by Sir Beauchamp’s youngest daughter Sarah, married to Col. Philip Newton; their son Philip changed his surname to Bagenal by Royal Licence in 1832.
Dunleckney Manor, rebuilt in 1845 in Tudor / Gothic style by Daniel Robertson, is a truly magnificent mansion; it has recently been restored to something akin to its original glory, and is now open to the public.
Dunleckney itself, once a fairly important village, is now recalled only by the ruins of two churches and a graveyard.
Bagenalstown Courthouse (c.1835), modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, is believed to have been designed by Daniel Robertson. It has housed the municipal Library since 1992.
The town was a transport hub well before the advent of trains, with mail coaches, Fly Boats (introduced in 1785) and later Bianconi Cars all changing horses and dropping / collecting passengers at the former Fly Boat Hotel in Regent Street.
Bagenalstown / Muinebeag Railway Station (1846) is a fine neo-classical edifice, designed by Sir John Benjamin McNeill. Equally impressive is the granite Bagenalstown Railway Viaduct crossing the river between Royal Oak Bridge and Fenniscourt Lock.
Hillview Museum has an interesting collection of old household artefacts and vintage farm machinery.
Ballyloughan Castle (c.1300) nowadays consists of a twin-towered gatehouse, a hall and foundations of one of the corner towers of a large castle, occupied in late mediaeval times by the Kavanaghs, who controlled all but two of Carlow’s 150 castles. In the C19th it was bought by the Bruen family.
Notable people from Bagenalstown include Colour-Sergeant John Lucas, who won the Victoria Cross for bravery during the Taranaki Maori War in New Zealand in 1861, and Sean Drea, a world record breaking Olympic and World Rowing Championship (silver medallist) sculler.
Bagenalstown Cricket Club was founded in 1842, and the town also has a GAA Club with a proud Hurling tradition.
The annual River & Floral Festival attracts thousands of visitors every August.
Bagenalstown / Muinebeag is just across the River Barrow from Royal Oak on ByRoute 6.
Lorum is a scenic rural district in the Barrow River valley.
Lorum Old Rectory, a charming C19th Manor, is now a family-run Guesthouse with an excellent reputation for friendliness and comfort, made famous by the imaginative home cooking of Bobbie Smith, a member of Euro-toques (the European Community of Cooks). The mature gardens feature a croquet lawn guarded by a territorial peacock.
(A lorum is defined by Wikipedia as a male genital piercing, placed horizontally on the underside of the penis at its base, where the shaft meets the scrotum (low frenum). Jewellery typically used in this piercing includes the straight barbell and the captive bead ring. Interestingly, the lorum ipsum dummy text used by printers since the C15th is a section of Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, written in 45 BC, concerning the benefits of pain).
Kilgraney House & Herbal Gardens
Kilgraney House is a gracious late Georgian country house overlooking the Barrow River Valley. It derives its name from Coill Greine – “the sunny Wooded hill”. The property appears as Kylgraney on Mercator’s 1595 map of Carlow, and part of the courtyard dates from that time.
Nowadays it is run by Bryan Leech and Martin Marley as a stylish Guesthouse, famous for the superb six-course meals served in the ornate Mulberry and communal Tribal Art dining rooms (reservations are accepted from non-residents). Self-catering accomodation facilities are also available.
Kilgraney’’s Gardens are remarkable not so much for their velvety lawns as fot the raised timber beds for the cultivation of medicinal, cosmetic, fragrant and culinary herbs, a recreated medieval almshouse garden, a Tea Walk of leafy plants for infusions, and an organic kitchen potager.
An Aromatic Spa provides various therapies and treatments for both sexes.
Ballinkillen is a tiny village with two modern housing estates.
St Lazerian’s church (RC), one of the oldest churches in the diocese, first erected c.1793 and considerably altered over the years, has beautiful stained glass windows. The churchyard contains the grave of Theresa Malone (d. 1868 aged 90), heroine of the nearby Battle of Kilcumney Hill in the 1798 Rebellion, at which the insurgents led by Fr. John Murphy were defeated on June 26th. Among the casualties were 140 local civilians killed near their homes in the aftermath of the battle by marauding Crown forces. The grave of the parents of Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran, C19th primate of Australia, is also located here.
Borris (Co. Carlow / West)
Borris (An Bhuirios, formerly Buirgheas Ó nDróna), once capital of the ancient kingdom of Ossory, was long the seat of the MacMurrough Kavanagh chieftains, direct descendant of Art MacMurrough Kavanagh, the Irish Nemesis of King Richard II. The main branch of the family became official local landlords in 1632.
Developed as a planned estate village, Borris has beautiful stone-cut buildings, traditional shop fronts, and an attractive linear park.
Local pubs host traditional music sessions of recognised quality. O’Shea’s in particular is a great old-time bar / grocery / hardware store.
Borris House, the MacMurrough Kavanagh family seat, was built in 1731 by Morgan Kavanagh, badly damaged during the 1798 Rebellion, and redesigned in Tudor revival style by the Morrison brothers c.1820.
Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh (1831 – 1889) was born with only rudimentary limbs. Although a servant was always available to carry him, he was encouraged by visionary doctor Francis Boxwell to overcome his disabilities through sheer willpower, training himself to write, draw and paint, and had a wheelchair for independent mobility. He was privately educated in Celbridge, Saint Germain-en-Laye (France) and Rome. At home he became an expert shot and angler, using various mechanical contrivances devised to supplement his limited physical capacities. As a horseman he rode fearlessly to hounds, mounted on a special saddle and controlling his horse with the stumps of his arms. On discovering that he had been having afairs with girls on the estate, his family decided to send him abroad.
Variously accompanied by his devoted mother, his eldest brother Thomas, and / or his hated tutor Dr Woods, Arthur travelled extensively throughout Europe, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and further afield. He went up the Nile as far as the 3rd Cataract, fell ill in Tabriz (where he was nursed in a Persian prince’s harem), rode down the Tigris by raft, and made a reputation as a tiger hunter in India, where Thomas died. Temporarily stranded without any money, he obtained a post in the survey department of Poonah, but returned to Ireland in 1853, and succeeded to the family estates on the death of his brother Charles later that year.
In 1855 he married his cousin, Frances Mary Leathley. According to his 1891 biographer “he was a philanthropic landlord, an active county magistrate and chairman of the board of guardians. He rebuilt in great part the villages of Borris and Ballyragget, on plans drawn by himself, which won the Royal Dublin Society’s medal, and in other ways sought to promote the well-being of his tenantry. In this he was ably seconded by his wife, who taught the villagers floriculture and lace-making, the latter having been started by his mother.”
He served as a Conservative MP for County Wexford from 1866 to 1868, and for County Carlow from 1868 to 1880. A firm Protestant, he was strongly anti-Disestablishmentarian, and loathed Fenianism, but supported Land Reform. In 1886 he was made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He died of pneumonia in London.
Our favourite story about this exceptional individual concerns his arrival at a rural village he had not visited for years, where the stationmaster cheerfully greeted him by name as he was carried to his waiting carriage. “Good Lord“, he remarked, “what a memory that man has!” His extraordinary career is said to have been the inspiration for Lucas Malet’s novel, The History of Sir Richard Calmady.
Borris House currently belongs to Andrew MacMurrough Kavanagh, The MacMurrough. The very impressive mansion hosts Kavanagh Clan Gatherings and prestigious classical music concerts, and is also available for weddings etc. It can be visited by appointment. Among the interesting items on display is the C12th Kavanagh Charter Horn.
Below Borris Lock on the River Barrow, a miniature one-eyed bridge conceals a tiny harbour. It was from this place that Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh used to set forth by boat. In addition to his many other accompishments, he was an expert yachtsman, and in 1865 published an account of a shooting cruise off Albania.
The graceful 16-arch viaduct situated at the lower end of the town, also funded by Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh, was designed c.1860 by William Richard Le Fanu to carry the Great Southern & Western Railway line from Carlow to Ballywilliam (Co. Wexford), closed due to insolvency in 1864, although parts of the line continued in use for another hundred years.
The Step House Hotel is THE fashionable place to stay in Borris, with luxurious bedrooms and also some self-catering accommodation facilities. The beautifully restored Georgian townhouse hosts regular wedding receptions and is home to the award-winning Ruben’s Restaurant.
The annual fair held in Borris every August for the last four centuries or so years has attracted a lot of controversy in recent years due to drunken rowdyism and internecine Traveller community feuds, and many local businesses shut down for the duration. The 2008 fair went well.
Borris is not far from Ballymurphy on ByRoute 4.