ByRoute 6.1 Co. Kildare // Co. Tipperary (SW)

Leighlinbridge (Co. Carlow / Northwest)

Leighlinbridge (pronounced “Locklinbridge”) (pop. 800) is an attractive village straddlng the River Barrow. It has narrow winding streets lined with grey limestone malt houses, and has won many awards.  There are several good pubs and eateries in and around the village.

The beautiful valerian stone arch bridge that gave the village its name was built by Maurice Jakis in 1320. It is supposedly one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe.

Black Castle at the eastern end of the bridge, is thought to have been built by Nicholas Bagenal for Sir Edward Bellingham in 1547 on the site of one of the earliest Norman castles in Ireland, erected by Hugh de Lacy in 1181 to guard the crossing point. The original edifice withstood many sieges by the MacMurrough Kavanaghs.

Below the castle lies the ruin of the first Carmelite priory in Ireland, founded in 1270 by the Carew family.

Leiglinbridge is a good place to start, finish or pause during a River Barrow cruise. The local marina provides berths for up to 30 boats.

Situated at the northern entrance to the village is a sculpture by Michael Warren, depicting the thrones of the ancient kings of Leinster.

Dinn Righ, “The hill of the Kings”, aka the Ballynockan Mote, located just outside the village, is an immense earth mound famed in folkore and legend. According to tradition, it was variously the grave of Slainne, king of the Fir Bolg, a fort destroyed by the first wave of “Celtic” settlers about 300 BC or a coronation site for the kings of Leinster. It lies on private land within the demesne of Burgage House, residence of the Vigors family for over two centuries, and now owned by the Connolly family.

(Nicholas Aylward Vigors had a lifelong interest in science, and together with Sir Stamford Raffles was a prime mover in the foundation of the Zoological Society of London in 1826. Three Vigors brothers achieved mild distinction in the Victorian era; Charles served in the Ceylon Civil Service, Urban was Advocate General of Western Australia, and Cliffe was awarded an OBE for service in the Royal Irish Regiment. Col. Philip Doyne Vigors, JP,  was VP of the Royal Historical & Archaeological Association, IR, and in 1888 established the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland to record many faded tombstones in cemeteries; subsequent published Annual Reports are much sought after by family researchers).

The Millenium Garden at Ballynockan, created by local residents, comprises seven small individual themed gardens with trees, shrubs and stones representing aspects of life from birth to death.

Saint Laserian’s church (RC), a  Gothic Revival style edifice on the Castlecomer Road, was built c. 1830, extended c. 1875 and renovated c. 1975. It has a freestanding cut stone belfry resembling  lighthouse.

Garrison House, birthplace of the extraordinary physicist and pioneering Alpine mountaineer John Tyndall (1820 – 1893), after whom summits in California and Tasmania and a glacier in Chile are named, is now run as a waterside holiday centre and provides self-catering accommodation. Guests can avail of day boats to explore the river. The owners have recently opened the Garrison Bar and Restaurant nearby.

Leighlinbridge was also the birthplace of Patrick Francis Moran (1830 – 1911), Roman Catholic Bishop of Sydney and Australia’s first Cardinal.  A new bridge is named after him.

Another famous son of Leighlinbridge was Captain Myles Keogh (1840 – 1876), Col. George Custer’s aid, whose horse Comanche was the only US military survivor of the Little Bighorn debacle and became an American national hero.

The Leighlinbridge Meteorite landed as an exploding fireball from outer space in November 1999. It was the first to be recovered in Ireland since 1865.

The Lord Bagenal Hotel is the latest incarnation of the much-loved Lord Bagenal Inn, a family-run establishment in the centre of the village with a reputation for good food and value for money.

Leighlinbridge is north of Bagenalstown / Muine Bheag on ByRoute 5.

Old Leighlin (Co. Carlow / West)

Old Leighlin (Sean Leithgleann“the old half glen”) is a village 3.5 km west of Leighlinbridge. The community has a strong GAA tradition.

This was the site of a monastery founded by Saint Gobban in the early C7th. An important church synod took place here in 630 AD to determine the date of Easter for the entire Christian world; the assembly plumbed for  the Roman system favoured by Saint Mo-Laise / Molaise / Lasrain / Laisren / Laserien / Laserian / Lazerian, who was subsequently made abbot / bishop and headed the community from 632 until his death in 639 AD. (The decision was ratified by the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD).

The monastery is known to have housed over 1,500 monks in its heyday, but was plundered repeatedly by both Vikings and natives. Most of the wooden buildings were destroyed by fire c.1060. Today there are only a few remains, including St Lazerian’s Cross and Well. The latter features an early ringed cross said to denote the place where Saint Laserian, who was originally from Ulster, conversed with Saint Finbarr of Cork.

Confirmed as a diocese in 1111, Leighlin continued to be an important population centre, and in 1399 had no less than 86 burgesses (town councillors).

St. Lazerian’s Cathedral (CoI), one of the smallest Irish Medieval Cathedrals, was inaugurated by Donatus, Bishop of Leighlin 1152 – 1181, and completed by the end of the C13th. Unfortunately, C16th “restoration” for Anglican worship stripped it of many earlier details. The bright attractive interior contains a fine timber ceiling, an C11th baptismal font, several interesting floor tombs and the curious O’Byrne altar tomb (1569), a richly carved bishop’s throne and pulpit,  a magnificent Georgian-era wind organ and no less than 32 memorials to the Vigors family. The beautiful East Window comprises stained glass depictions of 17 Irish saints by Catherine O’Brien.

The Marble Quarry beside the Cathedral produces beautiful pieces of stonework.

Old Leighlin is near

Royal Oak (Co. Carlow / West)

Royal Oak, like so many places of the same name in England, is supposed to have been the site of a hollow oak tree used as a hiding place by a monarch (in this case, King James II – highly unlikely).

The Royal Oak Inn & Tavern


Royal Oak Inn CarlowThe Royal Oak Inn, built in 1740, was conveniently located on the main Dublin-Limerick road to cater for mail coach passengers, and later for passengers travelling by canal barge on the nearby River Barrow. It was an important stop for the Bianconi coaches.


William Makepeace Thakeray stopped here briefly on his journey from Carlow to Waterford in 1842. Even then the building was well past its best, as evidenced by this extract from The Irish Sketchbook: “Here stands a dilapidated hotel and posting-house: and indeed on every road, as yet, I have been astonished at the great movement and stir; the old coaches being invariably crammed, cars jingling about equally full, and no want of gentlemen’s carriages to exercise the horses of the Royal 0ak and similar establishments. In the time of the rebellion (1798), the landlord of this Royal Oak, a great character in those parts, was a fierce United Irishman. One day it happened that John Andersen came to the inn, and was eager for horses. The landlord, who knew Sir John to be a Tory, vowed and swore he had no horses; that the judges had the last going to Kilkenny (Assizes) that the yeomanry had carried off the best of them, that he could not give a horse for love or money. ‘Poor Lord Edward!’ said Sir John, sinking down in a chair, and clasping his hands, ‘my poor dear misguided friend, and must you die for the loss of a few hours and the want of a pair of horses? ‘Lord what?’ says the landlord. ‘Lord Edward Fitzgerald,’ replied Sir John; ‘the Government has seized his papers, and got scent of his hiding-place; if I can’t get to him before two hours, Sirr will have him.’ “My dear Sir John,’ cried the landlord; ‘it’s not two horses but it’s eight I’ll give you, and may the judges go hang for me!. Here Larry !,. Tim ! First and second pair for Sir John Anderson . and long life to you, Sir John, and the Lord reward you your deed .this day. ‘ -Sir John, my-informant told me, had invented this predicament of ‘Lord Edward’s in order to get the horses; and by way of corroborating; the whole story, pointed out an old chaise, which stood-at the inn-door with its window broken, a great crevice in .the: panel, some little wretches crawling underneath the wheels, and two huge blackguards lolling against the pole, – ‘and that,’ says he, ‘is no doubt the post-chaise Sir John Anderson had.’ It certainly looked ancient enough!


The old Inn must have fallen on hard times when the railway reached nearby Bagenalstown in 1848. It was finally demolished in 1974 by Thomas Byrne, father of Matthew, the current landlord of the Royal Oak Tavern.


The Royal Oak Tavern, naturally aka Matty’s, is known to have changed hand several times since it was first mentioned in a document written in 1812.


On a wall close to where the Inn once stood (now a carpark), a plaque states that it was the ‘ancestral birthplace’ of Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister of Canada from 1984 to 1992, who came here during an official state visit.

A monument erected in 1998 commemorates John Moore (1767 – 1799), the idealistic young landlord who with many of his tenants joined General Humbert’s French Expeditionary Army when it landed at Killala, Co. Mayo in August 1798. and was declared President of the Republic of Connaught. Apparently Moore in fact died in the Royal Oak tavern in Waterford City, en route to Geneva Barracks, from where he was due to be transported to Australia.

Royal Oak is just across the River Barrow from Bagenalstown on ByRoute 5.