Carlow Town & Environs

East of Carlow Town

Palatine is a rapidly growing commuter community. Its origins date to 1711, when some twenty German Rhine Palatinate refugee families were installed adjacent to the estate of Benjamin Burton. The settlement was called Palatinestown, and according to a traveller writing in 1780 “the industrious settlers had transformed bog-land into fertile ground“; however, the families soon scattered or emigrated to North America. Today the name of the village and the survival of surnames such as Keppel and Young (Jung) in the county are the only reminders of the Palatinate presence in Co. Carlow.

Browne’s Hill / Browneshill Dolmen, aka the Kernanstown Cromlech, dates back to c.2000 BC. It is a granite portal tomb is of huge proportions; the massive capstone, weighing over 130 tonnes, is believed to be the largest in Europe. The location, setting and purpose of this structure have been the subject of conjecture for centuries, and have been invested with a rich overlay of myth and legend. Most likely it marks the burial place of an ancient chieftain.

Bennekerry Dolmen, situated on the Hacketstown Road, is another major local landmark.

Duckett’s Grove


 

Duckett’s Grove in the townland of Rainstown between Carlow Town and Tullow. (Photo – www.carlowaccommodation.net)

 

The mansion was designed c.1825 by Thomas A Cobden for John Davidson Duckett, when the noted Anglo Irish family’s estate covered more than 12,000 acres in five counties.  The last male heir died in 1908; his widow lived in the house until 1912.

 

“Duckett” was occupied by the IRA for a time during The Troubles of 1918 – 22; they used it as a training camp, and also as a refuge.

 

Although burnt by unknown arsonists in 1933, the remaining towers and turrets give this enchanting structure a fairy-tale air. Carlow County Council plans to “stabilize” the ruin.

 

The walled gardens and a cleverly designed pleasure ground and lawned areas immediately adjacent to the mansion have been splendidly restored to their original state and are open to the public.

 

The castellated entrance, designed by John MacDuff Derick in 1853, is one of the most elaborate gateways in Ireland, comprising many battlemented towers and two great archways leading to two distinct drives. The principal archway features a portcullis surmounted by a very large armorial bearing. The structure is said to have been originally multicoloured.

South of Carlow Town

Tinryland (Tigh an Raoireann – House of the Chieftain) is a rural district of historical and archaeological interest. A Heritage Trail (Finder Map available in the village) takes in the locations of many burial sites, churches and castles.

Killogan Graveyard, where the ancestors of Walt Disney and several members of the Butler family are buried, features a small ringed / wheeled granite cross, found buried in the summer of 1892. As the probable location of Clonmelsh Monastery, this ancient site may have strong associations with the Patron Saint of Luxembourg and one of the patron saints of Germany.

Clonmelsh Monastery

 

Clonmelsh Monastery has been strongly urged as the Abbey of Rathmelsigi / Rath Melsigi, which although of historical importance has not been securely located; according to the Venerable Bede it was  in Connacht, and traditionally it has been identified as Mellifont Abbey in modern County Louth.

 

Saint Egbert of Iona (639-729 AD), a Northumbrian monk, spent many years at Rathmelsigi, over ten of them training  a group of fellow countrymen as missionaries to Friesland (now part of the Netherlands).

 

Saint Wilibrord / Willibrord (c. 658-739 AD) was consecrated in Rome in 695 AD by Pope Sergius III as Bishop of the Frisians; establishing his see at Trajectum (now Utrecht), he was active in the area now called the Benelux countries, where many parish churches are still dedicated to him. His tomb is located in the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Echternach, where every year thousands participate in the Dancing Procession held in his honour on Whit Tuesday.

 

Saint Swithbert / Suitbert (d. 713 AD) laboured chiefly in North Brabant, Gelderland, and Cleves. After some years he went back to England, and in 693 AD was consecrated in Mercia as a missionary bishop by Saint Wilfrid of York. He returned to Frisia and fixed his see at Wijk bij Duurstede on a branch of the Rhine. A little later, entrusting his flock of converts to Saint Willibrord, he proceeded north of the Rhine and the Lippe, among the Bructeri, or Boructuari, in the district of Berg, Westphalia. This mission bore great fruit at first, but was eventually a failure owing to the inroads of the pagan Saxons; when the latter had conquered the territory, Swithbert withdrew to a small island in the Rhine, where he built a monastery and ended his days in peace. He died at Suitberts-Insel, now Kaiserswerth, near modern Düsseldorf. He is considered a patron saint of Germany.

 

Others  English monks who spent time at Rathmelsigi included Saint Adalbert of Egmond, Saint Botolph and Saint Chad of Mercia. In the controversy over the keeping of Easter, Rathmelsigi accepted the Roman Easter.

 

Bede wrote that the monks of Rathmelsigi were almost all carried off by the plague of 664 AD.

Linkardstown is the site of an ancient grave excavated in 1943 and found to comprise a polygonal stone chamber paved with stones sloping upwards and inwards, containing a single skeleton and some pottery, believed to date from as far back as 3700 BC. This was the first burial plot of its kind found in Southern Ireland, and thus of major archaeological significance.

Linkardstown church is in ruins, but its C18th stone baptismal font now stands in the grounds of St Joseph’s church in Tinryland.

The sites of two medieval Kavanagh strongholds are atmospheric. Only a fragment remains of Ballyloo Castle, built by Art Og Kavanagh of Pulmonty, who died in 1417. His descendants, the Kavanaghs of Ballyloo, remained in residence until dispossessed by the Cromwellian confiscations 200 years later. Another branch of the family lived in C15th Graiguenaspideog Castle: it is said that on some nights music, singing, laughter, and the clinking of crystal glasses could be heard very clearly amidst the castle ruins.

Tinryland and Linkardstown are close to Nurney on ByRoute 6.

Milford Mills on the River Barrow were established in 1790 by the Alexander family, commemorated by the local bridge. The mill on the east bank, known as Strong Stream Mill, has had a number of different functions over the years. Once used to grind wheat and also as a sawmill, it was employed in the 1890s as a generating station for electricity. Nearby Carlow was the first town in Ireland to have electric street lighting. Today the mill is again generating electricity.

Milford is also a good place to see wildlife, including herons, wagtails, dippers, kingfishers and otters. In season, salmon run the weir on their way to spawn upstream in the tributaries of the Barrow.

Milford is near Leighlinbridge on ByRoute 6.

West of Graiguecullen

Clonmore (Co. Laois)

Clonmore is a village a little way to the west of Graiguecullen.

The churchyard, which is cut in two by the road, contains interesting remains. On the north side of the road is a beautiful and excellently preserved High Cross, on the south side a fine cross fragment; both are designated National Monuments.

Killeshin (Co. Laois)

Killeshin (Gleann Uisin) (pop. 1300) is a rural village overlooking the picturesque River Barrow Valley.

A monastery was founded at the foot of the Killeshin Hills in the late C5th by Saint Comghan and Diarmait mac Siabairr, a saint of the local Uí Barraiche family. Killeshin takes its name from Uisin, an abbot of the community, which remained an important centre of learning until 1041, when according to the Annals of Tigernach it was “despoiled by the son of Mael na mBó, the oratory/wooden church was broken, and a hundred people killed, and seven hundred carried off, that is, in revenge for the burning of Ferns by the son of Brian and Murchad mac Dunlainge, and in revenge for his brother, Domnall the Fat“.

The Killeshin church on the monastic site dates largely from the C12th, although some parts show evidence of later rebuilding. It is mainly noted for a beautifully carved Hiberno-Romanesque doorway, one of the finest in the country, erected c.1155.  The low reliefs, thought to have been painted, show zoomorphic motifs and faces as well as characteristic knotwork (influenced b Scandinavian art).  An inscription  reads: ORAIT DO DIARMAIT RI LAGEN – ‘a prayer for Diarmait, king of Leinster’, almost certainly Dermot McMurrough. (Photo by herve)

No trace remains of the 105ft Round Tower that once stood next to the monastery; believed to have been the tallest in Ireland, it was demolished by an C18th landowner who was afraid that it might collapse and injure his cattle.

Killeshin was the birthplace of William Dargan (1799 – 1867), widely considered the father of Irish railways. A statue of him stands outside Dublin’s National Art Gallery, which he helped to establish.

Killeshin is within easy reach of Ballickmoyler on ByRoute 7.

Oisín House & Park is a scenic rural amenity and conference centre run by the local Development Association, who have kept alive a local Dancing Board and House Dancing tradition with  weekly set dancing classes and monthly ceilis all year round, plus organised crossroads dancing on summer Sunday afternoons. The Park is over 1000ft above sea level, with impressive views across Co. Carlow to the Blackstairs and Wicklow Mountains. From up here at night Carlow Town and the surrounding housing estates look like a vast metropolis!

Rossmore Forest is a hillside Coillte plantation.

Rossmore was one of many small coal mining communities in the area.

The Rossmore Plateau is the eastern part of the Castlecomer Plateau, nowadays a sort of forgotten no-man’s-land between Counties Kilkenny, Carlow and Laois, famed for its anthracite coal mines from the C17th until the mid-C20th. Without coal there would have been little settlement in this area.

Ballyhide is popular fishing spot on the River Barrow. In particular, the stretch of river where the small canal rejoins the Barrow, locally known as Lanigan’s Lock, is well known for trout fishing and was a very popular swimming spot, although Laois County Council have posted signs warning of the dangers of the water here.

A walkway known as the Barrow track runs from Milford, downriver of Ballyhide through this area and into Carlow Town.

The Black Castle / Rochfort’s Castle is a burned out mansion at the foot of the hill overlooking Ballyhide. This was the home the Rochfort family, who owned much of the lands in the area. The mansion was torched during the War of Independence. Although there is some dispute and little evidence as the identity of the arsonists, one story is that the local IRA Flying column burned out the Rochforts out in alleged revenge for the eviction of a woman who couldn’t pay the rent when her husband died. Another story is that her sons burned the house and kidnapped the two Rochfort children.