Welcome to Carlow Town
Carlow Town (Ceatharlach – “city of the lake” / “four lakes”), aka Catherlough until 1721, stands at the confluence of the Rivers Barrow and Burrin; tradition has it that the junction once formed four lakes.
Graiguecullen is on the western side of the River Barrow, and is thus technically in Co. Laois. Popularly referred to as Graigue, it belongs to the old Civil Parish of Sleaty, and its correct full name was Sleatygraigue until 1922, when it was renamed in memory of Fr Hugh Cullen, a much-loved local priest who died in 1917.
The combined urban entity of Carlow / Graiguecullen & Environs (pop. 21,000) has grown rapidly in the last few years, and is now largely a commuter dormitory satellite for DUBLIN.
The grassy quays and the huddle of warehouses beside the River Barrow evidence the pivotal role Carlow had for the commerce that long used this waterway. Ceatharlach Moorings is a fine modern marina below the lock. Unfortunately, the town is still subject to frequent flooding.
Carlow’s old streets are bustling and friendly, with something of the feel of a university town. Live music is played in many of the town’s pubs.
Graiguecullen Bridge, linking Carlow Town with Graiguecullen, is one of the oldest and lowest bridges spanning the River Barrow. The attractive five arched stone structure was completed in 1569 and widened in 1815, when it was renamed Wellington Bridge
St. Mary’s church (CoI) dates from 1727, though the 59 m (195 ft) tower and spire were added in 1834. It is the third church in succession to St Mary’s Abbey, founded nearby in 664 AD by Saint Comgall. The interior retains its traditional galleries and there are several monuments, including some by neo-classical architect, Sir Richard Morrison.
A few years ago some interesting documents came to light locally, which appeared to indicate that a majority of the populace of the county capital had signed some kind of Oath of Allegiance or declaration of Protestantism in the C18th. The documents mysteriously vanished before they could be analysed.
St Patrick’s, Carlow College (founded 1782 and opened in 1793) was the first ecclesiastical college in Ireland, and nowadays runs humanities courses in conjunction with TCD.
Killeshin church (CoI), Graiguecullens’s confusingly named Anglican parish church on the Ballickmoyler Road, is a Gothic Revival edifice designed by John Semple, erected c.1827.
Carlow’s graceful Courthouse was designed in 1830 by William Vitruvius Morrison, funded by the Bruen family of Oak Park. It is based on the Temple of llissus in Athens; a Crimean War cannon guards the entrance. Locals claim there was a mix up with the plans and that Carlow got Cork’s Courthouse and Cork got Carlow’s, but such stories are common all over Ireland.
The Cathedral of the Assumption (RC) an impressive Gothic edifice completed in 1833 to a design by Thomas A. Cobden, and partly funded by the principal local landlord, Colonel Henry Bruen of Oak Park, a staunch Tory who had supported Catholic Emancipation in 1829 (this was the first Cathedral to be erected in Ireland after that date). The spire is based on the Beftroi tower in Bruges, as is the magnificent lantern. The founder, James Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, is commemorated by an impressive memorial sculpted by John Hogan (1839). The spacious interior also features an ornate oak pulpit carved in Bruges (1899).
Carlow town did not suffer as much as some parts of the county during the Great Famine. However, various epidemics in the second half of the C19th triggered another famine which reduced the regional population by about 20,000 people. Carlow Town Hall, designed by the church architect William Hague in 1884, was originally the town’s main trading centre. Until recently it housed the Carlow County Museum, operated by the Old Carlow Society, which is due to move to new purpose-built premises beside the Tourist Office and Library in the former Presentation Convent on College St.
The modern Regional Technical College, built in 1970 on the site of the former Carlow Union Workhouse, caters for a large student population.
Carlow’s VISUAL Arts Centre & George Bernard Shaw Theatre, in the grounds of Carlow College, opened in 2009, just in time to coincide with the Recession. Perhaps unfairly, it is widely regarded as something of a white elephant.
Carlow Little Theatre is quite famous, putting on several plays and shows every year, notably during the annual Eigse festival in June.
The Carlow Brewing Company, a highly regarded microbrewery, is housed in The Goods Store, a superb old stone building which in days gone by was the scene of the unloading of provisions for the town traders. The beautifully restored and converted bar area overlooks the main brewing area and the brewing and fermenting vessels. Tours of the brewery are available by appointment.
County Carlow Military Museum, housed in a late C19th church on the Athy Road, features a wide range of exhibits relating to Carlow military history, including Irish UN Peacekeeping in Congo, Lebanon and Somalia, the Carlow Militia, Carlow in WWI and an exhibition about Captain Myles Keogh of the 7th US Cavalry, killed with General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, whose horse Commanche became a national hero as the only survivor of the event.
Carlow Town Park is an attractive amenity linked by a pedestrian bridge across the River Barrow. This is a good place to watch the annual Carlow Regatta, run every June by the Carlow Rowing Club. /
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