County Carlow is named after the town of Carlow, during the 14th century, the county was the seat of power of the Kingdom of Leinster, as well as the capital of the Lordship of Ireland from 1361 to 1374.
County Carlow is named after the town of Carlow, which lies on the River Barrow and is both the county town and largest settlement, with over 40% of the county’s population. Much of the remainder of the population also reside within the Barrow valley, in towns such as Leighlinbridge, Muine Bheag, Tinnahinch, Borris and St Mullins. Carlow shares a border with Kildare and Laois to the north, Kilkenny to the west, Wicklow to the east and Wexford to the southeast.
Carlow is known as “The Dolmen County”, a nickname based on the Brownshill Dolmen, a 6,000-year-old megalithic portal tomb which is reputed to have the heaviest capstone in Europe, weighing over 100 metric tonnes. During the 14th century, the county was the seat of power of the Kingdom of Leinster, as well as the capital of the Lordship of Ireland from 1361 to 1374.
Things to See & Do in Carlow
The Cathedral of the Assumption is both the cathedral and parish church for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. The church is noted for its beautiful 151-foot spire, which is one of the highest points in Carlow town. The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid on 18 March 1828 by Bishop James Doyle and building was completed in 1833. The cathedral was designed by Architect Thomas Cobden in the Gothic Revival style and most of the materials used were acquired locally, the stone from the quarry on the Tullow Road and marble and oak supplied by Colonel Henry Bruen of Oak Park.
St. Patricks, Carlow College
St Patrick’s College, Carlow is a prominent liberal arts college located in the centre of Carlow, Ireland. With roots dating back to 1782, it is one of the oldest third-level institutions in the country. It was founded by James Keefe, then Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, and his co-adjutor bishop Daniel Delany. In the 1990s the College ceased to be a seminary and reclaimed its primary role as a college of the Humanities (in all fields of philosophy, theology and the liberal arts) and in the fields of social care.
Carlow Castle, a National Monument of Ireland, was built between 1207 and 1213 by William de Marshal (Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster). Nowadays Carlow Castle is a ruin standing on the eastern bank of the River Barrow, once an important and strong military fortress strategically sited at the confluence of the rivers Barrow and Suir. In 1814, the building was badly damaged by an explosion during an attempt to remodel the castle as a lunatic asylum. The walls of the Western Keep and the two neighbouring towers are all that remain today.
Carlow County Museum
Carlow County Museum is located on College Street in the Cultural Quarter of Carlow Town. It spans four galleries and contains a wide selection of items, artefacts, and memorabilia from Carlow County. The extensive collection highlights Irish history and culture in general. Some of the items on display include the original gallows vault from Carlow Gaol and the carved pulpit from Carlow Cathedral. It also features items from Carlow’s Sugar Factory, Kevin Barry, John Tyndall, Captain Myles Keogh and St. Willibrord.
The Croppies Grave, located at ’98 Street, Graiguecullen, is a memorial that commemorates the sacrifices made by the 640 Carlow men who lost their lives during the Irish Rebellion in 1798. The bodies of the United Irishmen were first buried in holes dug into the hillside and then covered with quick lime.
The definition of croppy is a person with cropped hair, especially rebels in the Irish rising of 1798 who had their hair cropped as a display of solidarity with the French Revolution.
A commemorative sculpture entitled “The Liberty Tree” was commissioned by Carlow Local Authorities to mark the Bicentenary of the 1798 Rebellion. It is the work of the world-renowned sculptor, John Behan. The sculpture commemorates the 640 men who died in the conflict and are buried in the Croppy grave. Made of bronze, it stands on a circular base with fountain, with macabre skeletons are arranged around the tree-shaped outline.
The Brownshill Portal Tomb or Dolmen is a prehistoric stone monument dating back to early Neolithic times. Located just outside Carlow, this impressive megalith is a popular tourist attraction as well as an important reminder of our country’s fascinating ancient history. The capstone is believed to be the largest in Europe weighing 103 tonnes and built over 5000 years ago. The tomb is listed as a National Monument of Ireland.
Duckett’s Grove & Walled Gardens
Duckett’s Grove was built in County Carlow in 1745 on the lands of a wealthy landowner John Dawson Duckett. It was built as a typical Georgian country house but later redesigned by architect Thomas Cobden to resemble a Gothic style medieval castle. The interior of the house was destroyed by fire in the 1930s and is now inaccessible. In September 2005, Carlow County Council acquired Duckett’s Grove and began a restoration project of the walled gardens which were opened to the public in September 2007. Duckett’s Grove remains an important reminder of a former period, rich in history and deep in tradition.
The Visual Centre for Contemporary Art & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre
A prestigious international competition was held by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland for the design of a new building on a site donated by Carlow College campus. The winning design was from British architect Terry Pawson and the VISUAL project commenced. The Centre opened in 2009. It is home to a 335-seat theatre, and the largest white cube gallery space in Ireland – 12 metres high. This spacious gallery space produces a diverse programme of both commissioned and existing contemporary art and hosts a range of performances and events from across the arts including theatre, dance, film, comedy, literature and music. The venue also features a bar and an award- winning restaurant.
Delta Sensory Gardens
Eloquently described as a peaceful oasis, Delta Sensory Gardens is a multi-sensory garden that spans an entire hectare. The interconnecting gardens are linked by paths, water features, and bridges, and offer opportunities for all the senses – touch, smell, sound and sight. A special feature of the gardens is the ‘Kugal’ which is a 1 tonne sphere of pink marble floating on a cushion of water. The centre also boasts a café and garden centre and is wheelchair accessible.
Oak Park Forest Park
Oak Park is a green oasis on the outskirts of Carlow Town. Its natural beauty and tranquil environment is sure to surprise and delight any potential visitor. A fantastic nature trail, as well as a series of easily graded colour coded circular walkways of varying lengths and gradients make this park an ideal place for a leisurely stroll or walk. The Park is a mature park with woodland of about 50 hectares, which has a predominance of beech, oak, pine, and fir. It is home to many wildlife species such as deer, foxes, badgers, and owls and the lakes and islands provide a habitat for swans, ducks and wild game. The Park also features a picnic area, informal leisure areas and seating at regular intervals.
Carlow Farmers Market
Carlow Farmers’ Market, trading since 2004, is held every Saturday morning between 9am and 2pm in the Potato Market, Carlow Town. The market serves as a local community hub and showcases the best of local produce including: local fruit and vegetables, jams, chutneys and juices, organic meat, crepes cooked on site, chocolates and truffles, country style butter, quiches and savoury tartlets, traditionally crafted breads and cakes, speciality breads, sweet fare, a range of locally produced cheeses, olives and pesto, fresh fish, free range eggs, summer and winter bedding plants and vegetable and herb plants and other seasonal products.
For an outdoor adventure for all the family, enjoy a leisurely trip around the beautiful River Barrow. Spot wildlife such as otters, kingfishers, and dragonflies as you glide by. Kids will enjoy spotting the wildlife that pass your boat as you travel along the river. The jetty is located at Carlow Town Park, Graiguecullen.
Dome Family Entertainment Centre & Café at The Talbot Hotel
Dome entertainment centre is in Carlow Business Park alongside the Talbot Hotel. The activities include bowling, laser zone, and congo quest – an 8000 square feet 3D jungle life experience with crawl tubes and slides, ball pool, soccer court and soft play area. There are three themed rooms to host birthday parties with lots of extra treats and options to build your own party. There is also an onsite café and complimentary Wi-Fi.
GAA Cubs in the area include Tinryland GAA Club, Éire Óg GAA Club, Asca GAA Club, Palatine GAA club, O’Hanrahans GAA Club, Setanta Ceatharlach and Carlow Town HC.
Carlow & District Football League Soccer Clubs around Carlow Town include Carlow Rovers, Castle Rangers AFC, Hanover Harps, New Oak Boys AFC and Palatine Celtic.
Carlow also has boxing clubs, an athletics club (St Laurence O’Toole Athletics Club), a golf club, a rowing club, a tennis club, a hockey club, dragon boat club and the Carlow Jaguar Scooter Club.
Other sports and fitness activities include bird watching, yoga, pilates, walking, hiking, cycling and there are an abundance of gyms and leisure centres in the area.
The Graiguecullen Swimming Pool is a modern facility located in the historic building that was formally the old National School. The swimming pool complex includes a 25-meter heated pool, a spacious toddler pool, and viewing areas for parents. A sauna and steam rooms are also available within the complex.
There is lots of parking available in the town centre and there are several fashionable shopping centres located in the heart of town. There are numerous trendy boutiques, footwear, giftware, jewellery and health and beauty salons along the bustling streets of the town centre. Shaws Department Store and Hadden’s Centre dominate Tullow Street along with electrical and phone shops, newsagents and everything from shoe repairs and fishing tackle to opticians and dental clinics and much more.
The main shopping centres and retails parks include but are not limited to the following selection:
Carlow Shopping Centre
Carlow shopping centre is in the former Carlow Gaol which is beautifully restored stone building in the town centre. There is a multi-storey car park and surface parking available. Some of the current shops include Serena Boutique, Gelato, Penneys, McCauley Health & Beauty, Claires, Peter Marks, I Device (phone repairs), Alive & Well Health Store, Planet Auto (Motor Factors). The shopping centre also has a café and the Carlow Omniplex cinema is located adjacent to the centre.
Fairgreen Shopping Centre
The Fairgreen shopping centre is located on Barrack Street. The anchor stores include Next, Tesco, Sports Direct Brand Max. Other shops include Easons, Camden Square, Jack & Jones, JD Sports, River Island, New Look, Vila, Tailor of Blue, Carraig Donn, Marie Sue Lingerie, Vero Moda, Dame Ladies Fashion, Pamela Scott, Holland & Barrett, Boston Barber, Blakes Hair Salon, McCauley Health & Beauty, Gamestop, Name It, Argos, CEX, eir, Top Class Travel, trendz A zone of accessories and Euro Giant.
Food services include Teddy’s Café, Sunshine Corner, Magic Bubble, Costa and Café 1.
The IMC Carlow cinema provides fun for all the family in the Coliseum Cinema. The cinema has five screens, the largest of which can seat 250 customers. Carlow cinema has DTS and Dolby Spectral surround sound systems and Deaf Aid Loops, for the hard of hearing. There is also a coffee shop and seating area in the spacious lobby.
Carlow Retail Park
Carlow Retail Park is a spacious retail park on the Hanover Road, Carlow. There is ample onsite parking and the shops include Homestore & more, Petmania, Harry Corry, Electro City, Woodies, Right Price Tiles,
Four Lakes Retail Park
The Four Lakes Retail Park is located on the Dublin Road, Pollerton Big, Carlow and is home to Supermacs, The Range, Currys PC World, Maxi Zoo, Mattress Mick and the Army Surplus Warehouse.
Barry Valley Retail Park
Barry Valley Retail Park is located on the north-eastern side of Carlow town in Co. Laois. Retail outlets include Dunnes Stores, ToGo, Mr Price, Canta Clinic Physio & Pilates and Kelly’s Pharmacy.
Food & Drink
Carlow County is one of the country’s best foodie destinations with a host of small, family-run businesses producing exceptional artisanal food. Whatever your pleasure — from free range meat and poultry to artisan cheese and gourmet coffee to honey and home baking — you’ll find it here.
Apart from Carlow’s farmers market there are several farm shops, supermarkets and cafés offering exceptional locally produced organic food. There are numerous restaurants, take-aways, cafes and tapas bars. There are a host of lively bars and clubs to suit all tastes and ages.
The top 10 Carlow town restaurants listed in TripAdvisor (June 2021) include:
- Mimosa Bar de Tapas
- Teach Dolmain Bar & Restaurant
- Lennons @ Visual
- Dinn Rí Bar
- Brooks Carlow
- Beanice – Artisan Food & Drink Emporium
- Reddys of Carlow
- Lemongrass Restaurant
The top Carlow bars and clubs as listed on https://www.irelandbeforeyoudie.com (October 2020) include:
- Corcorans Bar – the oldest original bar in Carlow
- The Thatch Bar – for a quality pint
- Tully’s Bar – Carlow’s “number one student bar”
- The Irishman’s Bar – a famous watering hole
- Carpe Diem – Carlow’s hidden gem
- O’Loughlins Bar – great for all ages
- Dinn Rí Bar – for an award-winning venue
- Reddy’s of Carlow – Carlow’s oldest family run pub
Famous Carlow People
- Sir John Bere(died 1617) – Crown official, Burgess of Carlow and MP for Carlow Borough
- John Tyndall(1820-1893) – physicist
- John Lyons(1824-1867) – recipient of the Victoria Cross
- Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh(1831-1889) – politician
- Kathryn Thomas(b. 1979) television presenter for RTÉ
- Seán O’Brien(b. 1987) – Irish international rugby player
- John Gibbons– record producer, DJ
- Pádraig Amond(b. 1988) – Irish professional footballer who plays for Newport County
- Saoirse Ronan(b. 1994) – actress