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Although one of the smallest counties in Ireland, conveniently situated just to the north west of Wexford, in the south east of the country, Carlow also boasts some of the finest architecture in the country (in the county town of Carlow), together with significant stretches of three of the major Irish rivers (the Barrow, the Slaney and the Burrin) – which largely run north to south across the county – as well as the imposing Blackstairs Mountain range to the south east, which provides ample opportunities for walking, hiking and climbing enthusiasts to explore the wilderness.
Things to do in County Carlow
Three walking/driving routes, known as 'the Trails of the Saints', have been established to help visitors tour the whole of the county by regional roads and country lanes, and to view more than 50 sites of ecclesiastical importance. In the north of the county, the 48 miles of the 'St Patrick's Trail' leads visitors around the urban settlements of Carlow and Tullow, as well as taking in more pastoral sights in pretty rural villages such as Clonmore. To the south of County Carlow, 'St Moling's Trail' explores the monastery of St Mullins, on the banks of the Barrow, as well as the glory of the mediaeval Cistercian church at Graiguenamangh, and the isolated Temple Moling at Ballinree, its route totalling 44 miles. The third stretch, 'St Laserian's Trail', covers 43 miles of the mid-county area, meandering through the hinterland of the Blackstairs Mountains, and includes the Quaker burial grounds at Ballybrommell and Ballykealey. Alternatively, retrace the steps – or should it be wheel tracks? – of the famous daredevil motor-racing pioneer, Gordon Bennett; a 104 mile route takes in the counties of Kildare and Laois as well as Carlow, and explores how the precursor to Formula 1 Grand Prix racing was bizarrely played out on rural Irish roads in the very early days of the 20th century.
Carlow Town – The county town was an Anglo-Norman stronghold for many centuries, despite being at the edge of an otherwise fiercely Gaelic county. Today, the ruins of the once proud Norman castle are all that remain of such times, the western wall and two imposing cylindrical stonework towers standing tall next to the River Barrow, guarding the vital river crossing rather less efficiently than it may have done in the 13th century. Two miles outside the town, the prehistoric Browneshill Dolmen points to evidence of human occupation in the area for thousands of years; this megalithic portal tomb is constructed of granite, its impressive capstone reputedly the heaviest to be found anywhere in Europe, weighing in at more than 100 metric tons.
Borris – This wonderfully named little Georgian village sits on the banks of the River Barrow, commanding some panoramic views over the surrounding countryside, with the brooding Blackstairs Mountains and Mount Leinster visible in the distance. The Borris Viaduct, an impressive 16 arched limestone land bridge, built in 1860s as a railway viaduct to carry the now extinct Great Southern and Western Railway across the village, is one of the most notable structures in the area, although Borris also boasts an impressive main gatehouse to the eponymous Borris House. However, it is fair to suppose that many visitors to the area will be more attracted by the fact that Borris is home to one of the oldest golf courses in Ireland, than by the architectural merits of its various historic buildings.
Tullow - Perched in the River Slaney Valley, with rich agricultural land all around, the market town of Tullow is the ancestral home of the Wolseley family, who lent their name to a world-famous model of motor car. With ancient grooved standing stones at nearby Ardristan, a prehistoric burial place at Bawnoge, and an extensive pre-historic ring fort at Rathgall, the area has well established links with antiquity, and the extensive use of stone in both the local roads and buildings has given Tullow the local nickname of 'the granite town'.
Clonegal and the Watch – These two neighbouring 'twin' villages lie between the Derry and Slaney rivers, and are known as the 'Switzerland of Ireland' due to their outstanding natural beauty and tree-clad hillsides. Situated at the end of the 130km Wicklow Way, Conegal is particularly popular with walkers. A rather easier 7km local trail – the Sli na Sláinte walk – also starts in the centre of Clonegal.
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