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Landlocked in the middle of Ireland, and to the east of Dublin and Wicklow, County Kildare is a lowland region situated in the province of Leinster. The foothills of the Wicklow Mountains to the east represent the highest landpoint in the county, which is otherwise largely flat and criss-crossed by a fine network of rivers and canals. County Kildare is the site of Pollardstown Fen, the largest calcareous fen in Ireland, and also has a large area - a sixth of its total land mass - as raised bogland; this includes the famous Bog of Allen, which stretches over almost 1,000 sq km, and into four other neighbouring counties.
Things to do in County Kildare
Meanwhile, the Irish canal system offers more than 75 miles of additional waters and long distance walking routes throughout the county. Although originally built for industrial transportation use, they no longer function as a transport artery, and blend in surprisingly well with the natural environment. The canal system within Kildare is divided into three major sections. The Grand Canal runs for 82 miles centrally across the county east-west, from Dublin over to the River Shannon, with 25 miles within Kildare. Started in 1756, the Canal was used by cargo boats as recently as 1960. To the north runs a small section of the Royal Canal; although constructed later than the Grand, and largely outshone in its heyday by its more popular neighbour, ceasing as a commercial waterway in 1951, the Royal runs through an area that is rich in historic landmarks, including the massive aqueduct near Leixlip, over the River Rye. The third section of canal, known as the Barrow Line, branches south west from the Grand. The Barrow Line has 29 miles of water running through several canalside towns, including Rathangan and the 'Venice-like' Monasterevin, connecting the Grand Canal with the River Barrow at Athy.
Kildare Town – Although it lends its name to the county, Kildare is not the county town, an honour left to the town of Naas. Kildare does, however, enjoy a rich heritage, dating from the fifth century and it is the site of a monastery founded by St Brigid, one of the three patron saints of Ireland. The saint is buried near the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, which also officially bears her name.
Monasterevin – To the west of the county lies 'the Venice of Ireland' – so called for its proliferation of bridges, at a point where the River Barrow dramatically changes direction from east to south. The town also has a fine selection of Georgian houses, a drawbridge, and an aqueduct which carries the Grand Canal over the River Barrow.
Naas – Situated on the main route between Dublin and Cork, the county town of Naas is also a commuter centre for Dublin, although it has much to offer the traveller; three racecourses, including the world famous Curragh, are nearby, as is the Palladian splendour of Furness House, which also boasts a mediaeval church and a Bronze Age longstone within its estate grounds.
Kilcullen – Straddling the River Liffey, the town boasts a fine, extant round tower and an historic church. Kilcullen is also notable for being the site of the very first international motor racing event to be held in what was then known as 'the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland'. The Gordon Bennett Cup took place in 1903, and it is said that 'British racing green' was adopted by the British team as a tribute to (the shamrock green team colours of) their Irish hosts.
Athy – Neatly positioned at the convergence of the River Barrow with the Barrow Line section of the Grand Canal, Athy is home to the only permanent exhibition on the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, who was born nearby at Kilkea.
Maynooth – At either end of this town lie the former country seats of the Dukes of Leinster: the ruins of Maynooth Castle and the finely manicured lawns of Carton House respectively. The latter is now a luxury hotel and golf course. The most significant historic buildings in the town belong to St Patrick's College, including a fine range of Georgian and neo-Gothic Revival architecture, some designed by the great English architect, Augustus Pugin.
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