After we dropped family at the Dublin airport, Chris and I had a half-day to fill en route to Kilkenny. We chose to explore Carlow and while I’d like to report wildly fun hours filled with must-see sights, we simply had a pleasant afternoon walking town and trail.
Carlow Town Heritage Trail
Carlow provides a handy online map and guide for their Town Heritage Trail, but a brochure is available in the tourist information office. Of course we arrived on a Sunday when the office was closed, so Chris downloaded the map and off we went.
We strolled for about an hour and 45 minutes and Carlow Castle was an early highlight, only the third stop on the trail. It was built in the early 13th century by William Marshal, the second Lord of Leinster after Strongbow, in what seems to be a highly defensible position on a small island where the rivers Barrow and Burren meet. The castle was surrounded by water on three sides and marshland on the fourth. Did an extended siege bring the castle to its current state of ruin? Mmm, no. In 1814, a doctor leased the castle and “in an attempt to convert parts of it for use as a lunatic asylum he accidentally blew up a substantial part of the castle leaving only the west wall and its adjoining towers”. Ha! I know I shouldn’t laugh. That must’ve been a bad day for the doc.
When traversing the Barrow bridge, we crossed paths with a large group of walkers setting out on a 20 km hike. They asked us to join but we sadly declined. Another missed opportunity! The next time in Ireland, we will keep Sundays open (a common day for walking groups to meet), research local hiking groups, and reach out in advance.
We stopped into a few churches along the way including Carlow Cathedral, aka Cathedral of the Assumption, and St. Clare’s where we helped a young boy who was locked out. I’m not convinced he really needed help - perhaps just pouting and miffed at his older sisters - but the encounter led to lively conversations with his mother, sisters and a lay pastor.
Although we passed many historic sites, my strongest memory involves our walk through the lovely Carlow Town Park where we lingered to watch a “spirited” soccer match before crossing the pedestrian bridge back to Carlow town proper. And by “spirited” I mean a bunch of insanely aggressive men, yelling and cursing as if the Wold Cup itself was at stake. Entertaining to say the least!
Location: Carlow Town, 90 km southwest of Dublin, County Carlow. GPS: 52.835417, –6.929210
Hours: Outdoors and self-guided, so wander whenever you like. For a brochure, stop at the Carlow Tourist Information Office generally open 9:30am–5pm Monday through Friday, 10am–4pm Saturday, and closed Sunday.
Clogrennane Loop Walk
Chris is a huge fan of military history and really wanted to visit the County Carlow Military Museum, but the clock read 12:30 and the museum wouldn’t open until 2:00, so hello Clogrennane Loop Walk.
This is an easy 4 km loop with nicely tended paths. The Discover Ireland website gives a detailed description of the hike, including driving directions under “Additional Features”.
Various trail descriptions indicate “fine views” but there were none to be had. Perhaps on a clearer day? It felt good to get out and stretch the legs, but my favorite part of the hike occurred on the drive in, passing old lime kilns on the way to the trailhead.
Location: 8 km southwest of Carlow town, County Carlow. GPS: 52.795073, –6.991069
Hours: Access is not controlled
Mileage: 4 km (2.4 miles)
County Carlow Military Museum
Well...Chris and I have mixed feelings about this museum. We were impressed with the all-volunteer grass-roots effort, but were left wanting more. Chris wrote a review on Trip Advisor that sums it up this way: there’s a lot there, but better organization and presentation would improve the visitor experience.
The Myles Keogh display was one of the most professional and complete, telling the story of a Carlow man who traveled to America to join the U.S. Volunteers, fought in the Civil War, earned a commission in the post-war regular army, gained command of I Company in the 7th Cavalry, and was killed in action at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Quite a story! There are many others tucked away in the museum, a few of which came to light in conversation with a passionate volunteer. That’s not really a ground-breaking revelation is it? Knowledgeable docents have a way of bringing a museum to life.
Location: In Carlow town off of Athy Road, County Carlow. GPS: 52.84335, –6.92868
Hours: Limited seasonal hours, usually 2–5pm on Sundays form March through mid-November. Check their website for updates.
Cost: €2.50/adult; concessions available