As a strategic river crossing, the town was the scene of a number of important battles and the Anglo Normans signalled its importance by building the great Carlow Castle in the thirteenth-century. The river was first fortified in the 1180s by Hugh de Lacy and then, in 1210 William de Marshal, Lord of Leinster built a French style, four towered keep. Sited on a small island in the Barrow, it protected the river crossing and the town of Carlow. The design is rare amongst castles in Ireland and it may have been copied from western France, an area also under Norman control.
In 1361 Carlow grew in importance with Lionel of Clarence moving the main organs of government from Dublin to Carlow, including the King’s Bench and Court of Exchequer. It was hoped that this would give the English control of the River Barrow, one of Ireland’s great highways, and enable them to strike at the “king’s Irish enemies” including the O’ Mores, O’ Connors and others. Located as it was on the edge of the Pale, Carlow was a prime target for attacks and escapades and the Bench and Exchequer were eventually moved back to Dublin in 1394.
Carlow Castle enjoyed a tempestuous and interesting history. Despite numerous attacks including those led by Art MacMurrough Kavanagh (1405), Silken Thomas (1534) and Cromwell’s army (1650), none failed to inflict any more than a dent in this building with its 9 feet wide walls and towers rising to over 60 feet. It remained largely standing until 1814. when a Dr. Middleton took possession of the castle with the intention of developing a lunatic asylum. During the renovations he believed he could gain valuable extra space by reducing the thickness of the walls by using blasting powder. Needless to say the results were not quite as planned, he managed to blow up a substantial part of the structure, leaving only the western wall and two towers visible today. Despite this, the castle remains one of the most prominent features on the river.
To the front right of the castle lies the remains of the former Corcoran’s mineral water manufacturing business which was established here in 1827 by Thomas Corcoran. The former factory chimney still remains as well as the street front onto Governey Square.
Close by is Wellington Bridge or as it is more commonly referred to Graiguecullen Bridge. For centuries this bridge represented an important trading link with the Grand Canal Company operating commercial boats up and down the Barrow until 1960. There is much speculation regarding the number of bridges and timeline for their construction before the present one was built in 1815. There was already a bridge located here in 1500, while later that same century the Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney built a replacement bridge. The present five arched structure was built in honour of the Irishman, the Duke of Wellington, who, in 1815 defeated Napoleon’s army at the famous Battle of Waterloo.
Barrow Milling Company
For centuries the power of the River Barrow was harnessed to drive the many large mills located along its banks. At the end of Wellington Bridge and running down towards Carlow Lock, was the former Barrow Milling Company, now occupied by town houses and apartments. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century these mills were owned by uncles of the famous Irish Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton.
Further up river is the site of the former Sugar Factory which was established by the Irish Government in 1926, in response to the need for indigenous industry. Carlow was chosen as a suitable site due to good sugar beet growing conditions and a large agricultural hinterland. Good rail and waterway connections were also important considerations, allowing the finished produce to be transported easily around the country from a specially constructed harbour located directly adjacent to the River Barrow. Advice was sought from a Belgian company called Lippens and the first sod was turned on the site by Bishop Foley on January 5th 1926 for what became The Irish Sugar Manufacturing Company. The factory closed, with much controversy in 2006, in the belief that sugar could be obtained more cheaply overseas.
Cathedral of the assumption
This is the cathedral for the Catholic Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. In March 1828 the foundation stone was laid by the Diocese’s most famous Bishop, James Doyle, known J.K.L, James of Kildare and Leighlin. The Cathedral was designed by the noted architect Thomas Cobden and completed in 1833 at a cost of £9,000. The Granite, Neo-Gothic exterior features a graceful entrance tower which raises some 46 metres and may have been modelled on the Cloth Hall in Bruges , Belgium and medieval towers in England. Local materials were used in the construction, the stone coming from the quarry on the Tullow Road, while Colonel Bruen from Oak Park supplied the white Granite from his Graiguenaspidogue quarry and oak timbers from his oak park forest.
St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church Is located on Church Street just of Centaur Street, it is situated in an area of long standing religious importance. The Present St. Mary’s Church, is the third Church of Ireland to have been built on this site. It was completed in the 1830’s by Thomas Cobden, the noted nineteenth century architect.
St. Clare’s Church and Poor Clare Monastery.
Originally built in 1852 as St. Anne’s Church of Ireland Church, it was erected by Carlow Member of Parliament Colonel Henry Bruen Of Oak Park Of Graiguecullen. After a period of disuse due to the lack of a congregation. In 1926 it was purchased by the late Very Rev, James Fogarty, P.P Graiguecullen, taken down stone for stone brought across the river Barrow and re-erected in Graiguecullen by local Company Thomas Thompson.
In 1893 the enclosed order of the poor Clare’s came to the town and in 1900 they moved here to their purpose built monastery.
The Croppies Grave at “98 Street Graiguecullen” is the last resting place for more than 600 United Irishmen, who died in the early morning of 25th May 1798. The site is commemorated with a replica high cross. The United Irishmen were Betrayed by one of their leaders fell into a well executed ambush. They were mowed down by shot and shell or smoked out of refuge and mercilessly butchered like animals. The original site of the attack took place in the Potato Market area and is marked by the liberty tree unveiled in 1998 to commemorate the 200th anniversary.
Assembly Rooms and George Bernard Shaw
In 1899 well known literary figure George Bernard Shaw inherited this property from his uncle, Walter Gurly. It is thought that the Assembly Rooms were built in 1794 and used by the gentry of the county to host dinners and musical performances . It would appear that during the course of the 19th century the condition of the building deteriorated as George Bernard Shaw remembers his uncle stating that the Assembly Rooms “would make an excellent observatory as the movements of the heavenly bodies could be studied through the holes in the roof”.
In 1918 George Bernard Shaw offered Dr. Foley, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin the Building as a school, which was opened in 1923 and the building was subsequently used as the county library. The building is now owned by Carlow County Council and its exterior is of significant architectural importance.
Also known as St. Patrick’s college. It was founded in 1782, the college first opened its doors to students in 1793 when the initial relaxation of the penal laws began to take place. Dr. James Keefe, Bishop Of Kildare and Leighlin along with his successor, Bishop Daniel Delaney, were the driving forces behind the foundation of the college. Its aim was to educate boys for the professions and for the priesthood. From 1892 until 1989 the college functioned almost exclusively as a seminary. During the period 1793-2001 over 3,300 students of Carlow College were ordained as priests and they have served all over the world. The college has also educated generations of politicians, poets and leaders. During the 1990’s the college returned to its original role of educating the lay population.
The chapel of the Sacred Heart in the Hiberno-Romanesque style is particularly interesting. It was erected to mark the centenary of the college and now function as the college library. An exhibition relating to the history of the college can be seen in the corridor leading into the library.
Today the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art and George Bernard Shaw Theatre is situated on the grounds of Carlow college. A dynamic, multidisciplinary arts facility, Visual Present the best of local, national and international work in the visual and preforming arts. The galleries boast four principal exhibition spaces with the main gallery recognised as Ireland’s largest and most spectacular contemporary art space.
Designed in the late 1820’s by architect William Morrison, this building is one of Ireland’s finest examples of ancient Greek revivalist architecture. The courthouse located on the sited of a former quarry, has two large courtrooms contained within the impressive granite decagonal shaped building. It is reputed to have cost £30,000 to construct. Outside is the podium is a cannon from the Crimean war. The courthouse is operated by the Court Services under the Department of Justice.
One very unmistakable monument dating back to pre-historical times is the great dolmen at Brownshill to the east of Carlow Town. The Dolmen has a granite cap weighing over 100 tonnes, making it the largest of its kind in Europe. The massive capstone rests on two portal stones which flank a door stone and slopes downwards to the west where it rests on a low boulder. This magnificent capstone has excited the interest of many antiquarians and tourists down through the years and it is thought that religious rites, possibly even human sacrifice , were for four and a half thousand years (2500BC). Signposted, Direct access – 5km from Carlow Town on the R726 Hacketstown Road.