Ireland's Ancient East - County Carlow
County Carlow is situated in Ireland’s sunny south east, bordered by the counties of Kilkenny, Wexford, Wicklow, Kildare and Laois. Part of the designated journey through Ireland’s Ancient East, this county is included in the landlocked Historic Heartlands region, where castles, battles, legends, traditions and ancient races are ever present in the landscape.
Co. Carlow was once known as the King’s County, neighbouring Laois which was known as the Queen’s County. Carlow Town is traditionally a market town and still has a vibrant farmer’s market taking place every week.
For those seeking out ancient history and culture, Co. Carlow ticks the boxes. If you’re looking for rural idyll, a journey through the countryside here provides a glimpse of an Ireland of yesteryear. Quiet hedgerow lined country lanes are a pleasure to drive. The biggest traffic jam you’ll come across is a tractor going about it’s work or a farmer moving his herd of cows from one field to another. You’ll soon slow down to the pace of life here!
Food production in Carlow has moved forward rapidly in the last number of years. A diversity of produce is now made or grown here. Look out for craft beers and whiskey, farmhouse cheeses, artisan chocolate, superb meats from livestock reared on rich grass pasture, free range eggs, preserves from Carlow grown fruit and much more.
Food Spots To Visit
Malone Fruit Farm are located in Ballon in Co. Carlow. The Malone Family have been growing soft fruit since 1998 when Tom Malone began at home as a little project which might give his kids a way to earn money during the school summer holidays. Like any hobby, it soon became a full time job and relocation was necessary. The Malones ended up here in Ballon in a lovely spot where son James now runs the show, aided by his sisters.
Visitors are very welcome to see the fruit being grown, to browse the shop which stocks Malones own homegrown fresh and frozen fruit, as well as other locally produced foods, and have a picnic before continuing their journey.
In the height of the season this time of year, Malones grow strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, tayberries, blackcurrants, whitecurrants and some gooseberries. Worth a visit to pick up a few colourful punnets of your favourite fruits. Malone Fruit Farm also attends the weekly Carlow Farmer’s Market.
Lennon’s@Visual is a contemporary restaurant situated on the ground floor of Carlow Town’s VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art and The George Bernard Shaw Theatre. This restaurant occupies a beautiful spot in the grounds of Saint Patrick’s College. A modern and airy dining space designed in keeping with it’s art inspired location, as well as some outdoor tables on the terrace overlooking college grounds.
The menu features much local produce in a casual dining menu which also caters for gluten free and vegetarian diets and offers lots of healthy options lighter on the calories. Daily Specials are on the board. At lunch, find sandwiches, wraps and home made soup, plus a selection of salads. Things get groovy at dinnertime with a more intimate feel and a selection of traditional or Mediterranean inspired first courses. Follow up with a locally reared chargrilled striploin steak or fresh fish in beer batter made with locally brewed ale, among other tempting mains with local ingredients at their heart.
Open from 10.30am-5pm Monday to Saturday and serving dinner from 6.30pm -9pm Thursday to Saturday. Brunch is served on Sundays 12pm-4pm. The menu features much local produce in a casual dining menu which also caters for gluten free and vegetarian diets and offers lots of healthy options lighter on the calories.
If you’re into chocolate – who isn’t? – The Chocolate Garden of Ireland in Tullow, Co. Carlow is the place to immerse yourself in the dark stuff. Jim and Mary Healy have created a chocoholic paradise here. A shop where you can get your hands on chocolate luxuries of every kind, plus a workshop which shoves Charlie and the Choclate Factory firmly into a cocked hat! Chocolate making sessions are often on the menu.
Places to Visit in Carlow
VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Arts and The George Bernard Shaw Theatre is one of Ireland’s leading modern art and performances spaces. It brings together four world class galleries and a 320 seat theatre, to combine the best of music, art exhibitions and installations, artist residences and workshops and theatrical excellence. Definitely should be on your to do list as you travel this part of Ireland’s Ancient East. After a visit, grab lunch at Lennons@Visual.
Just outside Carlow Town, the Delta Sensory Gardens began life as a part of a facility at the Delta Centre for adults with disabilities. The gardens have now grown to become a major tourist attraction. Follow the Celtic Walk, discover the Patio Garden, the Games Garden, the Sculpture Garden and many other heavenly little spots in this magnificent design. Intended to put you back in touch with your senses, this is literally a breath of fresh air for the soul.
Carlow County Museum on College Street in Carlow Town charts the history of the county under one roof. See the original trap doors of the gallows in Carlow Gaol, read about John Tyndall, the first man to discover greenhouse gasses in the 19th Century and lots more. Enter the museum through Carlow Tourist Office and browse your way through centuries of artefacts and history.
Carlow Farmer’s Market takes place every Saturday in the centre of Carlow Town, at the old Potato Market by the main town centre car park. Meet the producers of this prolific area and find cheeses, meats, soft fruits, preserves and fresh seasonal homegrown vegetables, among other goodies.
Brownshill Dolmen lies a few kilometers outside Carlow Town on the Hacketstwon Road. This ancient monument is a Megalithic Portal Tomb with a granite capstone weighing over 100 metric tons, reportedly the largest in Europe. This Dolmen is a burial tomb with two portal stones flanking the entrance through the Gate Stone which would have led to the burial chamber. Here you are seeing the actual raw architectural shape of the tomb, which would have been covered with a mound of earth after it was first built.
You can’t help wondering in an age before cranes and heavy lifting machinery how the hell they got that capstone in place!! Go back in time to to admire the skills of our ancestors here in Ireland’s Ancient East.
Borris House is the seat of the McMorrough Kavanaghs, Kings of Leinster since the 1500’s. A magnificent and ornate 15th Century Castle which has guided tours through it’s stunning rooms with period furniture, intricate ceilings and cornicing work, paintings, carpets and rugs, silverware. You can also learn about the famous Borris Lace made in this area. Explore the grounds, the garden and the Lace Garden on the Borris Demesne Estate surrounding this beautiful castle.
The Victorian Laundry displays original sinks, possers, washboards, mangles and irons – no automatic washing machines in those days! The Lace Garden is situated on the original Laundry Green at Borris House, established by Lady Harriet Kavanagh as a famine industry, so the women of the area could earn money during the Great Famine.
Duckett Grove has played a big part in the scenery of Carlow for over 300 years.
It was formerly the home of the Duckett Family located slap bang in the middle of an estate of over 12 thousand acres.
The house is now in ruins, but its magical turrets and towers form a beautiful sight in the Carlow country landscape. Visit the Duckett Walled Gardens which are being revived and restored from their original forms.
These lead to the Duckett Pleasure Grounds with Ha Ha (A steep ditch which drops several feet. This prevents the need for a fence to protect the garden from animals while also allowing the residents to enjoy unbroken garden views. A Ha-Ha is almost invisible till you get up close, hence the name!)