County Carlow

Ireland’s second-smallest county is big on garden attractions. Plus, with the Blackstairs Mountains and the River Barrow, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise

River Barrow, County Carlow
River Barrow, County Carlow

Ireland may have 40 shades of green, but Carlow can cater for 40 shades of green fingers. The Carlow Garden Trail is one of the best in the country, while the gardens at Altamont House are home to an explosion of snowdrops every February.

Poppy field, County Carlow
Poppy field, County Carlow

Or think of the ancient yew tree walk at Huntington Castle, where the ghosts of monks have been known to mosey. Then there are the Delta Sensory Gardens on the outskirts of Carlow town, a therapeutic and multi-sensory oasis for users of all abilities.

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Of course, you don’t have to be a gardener to get the most out of Carlow’s gardens, as it’s replete with other seductive landscapes. In the dips and meanders of the River Barrow and, rising above it, the rugged peaks of the Blackstairs Mountains. But Carlow has its wild side, too.

Into the wild

Carlow’s principle river is the Barrow, slicing through the west of the county on its route towards the southern coast. Once crowded with boats ferrying goods and people, today’s Barrow is a much quieter affair.

Passing through historic towns like Leighlinbridge and St Mullins, it’s bordered with the husks of old mills and warehouses, and accessorised with Victorian locks and leafy towpaths.

Anglers return

As well as its industrial heritage, the River Barrow is renowned for the quality of its angling, with brown trout, salmon, tench and rudd, along with the distinctive Twaite Shad (a kind of herring now classified as ‘vulnerable’) all there for the taking. Whether you cast off from the shore, or cruise down on boat or canoe, you’ll feel like a modern-day frontiersman.

Mountains and Middle Ages

Though Carlow’s countryside is peppered with nuggets like Borris HouseDuckett’s Grove and the striking motte (mound) at St Mullins (recalling the village’s origins as a Norman fording point), there’s more to Carlow than gentle gardens and meandering history.

Think of Mount Leinster, the highest peak in the Blackstairs Mountains, where you’ll see adrenaline junkies paragliding on the thermals, their colourful chutes bursting like bubblegum as they hit the valley floor.

Think of the brand new Visual Centre for Contemporary Art at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, home to the single-largest exhibition space in Ireland.

Or think of Éigse Carlow Arts Festival, a 10-day arts festival held every June. You’ll find 40 shades of adventure there, too.

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