We will start in Athy, Co. Kildare. Before you get on the water I suggest a visit to the local Athy Heritage Centre-Museum. This centre has the only permanent exhibition anywhere devoted to Shackleton. Highlights include an original sledge and harness from his Antarctic expeditions, a 15-foot model of Shackleton’s ship Endurance, an exhibition of unique Shackleton family photographs and an audio visual display featuring Frank Hurley’s original film footage of the Endurance expedition.
Now on the water having entered the river just below White's Castle head downriver, destination - Carlow. Along the way you will pass Grangemellon Castle once the home of Handsome Jack St. Ledger after whom the Classic English race was named. Rest a while at Maganey bridge and have some lunch and God willing wash all that down with a pint at the local Three counties pub. Then off again to view those same 3 counties enroute to Carlow. Starting in Co. Kildare we will be in county Carlow after a couple of leisurly miles and a bit of whitewater and then of course Co. Laois forms our western bank.
Also along the way you will be able to view Grange Castle and a little further down Shrule Castle a former home of William Hartpole the ninteenth century historian. As you make your approach to Carlow, paddle quietly past Bestfield Lock. Now in Carlow tie up at the boat house and head off to explore all that this buzzing market town has to offer. A suggestion of accommodation in Carlow would be The Dolmen Hotel. Its a little paddle out of the town (15 min) but the canoes can be pulled up on the bank at the property and left overnight.
Carlow was the first town in Ireland to receive electric street lighting (circa 1890). Here you have a lot of options and possibilities to spend your free time. Explore the visual centre for contemporary art and George Bernard Shaw Theatre. Visit Brownes Hill Dolmen the largest in Europe, Carlow brewing company and the Carlow art collection. Carlow has plenty of excellent restaurants, pubs and varied night life so be prepared for a late one. Leaving Carlow, your destination is Bagnalstown. A few miles south you come first to Milford - a beautiful and picturesque river.
Continuing south we pass close to Old Leighlin and you can arrange a visit to this site later in the day if required. Your next port of call is the town of Leighlinbridge. This beautifully maintained little village was the birthplace of John Tyndall in 1820 who went on to make a huge contribution to the science of Physics. In fact it was he who first coined the phrase physicist. The bridge here is the oldest on the river - built in 1320. A ruined Black castle still stands sentinel at the bridge. However it is a shadow of its former self as Cromwell almost razed it to the ground after centuries of guarding this strategic river crossing.
Just off the river is the Lord Baganel Hotel a must for a bowl of seafood chowder and a freshly made sandwich on mouthwatering homemade bread. You will have a couple of weirs to shoot but Bagenalstown is only a few more miles downriver. The English name Bagenalstown came from Lord Bagenal, who based the town on Versailles in France, and the town's courthouse resembles that of Versailles. Bagenal built the town on the River Barrow to allow for trade and access to the town. He originally wanted the town to be called "New Versailles". Finish the day with a bit of trad music at Lawlers.
Today will finish at Clasganny a renowned centre of whitewater training and fun. The first weir we have to shoot is Fenniscourt and this is followed soon after by Slyduff the oldest weir on the navigation. Nearby, Mount Loftus house and 26 self catering cottages was offer on the market for a mere 1.5 m at the start of the recession. Along the way you will be passing through beautiful, wild rural countryside, encountering many weirs which you can shoot. Also you will travel along some of the old navigation used by the Guinness barges of the past and see many of the old lock houses.
Starting below the beautiful 9 arch bridge in Goresbridge in Co. Kilkenny your tour kicks of with a great bit of excitement as you shoot the weir below the village. The river then gently turns through a sweeping right hand bend as the 200 year old Barrow navigation lock house comes into view. Lower Ballyellen lock house is located just across the river from Barrowmount House - the home of the Gore family from 1710 to 1863. Sir Ralph Gore built the bridge in 1756 and the town was named after the family.
Paddling on through serene and majestic pine woods on the right and the old horse towpath on our left we soon arrive at Ballytiglea Weir. Once over this man made dam which backs up the water level to maintain the navigation your next river section is reasonably shallow. The water squeezes between Granite boulders as it drops towards a left hand turn and enters a more agricultural hinterland. Up ahead is Ballytiglea bridge - a five arch granite structure which carries the Borris to Graignamanagh road over the Barrow river. The exact date of this bridge is unknown but it was on Taylers and Skinners road map of 1783.
We will shortly be entering the Borris Demence but first we have to shoot the weir and negotiate the rapids below. The safer drops are first leaving the high drop for those of you with a little more appetite for adrenaline further along. You will be going down the rapids before you know it - watch out for the plum trees all along the left bank. No really you should try and avoid them or you might take a dip. Anyone wishing to avoid this whole ordeal can take the navigation channel and meet up with the river further down where the river is placid and winds it way through the quiet oak woods of the Borris house estate.
Borris demesne is the seat of the MacMorrough Kavanagh family, descendants of the high kings of Leinster. One of the best known members of this family was Art OG MacMorrough Kavanagh a fine solider who waged incessant warfare against Richard II and his English forces in Ireland. He had many close escapes from capture, and finally died in New Ross in 1417 from poisen administered it is said by a jealous woman. He was buried at St. Mullins and his funeral procession was said to have stretched the 6 miles from New Ross to the Graveyard.
Moving on we will shortly be stopping at Bun na h'aibhinn where the mountain river enters the Barrow. Pulling the canoes up on the bank its a short walk within the Borris estate to the final resting place of The incredible Mr Kavanagh who died on Christmas day 1889. From here its a short walk to up to Borris House where you will be greeted and brought on a tour of the house by a member of the Kavanagh family. The tour is very interesting as the house has many fascinating stories to tell of its sometimes troubled history.
Follow along after all this excitement with a paddle through the pine forest – as you make a quiet entrance into historic Graignamanagh. A very old eel weirs is your last obstacle. Suitated in the middle of the river it channels the water between two walls where the eel cage was lowered into the flow nightly. This type of structure was used extensively throughout the major rivers in Ireland to harvest both fish and eels and was a valuable and profitable asset to any family who operated one.
Our route ends in Graiguenamanagh, a picturesque abbey town and a popular boating and craft centre. Overlooking the River Barrow is Duiske Abbey founded by Norman monks from Stanley Abbey, Wiltshire in 1204. The "Early English" design boasts a lofty nave and it is the largest of Irish Cistercian monastery churches. Stop off here and have a look around and a bit of lunch. There is a beautiful old abbey and some very quaint shops and pubs.
Leaving Graig we now to St. Mullins. There is some incredible scenery along the way as the mountains on either side close in and the river gorge narrows. You will also have to shoot some excellent drops, weirs and rapids. It will take a further 2 hours to reach the tidal section where you can pull in for the night. The next bit of river is a tidal section to New Ross taking approx 4 hours with beautiful enclosed wooded hillside banks. You have to catch an outgoing tide so if required I could transfer the group to the River Nore for an excellent trip from Thomastown to beautiful Inistigoe passing through the beautiful Mount Juliet estate along the way.
- For those who want to camp wild we will provide you with a tent
- This trip will make virtually no difference at all to the environment
- This is just a sample of the varied and interesting atmosphere this river creates for the adventurous traveller. If you require further information, please contact me I am only too happy to help.
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